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Trails reveal the natural state of things

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Stephen Jermanok
Globe Correspondent / July 13, 2008

The state's impressive network of trails starts in the Berkshires, meanders along rivers and farmland in the central part of the state, and ends at the Atlantic shoreline. Paths are narrow and wide, soft and springy, rock-strewn, leaf-littered, root-studded, or simply a long crescent beach - good for a strenuous sweat or a refreshing stroll. They cross rivers, skirt lakes, find hidden ponds, and leave you at waterfalls nestled deep within the forest. For the person yearning for a one-day dose of quietude, there's no better place for an escape.

Mountain views: Roaring Brook/Stony Ledge Loop, Lanesborough

Stony Ledge is a group of rocky cliffs with views of Mount Greylock's summit, the highest in the state (3,491 feet), and the V-shaped wedge of trees on its slopes called The Hopper. From the parking lot on Roaring Brook Road, a 20-minute drive south of Williamstown, follow the path along the right side of the brook. Cross the stream three times until you reach a point where the Roaring Brook and Stony Ledge trails split. Choose the less ardu ous Roaring Brook trail.

Climbing more than a 1,000 feet through a forest of hemlocks, spruces, yellow birches, and beeches, the trail finally reaches Sperry Road. A left on this gravel road through a campground leads to Stony Ledge. From the rocks, you can see the War Memorial atop Greylock and The Hopper's velvety carpet of trees.

Three hours round trip; moderate to strenuous. From Williamstown, follow Route 7 south past the Route 43 junction. Look for a small wooden sign at the left-hand side of Route 7 indicating the Roaring Brook Trail. This is Roaring Brook Road. Turn left; a small parking lot is on the left.

Bird-watching: Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary, Easthampton

Bordering runoff from the Connecticut River, this Mass Audubon sanctuary, just south of Northampton, is a favorite flyway for migrating birds. Stop at the nature center to see if you can spot goldfinches or ruby-throated hummingbirds in the garden of wildflowers. At the first trail junction, head to the right. Continue on the Horseshoe Trail through a patch of white pines. If you look to the southeast on a clear day, you'll be able to spot the cliffs of Mount Tom. You eventually reach a curve of water that's an ancient oxbow of the Connecticut. The Mill River, a perpendicular waterway, flows along Arcadia Marsh. Bring binoculars for close-ups of egrets, herons, and Canada geese.

One hour; easy. Take Interstate 90 (Mass. Pike) to exit 4 (I-91 north) to exit 18 (Route 5, Northampton). Turn right onto Route 5 south. After 1.4 miles, turn right onto East Street. Follow for 1.2 miles and turn right onto Fort Hill Road. Go 0.9 miles, bear right at the Mass Audubon sign, and turn left into the sanctuary.

Climb: Race Brook Trail

This 8-mile (round trip) hike lets you summit two of the state's highest mountains and take a spectacular ridge walk above the Berkshire valley on the Appalachian Trail. Start the ascent on Route 41 along Race Brook. The trail starts gradually but soon turns steep. Cross Race Brook Falls on a bridge made from tree trunks and, at the 2-mile mark, continue on the Appalachian Trail. You'll be clambering up the steep rocky ledges that lead to the peak of Mount Everett. Exquisite views of New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts open up as you reach the lookout tower.

This is the perfect place to have lunch and reenergize before climbing down and attempting a second ascent to the summit of Mount Race. Once on top, head south on the AT toward Bear Rock Falls for an exhilarating ridge walk before turning back to the Race Brook Trail down to Route 41.

Five hours; strenuous. From Great Barrington, take Route 23 south to Egremont. From the junction of Routes 23 and 41, take 41 south for 5 miles. A small parking lot is on the right-hand side of the road.

Family style: Fort Hill Trail, Eastham What better way to begin a walk with children than under the jaw of a whale? In the mid-19th century, Captain Edward Penniman circled the globe seven times, scouring the ocean for its most lucrative products - whale oil, spermaceti, baleen, and ivory. He returned to Cape Cod in 1868 and built his French Second Empire-style house, which sits atop Fort Hill and holds his whaling artifacts. The Penniman House entrance gate is constructed from a whale's jawbone.

Continue around the back of the house where rabbits are abundant. As you ascend a short hill to a second parking lot, sweeping views of Nauset Marsh and Nauset and Coast Guard beaches open up. Proceeding through a section of red cedar trees, Fort Hill Trail arrives at an overlook called Skiff Hill before veering left onto the Red Maple Swamp Trail. A boardwalk snakes over a swamp through a copse of tall red maples, giving the feel of a small enchanted forest.

One hour; easy. Take Route 6 north 1.5 miles past the Eastham-Orleans rotary. A small red sign will tell you where to take a right turn. Park at the lower lot. A map is available from Cape Cod National Seashore Visitors Center at Salt Pond.

Ocean views: Cedar Tree Neck Sanctuary, Martha's Vineyard

The varied Vineyard landscape is best seen on a ramble through Cedar Tree Neck Sanctuary. A forest of sassafras trees leads to serene ponds, swampy bogs, and rocky coastline before combining all three elements in a scenic overlook. Start at the White Trail just to the left of the trail map signboard and continue through the forest until you reach the Yellow Trail. Take a right under the maples and stop at Ames Pond, one of the most meditative spots on the island. Walk along the edge of the pond and you'll meet up with the White Trail again. This leads to a swampy area known as a sphagnum bog where tree roots jut out from carpets of velvety green moss. Soon you'll reach the shoreline with views of the Elizabeth Islands across Vineyard Sound. Turn right and you'll skirt around Cedar Tree Neck Pond, once an operating cranberry bog. When the trail forks, go left for a great vista of all the terrain - forest, ponds, beach, and ocean.

One to two hours; easy. From Vineyard Haven, take State Road south toward West Tisbury. At Indian Hill Road, take a right and follow the signs to the sanctuary. Take a right at the dirt road known as Obed Daggett and watch out for large potholes.

Stephen Jermanok, author of "Outside Magazine's Adventure Guide to New England," can be reached at farandaway@comcast.net.

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