Lauren R. Stevens | Hikes & Walks: Walk and smell the azaleas in Pittsfield State Forest
Wild azaleas are more pungent than those around our homes; their blossoms lovelier than the super-large, super-abundant domestic ones. So I'm thinking, driving Route 2 east, the perfume greeting me as I drop down from Florida and pass by the divided medians in the central part of the state.
Wild azaleas are where you find them, as on Lenox Mountain or on East Mountain, but for the grand, 65-acre display, go to the 11,000 acres of Pittsfield State Forest. Go soon. The beautiful sight and even more beautiful odor will soon waft away on the breeze.
The pink is unforgettable and the odor seems to smooth cares away. Azaleas alone are worth the trip, but are not the only reason for the PSF visit. For examples, there 50 miles of trails, a great view of the Catskills, babbling brooks and cascade, and the highest natural pond in the state.
Most people who take in Pittsfield's azaleas will drive the one-way loop road that departs from the lower campground and Lulu Cascade, rounds the overlook into New York State and skirts the upper campground at Berry Pond. To tell the truth, weather beats up on that road, so the drivers weave around the potholes.
But what the heck! You can hike, which increases the value of the azalea experience. Five miles, for two-plus hours, will do it, although there are a variety of routes and opportunities to explore. A nice feature on your adventure: Outside of the camping areas, dogs may run free.
Park at the Lulu picnic grounds, where you might take a swim or at least dangle your feet in the water on the way back. Cross the road to access two parallel trails. Honwee is smooth and easy, but subject to motorized use. (Illegally: ATVs are prohibited from the core of the Forest.)
I recommend following the Lulu Brook Trail (blazed blue, hikers only) that pretty much follows Lulu Brook — while occasionally climbing up for a better tread. In about three-quarters of an hour you will meet the Skyline Trail, here really a dirt road. Turn left across Berry Pond Circuit Road and follow up its shoulder.
At first, you pass a few azaleas and then you are in their midst. It's like being baptized by them, especially if the sun is out — you can't get that experience from inside an automobile.
The next pause point is the New York overlook, a fine view on the clear day. And then Berry Pond, named not for any edible fruit in the area but for Revolutionary War veteran William Berry, who owned a lot of the land. At 2,150 feet, Berry Pond is regarded as the highest natural water body in Massachusetts. The highest, at 3,200-feet, is where the Civilian Conservation Corps dug for water supply for Bascom Lodge on Mount Greylock. There is also a high altitude beaver pond off the Hoosac Range Trail.
For the way down, take trails on either side of Berry Pond (they may be wet), past an intersection with the Berkshire Hills Ramble (blazed blue), then cross the Skyline Trail onto the Turner Trail. Although the blazes are inconsistent, there is a sign. At first you descend gently and then steeply.
You can follow a newly developed mountain bike trail, with switchbacks, or stay straight on Turner. You come out on the downside of the Circuit Road. Take the gravel road through the campground and then left, up the Circuit Road to Lulu Pond.
The key roads to get to PSF are West Street out of Pittsfield to right on Churchill to left on Cascade. Coming from the north on Route 7, turn right on Bull Hill Road in Lanesborough, jog left and then right on Balance Rock Road; take either Hancock Road or Dan Casey Drive, then left on Churchill to right on Cascade. A $5 in-state parking fee applies.
Lovely country. Take time to smell the flowers, especially the azaleas. Happy trails to you.
Lauren R. Stevens is author of "50 Hikes in the Berkshire Hills," Countryman Press/W.W. Norton, 2016.
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