Have you explored the northern Berkshires or Mt. Greylock, the tallest mountain in Massachusetts? Little by little, I’ve been discovering the Mt. Greylock State Reservation, which encompasses the mountain, but also a huge number of trails for the casual day hiker (that’s me), vistas, and my favorite — waterfalls. I’ve visited a number of waterfalls in the northern Berkshires, and for some reason I haven’t written about any of them. Until Now.
Mt. Greylock’s Most Beautiful Waterfall: March Cataract Falls
The book, New England Waterfalls: A Guide to More Than 400 Cascades and Waterfalls (Second Edition) (New England Waterfalls: A Guide to More Than 200 Cascades & Waterfalls), describes March Cataract Falls as the premier waterfall of Mt. Greylock, and one of the must-see waterfalls of northwestern Massachusetts. Because I love the Berkshires, autumn, and road trips, I decided to check out the falls last week. Here’s what I discovered and why I’ll be heading back for another visit in the early summer.
The Hike to March Cataract Falls is Easy
Okay, I knew this beforehand, but guidebooks are tricky — one hiker’s idea of easy could be another hiker’s calamity. The hike to March Cataract Falls is truly an easy one. It starts with a .6 mile walk along Sperry Road, which is gated and only open to hikers. The trailhead to the falls is on the right, just past a ranger station and a primitive campground (more about that later). The falls are .8 miles from the trailhead.
Like all Mt. Greylock hiking trails, this one is well-marked and well-trodden. In October, the colors are definitely the main attraction, not only are the trees on fire, but so is the ground. I also spied lots and lots of mushrooms (wish I had my field guide) and plenty of songbirds.
The Falls are Fickle, but Always Lovely
According to my trusty book, the best time to visit March Cataract Falls is between late May and July, and I’m sure that’s because the ample snow melt provides quite a display at the falls. Here’s a photo of March Cataract Falls take in summer. Quite lovely yes?
In October, the beauty of the falls is more subtle, but still lovely in its own way. Since I’ve been practicing my moving water shots, I spent a good deal of time wandering around the falls with the camera. One of the nicest thing about March Cataract Falls is how accessible it is — not just the trail, but the falls themselves. You can easily get within inches of the cascade for a good deal of intimate contemplation (or photography).
You can Camp Right Near the Trailhead
Primitive camping is available at the Mt. Greylock Campground (also known as the Sperry Road Primitive Camping Area) which sits right at the trailhead to March Cataract Falls. It’s an all-round great base camp for anyone wanting to take advantage of the 70+ miles of trails in the Mt. Greylock State Reservation.
The summit is a two-mile hike from the campground, and you should also explore the popular Hopper Trail. Honestly, I never knew this campground existed, and now I can’t wait to get lost on Mt. Greylock for a few days. A few specifics:
- During the “season” you have to reserve your campsite through Reserve America. The cost is $8 for MA residents and $10 for out-of-staters .
- The campground isn’t accessible by car. You have to hike about a mile to get there.
- It’s a primitive campground, but you will find pit toilets and running water.
- If you want really primitive camping, you can visit in the winter. You’ll have to hike in 6 miles from the visitor center. You won’t find running water on the mountain, but there’s a good chance you’ll be able to melt snow.
Visiting Mount Greylock
How to Get There: The quickest way to the March Cataract Falls trailhead and the visitor’s center is via route 7 in Lanesborough, MA. Follow the brown Mt. Greylock signs to the visitor’s center. After you leave the visitor’s center and head up the mountain, Sperry Road is and the parking area for March Cataract Falls will be on your left. The summit is 8 miles from the visitor’s center.
- Mt. Greylock is part of the Taconic Mountain Range geographically, but locals and visitors more often associate it with the Berkshire Hills. It’s the tallest mountain in Massachusetts at 3,491 feet (1,064 m).
- There’s a seasonal road to the top, which I highly recommend, unless of course you find yourself in the area on Columbus Day Weekend. In that case, stick to the trails, and hike to the summit. If you do decide to drive to the summit, you’ll have to pay a nominal parking fee, but you’ll be rewarded with incredible vistas, not to mention some sweet hidden nooks for picnicking. Mt. Greylock’s summit also attracts a large number of hang gliders when the weather is nice. Watching people jump into the sky over lunch is way more fun than watching TV!
- With more than 70 miles of trails crisscrossing the mountain, it’s not hard to find the perfect hike on Mt. Greylock. I highly recommend a jaunt to March Cataract Falls, but you may want a more strenuous excursion. Visit the Mass.gov website for a printable Mt. Greylock trail map.
- You can stay on the summit at Bascom Lodge – If camping’s not your thing, why not reserve a night or two at Bascom Lodge, right on top of the mountain? Bascom Lodge can accommodate up to 34 guests in a mix of group bunks and private rooms.
The Berkshires are a fabulous destination for outdoor families, or anyone who wants to explore the wild side of New England. I’m so glad I finally got a chance to visit March Cataract Falls, and I can’t wait to explore more of Mt. Greylock. Have any of you ever been there, and if you have, do you have a favorite trail? I’d love some more suggestions!
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