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Day Tripping: 12 Hours in the Berkshires

Modern art, the great outdoors, and pub grub in the mountains of western Mass.

Berkshire mountain vista. Photo courtesy of David Malantic

In the Boston-day-trip mix, the Berkshires sometimes get lost between the beaches of Cape Cod and the White Mountains of New Hampshire. But few destinations are more inviting in the fall. When the leaves start turning, even the drive, about two hours from Boston, will have you reaching for your camera. If leaf-peeping isn’t your speed, an autumn day of exploring the mountains of western Massachusetts and towns like Lee, Stockbridge, and Lenox will put you in the mood for soup, sweaters, and chopping wood.

You’ll need a car if you plan on exploring the Berkshires. A couple of nearby options for renting cars include Budget (95 Brighton Ave., 617-497-3608) and Enterprise Rent-A-Car (996 Commonwealth Ave., 617-738-6004), or go to BU Maps and search for the most convenient Zipcar location.

10 a.m. — Cup of Berkshire Blend at the Barrington Coffee Roasting Company
Leave about 8 a.m., and you should be pulling off the Massachusetts Turnpike just in time for a midmorning coffee at Barrington Coffee Roasting Company in the town of Lee. Barrington’s pick-me-ups — from Vienna Roast to Brazilian Espresso — are roasted on the premises (165 Quarry Hill Rd., 800-528-0998).

10:30 a.m. — Tanglewood or Bust
Now that you’re properly caffeinated, head straight through Lee and Stockbridge (you’ll return to them later), and drive to the picturesque musical mecca of Tanglewood, in Lenox. The Boston Symphony Orchestra performances wrap up in the summer (as does the Boston University Tanglewood Institute), but between the music sheds, the gardens, and the mountain views, it’s still a great place for a stroll.

11 a.m. — Hiking: Two Paths Diverged
Nearby are two great hikes. Neither is very strenuous, but before you start, head into Lenox and grab some picnic fixings at Loeb’s Foodtown (42 Main St., 413-637-0270). Their fresh-baked breads and extensive deli have made them popular with the summertime Tanglewood picnic crowd (a demanding bunch), so you should have no problem assembling a tasty lunch to take into the woods. If you feel indulgent, finish off your basket with some dark ganache, milk chocolate, or truffles from Chocolate Springs, just up the road (55 Pittsfield/Lenox Rd., 413-637-9820).

Now to earn that lunch. Option number one is October Mountain State Forest, 16,500 acres of forest off Route 20 in Lee (just north of the Mass Turnpike), replete with plenty of easygoing hiking trails. The forest also has a section of the Appalachian Trail, which runs from Georgia to Maine. If you see any “thru-hikers” (easily identified by their beards, walking sticks, and massive backpacks strapped to skinny bodies), wave and wish them good luck, but don’t tell them about your chocolates.

To the south, just before you reach the New York state line, is Bash Bish Falls State Park. You reach the falls, the state’s highest single-drop waterfall (60 feet), by hiking a couple of miles downhill from the trailhead parking lot. A helpful sign at the top reminds you that it’s an uphill hike the whole way back to your car.

2 p.m. — Afternoon Art: Americana or Junk-o-Rama
How you spend the rest of the afternoon may depend on your quaintness quotient. If you’re still in the ye-olde frame of mind, stick around Stockbridge and check out the Norman Rockwell Museum (9 Glendale Rd., 413-298-4100). The museum houses 574 of Rockwell’s original drawings and paintings. In addition to the iconic depictions of Thanksgiving dinner, small-town doctors, and soda fountains, the museum also boasts personal memorabilia of the artist, who lived in Stockbridge from 1953 until his death in 1978. His studio is located on-site as well.

But for a change of pace from small-town New England, hop on Route 7 for the 45-minute drive to North Adams, in the northwest corner of the state. There, in a converted 19th-century factory, you’ll find the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, known as Mass MoCA (87 Marshall St., 413-662-2111). From the moment you encounter the upside-down trees outside the front entrance, you’ll know you’re in for something different. Installations at Mass MoCA are often large-scale or multimedia productions, such as the hip-hop-tinged videos of Dutch artist Erik van Lieshout and Junkshop, an exhibition by Korean artist Heeseop Yoon, who creates cluttered still life drawings with masking tape, Mylar, pen, and pigment on surfaces ranging from post-it notes to canvas and Plexiglas.

If you make the trip to Mass MoCA and aren’t staying overnight, it’s advisable to eat a quick dinner at one of the museum’s cafés and then drive back to Boston along scenic Route 2, also known as the Mohawk Trail, for one last foliage fix before returning to the city’s concrete jungle.

3:30 p.m. — From Homespun to Haute Couture
If you’ve lingered around Stockbridge, be sure not to miss the Berkshire Botanical Gardens (intersection of Routes 102 and 83, 413-298-3926), particularly if you go on the weekend of October 6 and 7 (Columbus Day weekend), when it hosts the 73rd annual Harvest Festival, showcasing local artisans and crafters — selling everything from jewelry and woodwork to watercolors and photography — as well as local foods and produce, among them cheese and baked goods.

Another late-afternoon shopping option is the outlet mall in Lee. The Prime Outlets (50 Water St., 413-243-8186) include all the usual outlet favorites, from Banana Republic to Tommy Hilfiger.

6:30 p.m. — Pub, Pub, and Away!
Located in the basement of the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge (30 Main Street, 413-298-5545) is the Lion’s Den, a relaxed and friendly pub with a menu of baked French onion soup, chili, burgers, wraps, and nightly pub specials like chicken pot pie and country meatloaf. And if you stick around until 9 p.m., there’s live music every night, with no cover charge. Catch an hour of the show and you’ll still make it home by midnight.

Chris Berdik can be reached at cberdik@bu.edu.

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