For solitude and stunning views, head west (of Boston)
Nathaniel Hawthorne got it right. “I cannot endure to waste anything as precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house,” he wrote. “So I spend almost all the daylight hours in the open air.” Yes, they are precious, so why not spend those golden hours surrounded by some of the most beautiful landscapes in Massachusetts? We asked some (incredibly lucky) folks who live and work in the central and western parts of the state to share their favorite nature places.
Stony Ledge, Mount Greylock State Reservation
René Laubach, author of “AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the Berkshires”
“In my opinion, the most spectacular view in the Commonwealth is from Stony Ledge,” Laubach says. “From this magnificent perch, [you can] observe the entire Greylock Range, including the Greylock summit itself, and the bowl-shaped valley called the Hopper.” From Stony Ledge, one can look down1,500 feet to the floor of the valley.
“It’s always a magical spot for me,” Laubach says. One special time: “I drove to this location years ago (the road is now closed to vehicle traffic) with Christopher Leahy of Mass Audubon and the renowned Swedish bird artist Lars Jonsson on a cold, overcast, blustery day. We wanted to show Jonsson this scene, as he was working on a collection of watercolor paintings for a book, ‘The Nature of Massachusetts,’ published by Mass Audubon. I drove as close to the edge as I safely could, slid open the door of the minivan, and we gazed out onto the scene. A big black raven suddenly flew past us, and croaked as we drank in the view. It’s a moment I’ll always remember.”
To get there: Look for the trailhead for the Hopper Trail and Haley Farm Trail at Haley Farm in Williamstown. Both require steep hikes, but the hike up Haley Farm Trail is the shorter of the two, Laubach says. By car, drive up Rockwell Road from Route 7 past the Mount Greylock visitors center to a small pullout-parking area opposite the junction with Sperry Road; walk down Sperry Road to Stony Ledge. www.mass.gov
Quabbin Park and Reservoir, Belchertown
William Hickey, acting press secretary, Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR)
Hickey, too, is a fan of Mount Greylock, calling it a place that “everyone from Massachusetts should see at least once in their lifetime.” He also recommends the DCR’s Quabbin Reservoir for its lovely vistas, range of hiking trails, and fishing spots. With 39 square miles of water, the 18-mile-long reservoir has 181 miles of waterfront. Scenic outlooks abound, even from the visitors center. “It overlooks the reservoir, and on many days you can see eagles skimming over the water and wild turkeys strutting their stuff,” Hickey says. The Enfield Lookout and Quabbin Observation Tower offer dazzling views of fall color. www.mass.gov
To get there: The reservoir is located off Route 9. For detailed directions, visit www.mass.gov.
Rutland Brook in Petersham and Rocky Hill in Groton
Ron Wolanin, regional property director, Mass Audubon properties in central and western Massachusetts
When it comes to gorgeous nature places, Wolanin is a go-to guy; his “office” is a landscape of wild acreage, and his colleagues include spotted salamanders, otters, and moose. Given all this, Wolanin was hard-pressed to narrow down his favorite spots, but came up with two he loves.
“Rutland Brook [sanctuary] is certainly under the radar screen — not many people drive that way,” Wolanin says, but it’s definitely worth discovering. “I’ve come across a moose bedding down there,” he says, and in late fall, he’s seen otters playing on thin ice, sliding, breaking through the ice, and popping back up, “looking like they’re having a great time.”
The trail passes through a field on the edge of a pond where migrating waterfowl gather (you might also see an otter), and then enters a grove of large white pine and hemlock trees along Rutland Brook. The rocky moss-covered brook is especially impressive after rainstorms or in the springtime, Wolanin says. If you don’t mind a bit of steep hiking, hike to the base of the ledge, where there’s a porcupine den that’s been there for more than 40 years. “You can sometimes see the porcupine,” he adds.
Another top pick: Rocky Hill in Groton. This recently opened sanctuary and trail system offers two loop trails with a connector trail that leads to a rocky ledge overlooking wetlands and a nesting area of great blue herons. The Chestnut Oak Trail offers views of trees rarely seen in Massachusetts. Red maples add beautiful fall foliage to the mix. Plus, “I’ve seen moose here, and there are breeding pools for wood frogs and spotted salamanders in the spring. It’s really a lovely rocky habitat.”
To get there: Rutland Brook Sanctuary is located on Pat Connor Road in Petersham; for detailed directions, visit www.massaudubon.org or call 978-464-2712. Rocky Hill Sanctuary is located on Cardinal Lane off Route 119 and Robin Hill Road in Groton. (Entrance is behind a new housing development.)
Viewing Pine platform at Zoar Outdoor, Charlemont
Adriana Isaza, marketing coordinator, Zoar Outdoor
On Zoar Outdoor’s zip course, a platform called the Viewing Pine sits halfway up a centuries-old pine perched on the edge of the Hawk Mountain ridge. “You get a view through the treetops of the Deerfield River, the Chickley River valley, the Cold River valley, and all of the surrounding mountains. It’s definitely a view you can’t see from anywhere else — it’s only seen by zip guests and the birds,” Isaza says.
The view is fabulous any time of year, but fall is especially dazzling. “As the colors change, the view is framed by the bright hues of the trees on Hawk Mountain, and you can see the rolling colors of the Berkshire Hills.” One special moment: When two members of Zoar’s staff tied the knot on the platform. “They zipped out, the groom all decked in black and the bride in white, with a veil attached to her helmet,” Isaza recalls. “They said their vows on the platform, with a backdrop of autumn color.”
To get there: The platform is part of Zoar Outdoor’s Zipline Canopy Tour course, located at 7 Main St., Charlemont. www.zoaroutdoor.com
Mount Tom State Reservation, Easthampton and Holyoke
John Burk, editor, Appalachian Mountain Club’s Massachusetts Trail Guide (9th edition)
One of the highest summits along the New England National Scenic Trail ( newenglandtrail.org), “Mount Tom has a high ridge that was formed by an ancient volcano, with great views of the Connecticut River Valley and the Berkshire foothills,” Burk says. Maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Club, Mount Tom is one of the finest hawk watching sites in the Northeast, he adds. While it’s located in the heart of a developed area, the property is extensively forested, with a small lake and a beaver wetland. “Autumn is a great time [to hike the mountain], as hawks are migrating early in the season, and then the foliage peaks during mid- to late-October. Because of the low valley elevation and late-turning oak forests, you can enjoy peak color late in the season.”
To get there: Entrances off Route 5 near the Easthampton-Holyoke town line and Route 141 in Easthampton.
Tully Lake/Long Pond, Royalston
Sabine Prather, chairwoman, AMC Berkshire Chapter
Prather knows this area well and to know it is to love it, she says. “I’ve paddled [it] many times, and camped at the Trustees of Reservations campground on sites right next to the lake,” she says. Prather has also competed in the Tully Lake Triathlon. The sandy-bottomed lake is a great destination for kayaking and canoeing, and “it’s very scenic, with its islands, pine trees, and blueberry bushes,” Prather says. Long Pond is also fun to explore, with its beaver dams and lodges, and beautiful water plants. There’s a single-track 7½-mile mountain bike trail on property, and a four-mile hiking trail that encircles the lake and takes in Doane’s Falls. www.nae.usace.army.mil
To get there: Head up Route 32 north from Athol. For canoeing and kayaking, there’s a put-in right off Route 32 near the dam, and another one near the campground, Prather says. Take a right on Doane Hill Road about two miles past the dam. Office is located at 2 Athol-Richmond Road.