A day of art and exploration in the Berkshires

Looking for a sweet treat after a day of sightseeing in the Berkshires? Lickety Split offers it up in Williamstown, MA.
Looking for a sweet treat after a day of sightseeing in the Berkshires? Lickety Split offers it up in Williamstown, MA.

The Berkshire mountains in Massachusetts are a wonderful place to visit. Hiking, skiing, biking and more are all an option for those who love to explore the outdoors. In North Adams and nearby Williamstown, one can also take a cultural exploration, with numerous museums throughout both towns.

Williamstown is a small town, but it’s hopping with activity throughout the year and rich in history. A quick stop to make while visiting is the 1753 house near the town’s library. Created in 1953 for the town’s bicentennial, this small but beautiful building was built using tools and materials that would have been available in the 1700’s and features a large stone hearth inside. Williamstown has also been home to Williams College since 1793, and the town has an active downtown area full of shops, eateries, a small movie theater, and several museums – Williams College Museum of Art and the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, commonly referred to as the Clark. The award-winning Williamstown Theatre Festival takes over the town in July and August, making it a worthy stop for any thespian. With world premieres, meet-the-artist dinners, backstage tours of shows and more, the festival has been a vibrant part of summers in Williamstown since 1955.

Woodstock-Icon.jpgWilliams College Museum of Art focuses on art that can help push viewers and students into thinking creatively about the world around them and how art can shape life and culture. With a wide display of artwork changing regularly, it’s worth a stop in. The Clark has some similar goals, considering they combine their museum with learning opportunities for scholars. According to their website, “no other institution of its scale and character has such a complex and exhilarating mission – complex because interrelating the differing purposes of an art museum and a center for research and higher education is so challenging, and exhilarating because the possibilities and implications of this combination are so dynamic.” Children and students with identification can visit for free at the Clark, and general admission tickets are $20. The Clark also has 140 acres of grounds to explore with miles of trails that are open year round. During a recent visit, the trail closest to the museum was positively bucolic, with several different types of cattle crossing the trail and enjoying the fresh grass.

060318-Williamstown-EEJ-01.jpg Need a bite to eat? Consider the Purple Pub in Williamstown, MA. (Eric Jenks/For the Daily Gazette)

For those that need a breath of fresh air farther afield, the tallest point in Massachusetts is nearby on the drive to North Adams. At 3,491 feet, Mount Greylock offers views of five different states and was the first wilderness park to be established in Massachusetts in 1898. Its 70 miles of trails are open yearround for those looking to investigate the 12,500 acres in the reservation area. Backpackers can also tackle the nearby Taconic Crest Trail, a 35-mile through hike that starts in Petersburgh, New York, (you can also hop on in Williamstown) and heads to Hancock, Massachusetts. Enjoy some ice cream at Lickety Splits in Williamstown once you’re done enjoying a museum or a day in the woods, or perhaps visit the Purple Pub for a bite to eat and other refreshment.

060318-MassMoca-EEJ-06.jpgNorth Adams is only a short drive from Williamstown, and is the home of MASS MoCA, a museum located in a formerly defunct set of 27 factory buildings on the Hoosic River. The home of Sprague Electric Company from the late 1920s until 1985, the buildings were taken over by curators who’d worked with Williams College Museum of Art and were looking for a space large enough to exhibit contemporary art pieces that were beyond the scope of a traditional gallery. After years of hard work and renovation, MASS MoCA opened in 1999. Thousands flock to the museum and its unique exhibits each year, and others visit for the amazing musical performances that are put on by some of the best groups in the world. This summer the museum plays host to the Decemberists, Courtney Barnett, Blondie, and many more.

The museum isn’t the only draw for tourists. Those taking in the region can also pop on the Hoosac Valley Train Ride, a 90-minute roundtrip tour of the Berkshires that has been rated as one of the “Top 10 foliage train rides in New England” by Yankee Magazine. The train runs on weekends and select holidays throughout the spring, summer, and fall months. The train ride also hosts special events, ranging from Halloween seances to cabaret performances, foliage tours and a 1950s-themed Christmas ride.

060318-NorthAdams-EEJ-08.jpgThe Berkshire Emporium and Antiques is another draw for visitors to North Adams, MA. With 20 rooms and 20,000 square feet of space, there’s something for everyone. (Eric Jenks/For The Daily Gazette)

Antique collectors and thrift-shop hunters alike can enjoy the Berkshire Emporium and Antiques, a massive collection of just about anything you can imagine. “Anything we don’t have, we try to buy it,” laughed owner Keith Bona. With 20,000 square feet of space split into 20 rooms, the shop is a treasure trove to hunt through for items large and small. “We try to keep prices reasonable. The average sale is usually around $25.”

A hidden hiking gem just minutes from downtown North Adams is the Cascades waterfall trail. Nestled at the back of a suburban street, this easy-to-moderate trail rewards visitors with 40 foot cascades from Notch Brook, and is well worth taking some time to see.

North Adams also has enough restaurants to keep foodies busy. From Christos Famous Pizza (which also serves up wonderful Greek food) to Gramercy Bistro, visitors have plenty of options. Favorite haunts for locals include Jack’s Hot Dog Stand and Pedrin’s Dairy Bar. Linda’s Cafe offers up a classic New England experience for breakfast.

Spend a day or a weekend visiting these two towns that pack a punch larger than their size would suggest. There’s plenty for everyone in the family to enjoy on a summer road trip to the Berkshires.

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