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Backpacking Mount Greylock

The forecast called for rain, rain, and more rain, but we were determined not to let it ruin our weekend backpacking trip. For several months, Dave and I, along with some friends, had been planning to spend a weekend camping near Mount Greylock in Western Massachusetts. At 3,491 feet, it’s the highest peak in Massachusetts, nestled in the middle of the beautiful Berkshire Mountains.


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I first backpacked Mount Greylock more than 10 years ago as an incoming freshman at Williams College. It was my first real backpacking trip and I have some great memories from it. I knew it would be a good place to take our friends, a couple of whom had little or no backpacking experience. And I was very curious to see how the area compared all these years later.

So after work on Friday, Dave and I piled our gear in the car and headed West. Our friends had left earlier in the day, so the plan was to meet up with them at our campsite later on in the evening. When we left Boston, the sky was clear and it was in the low 90s – that quickly changed as we made our way across the state. Soon enough, we hit a wall of severe thunderstorms – the temperature dropped, the rain poured down, thunder boomed, and lightning streaked the sky. All I could think of was our poor friends hiking in such awful conditions.

150 miles and 2.5 hours later, we pulled into the Mount Greylock Visitors Center in Lanesborough, MA. Although the Mount Greylock State Reservation website says the Visitors Center summer hours are 9:00am to 8:00pm, we quickly found out that those hours are “staff permitting.” We showed up a little before 7:00pm to find the place locked up tight. Fortunately, we were able to grab a trail map from a kiosk outside and hopped back in the car to drive the few remaining miles to the trailhead.

Parking area for Mount Greylock campground and trail to Sperry Road

Parking area for Mount Greylock campground and trail to Sperry Road

The parking area was empty, except for our friends’ car – we laughed when we realized no one else was crazy enough to set out in such terrible conditions. Fortunately, the heavy rain had subsided, but visibility remained poor.

Our final destination was the Stony Ledge group site, a short 2 mile hike from the parking area. We geared up and set out, eager to find out how our friends had fared in the rain. The first half of the hike was a nice walk through the woods and to our surprise and delight, the weather cleared slightly and we were able to glimpse the sun setting through the trees.

Sunset through the trees

Sunset through the trees

After a little more than a mile, we emerged from the woods and the trail hooked up with Sperry Road – an unpaved gravel road that runs through the campground. From this point, it was another mile to Stony Ledge and our campsite, which was located at the very end of the road. Just before dark, we reached Stony Ledge, which looks east to the summit of Mount Greylock and below to The Hopper, so named because of its resemblance to a grain hopper. The view from the ledge was beautiful, despite the bowl of clouds.

View from Stony Ledge

View from Stony Ledge

After taking in the view, we found our friends, who were doing their best to dry out at camp. I was relieved to find that despite the rain, their spirits seemed to be intact. We had a great night catching up, telling stories, and enjoying the millions of stars the sky was kind enough to offer up.

Saturday morning we woke to clouds and light drizzle, not bad considering the forecast had called for steady rain all day. The rest of the gang had had a restless night’s sleep since it turned out they were sharing the lean-to with a very active mouse. He kept them up most of the night and, by morning, had chewed a nice hole in a map we had left on the picnic table. Exhausted from his nighttime antics, he found a nice, warm place to sleep in the sleeve of our friend’s rain jacket. He gave us all a start when he fell out of her jacket as I handed it to her. Silly mouse.

Around noon, three of us decided to head out on a day hike to summit Mount Greylock while the others remained at camp. We made our way back down Sperry Road to the Hopper Trail, which heads up the west side of Mount Greylock.

Hopper Trail up Mount Greylock

Hopper Trail up Mount Greylock

The 2 mile trail was very well-maintained and easy to follow. Along the way, it intersects with Rockwell Road, which leads to the Greylock summit. About a mile in, the Hopper Trail connects with the Appalachian Trail, which runs 11.5 miles over the Greylock range. Of course, we had to get a picture of the famous White Blaze (see below).

After a little more than an hour of hiking, we reached the summit, where a crossing guard directed foot and road traffic. Although views were scarce, a number of people were on the summit, trying to locate the “you are here” arrow on the topo sculpture.

Topographical sculpture on Mount Greylock summit

Topographical sculpture on Mount Greylock summit

The observation tower loomed through the clouds and, since we’d hiked 3 miles to get there, we decided to climb to the top. On a clear day, you can see the Adirondacks and Green Mountains to the north, Mount Monadnock to the east, the Catskills to the south, and the Taconic Range to the west. Needless to say, we weren’t able to see much of anything.

Wet and in need of a break, we headed over to Bascom Lodge, which sits just below the summit. The lodge has provided accommodations for hikers and visitors to Mount Greylock, including AT thru-hikers, since the 1930s. We must have looked like weary hikers since, as we walked to the lodge, another hiker asked if we were “NOBOs” (northbound AT thru-hikers).

Although owned by the state, Bascom Lodge is now managed (and was recently renovated) by the Bascom Lodge Group in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Historic Curatorship Program. The lodge also serves meals and hosts nature and culture talks about the Berkshires. Though none us us had thought to carry money with us in order to get a hot meal at the lodge, we made sure to take advantage of the screened-in porch before we started our hike back to camp.

Bascom Lodge

Bascom Lodge

Instead of retracing our steps via the Hopper trail, we took a slightly longer route and descended the Overlook trail. “Overlook” proved to be a bit of a misnomer, as the trail took us through thick woods and past only one poorly marked and overgrown “view” area. Even so, the trail was well-maintained overall and we enjoyed the hike in the lessening rain.

We arrived back at camp in the late afternoon, shocked to find that the rest of the gang had managed to get a fire going in the pouring rain. We were fairly certain divine intervention was involved, but they never admitted to it. Nevertheless, it was a welcome sight and we were happy to settle into camp for the evening.

The rain started up again just after dinner, but it didn’t stop us from enjoying the fire, drinking wine (one of the advantages of a short hike to camp), and keeping an eye out for our mouse-y friend.

On Sunday morning it was cloudy and damp, but the rain held off just long enough for us to finish packing up camp. And just as we started the hike out, the skies opened up once again. It poured the entire 2 miles and we were all soaked to the bone by the time we got back to our cars.

Soaked at the finish line

Soaked at the finish line

Somehow, we still managed to have fun. I think the promise of a hot meal and a beer at the Old Forge Restaurant (about 5 miles down the road) kept our spirits from waning.


Where: Mount Greylock State Reservation, near Lanesborough, Williamstown and North Adams, MA

Directions from Boston area:

  1. Take the MassPike (I-90) West to Exit 2 in Lee.
  2. Follow US Rte. 20 west to US Rte. 7 north to Pittsfield for 11.8 miles.
  3. From downtown Pittsfield continue north on US Rte. 7 to Lanesborough for 6.6 miles.
  4. At the brown Mount Greylock sign turn right onto North Main Street.
  5. Follow the brown lead-in signs 1.5 miles from Rte. 7 to the Visitors Center and park entrance. Driving distance from Visitors Center to summit is 8 miles

Difficulty: The trails we hiked (Sperry Road, Hopper Trail, and Overlook Trail) were easy to moderate.

Summary: The Mount Greylock State Reservation offers a variety of outdoor adventure opportunities. There are ample day hikes to choose from, plenty of well paved roads for cycling, and you can drive to the summit. In winter, snow shoeing and cross country skiing are available. However, one of the highlights of the area to me is the Mount Greylock Campground. It is well maintained and accepts reservations, yet it is only accessible via a short hike. This offers a great middle ground between car camping and more intense multiday excursions. It is especially nice for those new to backpacking who want to experience hiking their gear in for an overnight.


Additional Photos
Click on Thumbnail to View Larger Image

White blaze marking the AT

White blaze marking the AT

Mount Greylock observation tower

Mount Greylock observation tower

Relaxing in the lodge

Relaxing in the Lodge

Fire in the rain

Fire in the rain


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2 Comments

  1. Franconia Notch, Lafayette Campground | Towns and Trails
    Franconia Notch, Lafayette Campground | Towns and Trails12-16-2009

    [...] this year with friends who were brand-spanking new to hiking and camping. We had so much fun on our Mt. Greylock trip in August that we immediately planned another trip for early October. We settled on a weekend car [...]

  2. Boston Mary
    Boston Mary02-22-2010

    Hello everyone! Just started hiking again at 54 years old. Backpacked into Pharoh Lake Wilderness in the Adirondacks. Great!
    I plan on hiking the Hopper in April. The visitor center guy gave me lots of good info. First steered me away from the Gould trail(said ATVers abuse it and leave the footing unstable) My book said part of the Hopper trail went thru private property and No Dogs.He explained the state bought the property 30 years ago! Very nice visitor center. Thanks for the info on the trail.

    • Dave
      Dave02-24-2010

      Hi Mary,

      Great to hear you started hiking again! I’ve never hiked in the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness area but I hear it is wonderful. And I agree, the Mt. Greylock Visitor Center is very nice – one of the better ones I’ve experienced.

      You’ll have to let us know how your April hike goes, would love to hear about it.

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