The month of May brings Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer. With vacation budgets shrinking, many folks are opting to use their free time for day trips or long weekend jaunts. They’re on the lookout for close-to-home destinations, easily accessible by car, that offer all the qualities of a great vacation: a little bit of history, cultural options, outdoor fun, shopping — and great places to sleep and eat. From Massachusetts to New Jersey, we’ve scouted out nearby areas that fit the bill. So pack the car and the kids, and roll out for summer fun!
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Converging cascade: Bash Bish Falls’ twin branches are separated by boulders made of schist and granite
Photograph courtesy of Gene Peach/Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), Bash Bish Falls State Park
BASH BISH FALLS/LENOX Massachusetts
A dramatic — and easy-to-reach — waterfall is just one of several attractions in the nearby Berkshires.
By Rita Ross
“Bash Bish is an all-star attraction guaranteed to satisfy,” raved one on-line hiking guide. That’s high praise indeed for a mere waterfall, but this well-known cascade — the highest in all of Massachusetts — has legions of fans.
“It’s such a beautiful falls,” says Paul Antoniazzi, park supervisor at the falls’ home, the 4,000-plus–acre Mount Washington State Forest. “Bash Bish is seductive; it really draws you in.”
Legend has it that an Indian maiden named Bash Bish was accused of being unfaithful. In punishment, she was strapped to a canoe and sent tumbling over the falls to her death. To this day, they say, you can see her mysterious image in the falls’ mist and hear the splashing water murmur her name.
Bash Bish is tucked away in the southwestern corner of the Bay State, just over the state line from New York and not far from northwestern Connecticut. Although it is no Niagara, in some ways it shares a similar mystique. Crowds flock to the falls on summer weekends, and it’s often been the subject of photographs and paintings (Hudson River School artist John Frederick Kensett painted at least five landscapes that feature it). And in 1858, tightrope walker the Great Blondin painstakingly toed his way along a wire above the Bash Bish gorge — the same feat he famously accomplished the following year over Niagara Falls. The stuntman reportedly commented that Bash Bish’s boulder-strewn chasm made it the scarier of the two tightrope-walking feats.
Theatrics aside, Mother Nature’s creation is the real attraction at this spot. The falls begins as a small mountain spring on Mount Washington, then flows into Bash Bish Brook amid an ecosystem that developed after the retreat of the glaciers about 13,000 years ago. The waterway then travels through a series of forest gorges until it reaches its dramatic drop-off: a plunge of about 200 feet total, through the famous twin cascades (divided by an outcropping of schist and granite) and into a sparkling pool about 60 feet below.
Edith Wharton’s 50-acre estate, The Mount, is situated in nearby Lenox, Massachusetts
Vegetation thrives near the falls. Along with the soft moss that flourishes in the mist, you’ll see hemlock, oak, maple, and beech trees nearby. A variety of wildflowers, including pink lady’s slipper in the springtime, carpet the forest floor. The surrounding area is also a prime habitat for deer and wild turkey — and deeper into the woods, bear or bobcat. “One of the most unique aspects of the region is our population of timber rattlesnakes,” says Antoniazzi. He notes that the reptiles are endangered, and thus “should always be respected” by humans.
You don’t have to be a bushwhacker to reach Bash Bish Falls. The falls are accessible from Route 41 in the town of Egremont, Mass. They’re about four miles from Copake Falls, NY and 14 miles from Great Barrington, Mass. There are two main paths; one is an easy three-quarter-mile hike from the lower parking area on the New York side. “You gain elevation slowly this way, so it’s good for kids and older people,” notes Antoniazzi. This path parallels the river that flows out from the falls; many visitors favor this route since you can hear the enticing sound of the cascade getting louder as you approach.
The second popular entry point is via a one-third-mile trail which descends from the upper parking lot. It affords a dramatic view of the falls from above but requires a fairly steep hike back when you leave, and it can be slippery during rainy periods. An extra five-minute climb to the “Eagle’s Nest” allows you to spy all of the feeder falls that contribute to Bash Bish — well worth the extra effort.
Folks visit the falls all year-round, but it’s most popular in warm weather and during leaf-peeping season. “Yes, summer weekends, especially in July and August, can be crowded,” Antoniazzi says, noting that many visitors make a point of stopping at the falls when they’re in the vicinity for other events. “We’ve had times when there was a bluegrass music festival nearby, when close to 1,000 people made the trek to the falls in a single day.” Go early or late in the day to boost your odds of solitary time at the falls.
“We get people from all walks of life, from all around the world,” Antoniazzi says. “Lots of local people say their parents brought them here as kids, and now they bring their own children. And with the economy the way it is, more people are taking day trips. We’re expecting a lot more visitors this year.”
Guests picnic outside the “shed” at TanglewoodPhotograph courtesy of Boston Symphony Orchestra
Don’t take the plunge
Although the falls empties into an enticing pool at its base, Antoniazzi sighs when the subject of swimming is brought up. “It’s strictly forbidden,” he says. “We can’t emphasize enough that the falls can be extremely dangerous.” Several swimmers and climbers have suffered tragic, sometimes fatal, accidents over the years, and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation has added fences at strategic points, along with printed warnings and patrols. If swimming is a must-do on your agenda, Antoniazzi suggests the facilities in nearby Taconic State Park.
The outdoor oriented, Antoniazzi says, often combine a stop at the falls with hiking the 30 miles of trails on Mount Washington, or visiting Mount Everett (the latter hike boasts a panoramic view that takes in three states).
Camping isn’t allowed right by the falls, but backpack camping is offered in the state forest on a first-come, first-served basis. Seeking a bit more in camping creature comforts? The adjacent Taconic State Park offers drive-in sites for tents and camper vehicles, and cabins for rent at the Copake Falls area. A nearby half-mile hike to Sunset Rock offers great vistas.
After the falls
A something-for-everyone Berkshires vacation itinerary might include a stop at Bash Bish, then a 45-minute drive north on Route 7 to Lenox.
The Lenox-Stockbridge area was discovered by well-heeled visitors from Boston and New York in the 1800s. The region has since been a magnet for those seeking a respite from city life — but who also want fine world-class cultural activities, cozy B&Bs, art galleries, antique shops, and fabulous food.
Culture, close by: The artist’s self-portrait at the Norman Rockwell MuseumPhotograph courtesy of Norman Rockwell Art Collection Trust
The most famous regional venue is Tanglewood. The concert series held at the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra dates back to 1937. The season’s 300,000 attendees savor dozens of classical, pop, and jazz events in an idyllic outdoor setting. (This year’s lineup includes performances by Garrison Keillor, James Taylor, Chris Botti, Yo-Yo Ma, and nearly all of classical music’s best-known artists.) Tanglewood offers several ticket options, including a nifty order-ahead package deal: two lawn tickets to a summer concert (subject to availability) and two passes to the nearby Clark Art Institute museum, all for $45.
Another new Berkshires joint-ticketing program is just for art lovers: One $25 ticket provides admission to the nostalgic Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge — currently celebrating its 40th anniversary — and the contemporary art museum MASS MoCA in nearby North Adams, where a major Sol LeWitt retrospective is on view.
Keep up with the Joneses with a day trip to the Mount in Lenox, where the late Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edith Wharton (best known for The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth) made her home. The sprawling 50-acre estate and gardens — all designed by Wharton herself — overlooks Laurel Lake and is open for tours for $16 and under.
Where to sleep and dine
For accommodations, you’ll find dozens of B&Bs and cute inns in this part of the Berkshires; many function as popular eateries, too. Examples in Lenox include the Village Inn, a cozy Colonial retreat with 32 guest rooms dating to 1771, and the Brook Farm Inn, where the owners provide a poem of the day, as well as afternoon tea.
Bash Bish Falls/Berkshires
• Bash Bish Falls (Mount Washington State Forest): 413-528-0330
• Taconic State Park: 518-329-3993
• General Berkshires info
• Tanglewood: 617-266-1494
• Norman Rockwell Museum: 413-298-4100
• MASS MoCA: 413-662-2111
• The Mount: 413-551-5111
• Village Inn: 800-253-0917
• Brook Farm Inn: 800-285-7638
Next stop: Lime Rock Park and Lakeville, Connecticut