Hoosac Range, North Adams
Three-mile ridgeline trail over dramatic cliffs to Spruce Hill, offering outstanding hiking, snowshoeing, views and birdwatching during raptor migration. The short 1.5 mile roundtrip loop to Sunset Rock is a fine alternative for those without the time or stamina to get all the way to Spruce Hill. Alternative: spot a car and descend Spruce Hill via the Busby and/or Blackburnian Trail.
GPS: 42.6965, -73.0648 (Trailhead parking)
Special features: High elevation long views: prepare for the sublime! Cool rock cliffs formed by “glacial plucking” with trees twisted into fantastical forms by wind and ice. Blueberries at Sunset Rock and open ledges near Spruce Hill in summer. Awesome spring snowshoeing. Migratory raptors in fall, great viewing at Spruce Hill. Views over North Adams, Mount Greylock, and Florida State Forest.
Directions to parking
From Pittsfield: Take Route 8 North, at the Cumberland Farms in North Adams, take a right onto 8A. Then take a right, heading east on Route 2. The trailhead parking is on the right after the Wigwam Cabins.
From the Hoosac Range Trail you will look out over valleys and towns far below, hike three miles to the open rock summit of Spruce Hill or walk a shorter inner loop to Sunset Rock – all the while delighting in dramatic schist ledges, user-friendly stone steps, carefully designed switchbacks, and the tenacity of a forest that survives the insults of wind and ice on these magnificent 760 acres.
Native Americans first used the Mohawk Trail (now Route 2) to travel through the northern Berkshires between the Hudson and Connecticut rivers. Today a drive east 4.5 miles on Route 2 from North Adams through the “Hairpin Turn” to the top of the ridge brings you to a unique place known as “the Western Summit.” Just beyond the Wigwam cabins on the same side of the road is a large parking area where a BNRC welcome sign and an information kiosk mark the entrance to the trail.
With unparalleled views from the top of Route 2, entrepreneurs once made this area a popular tourist stop, with a gift shop and cabins. A tall viewing tower meant visitors could climb up to survey New York, Vermont, MountGreylock, the Taconics, and the surrounding state forests. The Wigwam gift shop and several of the cabins, which are privately owned, remain, but are closed.
Purchase and preservation
This ridge defines the eastern horizon in the north Berkshires, and securing it required patience, creativity, negotiating skills, and luck, in the form of landowners willing to sell. Following up on a tip in 2007 from a local citizen that Adelphia Cable was auctioning off its ridgeline parcel, BNRC stepped in and purchased those 193 acres. Over the next two years, five more owners, including the proprietors of the Wigwam, agreed to sell their land. The transactions secured an unbroken 2-mile long tract along the ridge.
The Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation, which owns the SavoyMountainStateForest, purchased a conservation restriction over the entirety. The CR ensured a double layer of protection for the mountain, and helped to eliminate the red ink from BNRC’s $1.1 million spending spree.
Later, BNRC sold the Wigwam Gift Shop and Cabins to a private investor. Unfortunately, plans to restore and reopen this landmark of the hospitality industry have not come to fruition.
With the property secured, BNRC tackled the job of designing, funding, and building a trail along the spine of the ridge that would capture the most fascinating landscape features while appealing to experienced and novice hikers alike.
At a cost of about $145,000, a skilled crew of trail builders working under the guidance of Peter Jensen & Associates, built the three-mile trail from the parking lot to Spruce Hill. This trail comprises a section of the proposed Mahican-Mohawk Trail, a 100-mile path replicating the Native American route.
The trail climbs in the beginning past two man-made vernal pools and begins a series of gentle switchbacks to a junction about ½ mile in. Here you can turn either left or right. The legs of this loop both lead to Sunset Rock and the continuation of the Hoosac Range Trail. Going left means you’ll come to Sunset Rock about 100 yards before the ridge trail takes off up the hill; turning right means you’ll hit the ridge trail junction before you get to Sunset Rock.
Sunset Rock boasts long views north and west. We know of at least one couple who have gotten engaged at Sunset Rock.
If you hike back to your car from Sunset Rock, you will have walked about 1.6 miles, climbing about 300 vertical feet along the way.
If you still have gas in the tank, continue south on the Hoosac Range Trail. You’ll climb another 250 feet or so before coming to the height of the ridgeline. From here, savor the dips and hollows of a trail that is fun to walk and is full of trailside curiosities. First, notice the trees, which have bent and twisted into fantastic shapes under the constant stress of wind, ice and snow. There’s a tree with a hollowed out interior where you can peek back at the hikers behind you; there are moss- and lichen-covered cliffs where you traverse the rock face on ingenious stone steps; cliffs drip with water or cascades of ice—depending on the season —and there are spring ephemerals, native plants, and summit scrubbed vegetation to marvel at.
The predominant stone on the mountain is Hoosac schist – a sedimentary rock that first began to form under the warm oceans of the Southern Hemisphere 550 million years ago, travelling here via plate tectonics. The schist is flaky, but extremely hard and erosion resistant. Cliffs were formed as glaciers heading south “plucked” chunks of bedrock up and carried it away. The schist remained behind when the soft marble and limestone that surrounded them eroded under the constant melt-flow of retreating glaciers.
You will rejoice at the trail’s clever design as it wiggles its way south, navigating the cliffs and taking advantage of the area’s natural beauty, keeping you within easy sight of all the unusual landscape features and allowing you many chances to catch your breath. In late winter, the trail makes for perfect snowshoeing. Snow, generally abundant and persistent at this elevation, will have developed a solid crust. Where walkers might “post-hole” through, the snowshoer will float along the surface, enjoying views and sunshine through the bare trees.
When you reach the wide open utility line running east and west, you are standing nearly two thousand feet directly above the Hoosac Tunnel. This engineering marvel took 25 years to build, opened in 1876, and is still used. Its history is vividly described in the WesternGatewayHeritageState Park in North Adams. You can read about its construction, the cost in human lives and the many political and engineering obstacles faced by its backers at www.hoosactunnel.net.
Keep going. Just east of the final ¼ mile are two high-elevation beaver ponds. The trail skirts several ledgy, grassy areas where you might be tempted to settle down for your break. Hit them on the way back, but first follow the blazed trail a few more minutes before arriving at Spruce Hill – a summit ledge that offers a 180º westerly view. You’ll know you’re there by the spectacular views and by your overwhelming desire to lunch, nap, and stay as long as possible. It’s a great place to watch the hawks migrate, to look down the expanse of the Hoosic (yes, the river and the mountain have different spellings!) Valley and to savor some peace and quiet.
It is possible to spot a car and descend Spruce Hill via the Busby and/or Blackburnia Trail into SavoyMountainStateForest. If you’re on a one-car outing, turn around and retrace your steps to the Rt. 2 trailhead. Plan on 3 to 4 hours to make the hike out and back to Spruce Hill. The surrounding terrain is rugged, so if you go off-trail, carry a map and compass, and be prepared for backcountry conditions. High, steep cliffs flank the ridgeline so remain alert. In winter, blowing and drifting snow will obscure the trail and may hide trail blazes – navigate with care. Be aware too that BNRC allows hunting – blaze orange hats and vests should be worn during hunting seasons, particularly the fall deer seasons.
Come see BNRC’s 5-year effort to create this recreational paradise with all its delights, and you too will want to bring your friends and family to join you on a trail that sparkles with personality.
2. Hoosac Range
3. Basin Pond
4. Stevens Glen
6. Clam River
8. Bob’s Way
10. Housatonic Flats