Weekend Backpacker: Boston
Mt. Greylock State Reservation (11,611 acres) is a wilderness gem, the biggest and best of the mountainous state parks in southern New England, with the highest peak (Mt. Greylock, 3491 feet) and several others near 3000 feet, high enough for rough weather. Even in summer, come prepared for chilly, stormy blows.
The Appalachian Trail (AT) traverses the Greylock range in 11.5 miles; about 50 other miles of side trails, roads and paths provide numerous access routes. For extended hiking opportunities into Vermont or toward Connecticut through the Berkshires, the AT continues north and south. It's possible to hike Greylock for several days without bumping into a town, with a careful round-the-mountain, criss-cross route. The reservation teems with wildlife, including black bears. Take precautions. Also note: Water can be scarce on some trails.
Beware: a theme-park atmosphere prevails at the peak, which is reachable by car. Mountaintop Bascom Lodge, run by AMC, is a fine place to stay (clean bunks, abundant food, good company, great views), but clear weather and leaf peeping season bring hordes to the summit, where a quiver of radio and TV antennae suggest imminent contact with extraterrestrials.
If you have one car, we recommend an out-and-back hike up the south side of Greylock, with the option of a small semi-circuit around the summit. Check in at the Greylock Visitor Center, Lanesborough, then make your way to Cheshire (southeast foot of the southern ridge of Greylock), Rte. 8, to the AMC/AT overnight parking lot.
Shuttling two cars allows you to do a traverse of the entire massif. Position the target car on Phelps Ave., off Rte. 2 in North Adams, then drive around to Cheshire, Rte. 8, and the AT/AMC parking lot.
Head north on the AT to Greylock's summit (7.6 miles). Best views are to the west, from Saddleback ridge.
Camping options: if you're doing the traverse, either stay at Bascom Lodge or continue 3.0 miles north and 1200 feet down to Wilbur Clearing Shelter/Campsite on the AT. If you'll be returning to Cheshire after summiting, return south on AT 0.6 mi., then take Hopper Trail 1.1 mi. to Sperry Road Campground (accessible by car from Rockwell Road; call 877-422-6762); or stay at Bascom Lodge (reservations advised; call 413-443-0011). No ad hoc primitive camping allowed on Mt. Greylock. About 2100 ft. of elevation gain to campground, 2400 to summit.
If you've got just one car, and it's parked back at Cheshire, you'll be retracing your steps southward on the AT to Rte. 8. But first, you can make your hike more interesting (not to mention more ambitious) by leaving Sperry Road Campground and doing a small circuit near the summit, combining the Overlook Trail (skirts western shoulder of Greylock below the summit) to Notch Road; a roundtrip to Robinson's Point overlook into a glacial cirque known as The Hopper; and an ascent back up to Greylock's summit on the AT going south. Including the descent back to Cheshire, the total mileage is 9.1 miles, with about 300 ft. of elevation gain and 2500 ft. loss.
If you have two cars, continue north on the AT. Note: If you have extra time, AMC/Bascom Lodge helps hikers plan circuits of Greylock's summit, sometimes adding partial descent/re-ascent in The Hopper (glacial cirque) where old growth forest survives. Check out AMC natural history programs (guided short hikes). Allow 4 - 4.5 hours (more time if exploring The Hopper) to descend directly 6.0 miles from summit to your car, a steep 2860 ft.
From Boston take I-90 (Mass. Pike) west, using exit # 2 (Lee / The Berkshires); head north on Rte. 20 through Lee, joining Rte. 7 north at Lenox. Follow Rte. 7 north through urban Pittsfield and suburban Lanesborough. Just north of Lanesborough, watch for Mt. Greylock Reservation sign on right, at NO. Main Street. Visitor Center is about 1.75 miles from here on marked local roads; the summit is another 8 mi. on a narrow, winding, somewhat rough road. Boston to Greylock, 3 hours.
Backcountry hiking permits are not required, but because Greylock is a wilderness area (people get lost here, sometimes for days, every year), hikers are advised to give their itinerary to friends or AMC at the Lanesborough headquarters.
AMC offers simplified free maps at Visitors Center (overview only) and sells an excellent relief map of Mt. Greylock State Reservation ($6). USGS topo 1:25,000, Cheshire and North Adams quads, gives clear landform data, but trails have been relocated since the map was published. Exploring the Appalachian TrailHikes in Southern New England (Stackpole) has topos adequate for a weekend trip. Frequent visitors will want Appalachian Trail Conference's AT map "Mass. & Conn. #1," available in Boston stores or by mail from ATC, Box 807, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425; 304-535-6331.
Exploring the Appalachian TrailHikes in Southern New England (by this author) (Stackpole Books) covers the AT and side trails in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont, offering natural and social history as well as trail data and topos. For detailed information on Greylock's less traveled trails, use the AMC Massachusetts and Rhode Island Trail Guide.
Many stretches of this hike are rugged and some are wet; wear sturdy boots, preferably waterproof; bring extra socks.
Mt. Greylock Reservation
P.O. Box 1800, Rockwell Rd.
Lanesborough, MA 01237
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication