With all deference to the summer arts scene, the Berkshires really come into their own in the fall. You find farm stands along many back roads and fantastic foliage everywhere. It can be a hard choice from Boston: the northern Berkshires via the Mohawk Trail (Route 2) or the southern Berkshires via the Mass. Pike.
North or south? Each has its charms. Here’s how they stack up on a few essentials:
North: As the state’s highest point (3,491 feet), Mount Greylock (visitors center at 30 Rockwell Road, Lanesborough, 413-499-4262) has drawn hikers since Henry David Thoreau ascended in 1844 and spent the night under a pile of lumber to keep warm. It became a state park in 1898, and more than 70 miles of trails crisscross the mountain. You can also drive to the summit for the same stupendous views.
South: Monument Mountain (trailhead on Route 7 between Lenox and Great Barrington) has its share of famous literary hikers as well. On an August 1850 ascent, Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne were caught in a thunderstorm, but toughed it out with a bottle of champagne. There are two woodsy trails to different points on the 1,642-foot rocky summit connected by a more open trail across a rocky ledge. So it’s possible to ascend on one trail and descend on the other. The hike takes a little more than two hours.
Advantage: North. Mount Greylock even has its own event, the Greylock Ramble, when hundreds stream up the Cheshire Harbor Trail from Adams on Columbus Day.
North: You can climb the hillside to pick apples from semi-dwarf trees until Lakeview Orchard (94 Old Cheshire Road, Lanesborough, 413-448-6009, www.lakevieworchard.com) closes at the end of October. Or you can select prepicked fruit and vegetables at the farm stand, where the kitchen is known for its fruit pies, secret-recipe pumpkin whoopie pies, and Polish specialties such as golumpki (cabbage leaves wrapped around a beef, pork, rice, and onion filling).
South: Open all year, Taft Farms (119 Park St. North, Great Barring-ton, 413-528-1515, www.taftfarms.com) sells its own pesticide-free vegetables and berries as well as produce from other local farms. The kitchen whips up daily soup specials, muffins, and breads for the deli sandwich menu, as well as ready-to-heat entrees such as chicken pot pie. You can buy Taft’s fruit pies by the slice, and they’re even better with a scoop of ice cream made nearby in Hadley.
Advantage: North. We like watching the Donut Robot at Lakeview methodically produce tender cakey rings.
North: We’re not sure which is the bigger draw — the fresh-roasted coffee or the exquisite cakes and baked goods — but Tunnel City
Coffee (100 Spring St., Williamstown, 413-458-5010) is possibly the busiest place in town. It seems to hum, but that could just be the
hyper-caffeination revving up the collegiate table talk.
South: By contrast, Lenox Coffee (52 Main St., Lenox, 413-637-1606) is a place to sit down at a sunny table and savor every last fleck of artistic foam atop a cappuccino while perusing a copy of the New Yorker or Architectural Digest from the magazine rack.
Advantage: South. Lenox Coffee uses beans from Lee-based Barrington Coffee, which often has rare brews.
North: Natural Bridge State Park (off McCauley Road, North Adams, 413-663-6392, open through Columbus Day) is named for a natural arch of marble that spans Hudson Brook in North Adams. Only a short stroll from the parking lot, this geological oddity was carved by glacial meltwater roughly 13,000 years ago.
South: The main attraction at Bash Bish Falls State Park (Falls Road, Mount Washington, 413-528-0330) is the dramatic 60-foot cataract that plunges out of the woods into a deep pool. The birch and maple foliage of the surrounding glades is electric in the fall.
Advantage: North. Natural Bridge is a twofer, since the site also includes what purports to be the country’s only white marble dam, built in the early 19th century.
North: Mezze Bistro + Bar (777 Cold Spring Road, Williamstown, 413-458-0123, www.mezzerestaurant.com) draws on local farms for almost everything from grass-fed beef to hand-crafted artisan cheeses to salad vegetables. Set into the woods south of town, the spacious dining rooms are an idyllic spot to enjoy such dishes as smoked local pork loin with chorizo, potatoes, and collards.
South: Chef-owner Mark Firth of Prairie Whale, formerly known as Bell and Anchor, (178 Main St., Great Barrington, 413-528-5050) takes the farm-to-table concept so seriously that he raises his own pigs, sheep, and laying hens and buys his produce from fellow local farmers. The farmhouse bistro with a funky zinc bar serves boisterous rustic fare like a pork chop with roast potato, stewed peppers, and broccoli.
Advantage: South. The casual country style of Prairie Whale is perfect after a day outdoors.
North: The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, a.k.a. Mass MoCA (1040 Mass MoCA Way, North Adams, 413-662-2111, www.massmoca.org) has galleries as big as its name, often filled with objects of contemporary art bigger than some buildings that house smaller museums. Some pieces stretch all the way to the 1980s, while others are still in the process of invention. Catch “Phoenix” (pictured), Xu Bing’s two giant birds assembled from Chinese urban construction debris, before they fly away on Oct. 28.
South: It’s not all Saturday Evening Post covers at the Norman Rockwell Museum (9 Route 183, Stockbridge, 413-298-4100, www.nrm.org, pictured below), which keeps itself up to date by addressing the art of illustration in all its forms. Go behind the scenes at Disney Studios with “Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs: The Creation of a Classic” through Oct. 27.
Advantage: Tie. It all depends on whether you’d rather be challenged or comforted.
North: During their 19th-century heyday, the residents of Hancock Shaker Village (1843 West Housatonic St., Pittsfield, 413-443-0188, www.hancockshakervillage.org, open through Oct. 27) called their settlement the City of Peace. The Shakers are gone, but the sense of order and harmony they cultivated remains behind. Like a great mandala, the Round Stone Barn stands at the center of it all.
South: Becoming centered is part of the point at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health (57 Interlaken Road, Stockbridge, 413-448-3152, www.kripalu.org), where a day pass lets you escape into a meditative frame of mind through yoga, hikes, lectures, and healthy eating.
Advantage: South. Kripalu’s yoga prepares you to reenter this world. Shakerism is focused on the next.
North: Barrington Stage Company (30 Union St., Pittsfield, 413-236-8888, www.barringtonstageco.org) keeps its largely summer season running through Oct. 13 with “Clybourne Park,” a sharply funny tale of race, real estate, and American values. The play scored both a 2011 Pulitzer for drama and a 2012 Tony for best play.
South: Shakespeare & Company (70 Kemble St., Lenox, 413-637-3353, www.shakespeare.org) makes merry by sending up the British comic-thriller genre with a tale of a wife and her lover plotting to snuff her stuffy hubby. “Accomplice” won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. The play runs through Nov. 10.
Advantage: South. Murder at a country house seems a perfect fit amid all those Berkshires estates.
North: The North Adams Artists’ Co-op Gallery (33 Main St., 413-664-4003, www.naacogallery.org) features fine arts and studio crafts by about 40 member artists, most of whom are based in the northern Berkshires. Work runs the gamut from painting to jewelry, sculpture to pottery.
South: Founded in 1985, Hoadley Gallery (21 Church St., Lenox, 413-637-2814, www.hoadleygallery.com) cut its teeth on fine crafts (especially jewelry and contemporary pottery) but has expanded in recent years to show some paintings and photography as well. Hoadley represents artists from across the country.
Advantage: North. The emphasis on local talent helps seed the next generation.