Mother Nature doesn’t stop for a pandemic. She’ll deliver us an eye-popping fiesta of color this fall, as always. And isn’t color a surefire mood booster? The best way to see it: on foot. The best place to see it: on a mountain peak (not necessarily a lofty one) that isn’t mobbed by other foliage-worshipers. Think gorgeous vistas, blue skies, and a picnic: basically, all you need for an amazing fall day in our neck of the woods.
Mahanna Cobble, Lenox and Pittsfield
Logged some hiking miles on those trusty boots? Be one of the first to hike this recently opened trail, developed by the Berkshire Natural Resources Council. The Cobble sits near the northern summit of Lenox Mountain, the ridge that extends north from Olivia’s Overlook in West Stockbridge to the Bousquet Ski Area in Pittsfield. This 2.8-mile out-and-back trail is rated strenuous due to elevation changes (about 800 feet), but your effort is rewarded with glorious, undulating hillsides ablaze in autumn’s signature scarlet, gold, and crimson.
The first section of the trail follows an easement on property belonging to Bousquet Ski Area. Take the beginner ski slope, Drifter, up a quarter-mile to the woodland start of the trail. From there, follow the Mahanna Cobble trail for 1 mile along switchback turns and up stone steps to the overlook, at about 1,909 feet. Enjoy sweeping views from the grassy ledges at the vista, looking south over Kennedy Park and Yokun Ridge. Take it all in from the best seat in the house, a stone bench dedicated to founding BNRC executive director George Wislocki. Dogs are welcome on the trail, but must be leashed on the Bousquet property, and under control at all times. Note that, if you decide to cross into Mass Audubon’s Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, dogs are not allowed.
So what is a cobble? According to the BNRC, a cobble is a Berkshire term for a classic geologic formation of exposed bedrock existing high on a ridge, created by tectonic movement. The Berkshires region is home to several cobbles.
Note that the trailhead at Bousquet Ski Area is temporary: Use caution around ongoing construction activity. Check the Mahanna Cobble website before you go to confirm access: www.bnrc.org/trails-and-maps/mahanna-cobble. 101 Dan Fox Road, Pittsfield; 413-499-0596.
Peaked Mountain, Monson
This lovely spot once had a practical purpose: It was the site of a 19th-century coal mining operation, providing fuel for local iron smelters and forges. Now, this 333-acre reservation is a great destination for an energetic hike to Peaked (pronounced “pea-kid”) Mountain’s 1,227-foot summit.
On the 2-mile Summit Loop Trail, the elevation gain is 467 feet, not a huge effort considering the reward at the top. Here, a panorama of undisturbed rural and forested lands, mountains, and hills; there, a velvety expanse of rolling countryside dotted with farms and villages, all the more bewitching when bedecked in fall’s vibrant hues. Those bird’s-eye views include peaks near (Mount Wachusett) and far (Vermont’s Green Mountains), along with the city of Springfield. Dogs are welcome on the trail, but must be leashed. 138 Butler Road, Monson; 978-840-4446; www.thetrustees.org/place/peaked-mountain/
Percy Peaks Trail, North Stratford
“Stunning.” “Challenging.” “Epic views.” That’s how hikers describe this one. One of New Hampshire’s “52 With a View” hikes (52 mountains with elevations under 4,000 feet with incredible views), Percy Peaks Trail is an excellent place to experience autumn’s fiery beauty. For this one, you’ll journey to the Granite State’s Great North Woods — specifically, 39,601-acre Nash Stream Forest. A 4.4-mile round trip trek on rugged terrain leads to the apex of North Percy Peak (one of the twin Percy Peaks.) You’ll gain 2,148 feet in elevation, but lookout ledges along the way offer welcome breaks (and lots of photo ops). This dog-friendly trail is rated “difficult” due to some steep stretches. Don’t attempt it after rainfall because the rocky slabs become quite slick.
The orange-blazed footpath starts just north of the parking area on Nash Stream Road. It runs parallel to Slide Brook and ascends a massive boulder in the middle of the trail. At the boulder, the trail turns left, over a set of stone stairs. The trail becomes more difficult as it ascends over slippery open ledge, but levels out as it approaches the notch. At the junction with Percy Loop Trail, take a sharp left to climb up to the summit of North Percy Peak, emerging from the woods to the exposed ledge of the mountain. The views are wow-worthy, especially now.
Most hikers accomplish this hike in about 3½ hours. Peak fall foliage in the Great North Woods is typically early October. 783 Nash Stream Road, Stratford; www.cohostrail.org
Elwell Trail, Bristol
This yellow-blazed trail leads to the summit of 1,002-foot Little Sugarloaf Mountain, rewarding hikers with dazzling views of foliage surrounding Newfound Lake and Belle and Cliff islands. It’s a short and family-friendly trek — maybe a half-hour of hiking, not including time at the top — so plan to have a picnic lunch at the summit, or spend some time exploring Wellington State Park. Although it’s bustling in summertime, the park is rarely crowded in the off-season. Bonus: It’s dog friendly. Access the trailhead from West Shore Road in Bristol, just past the entrance to the state park.
From the parking area, look for the Elwell Trail sign and bear left onto Elwell Trail. You can also use the Goose Pond Snowmobile Trail; both routes rejoin in 0.3 miles. The trail climbs gradually through boulder-strewn woodlands. In half a mile, the trail reaches the granite ledges at the summit of Little Sugarloaf. Bear right for the best vantage point of New Hampshire’s fifth-largest lake. Hiking on to Big Sugarloaf (1,370 feet) requires a bit more effort, but offers a wider angle from a slightly higher perch. 614 West Shore Road, Bristol (trailhead parking is located just beyond this); 603-744-2197; www.nhstateparks.org
Long Mountain Trail, Bethel
This moderate, 4.4-mile round-trip hike climbs past Hidden Falls to the crest of (1,657-foot) Long Mountain’s exposed, west-facing ledges. You’ll start the hike in a valley and climb through stands of spruce and fir to a hardwood forest and, finally, the open summit. The big reveal: Color-drenched views of Western Maine and the White Mountains.
The trail, marked “Long Mt. Trail, Hidden Falls” begins just east of the parking lot, winding through marshy lowlands along bog bridges tracing Mill Brook. You’ll follow the brook for much of the hike, crossing small tributaries along the way. After about a half-mile, head left onto a dirt road and go over a bridge to cross the brook. The trail continues to the right, heading upstream, as you slowly gain elevation.
At mile 1.2 you’ll arrive at the Hidden Falls, a series of cascades and small waterfalls along Mill Brook. The trail meanders toward the east and starts getting steeper at mile 1.5, when you begin a switchback route up the west face of Long Mountain. You’ll traverse some steeper sections en route, but then comes the payoff: An open ledge with superb views of Western Maine, Mount Washington, Mount Adams, the Presidential Range, and the Carter-Moriah Range. Note: This trail is privately owned, so please be respectful. Vernon Street, Bethel; 207-527-2854; www.mainetrailfinder.com/trails/trail/long-mountain-trail
Jockey Cap Trail, Fryeburg
You can’t really call it a mountain, but Jockey Cap is plenty cool: It’s a mega-sized glacial erratic that offers climbers wondrous views of the river valley, surrounding peaks, and the town of Fryeburg. And it’s less than a mile (.8, to be exact.)
Look for a kiosk that marks the trail entrance. The trail veers right, away from the Molly Ockett Middle School, and emerges behind a dollar store. Turning again, the trail enters heavier woods and begins its ascent. You’ll quickly reach a forested boulder field at the base of Jockey Cap Rock. Here, the trail winds to the west and climbs steeply for a short distance before reaching the crown of the rock. Look for a monument to explorer Robert E. Peary, and a diagram compass that identifies visible summits at the apex. Views to the north, west, and south capture the Saco River valley, the peaks in the White Mountains, and the town of Fryeburg. Parking for the trailhead is located on the far left of the lot of Quinn’s Jockey Cap Country Store, within view of the trailhead kiosk. 116 Bridgton Road, Fryeburg; www.mainetrailfinder.com/trails/trail/jockey-cap
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org