When temperatures hover around 25 degrees F, or even a bit higher, it seems only logical to take a hefty dose of cabin fever remedy — head to the woods and give the snowshoes a workout. The Berkshires border the Snow Belt, and not every winter is a snowshoe winter, so you never want to miss a chance.
Whether you venture out along the Ashuwillticook bike trail or along trails in one of our many state parks, snowshoes allow an entirely different view of the more familiar summer Berkshires.
Winter treks reveal unseen animals in the silent winter woods; deer tracks crossing this way and that, while coyote or fox usually keep straight ahead (unlike a dog, who goes every which way.)
Ashuwillticook Rail Trail
To gain full advantage of snowshoes on the eleven-mile Ashuwillticook Rail Trail between Lanesborough and Adams, it helps to get out just following fresh snow, as the trail is well traveled at any season, and when covered with snow it draws a lot of foot, snowshoe and cross-country ski traffic.
The trail is a former railroad corridor converted into a 10-foot-wide paved, universally accessible path, and runs parallel to Route 8. The southern end of the rail trail begins at the entrance to the Berkshire Mall off Route. 8 in Lanesborough and travels north through Cheshire, along the reservoir and into the center of Adams.
When the ice is safe, snowshoeing out to one of the small islands on Hoosac Lake (Cheshire Reservoir) or chatting with ice fishermen adds to the adventure.
One of our favorite places, known to longtime Dalton residents as Crane’s Woods and to the rest of the world as The Boulders, offers good snowshoeing.
The trails in the Boulders meander between Dalton, Pittsfield and Lanesborough, through mature hemlock forests, mixed hardwoods and wetlands, and eventually reach a wonderful rocky overlook with a wide view westward across the Berkshire valley to the Taconics.
Most trails can become confusing under a blanket of snow, so remain aware of where you are and where you have come from.
To reach the Boulders, from Park Avenue and High Street, turn left. The trails into the Boulders area begin at the left of the road just past the concrete blocks and the Appalachian Trail begins to the right. A few times we have met cross country skiers, one couple from Albany, N.Y., and another from Lenox.
For those less adventuresome, Gulf Road, which borders the area and is closed to traffic during snow season, offers a gentler trek.
Another Dalton outing several years ago that became an adventure, was to Wahconah Falls, a little more than three miles east of the center of Dalton. Wahconah Falls Brook flows over several smaller falls before cascading about 30 feet into a deep pool at its base where Scott Jervas of Richmond and I found the falls and pool frozen solid and covered with snow.
As I watched in awe, camera in hand, Jervas carefully walked out onto the face of the falls. Going out on the falls isn’t something I would suggest, but a leisurely walk along the path that follows the falls is a delight, and far safer.
Even during winter months, careless visitors leave cans, bottles, and wrappers behind; Jervas cautioned, “Carry a plastic bag with you on outings, to take out what others leave behind.”
Beartown State Forest lies right off Route 23 in Monterey, about halfway between downtown Great Barrington and the town of Otis, but for a winter snowshoeing jaunt we like to enter from Beartown Mountain Road off of Route 102 in South Lee.
Follow a little-used road, today not much more than a path, up a wooded hillside to visit the remains of Beartown Ski Area’s main lodge — its two mammoth fireplaces are all that remain standing. The ski area, with an 820-foot drop, opened in 1939 and became widely known as a Ski Train destination, finally closing in 1966. It is now State land.
To get to the area, from downtown Lee turn onto Meadow Street directly behind the paper mill, and then immediately take a right on Pine Street. Pine will merge into Willow Street and become Beartown Mountain Road, and shortly afterward you will come to an iron gate on the right. Park there and follow the path. (Keep in mind that no restrooms are available at any of these locations during the winter season.)
Winter has long been a destination in The Berkshires, and with snowshoes, you will see why.