This seasoned camper explains why a quiet and secluded state park in the Berkshires provides the ideal setting for novice adventurers.
Any week between Easter and Halloween is appropriate for camping in New England, but late summer and early fall are especially opportune times to head out to the Berkshires for a family camping trip. The Mohawk Trail State Forest camping area is comfortably nestled in over 6,000 acres of woodland in the northern region of the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts. The campground season is from mid-April to mid-October, but off-season camping is available for those with a true wilderness spirit. This state campground and the surrounding area exude a humble simplicity that fits the needs of a variety of camping families of all levels of experience or inexperience, making it equally ideal for first-timers and seasoned campers alike
At Mohawk Trail ( 413/339-5504 , 175 Mohawk Trail/Rte. 2 Charlemont, MA 01370), it's worth booking in advance to secure one of the 16 waterfront tent/RV sites along the Cold River. Adults can enjoy the soothing rush of the water, and it is a perfect spot for kids to explore the riverbed while safely climbing on the low, sturdy rocks. Guided nature programs are run throughout the camping season giving families the opportunity to explore the numerous trails and wildlife of the Berkshires.
Cabins Make It Easy for the Tent-Challenged
Each of the 56 campsites is conveniently equipped with onsite parking, picnic tables and fire rings. Hot showers, washing and dumping stations are all within a close walk or drive from any campsite.
Six log cabins are available year round for families who want the experience of the outdoors with a solid roof over their heads. Cabin lodging is still a semi-rustic experience with wood fire stoves for heating and no running water; however, electrical power gives a modern twist on "roughin' it." All the cabins are set up with a kitchen table, chairs, beds with mattresses, cupboards and counter space, as well as a wood stove for indoor and outdoor cooking.
The large three-room cabin sleeps five, the small one-room cabin sleeps three and the daily rates are very affordable at $50/day and $30/day respectively. While quaint and charming, they have no frills, so all camping related equipment needs to be brought along, including linens, kitchen and personal items. The third lodging option is the teepee site. With its two tent-covered picnic tables and large replica teepee for sleeping accommodations, it is an ideal place to host a group Pow-Wow. Kids are sure to love the playful atmosphere the teepee invokes, but be warned that the vacation will probably not come to an end without hearing the whooping calls of little Indians.
Communing With Nature
The Berkshires are truly a unique blending of the present and the past. Campers benefit from tranquil familiarity of a return to their roots, where around every corner there is the imminent suggestion of the Native Americans that inhabited the forest before the emergence of the modern world. Miles of hiking trails meander through the state forest, including the Mahican-Mohawk Trail, the legendary footpath the natives used to travel between the Hudson and Connecticut River valleys. Numerous pre-settlement old growth trees like the eastern hemlock, sugar maple, and yellow birch highlight the age of the forest.
Even the most active family can keep busy on the campground by taking advantage of all it has to offer, from fishing at Trout Brook to swimming, canoeing and hiking. There is a handy online calendar of Berkshire family events and several outdoor adventure companies nearby for activities like kayaking, white water rafting and river tubing.
Family Fun in the Surrounding Berkshires
Nearby Route 2 provides easy access to a host of activities for those who want to venture outside the campground. The last week in September through mid-October is usually the best time to experience New England fall foliage. The autumn season tends to be especially spectacular in the Berkshires, as the brightness of the leaves brilliantly contrasts with the pure white bark of the birch trees.
An afternoon can easily be spent driving through the small towns surrounding Charlemont, taking in the natural beauty of the area and stopping along the way to visit the quirky Native American novelty shops that stud the Mohawk Trail. These signature stores are easy to find as they are not often without a giant wooden sculpture of a Mohican Indian chief, welcoming visitors to stop in and purchase souvenirs such as moccasins, dream catchers, crafts and weaponry.
In a mere 20 minutes from the campground, families can travel by car to Shelburne Falls, a quaint 19th-century village that boasts two magnificent attractions. First, there is the Bridge of Flowers, a pedestrian walkway that crosses over the Deerfield River, lined on both sides with dozens of varieties of lively and colorful flower species.
Just off the town center is the home of Shelburne Falls' Glacial Potholes, the town's self-proclaimed swimming hole and geological wonder. A rugged and slightly steep path leads down to the potholes for a closer view of the swirling compressions in the carved mountainside where sunbathers and swimmers can be found spending a languid afternoon. McCusker's, a locally owned market on State Street takes care of any needs families might have before heading back to camp.
A number of special activities and events for families are held throughout the fall season in the Berkshires. North Adams, one the largest towns in the vicinity of the Mohawk Trail State Forest and home to the contemporary art collection at Mass MOCA, has celebrated the fall foliage for more than 50 years with a parade. It's typically the last Sunday in September; check on the Fall Foliage Parade website for more information.
The favorite cabins in Massachusetts' Berkshire Mountains can be found at the Mohawk Trail State Forest Campground, located at 175 Mohawk Trail, Charlemont 01370. Check out their website or call them at 413/339-5504 for reservations, plan several months in advance of a July or August stay; a few weeks' notice is adequate at other times of year.
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