It may seem like everyone but you is dodging the tail-end of mud season and hopping a flight to Florida. But, let’s face it, this winter was beyond brutal. Many of us were forced to cash in our vacation slush fund to finance our literal “slush fund” (ie. the plow guy, roof rake, ice melt, snowblower shear pins … not to mention the heating bills).
So stick around, brave the muck and take comfort in knowing that you are not alone. Here is the Berkshire Family Focus list of FREE Berkshire Spring Staycation ideas. We hope to see you out there! Please share your pics and more staycation ideas with us on Facebook. (We don’t mind a little mud.)
1. Ashmere Lake Dam & Kittredge Elementary Playground, Hinsdale/Peru
Nestled in the hidden backroads of Hinsdale and Peru, the newly constructed Ashmere Lake dam is an engineering marvel. The trail to the right of the public boat ramp is mud free, perfectly flat and will lead you directly over the dam. It’s the perfect lookout above the lake to catch a glimpse of the Spring thaw in action, let kids explore a modern working dam and discuss things like run-off , Lake ecology and aquatic life. You will likely spot the Canadian Geese migrating back for the season and maybe even a Great Blue Heron looking for a snack along the melting shoreline.
The trail to the left of the boat launch skirts the south side of the lake and typically makes for a kid-friendly hike, but the mud might be an issue at this time of year. The paved boat launch area, however, is the perfect spot for splashing rocks in the water and skipping stones across the remaining ice. (Take Route 143/Maple St. in Hinsdale to right on Creamery Road. Merge left onto Middlefield Road/Skyline Trail, and then take next left on Hickingbotham/Smith Road. Look to your left for the dark brown gate of DCR entrance to Ashmere Lake State Park.)
On your return trip, stop by Kittredge Elementary School (corner of Route 8 and Route 143), where the play structure, complete “big kid” swings and slides, seesaws, jungle gym and a rock climbing wall, will keep kids moving. And, now that you’ve worked up an appetite by then, you absolutely must stop at Ozzie’s Steak n’ Eggs (one block up from the school at 26 Maple St.) for lunch. You will not be disappointed! (Note: Ozzie’s is closed on Mondays.)
2. Ashuwillticook Rail Trail & Whitney Farms, Cheshire/Adams
This ten-foot wide paved trail the perfect go-to activity during mud season. The 11.2 mile biking/walking trail has multiple parking areas and access points, but for this time of year (bathroom facilities don’t open till mid-May), we recommend the parking area at Russell Street Field in Adams, which has a fabulous new play structure, bike racks, and is a short walk to coffee/food/bathrooms/snacks in downtown Adams. (Follow Rail Trail signs on Route 8, taking a left on Prospect St., to a right on Harmony St.) It’s the perfect spot for parents pushing strollers, toddlers pushing doll strollers and young bikers.
And, just a few miles down Route 8 from the Adams stretch of the Ashuwillticook Trail, Whitney Farms (1774 Route 8/State Road) is now open for the season! Stop in at the Farm Market to grab a coffee, baked goodie or a quick sandwich, and then let the kids loose. They’ll never want to leave! If the peacocks, baby sheep and goats, and friendly pony don’t grab their attention, the multiple play structures will. Plan to stay a while.
3. Beartown Mountain, Monterey & Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridgey
Set your GPS for 65 Blue Hill Road in Monterey. Beartown Mountain is the perfect day trip for families with kids of all ages. Even if there’s still a chill in the air, pack your lunch and sand toys. The state parks are not officially opened for the season yet, so there is no parking fee and you will likely have the park mostly to yourself. The 1.5 mile Benedict Pond Loop Trail is a must. It’s well maintained with a series of walkways and bridges spanning the wet areas, so you should remain fairly dry. (Trail maps are available on site.)
Only 6 miles away is the famed Norman Rockwell Museum, featuring changing kid-friendly exhibits and Art Zone, as well as Norman Rockwell classics. But on your way we recommend a soup/sandwich pit stop at the Monterey General Store when you pass through downtown Monterey.
4. Becket Quarry Walk & Becket Town Park, Becket
Becket Quarry is a spectacular self-guided outdoor museum and nature preserve, marked by dozens of stone pillars highlighting the history of the long abandoned quarry, including industrial-sized turn of the Century drills, winches, derricks and mining vehicles; not to mention a massive marble staircase rising to a cathedral-like arrangement of birch trees with unbelievable views of the water-filled quarry below. Trails open in daylight hours year round. Take Route 20 to 456 Quarry Road, Becket.
After your quarry hike, take a load off in the picnic pavilion at Becket Town Park on Main St./Route 8, where you will also find a basketball court, beach volleyball, tether ball, baseball field, skate park, sandbox and a unique wooden play structure. Pack some balls and sand toys (or trucks for zooming up and down the skate park ramps). The playground is just a short walk across the baseball field to the Becket Country Store & Cafe, the perfect place to pick up lunch or a snack (or take a bathroom break).
5. Berkshire Fish Hatchery & Umpachene Falls, New Marlborough
This “national treasure” in South County offers an amazing local opportunity for kids to learn about watersheds, ecosystems, and the conservation of our county and nation’s fishery resources. Start your visit by stopping by the information kiosk and picking up a trail map. Three trails skirt the property and lead visitors past a variety of trailside spectacles including, aquifers, “fish tents,”plank bridges, quartzite rock slides, a giant glacial crater made of sand and gravel. The hatchery is located at 240 Hatchery Road and is open for tours from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
After a hike at the hatchery, take a 7.5-mile drive down Route 183/Route 57 to Umpachene Falls, where you can picnic beside the falls and explore the walking trails in the 5-acre park. From Route 57, follow Mill River Southfield Road/Hadsell St. to Umpachene Falls Road.
6. Clark Art Trails & Field Farm, Williamstown
While parents will have to pay admission to tour one of the most extraordinary art collections in the world, kids under 18 are always FREE.
Also, always FREE, is access to The Clark’s extraordinarily beautiful 140-acre property, located on 225 South Street in Williamstown. The parking area on the hill behind the Lunder Center is perfect for families looking to explore the Woodland and Meadow Trails. Don’t forget to search for hidden geocached “treasures!” There are accessible bathrooms (without museum admission) to the right of the entrance just inside the Lunder Center .
After a hike at The Clark, head south on Route 7 to Field Farm (554 Sloan Road), for more fabulous landscapes and free art. Parking and trail maps are available to the right of the entrance. The pond trail is a quick loop, complete with wood bridges and perfect for small kids. The 1 mile North Trail will guide you past spectacular outdoor sculptures and unbeatable mountain views. And, the Caves Loop will capture young explorers imaginations as they watch the small stream disappear into a series of underground caves.
7. Dorothy Frances Rice Forestry Preserve & Peru Library, Peru
The main trail into the Forestry Preserve is an old road. It’s closed to vehicles but very stroller friendly. Avoid the lure of the pastel painted arrows marking the other trails until you make it to the red cape-style ranger station and welcome center at the end of the main trail (about a 1/4-mile) where you’ll find a grouping of low benches, the site trail map, a rustic wishing well (a kid favorite) and a grove of apple trees. Every trail on the property measures one mile or less, so you can just pick a color and go, knowing it’ll circle back to where you started (Pond Trail is a must). And, the trees are marked with plaques identifying the type of tree, providing parents with a great teaching opportunity. To find the preserve, take Route 143 through Hinsdale, straight up (literally) to the center of Peru, where you can’t miss the red and white weather tower. Head toward the tower by turning onto South Road. Follow the road until it forks sharply to the right. Straight ahead you will see the parking area and entrance gate to the preserve.
The Peru Library at 6 West Main Road is open from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. on Saturdays and 1 – 7 p.m. on Wednesday. It offers clean bathrooms and a kid’s “Play and Learn” hour every Wednesday from 3:30 – 4:30 p.m.!
8. Giggle Park & Du Bois Center, Great Barrington
With it’s modern play structures, Giggle Park’s playground has an almost sculptural feel. It sits just back from Main St, opposite The Mahaiwe, on Castle Street and features a fenced-in play area to keep kids from trying to escape to Robin’s Candy Shop (just around the corner). Giggles are guaranteed!
Balance your play on this Berkshire Staycation, with a valuable history lesson. The W.E.B. Du Bois Center, at 684 South Main St., is dedicated to exploring the African American experience and issues regarding social justice. Through programs, exhibits and events, visitors to the Du Bois Center can learn about the early life and Great Barrington public school education of the Civil Rights leader, prolific author and the first African American to earn a doctoral degree from Harvard. Upon leaving the center, take a minute to explore the rich history of the Mahaiwe Cemetery, where the wife, daughter and son of W.E.B. Du Bois are interred.
And, don’t leave town before stopping in at the Mason Library and grabbing lunch a one of Great Barrington’s many downtown eateries. We recommend the nearby and kid-friendly Gypsy Joynt, Baba Louie’s or Neighborhood Diner.
9. Glendale Falls & Keystone Arch Bridges, Becket/Chester/Middlefield
One of the state’s highest and most powerful waterfalls can be found just over the Becket/Washington Berkshire border in Middlefield, where Glendale Brook plunges 150 feet over rock ledges, to the middle branch of the Westfield River.
A meticulously maintained 3/4-mile gravel trail leads visitors downhill, over a series of wooden and rock staircases, from the parking area to the bottom of the falls. Follow the trail to the left of the parking area to a series of large flat rocks and shallow pools, for a picturesque picnic spot at the top of the falls. Look for the Trustees of Reservations signage on Clark Wright Road in Middlefield.
After departing the falls, hop on Jacob’s Ladder Scenic Byway/Route 20 (the Country’s first auto road over a mountain range, completed in 1910) to the Keystone Arches. Built for the railroad in 1833 and 1841, and the oldest bridges of their kind in the U.S., the arches are the highlights of the 2.5-mile Keystone Arch Bridge (KAB) Trail. Parking for the trail is available at the crossroads of Herbert Cross and Middlefield Roads in the town of Chester.
Stop in at the nearby Roscoe’s Restaurant on 30 Main St. for some homemade mac n’cheese or a locally grown gourmet salad.
10. Hancock Shaker Village & Clapp Park, Hancock/Pittsfield
More baby animals are arriving every day, and kids under 12 are FREE through May 3! Spend a day exploring this 750-acre living-history museum, including twenty historically authentic buildings, heirloom gardens, livestock barn and pastures, and 1-mile Farm & Forest Trail. In the Discovery Room, kids can hold a baby chick, learn about beekeeping or weaving, dress like a Shaker, make a craft to bring home, and even try their hand at milking a cow. (Bessie’s not real but her underside is pretty realistic.)
And, if you are headed to Hancock Shaker Village via Route 20/West Housatonic Street, use the opportunity to check out one of the largest play structures in the county at Clapp Park (215 West Housatonic St. in Pittsfield). You’re kids will thank you.
11.Heritage State Park & Noel Field Athletic Complex, North Adams
Tour the old Boston and Maine Railroad yard at 115 State St. and discover the haunting secrets behind the famed 4.75-mile long tunnel through Hoosac Mountain, where 200 men lost their lives during the construction.
Then, head south to 310 State Street/Route 8, to Noel Field, where kids can enjoy running on the track or exploring the new state of the art play structure. (We recommend swinging by Dunkin Donuts on your way to the field!)
12. Kennedy Park & Lenox Community Center Playground, Lenox
With over 14 miles of groomed, town-maintained trails, Kennedy Park is a great place for families looking to bike/hike. Dogs are also welcome on leashes. In early spring, we recommend parking at the Church on the Hill or behind Department of Public Works at 275 Main Street.
After your hike, head downtown for shopping, dining, and/or ice cream (you can’t beat the Scoop at 51 Church St.), and check out the spectacular play structure behind the Lenox Community Center (65 Walker St.). Your kids will not be able to resist the giant crocodile and super fast corkscrew slide (next to the full-size basketball court).
13. Lanesborough Elementary Playground & Balance Rock, Lanesborough
School’s closed for the week, so it’s the perfect time to check out the two awesome play structures at Lanesborough Elementary. One is fenced in and very toddler friendly and the other will appeal to kids of all ages. Plus there’s a full-court basketball court, soccer fields, paved walkways for young bike riders and a picnic pavilion. It is hands down, one of the nicest play areas in the county.
But, don’t tire your kids out completely yet. While in town, you most definitely need to grab lunch or take-out from Ye Olde Forge (125 N. Main Street) and then head south on Route 7 to see a 165-ton limestone boulder, balanced impossibly on a tiny stone, covered with decades of graffiti!! A photo op at Balance Rock should be a must on any family’s bucket list. Follow Route 7, to Bull Hill Road then left on Narragansett Ave., and right on Balance Rock Road. Follow signs to parking area.
14. Laura’s Lookout/Ice Glen & Stockbridge Playground, Stockbridge
Turn left onto Route 7 off of Main Street, and take the second left on Park Street. Parking is available at the end of the road. Cross the bridge and take a left to follow the riverside trail, which is an easy walk with multiple rest/viewing areas along the trail (perfect for smaller kids). The trail, over the bridge, into the woods will fork to the left to “Laura’s Lookout,” a metal fire tower that can be climbed for a panoramic views of Stockbridge and the Monument Valley (1.5 miles round trip). The other fork will lead hikers to Ice Glen, a glacial ravine that holds ice until mid-summer (1-mile round trip).
Another super fun option with kids if to follow the left hand rail alongside the river before crossing the bridge. It will take you past an old stone furnace and to the rear parking lot of the Stockbridge Town Hall and the backside of the Stockbridge Town Playground, which features multiple play structures, swings, and old-school jungle gym, merry-go-round and spring-loaded riding toys, as well as the town little league field and tennis courts. Parking for the playground is also available at the Town Hall at 50 Main St. and it’s a short walk to downtown coffee and cafes. Note: The Stockbridge Library at 46 Main St. (but temporarily housed at the Stockbridge Station) offers a childrens’ story and craft hour each Friday at 10 a.m. and there are several kid-approved lunch spots in the center of town.
15. Monument Mountain & Muddy Brook Playground, Great Barrington
One of the county’s most well-traveled hiking trails, with sweeping views stretching from the Catkills to Mount Greylock. A hike to the 1,642-foot Squaw Peak summit of Monument Mountain will not disappoint. With a rapid elevation gain and steep unguarded ledges, you may want to skip the summit with smaller kids. BUT, when you leave the mountain, cross Route 7 and check out the Muddy Brook Elementary School play area, where little dare devils can sharpen their climbing skills in a slightly safer environment. With a dozen swings, a brand-new play structure, and shady benches, it’s the perfect spot to rest or snack after a long hike (318 Monument Valley Road).
16. Museum of AniMagic & Lee Elementary School Playground, Lee
Spend an hour at this free kid-friendly two-room museum, learning about the Berkshire’s role in movie animation history and the animation technologies that make today’s blockbusters possible. Located at 135 Main St., the Museum of AniMagic is a must-see in South County. Admission is free to all; call ahead for reservations.
While on Main Street, stop in at one of the many family-friendly downtown eateries and check out the kids’ section at the Lee Library. (Story Time is at 10:30 a.m. each Thursday.) Next, head up the hill to Lee Elementary School at 310 Greylock St., where there are three state of the art play ground areas for kids of all ages (behind the school), plus a beautifully landscaped, paved walkway for young bikers and a full-size basketball court.
17. Notchview, Windsor & Pettingill Memorial Recreational Field, Cummington
Located on Route 9 in Windsor, Notchview, is known for its twenty-five miles of Nordic ski trails, but it’s 3,000 acres of wooded passages, historic hayfields and pastures, stone walls and cellar holes will have you coming back to hike and explore year round. The Budd Visitor Center with cafe and snowshoe/ski rental shop is only open during the winter months, but the Adirondack trail-side shelters and restrooms are accessible year round.
After your hike, stay headed east on Route 9/Berkshire Trail West, and stop in at the Old Creamery Co-Op (you can’t miss the cow on the roof) to dine on organic and sustainably-grown soups, salads, sandwiches and baked goods in the kid-friendly dining area, complete with toys, puzzles and a book corner.
With full bellies, head on down the hill to the Pettingill Memorial Recreational Field, nestled behind Berkshire Trail Elementary School in downtown Cummington. Kids are sure to be impressed by the giant tower with corkscrew slide, zip line, springy waverunner and motorcycle rides, and acres of grassy running space. The area also boasts an oversized picnic pavilion, baseball field, tennis courts and beautifully landscaped walking trails.
18. Old Mill Trail & Hinsdale Town Playground, Hinsdale
The parking area for the trailhead of the must-try Old Mill Trail is at the junction of Route 8 and Old Dalton Road. Peppered with beautifully engineered bridges and hedged with cool sites, like the old dam, an abandoned vintage auto, old mill ruins, jutting boulders, a weather-protected trail journal, and a stone stairway, the trail skirts 1.5 miles of the East Branch of the Housatonic River, the first 1/2 mile of which is handicap accessible and great for strollers! (This is a great first hike for kids new to hiking.)
After your hike, head across Old Dalton Road and enjoy a slice of pizza or SoCo Creamery ice cream at Hinsdale Trading Company. (We recommend take-out and outdoor dining in the riverside gazebo.) Then continue on Route 8 to the center of town, where a left on Maple Street will take you to the town playground, where there is plenty of off-street parking in front of the Community Center. Completely fenced in, with toddler swings, sandbox, riding toys and low-to-the-ground play structure, the park is ideal for younger kids.
19. Olivia’s Lookout & Interlaken Playground, Lenox/Interlaken
Olivia’s Lookout is about 1.5 miles up Richmond-Lenox Road, from Route 143 in Lenox (just past Tanglewood’s Main Gate). It offers stunning year round views of Stockbridge Bowl and is the perfect backdrop for family photo ops. The lookout is also a great parking spot, for hopping on Burbank Trail, a 3.2-mile loop that circles Monks Pond and the 1850’s Gorman Homestead. The Yukon Ridge South trailhead is also just across Lenox Road from the parking area.
From the Olivia’s Lookout, head back down the mountain to Lenox and take a right on Route 183/Interlaken Road. In the center of Interlaken, turn right again on Averic Road. On the other side of the stone bridge you will spot the small parking area for Interlaken Park, a hidden Berkshire gem of a playground, with old school play equipment, an
oversized sandbox, and a gravel beach and stonewall alongside a stream — the perfect spot for tossing rocks in the water. Bring a ball and your sand toys. Pack a snack and stop by the Stockbridge Bowl boat launch area (just up the road) afterwards for a picnic.
20. Pinegrove Park & Craneville Elementary Playgrounds, Dalton
Sitting on 7 acres bordering Curtis Ave., Carson Ave., High St. and 3rd Ave., Pinegrove Park offers two full-size basketball courts, a baseball field, two softball fields, a football field, picnic pavilion, handicap accessible bathrooms, and two playground structures.
Stop in at Juice n’ Java, Dalton Restaurant or the Union Block Bakery for a snack or a quick coffee on your way to the park, and check out the kids section at the Dalton Free Library while you’re in town. Your kids are sure to give the two giant play areas at Craneville Elementary on Park Ave., two thumbs up as well.
21. Steven’s Glen & Shark Rock, Richmond
Steven’s Glen is a 128-acre parcel of land, with family-friendly hiking trails featuring wild blackberry bushes, natural stone steps, rustic benches and bridges, an observation deck, and magnificent views of gorges, glens and falls. A small parking area is available on Lenox Branch Road/Lenox-West Stockbridge Road, where you will see the Natural Resource Council signage and nearby trail map.
While on the mountain, if you have kids, you also have a moral obligation to take Lenox Roaf/Richmond Mountain Road from Route 183 in Lenox towards Swamp Road in Richmond to see “SHARK ROCK.” Other nearby hiking trails include Yukon Ridge North, Yukon Ridge South, Burbank Trail, Charcoal Trail and the Micheal H. Walsh Trail.
22. Tyringham Cobble & Tyringham Park,Tyringham
Walk through mountain meadows and follow the Loop Trail at Tyringham Cobble past ancient bedrock formations to the summit for panoramic views of the Tyringham Valley. Explore over 2 miles of trails, including a portion of the Appalachian Trail. Challenge you little hikers to find “Rabbit Rock” and to create names for other unusually shapes rock formations. Parking is available at 20 Jerusalem Road (off of Tyringham/Main Road).
And, if you are visiting the Cobble on a Saturday, stop in at the Tyringham Free Public Library (10 a.m. – noon) at 118 Main Road for a close look at the Ordovician marble and Precambrian gneiss from the Cobble used in the stonework above the library fireplace.
Also in the heart of Tyringham Village you will find Tyringham Park (across from post office on Tyringham/Main Road), a gated play wonderland for parents and kids, with a giant play structure and multiple swinging and sliding options. With a little imagination, the caboose of the wooden train can easily be transformed into a dining car for little snackers.
23. Ashley House, Sheffield/Ashley Falls & The Upper Housatonic Valley African American Heritage Trail, South Berkshires
The grounds of the Ashley House, located at 117 Cooper Hill Road in Ashley Falls, are open year round and free to the public. Discover the story of the Colonel John Ashley family and the African Americans enslaved on their property during the 18th Century. The house sits adjacent to Bartholomew’s Cobble and is an anchor site for the Upper Housatonic Valley African American Trail, which encompasses 29 historical sites where some of the most influential individuals in our nation’s African American history lived, worked and played. Visit Ashley House for a day of history and hiking on the surrounding scenic trails traveled by Elizabeth “Mum Bett” Freeman, the brave young woman who claimed her liberty and helped to end legalized slavery in Massachusetts when she sued Col. Ashley in 1781 and won her freedom.
24. Washington Town Park, Washington & Basin Pond, Becket
If you haven’t visited the Washington Town Park on Route 8/South Washington State Road, put in at the top of your to-do list. There are wide open spaces for running, paved paths for strolling, firepits for grilling, a pavilion for picnicking, swings of all sizes, a modern play structure, merry-go-round, ride-on toys and slides, not to mention the basketball court, soccer and baseball fields. The park will quickly become a family favorite.
If you are looking to extend your day in the hilltowns, head south on Route 8 where you can stock up on provisions at the Becket General Store before heading to Basin Pond. It’s an easy hike on well maintained trails, past dramatic boulders with natural stepping stone stairs and bridges over streams and brooks. It offers a gorgeous view of the twice-dammed Basin Pond, which eventually broke loose, flooding the surrounding area. A wooden lookout over the dam ruins is the perfect place to stop for pictures or a trail-side snack. The parking area on Becket Road is well-marked with blue DCR signage and trail maps are available on site.
25. Wahconah Falls State Park & Tamarack Hollow, Dalton/Windsor
It’s just a short walk from the parking lot to the best view in Wahconah Falls State Park, where several small falls meet at an outcropping of gneiss to form a spectacular 40-foot cascade. The nearby 1/2-mile Loop Trail is an easy trek that will take you to the top of the falls and through the shade of the surrounding conifer forest. Follow the river’s edge a bit downstream and you will find the perfect picnic/rest area beside the pools formed in the rock basins below the falls. The park entrance is located on North Street/Wahconah Falls Road. (No parking fee.)
As you leave the park, head back out to Route 9 and turn right, heading towards Windsor. In short time, you will see Savoy Hollow Road on your left. Just up the road, you will find Tamarack Hollow, a highland valley nature and cultural center in a 32-acre conservation area, with a unique and ecologically sensitive forest ecosystem. Parking is available year round at 1515 Savoy Hollow Road for hikes on the Tamarack Hollow property and neighboring conservation lands in Windsor and Savoy.
As you’re heading back down Route 9, stop in at Friendly Fred’s for a snack and/or sandwich, or head into Dalton for a slice or a whole pie at Manny’s Pizza.
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