This weekend we made our annual pilgrimage to the Williamstown Theater Festival (WTF) in Western Massachusetts. Every summer we make sure to fit in a play at WTF and spend the weekend in the Berkshires, enjoying some of the great things that the mountains of Western Massachusetts have to offer. Last weekend we also snuck in a quick visit to The Rivers a mere hour and a half away for another poker survivor tournament. We thought this was a perfect time to share our thoughts on the best things to do in the Berkshires.
Best Things To Do in the Berkshires
There is an amazing variety of museums in the Berkshires. You can find cutting edge modern art at MASS MoCA, a world class collection of impressionists at The Clark Art Institute, and a combination of art, science, and natural history at the Berkshire Museum. Whatever type of museum tickles your fancy, you can find it in the Berkshires.
MASS MoCA – MASS MoCA opened in North Adams in 1999 on the site of the former Sprague Electric factory. The museum was conceived as a place to display large pieces of contemporary art that would not fit in a conventional gallery space. Today MASS MoCA is a thriving artspace with both permanent installations by artists such as Sol LeWitt and Joseph Beuys and rotating exhibitions by contemporary artists such as Laurie Anderson, Annie Lennox, and Joe Wardwell. Its sheer size and scope enables MASS MoCA to offer a contemporary art experience that you’d be hard-pressed to match anywhere.
The Berkshire Museum – The Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA offers a combination of natural history, science, and art for the whole family. There you can find paintings, science exhibitions targeted towards children, and information about the natural history of the Berkshires. There are programs for both children and adults, allowing kids to feed the animals, or their parents to learn photography. The museum even offers independent and foreign films on a weekly basis.
The Clark Art Institute – Sited on the campus of Williams College, the Clark Art Institute rivals all but the biggest city art galleries. The Clark boasts an exceptional collection of impressionist art, and a healthy overview of European and American paintings, sculpture, prints, drawings, photographs, and decorative arts from the Renaissance to the early twentieth century. They also host rotating exhibitions of such luminaries as Renoir, Van Gogh, and Georgia O’Keefe. In addition to its mission as a museum, the Clark is also a center of learning for art historians and artists alike. The Manton Study Center for Works on Paper provides access to the Clark’s collection of more than 6,500 prints, drawings, and photographs that spans the history of graphic arts from the fifteenth century onward. The Study Center provides programs for the public and allows visits by appointment.
The Williams College Museum of Art – The Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) offers yet another rich art experience in the Berkshires. The WCMA is a learning museum whose mission page states that it is “a vibrant center for the arts at Williams that embodies the potential for the liberal arts to catalyze our ability to think creatively and critically.” Collections range from ancient Greek and Egyptian sculpture to current student art. The WCMA is significantly smaller than MASS MoCA or the Clark, but definitely worth a visit.
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Enjoy Live Entertainment
Attending a live event, particularly during the active summer season, is one of the best things to do in the Berkshires.
Tanglewood – Tanglewood is a world famous live music venue in Lenox Massachusetts. It has famously served as the summer home for the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) since 1937. In addition to The BSO, you’ll find a rich variety of performing artists visiting Tanglewood. Everyone from James Taylor to Lady Gaga to Yo-Yo Ma have performed here. Tanglewood also offers a learning institute featuring lectures by musicians, and artists, open studios, and Master Classes for interested students.
Williamstown Theater Festival – Founded in 1954, the WTF brings a collection of first rate actors, directors, and playwrights to Williamstown every summer to present groundbreaking new plays and revisit classics with innovative productions. We have seen several great plays there featuring actors such as Sam Rockwell, JoBeth Williams, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and Wendell Pierce. Plays regularly migrate from the WTF to Broadway. So if you want to see wonderful productions before they are famous, this is a great place to do it. As with Tanglewood and the Clark, the WTF also offers a variety of learning opportunities and community engagement.
Jacob’s Pillow – As Tanglewood is to music and WTF to theater, Jacob’s Pillow is to dance. Jacob’s Pillow was founded in 1931 in an attempt to legitimize dance as an honorable career for men. Today, it offers a variety of performances, classes, and programs for both artists and the community. This summer’s season features the Paul Taylor Dance Company, The Martha Graham Dance Company, and the Boston Ballet.Whatever type of museum tickles your fancy, you can find it in the BerkshiresClick To Tweet
Visit Historic Houses
The Berkshires have been home to a number of historic personages and groups. Many of them have houses or museums open to the public.
The Norman Rockwell Museum – Located in Stockbridge, the Norman Rockwell Museum presents the world’s largest collection of Norman Rockwell’s art. It also features travelling exhibits and serves as a research institute devoted to the art of illustration.
The Hancock Shaker Village – The Hancock Shaker Village teaches about the history of the Shakers in Massachusetts and allows one to imagine what life as a Shaker might have been like. As a living history museum, the village offers a variety of guided tours, lectures, and programs. They also offer such activities as goat yoga and cow cuddling for the over-stressed.
Herman Melville’s Arrowhead – Now the home of the Berkshire Historical Society (BHS), Herman Melville’s home in Pittsfield is open daily to the public. The BHS offers guided tours of Arrowhead including the house, barn, and immediate grounds. In addition you can watch Moby Dick, visit exhibits in the Historic Barn, the goat-shed, or the grounds. If you need even more Melville, visit the Melville Memorial Room at the Berkshire Athenaeum.
Gilded Age Mansions – If you can’t get enough of historic homes, there are over a dozen Gilded Age mansions spread about the Berkshires. Many of them are open to the public.
Compared to Vermont and New Hampshire, you will not find great downhill skiing in the Berkshires. However, there are a couple of great ski resorts. There are also a number of places offering cross country skiing.
Jiminy Peak – Jiminy Peak in Hancock is a great family ski resort. There are 45 trails, 21 lighted for night skiing, and 96% snow-making coverage. Jiminy is the largest ski resort in all of southern New England. They are also the only mountain resort in North America to generate its own energy using alternative wind power. During the summer you will find hiking, mountain biking, an aerial adventure park (rope courses and zip lines), and a mountain adventure (alpine slides, rides, rock climbing) park.
Other Options – There are a number of cross country ski areas and minor ski hills in the Berkshires as well. You can find more information about them at this link.
Hiking and Mountain Biking
For those so inclined, hiking and mountain biking are definitely among the best things to do in the Berkshires. Mount Greylock in North Adams is the highest point in Massachusetts and is covered in hiking trails and camping sites. The Appalachian trail runs across Mount Greylock for part of its 90 miles through Massachusetts, all of it in the Berkshires.
There are also a number of mountain biking, hiking, and rail trails throughout the Berkshires. The website Bike Berkshire North offers a multitude of resources for mountain bikers. Meanwhile, the Berkshire Natural Resources Council offers trail maps for hikers and walkers of all skill levels.
Whether you’re visiting for a day or a week, these are among the best things to do in the Berkshires.
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