As a hiker and trail runner who has stood atop the four thousand footers of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and now Maine also, I get asked all the time when I am going to start hiking the high peaks of Massachusetts. “But Erik.. what about the 4000 footers of Massachusetts and Connecticut??“, folks ask of me more often than not!
Earlier this week Ciara and I both had Tuesday off, so we decided to finally make that trek to Massachusetts! The adventure we had been talking about for years, or maybe just months.. either way, Greylock had been on our radar for quite some time!
Mount Greylock is located in Northwestern Massachusetts along the borders of Adams and North Adams, Massachusetts. From a distance it (along with its commemorative tower perched atop) can be seen high above all other land masses and man-made structures; it is what is known as a Monadnock, or the geological term for an ‘isolated hill’.
Greylock stands tall at 3,487 feet above sea level, and is generally quite high when compared to its surroundings – nearly 2,600 feet above the nearest town at its base – Adams, Mass.
There are a plethora of trails one could take to ascend the mountain, for some Greylock also has a road for motor vehicles and parking lots dotting the upper reaches of the peak, which I am not crazy about when I want to hike to get away from all forms of traffic.. but I understand it is a wonderful opportunity for those who are not physically capable – to ascend, being able to stand at and visit the Veterans War memorial tower that adorns its summit.
A hiker could climb Mount Greylock from nearly any direction, finding beautiful trail systems to either hike, ski or snowshoe the mountain, but perhaps the most popular trail that bisects the peak is the 273 mile Long Trail that runs North to South (..or South to North!).
Ciara and I had been talking about hiking Mount Greylock for quite some time now, but had been holding off in anticipation of the coming winter months. We had a strong inclination that between the auto road, the Long Trail foot traffic, or simply a destination being the highest summit in the state of Massachusetts, that we would run into quite some crowds in the summer or autumn months.
We lucked out real hard on Tuesday!
Winter had arrived a bit early in the season this year, plenty of evidence of that all along the mountain – but what we did not find.. was one single person on the trails or summit until we arrived back at the base, near our parking lot!
We decided to shoot for hiking a loop, beginning at the Gould Trail parking lot. Happily the first and only car of the morning as we arrived just after sunrise on this weekday morning. The weather folks had been calling for a cloudy morning with moderate 35mph winds at the summit, we dressed ready for cold and wet conditions!
We had both brought our Hillsound spikes, each of which went along for the ride all day – while there were short sections that we may have benefited from some extra grip – my spiked Salomon Speedspikes and Ciara’s waterproof Salomon boots did the trick just fine!
The Gould Trail was absolutely such a blast!
Beginning in pine needles and packed dirt, we crossed Peeks Brook in the first several minutes and began a soft, gradual climb which more-or-less continued for the remaining miles to the summit.
Lots of fun things to see along the trail this morning! We had patches of snow – perhaps three inches in depth and minimal ice, the going sure was easy and we laughed together the entire journey!
Swatches of old growth trees adorned the trail on either side, turning back to glance at where we had come, we could not believe our eyes! An old hollowed out monster of a tree, wide enough to easily stand in! We had to grab some photos in that massive trunk! It was large enough for Ciara to coax the boys inside momentarily – they both glaced back to me as if to say “what is this wacky lady doing to us?!?!“, the cute-factor was completely off the charts!!
Once we climbed to about 2,500 feet, we began to see the glistening evidence of the freezing rain over prior 24 hours, we truly felt as if we had been dropped into a turn of the century painting of winter anywhere in the northeast, fluffy white snow complimented beautifully the sparkling tree branches – that is, until the sun broke through any bit of cloud and each tree began raining clumps of ice down upon us.. this did nothing to dampen our good times though!
Somewhere around mile 2.5 we had trekked through many lovely glens where, if I closed my eyes momentarily I could almost hear the deer munching away, picking fruit from the surrounding trees – quite picturesque indeed!
Climbing up and out of the forest, now walking along the roadway which (luckily for us..) was unplowed and gave evidence of other recent hikers passing through. We continued to follow the white emblazoned trees, signifying we were still on the Long Trail – the trail became super wet now, but we tip toed from log to log and rock to rock – happy to make use of our trekking poles for balance!
Reaching the summit around 10am, we were relieved to find still no other traffic – we had this popular summit all to ourselves, and for Boone and Crocketts sake – just what we had been hoping (and deferring until a winter weekday!) for!
Sadly, most of the photos that I had found while researching trails and the ‘what-to-expect’ features of Mount Greylock, I noticed that many of the photos other hikers had posted were in clouds (or worse.. rain!) or just taken a distance from the tower, almost as if the mountain top were so busy that they could not comfortably get any closer.. well this was definitely not the case with us – we had free roam of the summit!
We did find some ice on the backside of the monument, but still realistically not enough to make us want to put our hefty steel spikes on our feet, we had 3-4 inches of packed, crusty powder to walk around in atop Greylock – with no indication of a grassy lawn until I had found photos at the various informative stations placed around the summit.
Greylock in winter was absolutely stunning, just where we wanted to find ourselves today!
The tower door was locked, which was okay in my opinion as the previous reviews that I had found were filled with complaints – folks mentioning that the extra climb was not worth their time as the tower windows were so filthy they could not see out; had the door been open, I would have gladly climbed or at least poked my head through the door – just for the experience!
The tower is much more incredible than photos portray, it is massive! The lettering work across its flanks are simply a beautiful work of art, and the granite tower itself standing at 92-feet tall – appeared as if a giant had strolled by and dropped off a super-sized Chess piece onto the open summit lawn of Greylock!
We always prefer to hike loops instead of out-and-backs, so when I had suggested that we continue to follow the Long Trail for a bit and then skirt off toward the east along a ski trail, we were both ready to experience more new trails!
The stairs which depart the summit area and lead next to a winter warming hut (which was also locked with a sign indicating “closed for the season”), continuing along and finally getting off the snow-covered highway and back into the trees.
The blue signs with yellow lettering now appeared in the trees – we had reached the downhill ski slopes.
Upon reading about, and researching the trails of Greylock, I had learned that there are trails for downhill skiing, and separate parallel trails were designated for skinning-up, or simply ascending. Which makes sense because what skier in their right minds would want to contend with post-holes or boot tracks that could sink a ski tip into the snow!
We did not have enough snow for this to really become an issue – it would take a very brave sole on skis to want to ski these black diamond trails with under six inches of snow, rocks poked through the snow everywhere we looked! But to be somewhat thoughtful and courteous – we followed the descent along the outer trees and fencing as to not destroy any ski slopes!
I had Boone and Ciara had Crockett, and together we took turns glissading down the steep face of the mountain. For anyone hiking this trail in the winter – I would recommend a sled, but try keep to the outside of the ski lines!
During the entire hike, ascending via the south side of the mountain, and now descending a more northeasterly route, we talked back and forth about how this lovely forest reminded us of roaming through the Catskill mountains back in New York, truly a very nice place to be – and the shining sun with near 60 degree temps certain helped to boost our spirits. We felt as if we were getting a very early taste of spring.. but deep down, we knew winter would be welcoming us home to New Hampshire in several hours..
After romping around and having loads of fun up on the Thunderbolt ski slopes, we continued down via the Bellows Pipe Trail which had mildly worn down (reminiscent of trail-less herd paths) off-shoots in either direction with maps indicating destinations such as waterfalls, picnic areas, gazebos and designated snowmobile trails – we continued en route to the Gould Trail, to loop us back to our parking lot.
While hiking is the main attraction to the Mount Greylock State Reservation, there so clearly is much, much more to do here than just climb to the states high point!
We chose a most perfect day for our adventure to Mount Greylock, running into one gentleman meandering along with his doggie – not dissimilar to what we had set out to do with our two puppy dogs!
I would love to return to the summit some day to actually climb the tower, or have lunch on the lawn with Ciara and the boys – but for our enjoyment, I think it would have to be a non-holiday, weekday for us to enjoy the mountain to its fullest!
Plan it right, and this can be one of the finest, most enjoyable days found in any forest – get about half a mile into the woods and the racket of sirens and garbage trucks banging through the narrow streets of a Massachusetts city just begin to drift away and the forest hills are calm once again!
Honestly, we were a bit hesitant to hike Mount Greylock because of it having a highway to the top, and it is such a popular destination for many, also simply because any hiker traversing the Long Trail will be atop Mount Greylock at some point along their journey – we held off for so long, just plan it right and this tourist destination can be one of the most enjoyable ghost towns!
We had the freedom to stand above the upper edge of the Indian Head Slide and take in the vastness of all points East, while on a clear day from the tower, the info signs indicate that Albany, NY can even be seen!
May I recommend.. if you are also hesitant to get out and adventure somewhere, perhaps you feel what you find won’t live up to the hype, or maybe you feel inadequate for a certain trail albeit hiking or running.. just go out and do it, experience it, enjoy what you do and live in the moment! Not every moment can live up to what we expect going into a situation; and on the contrary – you will find that most instances, by simply tip-toeing outside of your comfort-zone, and by trying to do what you want to accomplish, you will find experiences you just never expected!
Experiences that become much more valuable than anything you could have imagined or drempt up!
We found this to be entirely true from the moment we stepped foot outside of the CR-V on Tuesday morning, all the way until we reached the cabin back in New Hampshire – we just did what we felt was right in the moment, and we were rewarded with memories up on that mountain that neither one of us could have been prepared for – moments of laughter that hearkened back to days of roaming the woods in three feet of fresh snow until one of us would step on the backs of our snowshoes and tumble face first into the white fluff!
Truly an incredible day was found up on Mount Greylock!
– Erik & Ciara (Boone and Crockett too!)
Overall stats for the day:
Recorded with COROS Pace
- 6.92 miles
- 3hr 46 minutes
- 2,635′ elevation gain
- Mount Greylock – 3,487′
Favorite Food of the Day!
Ciara had recommended that we try out a place in Northampton for a quick post-hike bite to eat; seating about 28 folks, Bela has been serving up some of the areas finest all vegetarian (and a heck of a lot of vegan food too!) fare. The restaurant is cash only.. and you’ll surely want to be sure to pack enough in your wallet for a homemade slice of vegan coconut cream pie topped with lemon frosting, we were too stuffed from our homemade veggie burgers and bowls of soup – but it sounded like we were the only two who did not get a slice of the delectable pie to go!
Our soups were clearly made in house – I have never had a tomato soup nor a butternut squash soup that was less oily, the main drawback of most soups! The soups were incredible!
As for our veggie burgers? More of the same.. with no surprise there! Made in house with lentils, rolled oats, bulgar, sunflower seeds, onion, carrot, tofu, with garlic, salt and pepper, topped with green pea sprouts, on their homemade multi-grain bread – easily the best burger that I have ever had.. ever!
Oh.. and a side note to boot! I can honestly say that Bela has some of the finest brewed coffee that I may have ever gotten out at a restaurant, and I understand that Ciara’s iced latte was pretty bomb-tastic also!
Treat yourself whether you eat meat or not, you won’t find any served up at Bela.. only the freshest local produce, complimented with the finest rice, beans and grains! Truly works of culinary art.. on a plate (..or bowl!)