Where to go for a quick New England road trip? Two words: the Berkshires. Although many of the region’s most treasured summer traditions have been canceled or postponed, don’t let that stop you. You could use a change of scenery, and the Berkshires could use your business. On the cultural side, “many of our museums are now open,” says Elizabeth Nelson at 1Berkshire (www.1berkshire.com), citing MASS MoCA, the Clark Art Institute, Berkshire Museum, as well as historical sites including Hancock Shaker Village, The Mount, Naumkeag, and Bidwell House. “All have beautiful campuses to stroll and a lot of space indoors where you can see the exhibits at a safe distance from others,” she adds. Museums are using timed entries now, so call in advance to make a reservation.
If you’re not comfortable with anything indoors, not to worry — in our opinion, the best of the Berkshires happens outdoors, in the rolling hillsides dotted with lakes, and in the region’s 15 — 15! — state forest lands. “Our natural resources are still available to engage your body and nourish your soul,” says Nelson. Make this the summer that you get to know the outdoorsy side of the Berkshires.
Unique options include TurnPark, a former quarry-turned-outdoor-gallery, and The Clark, where some visitors bring drawing pads to sketch the cows roaming on Stone Hill. (Cows = easier to draw than horses.) For food, it’s all about picnics here, with primo places to pick up provisions across the Berkshires. Here’s our top 10 list of things to discover there this summer.
For thrill-seekers: Catamount Mountain Resort
The longest zipline in the country in the Berkshires — who knew? At 5,523 feet long, the CataMonster offers a serious adrenaline rush, and it is just part of Catamount’s Aerial Adventure Park. Twelve aerial trails and 180 challenge elements are designed to test your treetop-maneuvering skills. This year, they’re doing mostly private tours of the park, with designated, staggered launch times and smaller groups or household units when distancing isn’t possible. Book online; www.catamountski.com
Bike this: Ashuwillticook Rail Trail
We’ve mentioned this one so many times, they should name a segment in our honor, but it belongs on any Berks Best list. The 12.7-mile, 10-foot-wide paved path runs through the towns of Cheshire, Lanesborough, and Adams, with parking spots at either end. Along the way, the trail skirts the Cheshire Reservoir and the Hoosic River, adding sparkly views to your gentle (but long enough to count as exercise) bike ride. Currently, the northern section of the trail is under construction, but it is slated to reopen in the fall. Restrooms remain closed. www.mass.gov/locations/ashuwillticook-rail-trail
Hike this: Mount Greylock State Reservation
The highest point in lovely Massachusetts, 3,491-foot Mount Greylock delivers views stretching for 90 miles on a clear day. The roads to the summit are now open, as is Bascom Lodge. (The War Memorial Tower remains closed due to you-know-what.) But hiking is the way to go in this golden season. Meadows are dotted with late-summer wildflowers and the air has that sweet, dusty-dandelion fragrance, making a mountain trek even more delightful. Check out the online maps to choose the route that suits you and yours. www.mass.gov/locations/mount-greylock-state-reservation
For more easy-going rambles, options abound. The Trustees of Reservations maintains more than a dozen properties in the Berkshires. Most are lavishly laced with hiking trails. Our favorites include Notchview, Monument Mountain, Field Farm, and Tyringham Cobble. Take a look at online trail maps at www.thetrustees.org.
Scenic strolls for gentle souls: The Clark
The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown is now open, but for social distancing, you can’t beat its 140-acre grounds. Open year-round, the landscaped property offers marked trails that wind through woods and into an active cow pasture, cresting at the top of Stone Hill. While communing with bovines, you’ll enjoy overlooks of Williamstown and distant views of Vermont’s Green Mountains. Mother Nature may have created the mountains, but there’s also human-made outdoor art on the property, including a large-scale sculpture called “Crystal,” by contemporary artist Thomas Schütte, and a three-tiered reflecting pool. www.clarkart.edu
An inspired transformation: TurnPark Art Space
If you like the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, consider this one. Located in West Stockbridge, TurnPark Art Space comprises 16 acres of a former limestone and marble quarry. Unique pieces of art, drawn from the collection of TurnPark founders Igor Gomberg and Katya Brezgunova, add vibrancy to this bucolic setting. Wander winding pathways and stone staircases as you go, admiring the art with its lovely backdrop of Berkshire landscape. Although the gallery is closed and events have been postponed, guests are invited to settle in (bistro tables and chairs dot the property) and enjoy. Donations accepted; open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. www.turnpark.com
Paddle (or pedal, or pontoon): Onota Lake
Itching to get out on the water, but don’t feel like BYOB (bringing your own boat)? We’ve got the spot: Onota Lake in Pittsfield. Owned and managed by the city, this 617-acre flat-water lake is a local favorite for fishing, swimming, waterskiing, and sailing. It’s about 66 feet at its deepest (average depth is 22 feet) and, being freshwater, it’s shark-free. There’s a small beach-slash-swimming area, and plenty of places to stretch out on a blanket under a tree. Some outfitters aren’t renting now due to COVID-19, but Onota Boat Livery is. Rent a canoe, kayak, rowboat, pedal boat, pontoon boat, or small fishing boat and launch from their waterfront shop. www.onotaboat.com
Glorious gardens: The Mount
Throughout the pandemic, The Mount, Edith Wharton’s historic Lenox home and gardens, have remained open for strolling. You’ll need a reservation to tour the house, but you can simply show up to wander the grounds. “The gardens are blooming and the picture-perfect locale is ripe for a romantic jaunt with your quarantine sweetie,” says 1Berkshire’s Nelson. The woodland walk and beaver pond nature trails offer a cool respite on a sweltering summer day. www.edithwharton.org
Pick a park and chill
In the dog days of August, it’s all about shade, and there’s no place shadier than a forest. Among the 15 state forests in the Berkshires, some of the biggies include Savoy Mountain, Pittsfield, October Mountain, and Beartown. Good luck trying to find a campsite this summer (sigh), but if you want to come for the day, no problem. Pack a picnic and find a cool, leafy spot for your al fresco feast, working it off with a woodsy stroll. October Mountain is a great choice for hiking, while Savoy Mountain (located in Florida, Mass., dontcha know) offers pond fishing and swimming. www.mass.gov/visit-massachusetts-state-parks
Marble to marvel at: Natural Bridge State Park
Here’s a local claim to fame: Natural Bridge State Park, in North Adams, is the only natural white marble arch in North America. Sculpted by glaciers about 13,000 years ago, the bedrock-marble bridge spans Hudson Brook and twists through a 60-foot gorge. It doesn’t take much time to see it all, including an abandoned marble quarry and a human-made white marble dam, but it’s worth a look if you’re into natural wonders (and who isn’t?) www.mass.gov/locations/natural-bridge-state-park
Pack a perfect picnic
We’re still trying to get a handle on the outdoor dining thing — that whole masks-on, masks-off thing is troublesome, and hellish on our lip gloss. Picnics, by contrast, are much easier to finesse. The Berkshires are gourmet-grocery heaven. Go-to spots include Guido’s Fresh Marketplace (locations in Pittsfield and Great Barrington), Marketplace Café in Pittsfield and Great Barrington, and Berkshire Mountain Bakery in Pittsfield and Housatonic. Think made-to-order sandwiches, to-go pizza slices, fresh salads, snacks, and chilled prepared foods (we got some excellent shrimp skewers at Guido’s). Heading to The Mount? The Terrace Café is open, serving sandwiches and salads in their outdoor café and to go. “The lemonade there is really tasty, and their grounds are a gorgeous location for a picnic,” Nelson says. For more information: www.1berkshire.com
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com