The Exhaust-Free, Self-Propelled Foliage Tour

Massachusetts: Hiking the Northern Berkshires and Sea Kayaking Cape Ann

Sep 18, 2001
Outside Magazine

Hiking the Northern Berkshires
With 3,491-foot Mount Greylock at its spiritual, if not physical, center, residents of the Bay State know there's little reason to venture to the northern foliage meccas. After all, every 400 feet one ascends above 2,600 is the equivalent of traveling 100 miles north, arboreally speaking. Which means that they save both time and gas by exploring Greylock or its neighbors in the state's northwest corner, true wilderness mountains with old-growth forests and 70-mile, three-state views.

The highest point in Massachusetts, Greylock isn't a secret. But though hordes of visitors drive to the summit, relatively few venture into the backcountry of the Mount Greylock State Reserve, which includes more than 43 miles of trails. To reach the summit under your own steam, take the 3.5-mile Cheshire Harbor Trail from the end of West Mountain Road in Adams. An even more solitary journey is to the Hopper area, a 1,600-acre bowl-shaped valley to the west of Greylock that's home to 200-year-old stands of red spruce, hemlock, and mountain ash. To get there, take Massachusetts 43 to Williamstown, ten miles northwest of Greylock, and turn left onto Hopper Road; the Hopper Trail begins at road's end. For a stunning overview of the state's four highest peaks—Greylock, Fitch, Williams, and Prospect—take the Roaring Brook trail, off U.S. 7 in South Williamstown, a half-mile east to the Stony Ledge Trail; 2.5 miles later you'll find the eponymous hunk of Berkshire schist perched 2,500 feet above the valley floor.
Maps and trail information are available at the Greylock Visitor Center (413-443-0011), off U.S. 7 in Lanesboro. Sperry Campground, six miles north of Lanesboro, has 37 sites for individual and group camping ($4-$8 per night; 413-499-4262). Longtime Berkshire resident Bob Leverett, one of the country's foremost authorities on old-growth forests east of the Mississippi, leads rugged four- to six-hour tours of the region for a voluntary donation; call 413-538-8631.

Sea Kayaking Cape Ann
Just 35 miles north of Boston, Massachusetts's lesser-known peninsula may pale in comparison to Cape Cod in summer, but not in fall. With barrier beaches, river estuaries, and remote islands along nearly 20 miles of coastline, the Essex/Rockport/Gloucester area is fast becoming a playground for both novice and veteran sea kayakers. Conditions are particularly good in October, when the offshore recreational boat traffic vanishes and the cape's thickly wooded interior swells with color.

The place to start an 18-mile clockwise tour of the cape is in Essex on the Essex River, launching from the public dock at the end of Island Road, just off Massachusetts 133. Flush in front of you is Hog Island, a steep, lushly forested drumlin surrounded by salt marsh and a maze of tidal estuaries. The island has meadowy hiking, pockets of red oak amid stands of rare Norwegian blue spruce, and a natural history museum that's open on weekends (508-356-4351). The striped bass fishing in the estuaries is excellent, so consider stowing fly-fishing gear.

To the north and east of Hog Island, Crane's Beach and Plum Island form an 11-mile stretch of barrier-beach dunescape that's one of the East Coast's best migratory shorebirding spots. To the southeast, on the other side of Halibut Point, lies 52-acre Thacher Island, one-third of which has been designated a national wildlife refuge (leave your kayak on the concrete slab next to the boathouse, not on the Town of Rockport launch). Thacher, a 25-minute paddle from the route's terminus at Gloucester's Good Harbor Beach, has a free 20-site campground as well as a three-bedroom guest house—complete with kitchen and shower—available on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information, call the island caretaker at 508-546-2326.

The Cape Ann Sea Kayak Company (508-356-5264) in Gloucester offers rentals for $37 per day, but only to "qualified paddlers," defined as those with knowledge of personal rescue and navigation techniques. Other folks can sign up for a guided trip with Essex River Basin Adventures ($40 for three hours or $75 per day, including kayak, guide, and shuttle service; 800-529-2504). For relaxation's sake, don't plan on rounding the cape in a day—though competitive paddlers can make it in about four hours—but rather chart out a couple of day trips, an approach that allows for plenty of island hopping. Shore camping is available at the Cape Ann Campground on the Annisquam River estuary in Gloucester ($15 per night; 508-283-8683), but if you're going the guided route, you might as well stay near ERBA's headquarters in Essex. The George Fuller House (doubles, $75-$125; 800-477-0148), a seven-room renovated colonial bed-and-breakfast, backs right up to the river.