Natural Instinct: A Slow Travel Guide to the Berkshires, Massachusetts

The Berkshires are an ideal spot to enjoy the changing of the seasons
The Berkshires are an ideal spot to enjoy the changing of the seasons | © Pat and Chuck Blackley / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Doug ONeill
14 September 2021

This rustic patch of New England is primed for fall leaf peeping, but small towns and scenic trails lure you to this nature-rich region for all seasons.

The mountainous Berkshires of western Massachusetts, bordered by New York to the west, Vermont to the north and Connecticut to the south, boast only two cities but plenty of towns and small scenic villages. While the area is known for its laid-back vibe and cultural offerings (including the hugely popular Tanglewood Music Festival), outdoor recreation, leaf peeping in the fall and nature pursuits such as hiking, biking, canoeing and snowshoeing lure active types year-round. Expect a rural, small-town feel, enveloped by Mother Nature.

Gedney Farm

Hotel
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Gedney Farm
Courtesy of Gedney Farm / Expedia.com
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Surrounded by pastureland in South Berkshire, Gedney Farm accommodates guests in 16 rustic-chic rooms and suites in a renovated dairy barn that’s reminiscent of a 19th-century Norman farm, all upstyled with granite fireplaces and whirlpool tubs. Guests can opt for a slow and easy hike in the nearby New Marlboro Preserve on a trail that takes you by Willow Creek gorge and along the banks of the Umpachene River, and return for farm-fresh food at veg-loving Gedney Kitchen.

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Wheatleigh Hotel

Hotel
Screenshot 2020-12-30 at 10.24.53
Courtesy of Wheatleigh / Booking.com

The 19-room Wheatleigh is a palazzo-inspired hotel from the 1890s with a horseshoe-shaped driveway that denotes its earlier era. But modern amenities – including Bang & Olufsen entertainment systems and Bose Bluetooth speakers in every room – firmly root the hotel in the present. The Wheatley’s main restaurant, the Portico by Jeffrey Thompson, serves contemporary French cuisine. While you’ll be tempted to stay on the property, the touching-distance trails of the Berkshire Mountains will lure you out beyond.

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Tourists

Boutique Hotel, Inn
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Tourists hotel
Courtesy of Tourists / Expedia.com

In the Berkshires city of North Adams sits a designer-savvy version of the classic American motor lodge you’d typically see along a highway. However, the 48-room Tourists hotel – done up in hipster-summoning blonde wood, with contemporary sculptures throughout – is in fact located on the scenic Mohawk Trail along the Hoosic River. Set on over 75 acres (30ha) of forest, the hotel offers hiking and outdoor yoga on nearby Mount Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts.

Berkshire Canoe Tours

Sports Center
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Men rowing a canoe,
© imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo

The Housatonic is one of the main rivers flowing through the Berkshires, and one of the region’s most popular. Guided canoe excursions with Berkshire Canoe Tours take guests paddling up the meandering waterway to observe abundant wildlife, such as red-tail hawks, owls, Canadian geese, beavers, muskrats, great blue herons, kingfishers and painted turtles. Tours, which set out from the Decker Boat Ramp in historic Lenox, run rain or shine.

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  • Berkshire Botanical Garden

    Botanical Garden
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    Man at Berkshire Botanical Garden in summer, Stockbridge, Massachusetts.. Image shot 2018. Exact date unknown.
    © Universal Images Group North America LLC / Alamy Stock Photo

    One of the oldest public gardens in northeastern United States, the 25-acre (10ha) Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge invites you to visit the display gardens (functional and ornamental) and also to learn about flora through lectures, workshops and exhibits. Highlights include the historic herb garden, established in 1937, and the exotic tree collection in the Towering Arboretum.

    Natural Bridge State Park

    Park
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    Natural Bridge State Park, North Adams, Berkshire County, Massachusetts, USA
    © Danita Delimont / Alamy Stock Photo
    Glacier activity gets the credit for the geological wonder that lures visitors to Natural Bridge State Park: the only natural white marble arch in North America. The forces of glacial meltwater carved the iconic arch out of 550m-year-old bedrock marble over 13,000 years ago. Park rangers lead daily guided walking tours if you’re keen to get more rock-solid information on the formation of the arch.

    Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum

    Train Station, Museum
    Map View

    Operated by the Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum, the Hoosac Valley Train transports visitors on a vintage rail car for the 10mi (16km) trip between the small towns of Adams and North Adams in the heart of the Berkshires. Expect to see rolling hills and huge stands of deciduous trees. Fall foliage season especially is an excellent time to book this train ride. You can use the parking lot at the Adams Visitor Center near the railway tracks and start point.

    The Mount

    Museum
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    Lenox, MA USA - June 24 2019 - The Mount. Edith Wharton's home from 1902 - 1911
    © Adam Gladstone / Alamy Stock Photo

    We know that the famous American author Edith Wharton could write – but did she practice yoga? Visitors to the Mount, the home Wharton built in 1902, certainly practice yoga on the lawn in front of the now National Historic Landmark in Lenox, Massachusetts. The Mount operates as a cultural center, offering a variety of tours, talks and storytelling. Yoga sessions must be booked in advance.

    Undermountain Farm

    Sports Center
    Map View
    An attractive happy smiling young woman dressed in a red polo shirt riding her white horse through long dried golden colour grasses, copyspace to the
    © 2checkingout / Alamy Stock Photo

    So you’ve come to Lenox to be entertained at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and other artists… But who says you can’t go from high-brow music to horseback riding during your visit to the Berkshires? Just 1.5mi (2.4km) from the Tanglewood venue is Undermountain Farm, where you can saddle up and ride through 150 acres (60ha) of hayfields, forest and grazing pastures, with trail rides for both beginners and experienced riders.

    These recommendations were updated on September 14, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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