Greylock Tops the Bay State

    The summit of Mount Greylock in Massachusetts is the highest peak in southern New England.

    The summit of Mount Greylock in Massachusetts is the highest peak in southern New England.

    At 3,491 feet, Mount Greylock is the highest peak in southern New England and Massachusetts. It’s also a large and long mountain, running more than 10 miles in length from north to south.

    So put it on your hiking to-do list this summer. But also know when you go, you won’t be alone.

    Nestled in the Bay State’s rolling northwest corner, the Taconic Ranges stand to the west while the Hoosac Range calls the east home. To the north, the Hoosic River valley is laid out in the foreground followed by Vermont’s rippling Green Mountains. The mountain touches some six towns too.

    Located in the 12,500-acre Mount Greylock State Reservation, there are more than 70 miles of trails for hiking, cross-country skiing, mountain biking, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling. The Appalachian Trail graces the reservation. Primitive camping, like at Sperry Campground or at the five lean-to shelters, provide a remote experience for backpackers while birders enjoy the wildflowers and butterflies as well.

    Throw in summit roads with a war memorial at its top and an appreciated seasonal lodge. Road bikers use the road as a challenge; there’s even an annual bicycle race to Greylock’s top. Downhill skiing also has its place on Greylock. The storied Thunderbolt Ski Trail graces the eastern slope. Cut in 1934, the trail was the site of the first Massachuetts State Downhill Championship race. Today, it’s a classic backcountry run worthy of bragging rights.

    Mount Greylock State Reservation was the Bay State’s first wilderness park established in 1898 with some 400 acres. The paved road—there are two ways up (from Lanesborough and North Adams) was first constructed in 1906 and in 1996 the parkway was named a state-designated scenic byway. The summit is on the National Register of Historic Places.

    The 93-foot high memorial, with its spiral staircase and windows, is open seasonally and affords wondrous views. The smart-looking tower was built in 1932 and marks the highest point in Massachusetts. Plaques help visitors identify the landscape. To the south is Cheshire, the Berkshires, Onota Lake, Pittsfield, and New York’s Catskills. Mounts Monandock and Wachusett, the Hoosic River Valley, and Adams are in the east. New York’s Adirondacks, Vermont’s Green Mountains, and the towns of North Adams and Williamstown are found while looking north. Finally, a western gaze yields the Hudson River Valley, Taconics, Albany, and Berlin Mountain.

    The rustic wood and stone Bascom Lodge is named after John Bascom, a former Williams College professor and champion for protecting the mountain and its surroundings. It was constructed between 1932 and 1938 and has a welcoming stone fireplace.

    So, you’re right in thinking Greylock is a busy place. But it’s also beautiful.

    A plaque near the summit tower tells some of Greylock's story.

    A plaque near the summit tower tells some of Greylock’s story.

    Choosing a route up Greylock is no easy task but using the Hopper and Appalachian Trails serves as a popular and rewarding hike through the Hopper, a glacially carved cirque through the thick forest and by gushing brooks in season.

    I was there on a foggy day venturing on the Hopper Trail. Initially the trail is somewhat uniform but it doesn’t take long for the trail to enter the Hopper on Greylock’s west side and start the steep climb through the unspoiled ravine. There’s some relief as the trail catches up to Sperry Road and the campground at 2.4 miles. There are some options at this point for those wanting to extend the outing. The road leads to Stony Ledge some .8 miles away with its splendid look down over the Hopper.

    But for this journey, I turned left and stayed on the road as it led by the campground entrance and another side trip, this one about a mile away to March Cataract Falls which plunge some 30 feet down the mountain’s western slope. The Hopper Trail pushes into the forest and continues upward to an intersection with the Overlook Trail, itself a fine striking alternative for the return trip for those who want to shake things up.

    I stayed on the Hopper Trail paralleling Rockwell Road, preparing me for the immersion with humanity on the summit. The Hopper Trail ends at the junction with the white-blazed Appalachian Trail where I marched for about a half mile to the foggy summit, shrouding not only the top, but also those around me, making Greylock seem lonelier than it often is.

    Images by Marty Basch

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