Flaming fall colors — crimson, red, yellow, scarlet, bronze, orange — bright sunshine and invigorating, cool breezes, make a stroll in the woods all the more alluring in these final weeks of the early fall. No need to go for a long drive: There are scores of walks and hikes anywhere in the Berkshires. Here's my subjective list of the top-10 fall-foliage treks, arranged in increasing order of difficulty.
Canoe Meadows, Pittsfield
This is the easiest walk on the list and one of the most scenic. The 253-acre Massachusetts Audubon Society reservation sits near a quiet residential area five minutes from Park Square. The Housatonic River runs by swamps, marshland, open fields and forested areas. The marsh has an observation deck to look for waterfowl: red-winged blackbirds and kingfishers on the tree branches over the water, Canada geese and mallard ducks.
Sightings of nesting turtles, muskrat and beaver are a good bet, especially early or late in the day. Naturalists report seeing deer drinking from the pond. Coyote and red fox are known to be in the woods, but are rarely seen in daylight.
Benedict Pond, Beartown State Forest, Great Barrington and Monterey
A level trail around the pond offers glimpses of salamanders and a beaver lodge still under construction. Azalea and mountain laurel flourish along this easy walk.
Field Farm, Williamstown
Five different hiking cross 313 acres. The North Trail passes through a cow pasture, with stunning views of Mount Greylock to the east. You'll enter a cluster of sugar maples, ideal for impressive foliage.
Roaring Brook Road, Woods Pond and Housatonic River, Lee and Lenox
The pond and riverfront scenic views, under a deep canopy of trees on the edge of October Mountain State Forest, make this easy walk one of the county's most rewarding. Start at the bottom of Housatonic Street in Lenox Dale, park near the footbridge across the Housatonic, and take the dirt road, bearing left, following the shoreline. There's a modest climb along the way. Continue to the beginning of Roaring Brook Road's paved portion, where you'll see houses on the hillside.
Monument Mountain, Great Barrington
These trails are popular with hikers, 20,000 a year on the 503-acre property. Three miles of trails wind through a white pine and oak forest with mountain laurel, hemlock, maple and birch. The white cliffs are composed of pure quartzite hundreds of millions of years old. Hawks and vultures are spotted from the summit. Hikers have a choice of a strong, steep route, the Hickey Trail or a longer, more gradual one, the Mohican Monument Trail.
Finerty Pond Trail, October Mountain State Forest, Becket and Washington
The route to the pond lies entirely along the Appalachian Trail. This moderate hike is especially colorful, passing ash, maple, hemlock, beech, red spruce and balsam fir trees and many rare wildflowers. Here are marshlands and abandoned beaver ponds and plenty of wildlife.
Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, Lenox
For a hike to the summit of Lenox Mountain, choose either the Overbrook Trail along a mountain stream, deep into a Northern hardwood forest, or the more challenging, rocky Trail of the Ledges. Either way, the reward is a stunning view west over Richmond toward New York state, and north toward Pittsfield.
The sanctuary, maintained by the Massachusetts Audubon Society, includes 1,405 acres and 10 more trails circling beaver ponds, along cattail marshes and ravines filled with fresh mountain streams and waterfalls. There are boardwalks and benches along the way. The best times to look for beavers are shortly after dawn or shortly before dusk. The beavers are used to humans and are likely to greet hikers with a slap of the tail and a dive under water.
(Due to tree work, Reservoir Road is closed. Please plan your route accordingly.)
Another Trustees of Reservation property, 206 acres of pastures, woodlands and a moderately steep hike up the Cobble, where the path intersects with the Appalachian Trail. A paradise for bird watchers, the Cobble is a promontory on a plateau; there's a glacial remnant near the eastern slope. The year-round aviary includes red-tailed hawk, ruffled grouse, pileated woodpecker, northern cardinal, northern mockingbird and a dozen other species.
The summit is nearly 2,000 feet above sea level, and the entire area is home to coyote (rarely seen but easily heard at night), red fox, white-tailed deer and porcupine.
Pine Cobble Trail, Williamstown
This especially well-traveled, moderate hike heads through a hardwood forest filled with red maple, white oak, ash and hickory trees, to the summit of Pine Cobble (1,893 feet), where there's a rocky quartzite limestone promontory on the southern edge of East Mountain and a great view of the Hoosac Valley, the Taconic range and Vermont's Green Mountains. The path is well-maintained by the Williams Outing Club.
Gorge Trail and Felton Lake, October Mountain State Forest, Lee
The most challenging hike on the list, the steep trail follows a waterfall one mile upstream to a mountain lake. Coyote, deer and bear tracks are visible around the lake, near the mysterious secret remains of the former Scout Camp for the United Nations (at the site of the William Whitney estate).
Any walk or hike (and there are many more options) leads to a bracing, healthy outing through the colors of autumn, and it's all free.