Berkshire Hills, Massachusetts Guide
The Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts, from Williamstown in the north to Egremont in the south (map), are alive with music, theater, dance, art, antiques and outdoor adventures, especially in summer—and in winter, skiing!
Bascom Lodge at the summit of Mount Greylock, highest mountain in Massachusetts, at the northern end of the Berkshire Hills.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, wealthy vacationers built huge, sumptuous "summer cottages" on spacious grounds in Berkshire County, about 130 miles (209 km; 2-2/3 hours) west of Boston, and 160 miles (258 km; 3-3/4 hours) north of New York City. Many of these country estates and town mansions have been converted to venues for concerts, drama and art exhibitions, or to host travelers.
The Berkshires are also art country, with numerous museums of works in the graphic, plastic and performing arts.
Music & Tanglewood
Since 1937, the number-one summer activity in Lenox has been the Tanglewood Music Festival, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Over 50 concerts—by full orchestra, chamber groups, and soloists in recital—take place during the Tanglewood season (July & August), including the famous weekend symphony concerts in the 5000-seat Koussevitsky Music Shed.
Up to 15,000 people may crowd into Tanglewood for a weekend concert. If you want to be among them, you must plan your visit! Tickets, accommodations, traffic and parking (thousands of cars!), good seats in the Shed or on the lawn (in the shade!), food, what to do if it rains... Here's my Plan for a Tanglewood Visit.
After the summer classical music concert program, Tanglewood is the scene for the Tanglewood Jazz Festival, held in the first week of September, featuring many legendary performers as well as up-and-coming talent.
South Mountain Concerts in Pittsfield specializes in chamber music. Concerts begin in August and last into October. South Mountain Concerts was started in 1918 in a lovely old hall located a mile south of Pittsfield on US Route 7 & 20. More...
Since 1972, Aston Magna has brought concerts of classical music performed on period instruments to a variety of venues in New England. Its summer series includes concerts at Great Barrington's Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center and Daniel Arts Center. More...
In the summer, Williamstown Chamber Concerts organizes several chamber music performances at Williamstown's Clark Art Institute.
The historic Mahaiwe Theater built in 1905 for vaudeville acts, converted to a cinema in 1930, is going strong after more than a century. It is now Great Barrington's drama, film and concert venue, right in the town center, offering a wonderful historic space as well as a full program of varied arts entertainments. More...
Theater & Dance
The '62 Center for Theatre and Dance at Williams College.
Founded in 1954, the Williamstown Theatre Festival has staged many original works that have moved on to Broadway and other prestigious venues. Big-name actors, fine set design and satisfying performances draw the crowds to this town on the Vermont border.
The all-summer festival performances take place in a number of locations around Williamstown, chief among which is the Main Stage company's performances in the dramatic 512-seat '62 Center for Theatre and Dance.
The 173-seat Nikos Stage in the Adams Memorial Theatre is the venue for new and experimental plays and workshops. Other performances include Cabaret comedy and singing, and kid-friendly Free Theatre performances and events for families.
For three decades, Shakespeare & Company in Lenox has brought to life the Bard's best in the Berkshires, with memorable performances by a company of more than 150 artists. More...
The historic Colonial Theatre (1903) in Pittsfield MA.
The Berkshire Theatre Festival, founded in 1928, is organized by the Berkshire Theatre Group which stages performing arts events on five stages: three at the Festival's campus in Stockbridge, two in Pittsfield (the historic Colonial Theatre and adjoining Garage). More...
A three-week mid-summer festival of emerging artists, ensembles and innovative, dynamic, cross-discipline and edgy theatrical works, including world premieres organized by Bazaar Productions at The Daniel Arts Center, Bard College at Simon’s Rock, Great Barrington (map). More...
Pittsfield's own theater company is the Barrington Stage, presenting classic dramas, musicals, new and experimental works, and youth theater on three stages in the city center just off North Street in Pittsfield. More...
This premier American summer dance program—the Berkshires' dance equivalent to Tanglewood—takes place in the tiny (pop. 2000) town of Becket, next to Lee. (map). The dance company was founded in 1933 by Ted Shawn (1891-1972) who had "a dream of legitimizing dance in America as an honorable career for men." Shawn bought a small Berkshire farm the owners called "Jacob's Pillow," and brought his innovative ideas of modern dance to the Berkshires. His vision was soon affecting modern dance throughout the world.
For nearly a century, Jacob's Pillow has fostered modern dance in its summer teaching and training programs and performances during July and August, promoting the careers of numerous stars such as Martha Graham, Alvin Ailey and Bill T Jones. More...
The historic Mahaiwe Theater built in 1905 for vaudeville acts, converted to a cinema in 1930, is going strong after more than a century. It is now Great Barrington's drama, film and concert venue, right in the town center, offering a wonderful historic space as well as a full program of varied arts entertainments. More...
Summer colonies of artists and cognoscenti from Boston and New York assured that some towns in the Berkshire Hills have rich collections of art, from Chesterwood, the studio of famed sculptor Daniel Chester French, through the traditional Americana of the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge to the avant-garde of North Adams's Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. and the gem of the Berkshires, the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown.
Note that several of these Berkshire Hills art museums sell discounted combination tickets valid for admission to more than one museum. If you plan to visit more than one museum during your visit, ask about these, and save money.
Daniel Chester French, sculptor of the Seated Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC, and The Minute Man at Old North Bridge, Concord MA, lived and worked at this Berkshire estate from 1897 until his death in 1931. His sculpture studio remains as it was on the day of his death. A gallery of his work is on view as well. More...
America's most beloved illustrator of the 20th century lived and worked in Stockbridge from 1953 until his death in 1978. His museum here holds the world's largest collection of his work, beautifully displayed. Changing exhibits of current illustrators' works add to the attraction. More...
Once a factory complex producing textiles, and later electronics, this 13-acre (5.26-hectare) campus with 26 buildings is now one of the USA's foremost contemporary art museums with space for even the largest works. Besides a series of ongoing exhibits including Sol LeWitt's dramatic painted walls, MASS MoCA offers changing exhibits and performances of music, dance, theater, film and video. It's a happening place. More...
"The Clark" features European and American paintings, sculpture, prints, drawings, photographs, and decorative arts from the Renaissance to the early20th century, especially rich in French Impressionist and Academic paintings, British oil sketches, drawings, and silver, and the work of American artists Winslow Homer, George Inness, and John Singer Sargent. This is the Berkshires' gem—don't miss it. More...
The collection of 12,000 objects spans world history and cultures, but is particularly strong in American art from the late 1700s to the present, and especially since 1945, with works by Ida Applebroog, Lynda Benglis, Willem de Kooning, Jim Dine, Philip Guston, Ann Hamilton, Jenny Holzer, Sol LeWitt, Robert Mangold, Robert Morris, Louise Nevelson, Philip Pearlstein, Adrian Piper, Robert Rauschenberg, Ad Reinhardt, Faith Ringgold, Larry Rivers, Cindy Sherman, Lorna Simpson, David Smith, Kiki Smith, Mark Tansey and Andy Warhol. Admission to the permanent collection is free. More...
Forests, Parks & Gardens
The Berkshire Hills are gorgeous: long, low forested mountains separated by fertile valleys watered by the Green, Hoosic, and Housatonic rivers, with a sprinkling of lakes and ponds.
Mount Greylock, the highest peak in Massachusetts (3591 feet/1095 meters), is just outside North Adams at the northern end of Berkshire County. The county includes all of the westernmost part of Massachusetts framed by the borders of Vermont, New York and Connecticut.
This 11.2-mile (18km) paved recreation track follows a former railroad line parallel to MA Route 8 along the eastern base of Mount Greylock through the northern Berkshire towns of Adams, Lanesborough and Cheshire—great for biking or roller-skating. More...
Bash Bish Falls, a great place on a hot day.
The highest single-drop waterfall (80 feet/24 meters) in Massachusetts is the centerpiece of this scenic park in the extreme southwest corner of the Berkshires, right next to Mount Washington State Forest. More...
A 100-foot-high bedrock outcrop of quartzite and marble, this reserve just east of US Route 7 north of the Connecticut border boasts an unusual array of flora, including a great array of fern species. Cared for by The Trustees of Reservations, it has a Visitor Center and 5 miles (8 km) of hiking trails. You may also want to visit Tyringham Cobble, 25 miles (40 km) northeast. More...
Beartown's big attraction is Benedict Pond, great for swimming, fishing and boating, but the trails on the 12,000-acre (4856-hectare) reserve are great for hiking in summer, skiing and snowshoeing in winter. It's 6 miles (10 km) southeast of Stockbridge, 11 miles (18 km) northeast of Great Barrington. More...
While you're enjoying the fresh, bracing air of the Berkshires, why not add beautiful flowers and lots more? The Berkshire Botanical Garden, founded nearly a century ago at 5 West Stockbridge Road in Stockbridge (map), offers 24 acres (10 hectares) of formal and informal gardens, but not for beauty alone. Want to see one tree that bears 40 different varieties of fruit? An ash tree that's grown out of a boulder? Topiary, rose gardens, edible-vegetable beds, conseravtories and greenhouses, a children's garden, nature-themed art galleries—Berkshire Botanical is an ideal place to interest and inform children about the natural world, and to delight anyone who loves nature. More...
Between Williamstown and North Adams at the northern end of the Berkshires, Clarksburg offers picnicking at Mauserts Pond, 9.5 miles (15 km) of hiking trails, birding, and 45 campsites with indoor showers and toilets. Natural Bridge State Park and Mount Greylock State Reservation are not far away. More...
Maintained by The Trustees of Reservations, Monument Mountain, on the west side of US Route 7 between Stockbridge and Great Barrington, offers a strenuous but satisfying 720-foot (220-meter) vertical-rise climb up a quartzite outcrop to 1642-foot (500-meter) Squaw Peak. Views of the Housatonic River Valley, and indeed all the Berkshires, are fine. More...
At 2624 feet (800 meters) elevation, Mount Everett offers panoramic of the Berkshires, New York and Connecticut from its location in the extreme southwest corner of Massachusetts, 13 miles (21km) southwest of Great Barrington. The path to the summit is only 3/4 mile (1.2 km). More...
Home to the highest peak in Massachusetts, this reservation has an auto road to the summit, a Veterans Memorial Tower, hiking trails, and a fine hiker's summit lodge. Natural Bridge State Park is near the base in North Adams. More...
Not to be confused with the much-higher Mount Washington in New Hampshire, Massachusetts's Mount Washington is set in a 4169-acre (17-square-km) forest reserve in the extreme southwestern corner of the Berkshires next to Bash Bish Falls. It offers 30 miles (48 km) of rough-terrain hiking trails with wilderness campsites. More...
Water flows beneath the tortured marble of the natural bridge.
Only 1.5 miles (2.4 km) northeast of North Adams, this small park is great for a picnic and a look at a marble quarry, the only white marble dam in the USA, and a curious gorge cut by a stream through white marble leaving a "natural bridge" above. More...
Once the estate of President Grover Cleveland's Secretary of the Navy, now Massachusetts' largest state forest (at 16,500 acres/67 square kilometers), October Mountain has 47 campsites just outside of Lee, and hiking trails for all levels of skill and mobility. The Appalachian Trail passes through the forest. More...
Just a few miles west of Pittsfield are 65 acres (26 hectares) of wild azalea fields, 30 miles (48 km) of hiking trails, Berry Pond, an auto road up Berry Mountain, a paved 3/4-mile (1.2-km) trail suitable for wheelchairs, and lots of other outdoor possibilities. More...
From Great Barrington, it's 21 miles (34km) east to the centerpiece of the Tolland State Forest: 1065-acre (431-hectare) Otis Reservoir, a lake for boating, fishing, swimming, camping, hiking, mountain biking, off-road vehicles and, in winter, cross-country skiing. More...
The Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts extend for 50 miles (80 km) north to south, from Williamstown and North Adams near the Vermont border in the north, to Sheffield and Egremont in the south by the Connecticut state line (map).
US Route 7 is the main north-south highway through the Berkshires. The main east-west highway is Interstate 90, the Massachusetts Turnpike, connecting Boston MA with Albany NY, and via Interstate 89 with New York City. MA Route 2 connects Boston and the Pioneer Valley with North Adams and Williamstown.
Follow the Massachusetts Turnpike (Interstate 90) from Albany NY, from the Interstate 89 interchange, or from Boston to Exit 2 at Lee; or follow MA Route 2 from Boston, the Pioneer Valley and other points east to North Adams, Williamstown and Mount Greylock in the northwestern corner of the Berkshires.
Peter Pan Bus has daily routes between New York City and Williamstown MA stopping at Great Barrington, Lee, Lenox and Pittsfield MA; and between Albany NY and Springfield MA stopping at the same Berkshire towns. Changing buses at Springfield, you can continue to Worcester, Boston, Hyannis (Cape Cod MA) and to Providence RI. More...
By Regional Bus
Local and regional buses run by the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority connect Berkshire County towns and resorts with one another. The most useful routes for you are probably:
Amtrak's daily Lake Shore Limited express between Boston MA and Chicago IL stops at the Pittsfield Transportation Center (map), taking about 3-1/2 hours to make the journey between Boston and Pittsfield, and 2 hours to travel between Pittsfield and Albany-Rensselaer NY.
There are many more trains from New York City (Moynihan Train Hall at Penn Station) to the Amtrak stations at Albany-Rensselaer NY and Springfield MA, from which you can continue to the Berkshires by the Lake Shore Limited, by intercity bus (see above) or by rental car. More...
The nearest airport with regular service is Albany International Airport (ALB) at Albany NY, 40 miles (64 km) west of Pittsfield MA. Vermont Translines operates buses from Albany Airport to Bennington, Manchester, Rutland, and Burlington VT. See below for limousine companies serving the airport.
Bradley International Airport (BDL), Windsor Locks CT
Bradley International Airport (BDL), Windsor Locks CT (north of Hartford), is 60 miles (97 km, 70 minutes) southeast of Lenox. See the airport website for transportation options from the airport to Berkshire towns.
Boston's Logan International Airport (BOS) is 140 miles (225 km) east of Pittsfield, a 2.5-hour drive or 3-hour and 45-minute Amtrak train trip. Peter Pan Bus connects Logan with Berkshire towns—see By Intercity Bus.
These companies can transport you between Albany and Bradley airports and the towns of the Berkshires:
Abbott's Limousine & Livery Service, tel 413-243-1645
Bianco's Limousine, tel 413-446-4005
Transport the People: 800-639-9605
The Pittsfield Transportation Center , 1 Columbus Avenue at North Street (map), is the transportation hub of the Berkshires: the station for Amtrak intercity trains, for Peter Pan and Greyhound intercity buses, and for the regional buses of the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority (BRTA).
A large multi-level parking garage is located just across Columbus Avenue from the Transportation Center.
Plan your Berkshire stay carefully, because lodgings fill to capacity on summer weekends, and are very busy on summer weekdays as well.
The Porches Inn at MASS MoCA,
North Adams MA.
Use this Hotel Map with Prices to find the lodgings you seek in the place you prefer:
Founded as Pontoosuck Plantation in 1753, Pittsfield (population 44,000) was later renamed in honor of British Prime Minister William Pitt, who championed the colonists’ cause before the American Revolution. Pittsfield grew rich on 19th-century industry, but with industry gone, it's becoming a city of culture.
On its outskirts, Hancock Shaker Village pays tribute to the Shakers, a religious sect known for plain living, high thinking, beautiful design and workmanship of everyday objects, and an aversion to sex.
Located 136 miles (219 km) west of Boston, 40 miles southeast of Albany NY, and 151 miles (243 km) north of New York City (map), it is easily reached by interstate highways, train and bus. The Pittsfield Transportation Center on Columbus Avenue just west of North Street (map) is the transportation hub of the Berkshires: the station for Amtrak intercity trains, for Peter Pan and Greyhound intercity buses, and for the regional buses of the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority (BRTA).
For people living in the Berkshires, Pittsfield is the county seat, the town with the largest shopping centers, the most important court houses, and other important services.
For visitors, it offers the Berkshire Museum, the splendid old Colonial Theatre of the Berkshire Theatre Group, the best selection of budget- and medium-priced hotels in the Berkshires and, on its outskirts, Hancock Shaker Village.
A Bit of History
Water power from the many creeks flowing into the Housatonic River brought commerce and industry to Pittsfield, helping it to grow into the largest town in the Berkshires. Merino sheep brought from Spain in 1807 provided the raw material to make Pittsfield the center of woolen manufacturing in the United States.
In 1891 Pittsfield electrical entrepreneur William Stanley produced the first electric transformer, giving birth to a company later merged with General Electric.
As with so many New England towns, changing trade and commerce patterns took away many of Pittsfield's sources of wealth later in the 20th century, so the city redefined itself as the commercial and cultural center of the Berkshires, although the large SABIC Innovative Plastics factory on the east side of the city still provides many jobs.
The historical contrast between Pittsfield, a typical New England town of creative, hard-working, innovative, striving commercial men and women, and the retiring, thrifty, artistic, religious, abstemious folk of Hancock Shaker Village is striking.
Baseball Started in Pittsfield!
In 1791, the village recorded a by-law against the playing of "baseball" near the meetinghouse (church), the earliest reference ever to the all-American game. Today baseball is still played by local teams in Pittsfield, warmed by the memory.
Perhaps the most interesting of Pittsfield's attractions is at 1843 West Housatonic Street off US Route 20 (map): Hancock Shaker Village. This is New England's most prominent and elaborate settlement of the Shakers, those devout people who lived lives of piety, kindliness, mutual support and hard work.
The great round barn at Hancock Shaker Village, Pittsfield MA.
Until 1960, the village was home to members of the religious sect named the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, nicknamed the Shakers, noted for their quiet, simple lives, hard work, and quality handicrafts. These good people treated even daily tasks as an art. They made such beautiful, honest things that Shaker designs are still admired and copied.
Twenty of the original Shaker buildings at Hancock have been restored, furnished with artifacts of Shaker life, and staffed with men and women who can explain and demonstrate the customs of the Shaker life to you.
Prime of place goes to the famous Shaker round barn, a large cylinder of carefully-laid stone beautiful in its design, workmanship and efficiency. (There's a similar Shaker round barn, a full-size copy of the Hancock original, at Heritage Museums and Gardens in Sandwich MA on Cape Cod; and another at the Shelburne Museum near Burlington VT.)
Hancock Shaker Village is open May through October, 9:30 am to 5 pm daily; 10 am to 3 pm in April and November. To find it, drive north from West Stockbridge 9 miles along MA 41, then west on US 20 to the outskirts of Pittsfield MA and Hancock Shaker Village (map).
Pittsfield's fine art, history and natural science museum, built in 1911, at 30 South Street in the city center near the Colonial Theatre is great to visit on any day, but especially that rainy day when the children want something interesting to do. More...
Pittsfield's own theater company is the Barrington Stage, presenting classic dramas, musicals, new and experimental works, and youth theater on three stages in the city center just off North Street. More...
Herman Melville's Arrowhead estate, Pittsfield MA.
The house known as Herman Melville's Arrowhead (1780), 780 Holmes Road, less than four miles (6.5 km) south of Pittsfield, was the author's home from 1850 to 1863, some of the author's most productive writing years: Moby-Dick, Pierre, The Confidence-Man, Israel Potter and other works were written here. More...
To summer visitors Lenox, 130 miles (209 km) west of Boston, 42 miles (68 km) southeast of Albany NY and 144 miles (232 km) north of New York City (map), is synonymous with Tanglewood, the spacious estate on the town's outskirts that has been for decades the summer performance center of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the site of the renowned Tanglewood Music Festival.
A Bit of History
At first the colonial settlement at Lenox was called Yokuntown, after a Native American chief, but the name was later changed to honor an English lord—Charles Lenox, Duke of Richmond—who was sympathetic to the American Revolutionary cause.
Although small industries have at times appeared in the town, it has been predominantly rural and agricultural, and has remained unspoiled.
In the 19th century business tycoons (including Andrew Carnegie) came to admire the tidy farms and streets of Lenox as the perfect place for a summer's retreat, and many of them bought up farms for this purpose, transforming the simple farms into splendid estates complete with huge summer mansions.
Many of the mansions are still standing for visitors to admire, and even stay in, as lots have been converted to beautiful—even palatial—inns and resort hotels.
The main concert venue is the amusingly-named Koussevitsky Music Shed, a simple but spacious hall capable of holding an entire Mahler-sized symphony orchestra and 5,700 concert-goers—some "shed!"
Many chamber music and ensemble performances and solo recitals are held in the award-winning Seiji Ozawa Hall on the Tanglewood campus.
In addition to the seasoned musicians from the BSO, there are performances by the young and extremely promising musicians who attend the Tanglewood Music Center for study and advanced training.
Maestros Seiji Ozawa, former music director of the BSO, and the late Leonard Bernstein of the New York Philharmonic, were once among this young up-and-coming elite.
For the full schedule, see the BSO website. Also, buy your tickets ONLY on the BSO website! Other websites may sell you bogus tickets at inflated prices. Be sure you're buying directly from the orchestra! More...
A Boston Symphony Orchestra concert at Tanglewood is among New England's prime summer cultural activities, which is why up to 15,000 people may arrive along with you to enjoy the concert. With such a crowd, and thousands of cars and buses, planning is essential. Here's the information you need to plan your visit to Tanglewood: tickets, timing, traffic, picnics, where to sit. More...
Besides Tanglewood, visitors come to enjoy Lenox's refined ambience, to stay at inns that were built as summer mansions, to tour the Berkshire Hills, and to enjoy other cultural diversions in nearby towns such as Lee, Pittsfield and Stockbridge.
Walk or drive around Lenox, Massachusetts to see sumptuous mansions, even small castles, nestled in fine parks and copses of trees.
Once occupied for a few months in summer by commercial and industrial magnates and their families, many of Lenox's mansions are still in private hands, enjoyed by an ever-widening circle of the descendants of the original builders.
Most of Lenox's fine houses are not open to the public, so you must settle for tantalizing looks from the sidewalk.
Built in 1893 for Sarah Morgan, sister of financier J P Morgan, later used as the exterior set for the movie The Cider House Rules, this brick-castle Gilded Age mansion at 104 Walker Street was saved from demolition and restored to become a museum of the era when the income tax was nonexistant and financial fortunes were huge. Located only a half mile (800 meters, 10-minute walk; map) from Veterans Memorial Park (with the obelisk) in the center of Lenox, it's an easy way to have a glimpse of Lenox in its Gilded Age. Programs, performances and special exhibits add to its attraction. More...
The Mount is a grand house and gardens planned by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edith Wharton (1862-1937). You can tour the house and watch a salon drama based on Ms Wharton's life and works, June through October, Tuesday through Friday. The Mount is located just south of Lenox, at the junction of US 7 and MA 7A. More...
For more than four decades, Shakespeare & Company, 70 Kemble Street, has brought to life the Bard's best in the Berkshires, with memorable performances in several playhouses and outdoor venues by a company of more than 150 artists. The playbill is not exclusively Shakespearean, however. Look here for a wide range of theatrical comedy and drama. More...
Walk to the top of the hill on Main Street (US 7), north of the town center to see the Church on the Hill, a very fine New England Congregational meetinghouse (church) built in 1805.
For a beautiful hike through a thousand acres of Berkshire countryside, find your way to the Massachusetts Audubon Society's Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, northwest of Lenox. Follow the signs, or take MA 7A north to West Dugway Road, then to 472 West Mountain Road (map). Pay the admission fee (dawn to dusk daily, closed Monday), and set out on the 7 miles of nature trails to explore native Berkshire flora and fauna.
At 10 Willow Creek Road in Lenox (map) you can find out about local railroad lore, poke around in a New Haven Railroad caboose, watch a complex model railroad run, and see railroading videos. Nostalgic excursion trains run from the museum on a 15-mile route connecting Lenox, Lee, Stockbridge, and Great Barrington. The museum is open weekends and federal holidays only from late May through late October. More...
Inns right in the center of Lenox, walking distance to everything, include the 4-star, 13-room Kemble Inn and Restaurant, in a former mansion only a mile from Tanglewood. The 4-star, 19-room Rookwood Inn is equally convenient, as is the 4-star, 14-room Hampton Terrace Bed and Breakfast Inn.
Stockbridge, its wide Main Street lined with grand houses, each set apart in its own lawns and gardens, was the summer home of renowned illustrator Norman Rockwell, and of famous sculptor Daniel Chester French. The Norman Rockwell Museum here is full of the famed illustrator's work, and Chesterwood, Daniel Chester French's sculpture studio, is on the outskirts, as is the delightful Berkshire Botanical Garden.
Main Street in Stockbridge MA.
You'll want to stroll along Main Street east of the Red Lion Inn, admiring the well-kept old buildings, houses and shops. Then go west to see even grander houses, and north to take in the view from Eden Hill.
Visit Chesterwood, the summer estate and studio of renowned sculptor Daniel Chester French; Naumkeag, the sumptuous estate of a wealthy New York lawyer; Mission House, with furnishings from 1740 and earlier; the Norman Rockwell Museum; and the Berkshire Theater Festival.
Though similarly named, the village of West Stockbridge, 4.3 miles (7 km) northwest of Stockbridge, is a much smaller, quite different place with its own special ambience.
South of the berkshire Botanical Garden at 9 Glendale Road (MA Route 183; map), this museum boasts the world's largest collection of works by famed illustrator Norman Rockwell (1894-1978). It also features changing exhibits of others' art.
For decades Norman Rockwell was America's favorite popular artist. His illustrations for magazine covers and posters captured the best, funniest and most poignant moments in American life.
The world's largest permanent collection of paintings and illustrations by illustrator Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) is at the Norman Rockwell Museum just outside of Stockbridge MA (map).
Norman Rockwell wanted to be an artist from an early age, and began his artistic studies at the age of 14. While still a teenager, he became the art director of Boys' Life, the official magazine of the Boy Scouts of America.
In 1916, at the age of 22, he painted his first picture to appear on the cover of the popular Saturday Evening Post magazine. An amazing 321 of his illustrations appeared on the cover of the Post over the next 47 years.
In 1943 a disastrous fire destroyed Rockwell's studio and many of his works. Ten years later, he and his family moved to Stockbridge MA, where he lived and worked until his death in 1978.
The Norman Rockwell Museum is set in 36 acres of green, rolling lawns fringed with forest about 2 miles west of Stockbridge. For more, see the Norman Rockwell Museum website.
Just a short distance beyond the Norman Rockwell Museum at 4 Williamsville Road (map) is the Berkshire summer estate of renowned sculptor Daniel Chester French features his studio and a gallery of his work.
Just a few miles west of Stockbridge along MA Route 102 (map) is Chesterwood, the former summer estate of famed sculptor Daniel Chester French. His Berkshire estate features his studio and a gallery of his work. French (1850-1931) summered here from 1897 until 1931 and used the studio (built in 1898) near the house for his work, maintained by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
French's monumental works include the Seated Lincoln in Washington DC's Lincoln Memorial, and The Minute Man at Concord North Bridge.
You can visit both the mansion and studio as well as an 1800s barn which has been converted to a gallery featuring exhibits on French's life and work. A lovely country gentleman's garden, a woodland walk laid out by French himself, a panoramic view of Monument Mountain, and a museum store are unexpected extras to a Chesterwood visit.
Don't miss this delightful 24-acre garden, just right for a natural interlude in the midst of Berkshire culture. More...
The Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge MA, founded in 1928, has brought theater to the Berkshires for the better part of a century. It's organized by the Berkshire Theatre Group which stages performing arts events on five stages: three at the Festival's campus in Stockbridge, two in Pittsfield.
Performances of theater classics, with big-name performers, are given in the Main Theatre (once called the Berkshire Playhouse). Newer, more experimental works are set in the neighboring, smaller Unicorn Theatre and outdoor performances are at the Neil Ellenoff Stage.
Just west of the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy, at 5 Prospect Hill Road (map), this palatial mansion (1886) was designed by renowned architect Stanford White. Many of the sumptuous furnishings are still in place, and there are extensive formal gardens.
Naumkeag, the Choate residence.
Palatial Naumkeag in Stockbridge MA was designed by renowned architect Stanford White for Joseph Hodges Choate (1832-1917), a New York City attorney, and finished in 1886.
Many of the sumptuous period furnishings are still in place, and there are 49 acres (20 hectares) of formal gardens, including a Chinese temple with a circular Moon Gate, an Afternoon Garden, and the striking Blue Steps, a graceful cascade of staircases, white railings, pools and paper birch trees that is much admired—and much photographed.
Joseph Choate was appointed US ambassador to the Court of St James's in 1899, and the family lived in London until 1905.
Miss Mabel Choate, one of Joseph's daughters, inherited Naumkeag in 1929, and spent her summers here until her death in 1958, when Naumkeag was willed to The Trustees of Reservations, who now own it and open it to the public.
You must take a 35-minute guided tour to visit the house; you may wander in the gardens on your own (after paying the admission fee). The last tour of the day departs at about 4:15 pm.
From the Red Lion Inn on Main Street in the center of Stockbridge, follow Pine Street toward the National Shrine of Divine Mercy on Eden Hill, but follow the signs to the left to Prospect Hill Road and Naumkeag, barely a mile from the center of Stockbridge.
You can walk to Naumkeag from the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge in about 30 minutes (uphill; map).
Near the junction of MA 102 and 183, these pleasant gardens offer natural refreshment after all that indoor culture. More...
Mission House, on Main Street in the center of Stockbridge (map), was built in 1739 by the Reverend John Sergeant to carry out his Christian mission to the Stockbridge Indians.
The house is a National Historic Landmark owned by The Trustees of Reservations, and is furnished in American pieces all dating from 1740 or earlier. Guided tours are offered.
This late-Federal-style residence, across from the Mission House at 14 Main Street, is now a museum with an eclectic mix of European and American objects and furnishings. More...
The historic Shaker Mill, West Stockbridge MA.
With the broad Shaker Mill Pond to the north, emptying into the Williams River which wends its way southward through the village, it's a picturesque spot.
Most visitors enjoy their time here, meandering along the short streets, peering in windows and shops, having a meal or a cool refresher.
A small Information Kiosk is set up on Albany Road opposite the historic red-barn Shaker Mill with details on local businesses, shops, inns and restaurants.
Check out the two old-time Baldwin stores facing one another on Center Street: Arthur W Baldwin Hardware and Charles Baldwin & Sons, makers of pure vanilla extract.
Two long-time restaurants are Truc Orient Express serving Vietnamese cuisine; Rouge Restaurant & Bistro specializing in French-inspired cuisine; and the Shaker Mill Tavern for burgers, steaks, pasta and pizza.
Memorial Hall and Main Street, Lee MA.
Gateway to the Berkshires, Lee is where most visitors leave the Massachusetts Turnpike, follow smaller roads, and explore the county. The Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, based in neighboring Becket, draws visitors to Lee as well.
For many visitors driving to the Berkshire Hills along the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90), Lee, Massachusetts, 125 miles (201 km) west of Boston, 45 miles (72 km) southeast of Albany, NY, and 4.3 miles (7 km) south of Lenox, is the gateway to the Berkshires (map), located just north of I-90 Exit 2. Head north along US Route 20, and within a mile you're at the center of Lee on Park Place.
Here you'll find a small park, the Visitor Center for tourist information, the nice bright-red-brick Memorial Hall, the white New England high-steeple First Congregational Church.
In the center and in the verdant countryside surrounding Lee are several historic inns and B&Bs and comfortable hotels and motels, and the usual collection of shops and businesses.
This premier American summer dance program, founded in a delapidated barn in the Berkshire Hills in 1933, is now among the most important summer dance programs in the USA. It takes place at 358 George Carter Road (map) in the neighboring town of Becket, 8 miles (13 km) east of Lee, off US 20.
Bought by Ted Shawn and renovated for performances, the barn and the festival grew larger and more important over the years, enlisting the talents of Martha Graham, Alvin Ailey, Merce Cunningham, and similar lights.
The 10-week Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival season begins in late June and runs through August.
In the tiny village of Tyringham, 5 miles south of Lee along the Tyringham Road at 75-77 Main Road, is Santarella, a curious thatched cottage built by sculptor Henry Hudson Kitson (1863-1947), who studied at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris, then emigrated to the USA and set up house 5 miles (8 km) SE of Lee MA in the tiny village of Tyringham (map), once the site of a Shaker community. Kitson crafted The Minuteman statue which stands on Battle Green in Lexington, Massachusetts, and the Pilgrim Maiden statue in Plymouth MA.
Santarella, the fantasy-cottage studio of sculptor Henry Hudson Kitson in Tyringham MA, near Lee.
Santarella was Kitson's obsession and life's-work project. It is among the most unusual buildings in the USA.
Although Kitson made landmark statues and bas-reliefs of Civil War leaders (now in Vicksburg National Military Park), his Gingerbread House studio in Tyringham mwas his obsession. He spent much of the last 25 years of his life—and most of his money—working on it.
With a 45-foot (14-meter) ceiling, stained glass windows, a goldfish pond, and an 80-ton (73 metric ton) concrete-and-asphalt-shingle roof, Santarella is a unique fantasy structure that looks much smaller and simpler than it is. The 20th-century construction incorporates several much older farm structures, including two silos and parts of a barn.
October Mountain is Massachusetts' largest state forest at 16,500 acres (67 square kilometers). Once the estate of President Grover Cleveland's Secretary of the Navy, the forest now has 47 campsites just outside of Lee, and hiking trails for all levels of skill and mobility. The Appalachian Trail passes through the forest. More...
Largest town of the southern Berkshires (population 7100), it thrives on shops selling antiques, its restaurants, and musical events. Although it is certainly not a city, Great Barrington is the largest town in the southern Berkshire Hills, a major crossroads and commercial center. Supplies and services that you might not find in Stockbridge or Lenox you'll find here.
Searles Castle, in Great Barrington MA.
In the 19th century Mr and Mrs Edward Searles became the town's benefactors, establishing many public buildings and constructing for themselves Searles Castle, an immense mansion in a 100-acre (40-hectare) park which nudges right into the center of town. The Searles property is now a private school (John Dewey Academy) and unfortunately not open to visitors.
Great Barrington was an important town even before the American Revolution. The citizenry, angered at Britain's denial of the colonials' rights, prevented the king's judges from convening in the courthouse here in 1774.
The historic Mahaiwe Theater built in 1905 for vaudeville acts, converted to a cinema in 1930, is going strong after more than a century. It is now Great Barrington's drama, film and concert venue, right in the town center, offering a wonderful historic space as well as a full program of varied arts entertainments.
If mountain hiking is more to your taste than shopping, head north out of Great Barrington on US 7, and after 4.5 miles (7 km) you'll see signs for Monument Mountain, on the right-hand (west) side of the highway.
There are two trails to the summit, one easier but slightly longer than the other. The hike to the top, a rest, and back down will take between 2 and 3 hours. The view from the summit is very fine.
Follow US 7 south from Great Barrington for about 10 miles, and turn onto MA 7A for Ashley Falls. Your destination, a mile from Ashley Falls along Rannpo and Weatogue roads, is Bartholomew's Cobble, bordering the Housatonic River.
A "cobble" in this case is a high knoll of limestone, marble, or quartzite, 500 million years old, and covered with a rich and varied collection of native flora: trees, ferns, mosses, wildflowers.
The nature reservation, open year round, is owned by the Trustees of Reservations and has 6 miles (10 km) of hiking trails.
A naturalist is on duty from mid-April to mid-October, daily except Monday and Tuesday from 9 am to 5 pm, to answer your questions and point out natural highlights.
Another pretty nature nook, good for a picnic, is Bash Bish Falls, 12 miles (19 km) southwest of South Egremont, right on the New York state line in Bash Bish Falls State Park.
Follow MA 41 south out of town, and turn right onto Mount Washington Road (look for signs for Catamount ski area). Follow signs to Bash Bish Falls, taking East Street, then West Street, and finally Bash Bish Falls Road, deep in the Mount Washington State Forest.
You'll plunge into the valley carved by the Bash Bish Creek, and finally come to a parking area from which a steep trail leads to the falls in 1/3 mile (530 meters).
Stay on the road a bit farther and you'll come to another parking place, and an easier—but longer—trail (2/3 mile; 1 km). Stay on the road any longer and you'll end up on NY Route 344 in New York's Taconic State Park.
At the end of the trails, deep in the forest, is the 80-foot (24-meter) Bash Bish Falls, cascading into a chilly pool. A half hour's relaxation here on a hot summer's day is pretty close to Nirvana.
North & South Egremont
Egremont MA (map) actually consists of two settlements:
North Egremont is a tiny place on MA Route 71, due west of Great Barrington. It has a country store, an inn with a restaurant, and a few houses.
South Egremont, 4 miles southwest of Great Barrington on MA 23 and 41, is a much bigger place, with several inns and restaurants, shops, and churches, and quite a number of antique shops.
All in all, the town has only about 1225 residents, meaning it is still very rural, though the number of people you see here is amplified in summer by inn guests, antique-seekers and, in winter, by skiers going to or from the nearby Catamount Ski Resort. In summer, the traffic to Catamount is for the zip lines in its Aerial Adventure Park.
Dutch farmers from the colony of New York founded Egremont in 1722, and English settlers arrived a few years later. In 1761 the town was incorporated into the Massachusetts Bay colony, and people began saving antiques to sell to tourist 250 years later....
Williamstown (population 7500), 140 miles (225 km) from Boston in the far northwest corner of Massachusetts (map), is at the northern end of the Berkshire Hills. It boasts renowned Williams College and two fine art museums.
Founded in 1753 as West Hoosuck, its life and its name were soon affected by the career of Ephraim Williams, Jr, a soldier in the British colonial army.
Born in 1714, Williams surveyed several townships in these parts, then took command of fortifications which demarcated the frontier between the British and French North American empires. Among these defenses was Fort Massachusetts, which stood in North Adams.
During the French and Indian War (1754-1763), Williams led a column of troops from Massachusetts toward the French positions on Lake George, and died in the fighting (1755).
His will provided for the founding of a school in West Hoosuck, but only if the town took his name. It did, and Williams College enrolled its first students in 1793.
Founded in 1793, this small private liberal arts college is renowned for its high standards and famous alumni, and is considered one of the finest undergraduate colleges in the USA. The 100+ buildings on its 450-acre (182-hectare) campus cover the town and its 2,200 students and 334 faculty dominate its social, intellectrual and cultural life.
Among the finest small museums in the USA (map), with rich collections of French Impressionists, 19th-century American masters, and European Old Masters, the marvelous collections of the Clark Art Institute are the achievement of Robert Sterling Clark (1877-1956), a Yale engineer whose forebears had been successful in the sewing machine industry.
Clark began collecting works of art in Paris in 1912, married a French woman named Francine, and eventually housed his masterpieces in a classic white marble temple here in Williamstown (map).
The pristine original museum was greatly expanded in 1973 into new, modern exhibit space adjoining. In 2014 a new entrance, lobby, gift shop and parking lot were added.
The Clark has strong collections of paintings by the Impressionists, their academic contemporaries in France, and the mid-century Barbizon artists, including Millet, Troyon, and Corot. Of the Americans, there are significant works by Cassatt, Homer, Remington, and Sargent.
Earlier centuries are represented by well-chosen pieces of Piero della Francesca, Memling, Gossaert, Jacob van Ruisdael, Fragonard, Gainsborough, Turner, and Goya.
There are some sculptures, including Degas' famous Little Dancer of Fourteen Years, as well as prints, drawings, and noteworthy collections of silver and porcelain.
Admission is free to the permanent collection of about 12,000 objects spanning world cultures and the history of art.
American art from the late 1700s to the present, and especially since 1945, is particularly well-represented, with works by Ida Applebroog, Lynda Benglis, Willem de Kooning, Jim Dine, Philip Guston, Ann Hamilton, Jenny Holzer, Sol LeWitt, Robert Mangold, Robert Morris, Louise Nevelson, Philip Pearlstein, Adrian Piper, Robert Rauschenberg, Ad Reinhardt, Faith Ringgold, Larry Rivers, Cindy Sherman, Lorna Simpson, David Smith, Kiki Smith, Mark Tansey and Andy Warhol.
The museum is closed Monday (though open on major Monday holidays).
Founded in 1954, the Williamstown Theatre Festival has staged many original works that have moved on to Broadway and other prestigious venues. More...
The Williams College Department of Music arranges numerous concerts from September through May when college is in session.
In the summer, Williamstown Chamber Concerts organizes several chamber music performances at the Clark Art Institute.
Church spires in North Adams MA, looking toward Mount Greylock.
North Adams, a former industrial town in the extreme northwestern corner of Massachusetts 131 miles (211 km) northwest of Boston, at the northern extent of the Berkshire Hills (map), is now know mainly for two things: Mount Greylock, the highest mountain in Massachusetts, and MASS MoCA, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.
It's a small but pleasant town with a restored and beautified 19th-century Main Street (called DownStreet by locals) grand churches and mansions from the town's 19th-century industrial heyday, and adequate hospitality services, with many more nearby.
The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, 1040 Mass MoCA Way, on the Hoosic River (map), wants "to foster and present exciting new work of the highest quality in all media – and in all phases of its production."
Founded in a factory town with lots of cheap, large spaces, Mass MoCA can exhibit huge works of art that other museums can't accommodate.
In other words, you never know what you might see here: a finished gigantic work of sculpture, a performance art piece in rehearsal, artists painting, sculpting, welding, drafting sketches, discussing old work and new work and work yet to be conceived.
It's not just the huge interior spaces of the museum's 26 former industrial buildings on its 13-acre (5.26-hectare) campus. It's the technical, support and administrative staff that help to make an artist's conception a reality.
Once one of the country's largest factories for printed cloth, then a design and manufacturing facility for sophisticated electronics, the factory campus was available in 1986 when Thomas Krens, director of the Williams College Museum of Art, was looking for large spaces in which to display oversize works of contemporary art that couldn't be displayed in traditional museum spaces. The factory campus would have one gallery as long as a (US) football field (300 yards, 91.44 meters), and other, smaller spaces.
The idea for Mass MoCA was born, and the museum opened on May 30, 1999.
The museum stages five major exhibitions each year, and over 80 performance events. For information on current offerings, or to become a member of MASS MoCA, see the Mass MoCA website.
The best place to stay in North Adams is the 4-star, 47-room The Porches Inn at Mass MoCA, a row of historic 19th-century factory workers' houses restored to much-better-than-new condition. Located right across the Hoosic River from Mass MoCA (less than 5 minutes' stroll), The Porches has all the comforts of a luxury inn, including heated swimming pool (open summer and winter!), sauna, hot tub, Lobby Bar, breakfast room, free Wifi, etc. More...
The summit of Mount Greylock in the northwest corner of Massachusetts (map), is the highest point in the state and worth a visit for its spectacular views and its hiking trails. A small parking fee is charged for those arriving by car.
At 3491 feet (1064 meters), Mount Greylock is no Matterhorn, but it is a great hiking and scenic-view destination and, according to Harry Potter author J K Rowling, it is where the imaginary Mayflower Pilgrim Isolt Sayre established the Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
The 92-foot (28-meter) Veterans War Memorial Tower, originally designed to be a lighthouse in Boston's Charles River Estuary, is an observatory with windows at the top.
Explore some of the 40 miles (64 km) of hiking trails (including part of the Appalachian Trail) which thread through the forest of the Mount Greylock State Reservation's 11,000 acres (4452 hectares). Perhaps you'll run across Isolt Sayre's 17th-century stone house (see below).
Along with the marvelous views, you'll find Bascom Lodge (tel 413-743-1591), a hikers' hostel and dining room which can provide sleeping accommodations in private rooms or bunkrooms; breakfast of home-made pastries and hearty fare from 8:00 am to 10:00 am; lunch of soups, salads and sandwiches from 11 am to 4:30 pm; a sunset beverage hour of beer, wine and other refreshments from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm; dinner Wednesday through Sunday at 7:00 pm (one seating, menus online, reservations required).
The lodge is open from mid-May through mid-October.
According to Harry Potter author J K Rowling, the summit is also the location of the Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, founded in the 1600s by a wizard who came to Massachusetts with the Pilgrims on the Mayflower. An Irish orphan, Isolt Sayre, is said to have left Plimoth Plantation with a muggle friend and constructed a stone house on the summit in which to teach witchcraft and wizardry.
Getting to the Summit
Roads to the summit are open in warm weather (usually late June through October; closed in winter. Access to the summit, its Veterans War Memorial Tower and Bascom Lodge, is from either MA Route 2 in North Adams on the mountain's north side, or from US 7 at New Ashford on its west side, or Lanesborough on its south side. The Visitor Center is on Rockwell Road from Lanesborough to the summit.
There is no public transportation from the mountain's base to the summit. Even taxis will usually not take you.
Driving, please note that your GPS may mislead you! Do not depend on it alone. Follow these directions:
Four miles east of Williamstown along MA Route 2, just past a Shell fuel station, turn right (south) onto Notch Road, following a sign for Mount Greylock State Reservation.
From North Adams
About 1.5 miles (2.4 km) west of the center of North Adams along MA Route 2, Notch Road is on the left (south) just before a Shell fuel station. A small sign indicates this turn for Mount Greylock State Reservation.
If you have a GPS device, or a smartphone with GPS capability, use it for this ascent, as there are two tricky turns in the road. For your destination, input Mount Greylock State Reservation.
About 1.2 miles (2 km) up the hill, Notch Road makes a sharp turn to the left. There is a sign but the sign is easy to miss. (Pattison Road bears to the right along the shore of the Mt Williams Reservoir. If you see a body of water on your left, you've missed the turn, you're on Pattison Road, and you must turn around and return to Notch Road.)
The distance from MA Route 2 to the summit is about 8.9 miles (14 km). The road is narrow and winding, with an average speed of 20 to 25 miles per hour. The ascent by car takes between 25 and 30 minutes, the descent about the same.
Approaching from the south, follow US Route 7 north to Lanesborough. About 2 miles (3.2 km) after crossing the town line into Lanesborough, turn right on North Main Street and follow the signs 9 miles (14.5 km) to the summit along Rockwell Road.
The Mount Greylock Visitor Center is at 30 Rockwell Road (map) just before you enter the gate to the Mount Greylock State Reservation.
From New Ashford
From US Route 7 in New Ashford, turn east onto Greylock Road (there's a sign) and follow it to the summit.
On McAuley Road on the outskirts of North Adams, Natural Bridge is perfect for a picnic—and a geology lesson.
Drive or walk a mile (1.6 km) along MA Route 8 northeast from the center of North Adams MA. You'll pass the Eclipse Mill, then the Beaver Mill (map).
Just past the Beaver Mill, turn left (west) across a bridge, then follow the signs 1/2 mile (800 meters) up a narrow, winding road across a one-lane bridge, past the marble quarry (where the marble factory was) to the Visitor Center and parking area. Pay the small parking fee in the office of the Visitor Center.
You have to look for the sign indicating the bridge, then descend some steps to a dead-end viewing platform to see the cleft and the "natural bridge" above.
Nearby is the only white marble dam in the USA, built of the bedrock to form the pond that would supply water power to the marble factory in the quarry below.
Bring a picnic!
If your visit is around lunchtime, this is the place for a picnic. Tables are set around the park in sunny spots and shady, with good views of the pond, the grounds and the forest.