With the nearby White and Green mountains beckoning, Massachusetts hikers regularly skip over their home state's attractions in favor of these better-known ranges to the north. It's a pity because some of New England's best hiking lies in the northwest corner of the Bay State, in the Mt. Greylock State Reservation.
Appalachian Trail thru-hikers know the reservation well. It presents some of the first real mountains a northbound thru-hiker encounters since leaving Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Plus, Bascom Lodge atop Greylock has a standing offer of free lodging and a hearty meal for thru-hikers willing to trade hard labor. Work of a different kind occurs on the network of 21 trails that crisscross the mountainous park, where climbs of 1,000 feet per mile are common.
No trip to the reservation would be complete without a hike through The Hopper, a deep ravine slicing between the north side of Greylock and Mts. Prospect, Fitch, and Williams. The Hopper's precipitous terrain long ago spared its trees the axe, and it now contains one of New England's finest old-growth spruce forests. Adding to the ambiance are several raucous waterfalls. In spring wildflowers bloom in profusion up to the slopes of Mt. Greylock.
Whatever itinerary you plan, backcountry camping is prohibited in the reservation. Camping is confined to three lean-tos and two shelters, which are free but available on a first come, first served basis. The shelters are along the AT and tend to fill up fast. There is tent camping at Sperry Campground. Four dollars gets you a campsite with fire ring and picnic table. OK, it's not roughing it. You can find more privacy if you grab a site along Roaring Brook Trail. Bascom Lodge, atop Mt. Greylock, accommodates 36 guests and charges $13 per night, except in August when rates go up. The lodge has fireplaces, bathrooms, and serves hot meals. Reservations are required and the lodge fills up on summer weekends, but midweek it is generally uncrowded.
Oh, yeah, one other thing. Don't be surprised if you grind your way to the top of Mt. Greylock only to find a bunch of people who couldn't possibly have hiked up. Mt. Greylock has a paved road to the top. The tourists may have the same view but they sure don't enjoy the same perspective.
QUICK TAKE: Mt. Greylock State Reservation, Massachusetts
DRIVE TIME: Mt. Greylock State Reservation is in the northwest corner of Massachusetts, 130 miles (21/4 hours) west of Boston, and about 150 miles (3 hours) north of New York City.
THE WAY: The Hopper trailhead is on Potter Road, off of US 7 about 6 miles north of the visitor center.
TRAILS: The reservation contains 21 trails totaling about 50 miles. The Hopper Trail climbs through old-growth spruce, and the Cataract Trail leads to an impressive waterfall.
ELEVATION: The reservation dips to 900 feet at its southwest fringe, and tops out at 3,491 feet on Mt. Greylock.
CAN'T MISS: The lookout on Stony Ledge offers an over-view of The Hopper and a wonderful view of Mt. Greylock.
CROWD CONTROL: In June, AT thru-hikers come by, filling the campsites. Midweek or off-season is your best bet for peace, quiet, and a campsite.
MAPS: The Appalachian Mountain Club's Massachusetts and Rhode Island Trail Guide contains descriptions of all Greylock trails and a very good pull-out topo map of the reservation ($16.95, from AMC, 800-262-4455). The map is sold separately for $8.95 on waterproof paper, or $5.95 on plain paper. Include $2 for shipping and handling. The visitor center sells this map and distributes a free but less detailed trail map.
PIT STOP: Try Burke's in Williamstown, a friendly Irish pub about 1 mile north of the visitor center on US 7.
WALK SOFTLY: No fires are allowed in The Hopper and there's a one-night camping limit. There are chemical toilets at the campground, and these are meant to be used.
MORE INFORMATION: Mt. Greylock Visitor Center, P.O. Box 138, Lanesborough, MA 01237; (413) 443-0011.