Ready, Set, Get Outside! Where to hike, bike, kayak and more …


7 activities that will get you off the couch and out of the house

The Berkshires and Southern Vermont, as we know it, won’t be the same this summer. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do. We came up with 7 activities — biking, fishing, bird-watching, hiking and kayaking, as well as state parks and natural wonders to seek out — and some suggestions as to where you can do them, to keep your summer full.

5 Places to Bike

If one thing is certain about the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that more Americans are participating in outdoor recreation than before the outbreak. Hiking, running and cycling have seen an upward trend, as individuals and families seek respite in outdoor activities. In June, The Associated Press reported that bicycle sales in April and May registered their “biggest spike in the U.S. since the oil crisis of the 1970s.” Sales of adult leisure bikes tripled in April, while overall bike sales doubled from the year before.

Bike riding is a great form of exercise and way to enjoy time outside while still being able to socially distance. It’s also a great way for children to burn off extra energy and for families to enjoy some time outside the house.

To help riders looking for alternatives to their normal routine, we reached out to some local cyclists, who suggested a variety of routes with different terrains and levels of effort.

— Jennifer Huberdeau

Ashuwillticook Rail Trail

Lanesborough, Cheshire and Adams, Mass.

Bike paths and rail trails, like the 12.7-mile Ashuwillticook Rail Trail that runs from Lanesborough to Adams, are great places for cyclists of any experience level. The trail is accessible from numerous locations along the route and is open for biking, running, walking and in-line skating. The 10-foot-wide trail offers a paved, level surface for users with scenic views of Cheshire Reservoir, Mount Greylock and the Hoosic River.

Portions of the trail will be unavailable for part of the summer, as 11 miles of the trail are upgraded and resurfaced. The southern portion, from the Berkshire Mall Connector Road parking lot in Lanesborough north to Church Street in Cheshire, reopened at the beginning of July. Phase II of the project, from Church Street in Cheshire north to the Adams Visitors Center, is expected to be closed through early fall. The newest portion of the rail trail, 1.5 miles running from the Adams Visitors Center north to Lime Street in Adams, will remain open throughout both phases of the project.

Mount Greylock

Williamstown, New Ashford, Lanesborough, Adams and North Adams, Mass.

Mount Greylock is a destination for cyclists who like a challenge. This route, created by Bike New England on ridewithgps.com, is the less challenging of the two routes to the summit. But, this 37-mile bike ride is no piece of cake, it just avoids the steeper inclines and hairpin turns faced in an ascent from Notch Road in North Adams.

Beginning at the Milne Public Library in Williamstown, follow Route 7 south through New Ashford into Lanesborough, turning onto Rockwell Road to make the 10-mile ascent to the summit of Mount Greylock. From there, descend the mountain using the steeper Notch Road into North Adams. From Notch Road, follow Route 2 East back to Williamstown to complete the loop.

Kennedy Park – Lenox Mountain Intro Loop

Arcadian Shop, Lenox, Mass.

Kennedy Park, Lenox, Mass. Berkshire Eagle File Photo.

For those looking for a route to tackle with a mountain bike, one of the best places to head to in the Berkshires is Kennedy Park in Lenox. This 10-mile loop, posted on trailforks.com by a member of the Berkshire chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association, is listed as an intermediate introductory loop that begins at the Kennedy Park entrance behind the Arcadian Shop at 91 Pittsfield Road, Lenox, travels through Kennedy Park and includes a climb up Lenox Mountain. Four miles of this ride are spent climbing, with the other 6 being flat or spent in descent.

Kennedy Park has several other mountain bike paths that are maintained by the town and Berkshire NEMBA. Trail maps are available at the Arcadian Shop or at townoflenox.com.

Manchester Local (Wendy’s Way)

Manchester, Vt.

This 5.9-mile ride, created by Bike Manchester Vt on ridewithgps.com, travels along paved highways and back roads in Manchester. Begin at the Dana L. Thompson Recreational Park on Recreation Park Road and head out on to Vermont Route 30, taking a right and traveling along Bonnet Street for 1.8 miles before turning onto North Road.

After 1.7 miles on North Road, take a right on to Maple Street and follow it for 1.1 miles, taking a slight right as the road becomes Main Street. After about three-tenths of a mile, take a left onto School Street and then a right onto Bonnet Street. Another five-tenths of a mile and you’ll take a right onto Recreation Park Road, returning to the start of your journey.

Williamstown to Pownal

Williamstown, Mass,. and Pownal, Vt.

Enjoy the bucolic countryside as you ride from downtown Williamstown, Mass., north across the state line through Pownal, Vt., before looping back.

Beginning at the Milne Public Library travel around the roundabout, exiting onto Main Street/Route 2 East. After one-tenth of a mile, turn left onto Park Street. After traveling eight-tenths of a mile, turn right onto U.S. 7 North, staying on the road for 5.9 miles. Turn right onto Burrington Road, remaining on the road for 1.9 miles before turning right onto US Route 7.

After a half-mile, turn left onto North Pownal Road. Take a slight left onto VT 346 after 3 miles. Follow VT 346 until it turns into U.S. 7 South. Remain on Route 7 South, through the roundabout in Williamstown, ending the ride back at the library.

5 Fishing Spots

Fishing is an all-season sport in Southern Vermont and the Berkshires. An angler’s paradise, the region offers ample opportunities for freshwater fishing in lakes, rivers, streams and ponds from a boat, canoe or shoreline. And there’s plenty of spots for those who enjoy fly fishing.

During the summer, when temperatures creep up, the best time to head out is in the early morning or late afternoon, when water temperatures are cooler and fish tend to bite more. In late summer and early fall, when cooler temperatures prevail, you can sleep in a little later and enjoy midday fishing.Before heading out, know the rules of the location you’re fishing in and what you’re fishing for. Some areas, like the Battenkill River, are catch-and-release-only on the Vermont-side of the border. And be sure to check the daily catch and weight limits on certain types of fish available at your fishing spot, as different states have different limits and requirements.

— Jennifer Huberdeau

Battenkill River

Manchester, Sunderland and Arlington, Vt.
Known for:
brook and brown trout

The Battenkill River is famous for its brown trout and abundant brook trout. The river stays cold all summer long, making it great for midsummer fishing. According to guiderecommended.com, fishing is best up along the banks and pools of the river. The upper river, near Manchester, has a soft and muddy bottom; while the lower section’s bottom is made up of gravel and small rocks.

Orvis, in Manchester, not only offers daily fishing reports at orvis.com/vermont-fly-fishing-reports but also will recommend fishing spots to callers seeking advice: 802-362-3750.

Gale Meadows Pond

Gale Meadows Road, Londonderry, Vt.
Known for:
largemouth bass

Gale Meadows Pond is a 195-acre man-made pond in the 707-acre Gale Meadows Pond Wildlife Management Area, owned by Vermont Fish and Wildlife. The pond is known for its largemouth bass, but you can also catch bluegill, pumpkinseed, rock bass, chain pickerel, yellow perch, and brown bullhead.

Harriman Reservoir

Whitingham and Wilmington, Vt.
Known for:
smallmouth bass

Harriman Reservoir, Vt. Brattleboro Reformer File Photo.

Harriman Reservoir, also known as Lake Whitingham, is an 8-mile-loop man-made lake with stunning views of the Green Mountains. Built in 1923 by the New England Power Co., the reservoir is a favorite spot for anglers to catch smallmouth bass.

In addition to smallmouth bass, those casting lines at Harriman Reservoir can catch lake trout, chain pickerel, largemouth bass, yellow perch and landlocked salmon. Of note, the largest chain pickerel caught in Vermont, weighing in at 6 pounds 4 ounces, was caught in Harriman Reservoir in 1974.

Housatonic River

Pittsfield, Lenox, Lee, Stockbridge and Sheffield, Mass.
Known for:
brown trout, largemouth bass

Looking for a fly-fishing experience comparable to expeditions held in the western rivers of the country? It’s said the closest thing you’ll find is fly fishing on the Housatonic River. While the most popular spots for fly fishing are between Falls Village and Cornwall Bridge in Litchfield County, Conn., you can find great spots all along the river, especially in the Southern Berkshires. In these waters, you’ll catch brown trout, largemouth bass and perch.
Special regulations: no fishing within 100-feet of mouths of Beartown, Goose Pond, Hop and Mowhawk brooks from June 15 to Aug. 31.

Catch-and-release-only areas: In Lee, from the Route 20 bridge to the Willow Mill Dam and from Great Barrington, from the Glendale Dam to the railroad bridge. Only artificial bait is allowed in these areas.

Pontoosuc Lake

Pittsfield, Mass.
Known for: pike, largemouth bass, tiger muskellunge

While anglers like to head here for trout and bass fishing, Pontoosuc Lake’s greatest claim to fame is its large tiger muskies. Both pike and tiger muskies are possible to catch throughout the year, while trout and bass are more likely to be caught in spring/early summer. During the summer, head out early or fish in the afternoon to avoid the recreational boat traffic.
Other fish to look out for: bluegill, black crappie, chain pickerel, rock bass, pumpkinseed, white and yellow perch, yellow bullhead, common and mirror carp.

5 Hiking Spots

Hiking in raw nature. It’s one of the reasons why Southern Vermont and the Berkshires are the destinations of choice for tens of thousands of people every year.

In this corner of New England, you can hike all year round, and that holds true whether you’re trying to bag peaks, chase lowland birds and wildflowers, or just get a little fresh air.
The five hiking spots mentioned here cover some of the touchstones — in some cases, literally — of traversing the Green Mountains and the Berkshire Hills. Do as little or as much as you can handle.

— Noah Hoffenberg

Mount Greylock

Adams and Lanesborough, Mass.
413-499-4262, mass.gov/locations/mount-greylock-state-reservation

At 3,491 feet, it’s Massachusetts’ tallest peak. It has more than 12,500 acres, including an 11.5-mile segment of the Appalachian Trail. The state reservation also is the habitat for numerous species, including 40 species of rare plants, according to the National Park Service, and its old-growth red spruce trees were designated as a national landmark in 1987.
The summit has breathtaking views, whether hiked in the summer or winter. There’s also a seasonal lodge atop it, too, where warm food and drink can warm the hands and spirit. Make sure to wear boots with a firm footbed to keep your feet free from strain and injury.

Bash Bish Falls

Falls Road, Mount Washington, Mass.
413-528-0330, mass.gov/locations/bash-bish-falls-state-park

While this spot can be a bit dangerous, because of slick rocks and fast currents, Bash Bish Falls won’t disappoint with its crags and often crystal-clear river pools that don’t easily lose their chill. The falls are the highest single-drop waterfall in Massachusetts, and it’s a great alternative to a day at the lake or beach. Right nearby are Mount Washington State Park and New York’s Taconic State Park for those who want to take in more than one stop during a visit.

If you like beautiful views while you dine, bring lunch and a towel to lay out on the rocks and soak in some sun.

Mount Equinox

Manchester, Vt.
802-362-1114, equinoxmountain.com

A hike similar in difficulty to Mount Greylock is Manchester’s Mount Equinox. From the trailhead at Burr and Burton Academy, a steady climb takes you to the summit at 3,848 feet, where hikers can see the nearby Green, White, Adirondack, Berkshire and Taconic mountain ranges.

It’s another good one for four-season ascents; just make sure you’re prepared for the elements with a windproof/waterproof layer and have plenty of water.

Stratton Mountain

Stratton, Vt.
802-362-2307, bit.ly/3ehEn9o

Starting off at Kelly Stand Road, hikers can work their way through lush forest and rocky steps up the summit of Stratton, where there’s a fire tower for some amazing views of Southern Vermont, as well as a caretaker’s hut that been manned by a pair of hardy souls since 1996; they stay there from May through October, so, make sure to say hi on your way through

If your knees don’t feel too good going up and down lots of rock, try bringing a pair of trekking poles to help take the weight off your joints on this leg of the Long Trail.

The Appalachian Trail and Long Trail

Berkshire County, Mass., and Bennington County, Vt.
AppalachianTrail.org, greenmountainclub.org/the-long-trail

Berkshire Eagle File Photo.

These two legendary hiking trails of the Eastern U.S. offer a quintessential New England hiking experience. Whether you want to do a half-hour or a half-week of hiking, these two trails not only take you over two mountains mentioned in this list, but also alongside many out-of-the-way rivers, bogs, meadows, streams and ponds.

If you’re the naturalist type, you’ll get your fill on these two well-worn but still wild trails: everything from mice to moose call it home. Keep your eyes open when you pass through the marshes, and bring a journal to get it all down on paper to revisit another day.

5 Natural Wonders to Visit

You can’t escape the bucolic landscapes that make the UpCountry what it is. But, even a place filled with natural beauty and breathtaking views has a few gems that shine brighter than the rest. From the only natural white marble arch in North America to a “secret” swimming hole in Dorset, we’re highlighting wonders worth checking out, but by no means are they the only natural wonders within our region.

Please check with each venue for hours of operation, social distancing/mask requirements and for available amenities before making your visit.

— Jennifer Huberdeau

Natural Bridge State Park

McAuley Road, North Adams, Mass.
413-663-6392, sites.google.com/site/newenglandsnaturalbridge/home

Natural Bridge State Park, North Adams, Mass. Berkshire Eagle File Photo

Tour an abandoned marble quarry and see the only natural white marble arch in North America during a trip to Natural Bridge State Park. You’ll also find a man-made white marble dam, also the only one in North America, that was constructed to serve the quarry, which operated from 1810 to 1947.

Travel along the boardwalks to take in the views of the naturally carved geological formations, including a view of the Hudson Brook as it plunges through a 60-foot-long gorge. The site has long been a tourist attraction, drawing author Nathaniel Hawthorne who chronicled his visit in “Passages from the American Notebooks of Nathaniel Hawthorne.”

Ice Glen

Park Street, Stockbridge, Mass.

Ice Glen, Stockbridge, Mass. Berkshire Eagle File Photo

A place where you can see ice year-round? The north-south orientation of Ice Glen, a ravine in southeast Stockbridge surrounded by old-growth forest, makes it possible for ice to exist in deep rock crevices well into summer.

Donated to the Laurel Hill Association, the first incorporated village improvement society in the country, in 1891 by David Dudley Field, the sides of the glen are covered with old stand pine and hemlock. The tallest pine in Massachusetts supposedly stands at the south end of the glen.

To get there, cross the Goodrich Memorial footbridge at the end of Park Street and proceed over the railroad tracks and up the trail. After about ¼ mile, take the right and continue over to the glen. The hike requires climbing and holding onto boulders to navigate the trail.

Dorset Marble Quarry

Route 30, Dorset, Vt.

The Dorset Marble Quarry, Dorset, Vt. Bennington Banner File Photo

Named as one of the “12 top-secret swimming holes” by USA Today in 2013, the Dorset Marble Quarry has been anything but secret since then. Tourists and locals make up the site’s annual 15,000 visitors, who bask in the sun and cannonball off cliffs and into the water below.

While not a true “natural wonder,” the popular swimming hole has evolved into one. Its story begins in 1785, when it became, according to historians, the nation’s first marble quarry. Dorset marble was used in the construction of the New York Public Library. Reopened mid-June, the privately-owned quarry has set up social distancing guidelines that limit the number of visitors, and require social distancing and face masks.

At the parking parcel, now named Dorset Marble Park, the adjacent grassy area has been marked with 12-foot-diameter circles, each spaced 6 feet apart, where visitors will be able to picnic.

Equinox Mountain

Skyline Drive Tollhouse: 6369 Skyline Drive, Sunderland, Vt.
802-362-1114, equinoxmountain.com

Mount Equinox, Sunderland, Vt. Bennington Banner File Photo

At an elevation of 3,848 feet, Mount Equinox is the highest peak in the Taconic Range and the highest point in Bennington County. Its summit, which can be reached by hiking or by car, offers panoramic views of the Green, White, Adirondack, Berkshire and Taconic mountain ranges.

For those interested in a more scenic drive, we suggest taking a trip along Skyline Drive. The 5.2-mile drive, billed as the longest paved private toll road in the nation, has a number of scenic pullovers, with tables and benches. Be sure to stop at the St. Bruno Scenic Viewing Center to witness its spectacular views, and check out the interpretive exhibits and videos where you can learn more about the Carthusian monks, who make their home at the Charterhouse of the Transfiguration monastery on the mountain.

Hamilton Falls

Jamaica State Park, 48 Salmon Hole Lane, Jamaica, Vt.
802-874-4600, vtstateparks.com/jamaica.html

Hamilton Falls, Jamaica, Vt. Brattleboro Reformer File Photo

If you like waterfalls, you need to add the 125-foot scenic Hamilton Falls in Jamaica State Park to your bucket list. You’ll have to hike about 6 miles round trip to get to this beauty, but in the end, it will be worth it.

From the parking lot, find the Railroad Bed trailhead in the northwest corner by the picnic area. Follow the trail, a relatively easy path, for just over 2 miles, to Cobb Brook. There, you’ll take the Hamilton Falls Trail, a mile-long uphill climb to the falls. Wading in the pools downstream from the falls is recommended. Avoid swimming in the tub above the falls, as this is a safety hazard and has been the cause of several fatal accidents.

5 Places to Birdwatch

Have you taken up bird-watching? If you have, you’re not alone. In May, The Associated Press reported that downloads of popular bird-identification apps, including those created by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, had doubled over the previous year. Also up were visits to Cornell’s live bird cams and uploads to its crowdsourced bird-logging app eBird.

Looking to venture beyond the backyard bird feeder? Looking for a new observation spot? We found a few hot spots, for birders of varying levels of interest, that should result in multiple sightings during a visit.

Remember to check each of these hot spot’s websites before heading out for hours of operation, social distancing guidelines, trail maps, property guidelines and bird-watching etiquette.

— Jennifer Huberdeau

Gale Meadows Wildlife Management Area

Londonderry and Winhall, Vt.

For those who like to observe birds from a canoe or kayak, the 200-acre pond and wetland complex of the Gale Meadows WMA is the place to check out. This 707-acre wildlife management area, overseen by Vermont Fish and Wildlife, boasts over 100 year-round and migratory bird species.

On the water, look for great blue heron, wood ducks and mallards, hooded mergansers and common loons. In the forested areas, Cooper’s hawk and northern goshawk are among the forest hawk species that are spotted. Other reported species seen include sandpipers, killdeer, double-crested cormorants, kingfishers, swallows, scarlet tanagers, common yellowthroats and bald eagles.

West River Trail

Spring Tree Road, Brattleboro, Vt.

A walk along the lower section of the West River Trail, which stretches from The Marina in Brattleboro to an old quarry on Rice Farm Road in Dummerston, will provide views of rich landscapes, railroad artifacts, and plenty of breeding and migratory birds.

Birds you might spy on your walk on the 3.5-mile path, built on the rail bed of the former West River Railroad, include sandpipers, egrets, herons, kingfishers, woodpeckers, swallows, wood thrush, starlings and bald eagles.

South Stream Pond and South Stream Wildlife Management Area

South Stream Road, Pownal, Vt.

Interested in spotting waterfowl or other water-loving songbirds? South Stream Pond, a 24-acre habitat within the 130-acre South Stream Wildlife Management Area overseen by Vermont Fish and Wildlife, is a great place to spot waterfowl, including black, wood and mallard ducks. Great blue herons have been spotted this season, according to reports on ebird.org, as well as kingbirds, flycatchers, vireo, swallows, waxwings and a variety of woodpeckers and warblers.

Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary

Holmes Road, Pittsfield, Mass.

Canoe Meadows, Pittsfield, Mass. Berkshire Eagle File Photo

Just a mile from the center of Pittsfield, Canoe Meadows is a respite from the monotony of everyday life. Head out on the gentle, flat trails that wind through the sanctuary’s woods, wetlands and open fields. Managed by Mass Audubon’s Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, this 250-acre property provides crucial breeding habitats for grassland birds.

Birds to watch for here include red-tailed hawk, chickadees, catbirds, warblers, chickadees, yellowthroats, thrush, goldfinch, tufted titmouse, swallows and Cooper’s hawks. A downloadable checklist is available on the Mass Audubon website.

Lime Kiln Farm Wildlife Sanctuary

Silver Street, Sheffield, Mass.

You’ll observe more than birds as you hike along Lime Kiln Farm’s 2 miles of trails, which loop through fields and woodland areas. The wildlife sanctuary is home to more than 500 plant species and 50 species of butterflies.

The ¾-mile Lime Kiln Loop will take you through hayfields where bluebirds nest, past a former quarry and lime kiln, and a shrub swamp teeming with birds. For a longer walk, take the 1.8-mile Lime Kiln/Quarry/Ovenbird/Taconic Vista Loop. The loop connects several trails on the property, which take you through woodland areas offering spectacular views of the Taconic Range and the sounds of ovenbirds.

Birds recently spotted at the sanctuary, according to ebird.org, include hummingbirds, woodpeckers, vireo, swallows, catbirds, warblers, scarlet tanager and ovenbirds.

5 State Parks to Visit

Wherever you travel in the Berkshires and Southern Vermont, there are plenty of state parks with opportunities for swimming, boating, hiking, fishing, picnicking and just taking in the natural beauty our part of the world has to offer. Here are five examples — some well-loved, some off the beaten path, but all worth a drive.

— Greg Sukiennik

Emerald Lake State Park

65 Emerald Lake Lane, East Dorset, Vt.
802-362-1655, vtstateparks.com/emerald.html

This 430-acre park off U.S. Route 7 is named for the lake, which got its name for the way it reflects the greenery surrounding it. The 20-acre lake is the star attraction, and thanks to a prohibition on motorized boats, there’s lots of room for swimming and fishing, as well as the canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards available for rent. Emerald Lake State Park features 66 tent and RV camping sites, 37 lean-to sites and hiking trails. Park capacity will be managed to assure sufficient physical space is available for social distancing, and campgrounds will be limited to tent, RV and lean-to camping.

Jamaica State Park

48 Salmon Hole Lane, Jamaica, Vt.
802-874-4600, vtstateparks.com/jamaica.html

No island beaches here, but the West River offers loads of kayaking, fishing and swimming for visitors. The park has 41 tent/RV sites and 18 lean-to sites within its 771 acres and a hiking trail leading to Hamilton Falls. Camping sites here are popular, so reserve early.

Woodford State Park

142 State Park Road, Woodford, Vt.
802-447-7169, vtstateparks.com/woodford.html

Want to get away from it all? At an elevation of 2,400 feet, Woodford State Park has the highest elevation camping of any park in Vermont. Situated on a mountain plateau surrounding Adams Reservoir there’s plenty to do, including hiking, canoeing, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. Brook trout can be caught in the lake. There are 103 camping sites, including 20 lean-tos, but the cabins are off-limits this year.

Mount Greylock State Reservation

Lanesborough, Adams and North Adams, Mass.
413-499-4262, mass.gov/locations/mount-greylock-state-reservation

Mount Greylock State Reservation, Adams, Mass. Berkshire Eagle File Photo

The summit of the commonwealth’s highest peak, at 3,491 feet, offers breathtaking views spanning 90 miles in all directions. At 12,500 acres, Mount Greylock has the distinction of being the first public land used for wilderness preservation in Massachusetts.

Hike the Bellow’s Pipe Trail from Adams to the summit or drive up one of the auto roads, taking either Notch Road in North Adams, or Rockwell Road in Lanesborough. Atop the mountain, you can dine at Bascom Lodge, which is operating with limited seating and lodging accommodations this season. After taking in the views, set out on one of the many hiking trails. The reservation has 70 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and other seasonal activities. Parking at the summit is $5 for residents and $20 for non-residents.
COVID-19 restrictions have temporarily closed the Veterans War Memorial Tower at the summit and the Visitors Center on Rockwell Road in Lanesborough. Camping will not be permitted on the reservation this season.

Pittsfield State Forest

1041 Cascade St., Pittsfield, Mass.
413-442-8992, mass.gov/locations/pittsfield-state-forest

Pittsfield State Forest is wild, scenic and accessible. The 11,000-acre forest straddles the Taconic Range along the Massachusetts-New York border — and once there, you’d never know that you’re only a few miles west of downtown Pittsfield. There’s very brisk swimming at Berry Pond, as well as miles of trails for mountain biking and hiking, 38 camping sites and two group camping sites.

5 Places to Kayak

In the era of COVID-19, there may be no better way to quarantine oneself from others than by getting into an 8- to 12-foot boat and paddling out into the middle of a lake surrounded by mountains.

Mountains are plentiful here in Berkshire County and Southern Vermont, but so are the pools of freshwater that those monstrous outcroppings have helped to fill. Whether kayaking, canoeing or stand-up paddleboarding, the paddling community in this area is as welcoming as they come and the opportunities to get on a craft and commune with natureare around every backroad curve.

As Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote, “Some old-fashioned things like fresh air and sunshine are hard to beat.”

While lockdowns hit big cities hard and the populace has done its best to avoid community transmission, here in Western New England we’ve found the best medicine can be located a mile into a hard paddle, when you lay your arms at rest, kick that head back and grab a deep breath of sunshine-filled and water-tinted air.

I traveled to 13 different bodies of water trying to narrow down a top-five for your summer of social distance splashing. The selection process was tough, but bottom line you can’t go wrong making wakes in any of these delectable spots.

— Mike Walsh

Pontoosuc Lake

10 Hancock Road, Pittsfield, Mass.

The middle of central Berkshire County’s three big paddling spots is, like Goldilocks’ favorite porridge, just right. Onota may be bigger with more beachfront, and Cheshire Reservoir boasts a heck of a straightaway, but Pontoosuc Lake offers anything and everything paddlers could crave. The 500 acres provide plenty of space for your kayak to maneuver around various WaveRunners and pontoons, there are calm alcoves and big water stretches. The mountainous views are top-notch, and you’ve got dockside beverages and dining at LakesideBar & Grill or The Proprietor’s Lodge.

Goose Pond

4 Ridge St., Lee, Mass.

One may not understand the meaning of a diamond in the rough until you duck underneath the Mass Pike and dip your oars into Goose Pond. The 225-acre hidden gem is just a short drive from Exit 2, but miles away from the feelings of a clogged interstate. Goose Pond is a serene shock to the system that jolts you out of the rat race and into the kayak calm, where still waters blend into green scenery that mixes from the large swath of the lower pond, through a small corridor that feels like your very own Berkshire County safari cruise, into the smaller upper pond. There, things are shallower, and a small island provides a standing spot to cast a line.

Housatonic River

Decker Landing, Lenox to Woods Pond Bridge, Lenox, Mass.

A true Berkshire County bucket list item is paddling the Housatonic River. While there are more than 20 put-in and take-out spots along the 159 miles of paddleable water, Decker Landing to Woods Pond is a favorite for its mixture of tight, winding paths, open straightaways and wildlife This isn’t a river that will knock your flip-flops off with adrenaline, but it moves enough to keep you on pace to finish the stretch in a cool two hours. During that 5-or-so miles, you’re sure to see a variety of birdlife including some great blue herons, ospreys, red-wing blackbirds and geese. The launch spot is tight, but extra parking is available up above, and the exit is a breeze with a nice dock beneath the photo-op footbridge.

Somerset Reservoir

2041 Somerset Road, West Dover, Vt.

Not for the faint of heart, Vermont’s entrant here is a heavyweight in the western NewEngland paddling community. Weighing in at over 1,500 acres and at 2,000 feet of elevation, Somerset can knock you around if you’re not careful. This SoVt beast lies between ski spots Mount Snow and Stratton Mountain and can get whipped up into a frenzy with high winds. Within it, though, there are tremendous opportunities for paddlers to experience different water styles and a full day of traversing in the shadows of the Green Mountains. Somerset can be a bear to find with really only one access point at the southern tip about 30 minutes into the woods off Route 9. Once there, though, there are a ton of hiking trails and campsites, just be sure to BYOB and bring a change of warm clothes.

Lake Ashmere

121 Smith Road, Hinsdale, Mass.

Lake Ashmere, Hinsdale, Mass. Photo: Mike Walsh

Debate has raged on for weeks as to the fifth and final spot on our paddle tour, but when you’ve got some thinking to do, there may be no finer place in New England than Ashmere. Here, as Ralph Emerson once said, you can live in the sunshine and drink the wild air. Ashmere is no picnic to locate, buried deep within the hilltowns of Berkshire County, and without the fanfare of Richmond Pond and Stockbridge Bowl, the main boat ramp lies at the end of a dirt path off the corner of Smith and Hickingbotham roads. The lake itself is an irregular shape, providing nearly 9 miles of liquid terrain on the perimeter despite just 217 acres of coverage. It’s a calm, cool and relatively unknown place to dip in your paddle and let the worries of the world drift away.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Stockbridge Bowl (Lake Mahkeenac), Stockbridge, Mass.
  • Richmond Pond, Richmond, Mass.
  • Cheshire Reservoir, Cheshire, Mass.
  • Onota Lake, Pittsfield, Mass.
  • Lake Paran, North Bennington, Vt.
  • Laurel Lake, Lee, Mass.

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