MASSACHUSETTS: Visiting the Berkshires with Kids Family Vacation Guide – Maybe it’s the lungfuls of fresh mountain air, dips in cool lakes, and miles of hiking trails. Or maybe it’s the outdoor symphonies, literary haunts, and impossibly charming New England towns nestled in the highlands of western Massachusetts.
For all these reasons, the Berkshires have been attracting family vacationers (and repatriates) for centuries as a place to escape New York and Boston’s summer heat. After all, the Berkshires are just a three-hour drive from New York to the South or Boston to the East.
And when summer’s over? Families come for the fall foliage that is the stuff of New England dreams. Can you just smell the apple cider?
The beautiful Berkshires offer year-round family-friendly activities, including cultural events, outdoor fun, and kid-friendly restaurants. The following recommendations will guide you to the best of these New England attractions — with the chance to stay at a real Gilded Age mansion and meet some local artisans.
1: Hike the Appalachian Trail
Imagine coming home from your vacation and telling your friends (or show-and-tell audience) that you hiked the Appalachian Trail. Talk about bragging rights!
The Appalachian Trail meanders up the East Coast from Georgia to Maine and is the longest single path in the world that is dedicated to hiking only. A portion goes right through the Berkshire Mountains and makes for a fantastic family hike.
The trailhead in Great Barrington has good parking facilities and is a great place to hop on the trail for an easy hike with younger kids. Or for a serious family outdoor adventure, you can head over to Mount Greylock, the highest peak in Massachusetts at almost 3,500 feet.
The full hike from the base to the top of Mount Greylock is a challenging eight miles. But its panoramic views of New England will prove well worth it.
If that’s too much for your brood, you can easily do just a small part of the climb—just stop in at the Visitor’s Station at mountain base and pick up a map of the local hiking trails.
2: Enjoy an Outdoor Symphony at Tanglewood
The Boston Symphony Orchestra has been relocating to the cooler climes of the Berkshires every summer since 1937. Their Tanglewood music season has become one of the most beloved music “festevents” in the country. In fact, it’s a bucket list item for virtually every classical music lover. And since the concerts are held in a beautiful outdoor setting and bringing a picnic is de rigueur, you will find many children among the audience.
To make it even more attractive to families, they offer 50% admission prices for children under 18 and have a host of family activities, including Watch and Play, a free interactive musical performance designed to engage children ages 3-10 in music appreciation.
3. Make Your Own Music at the Magic Fluke
The artisans in this small shop have created beautiful handmade ukuleles since 1999. And they recently added a violin and an electric bass to their repertoire. Not only do they encourage customers (including children!) to try out the instruments, you will get a first-hand look at how they’re made.
The workshop sits right behind the music shop and you will see artisans at work on their latest instrument. One of my greatest joys as a parent is watching my children engaged in a conversation with someone who is passionate about what they do. These guys not only have a passion for their work, but they are clearly eager to share their passion with even the youngest visitors.
And really, is there a better souvenir than a Berkshire-made ukulele?
4: Go Jump in a Lake
The Berkshires are dotted with ponds, lakes, and swimming holes. And what better place to burn off some energy and cool off at the same time?
Lake Buel in Great Barrington stretches over a mile wide and is about 15 feet at its deepest. It has a small, easily accessible public beach where you can launch your watercraft.
Also in Great Barrington is Lake Mansfield, which has a roped-off swimming area, a small playground, and a lovely walking loop that circles the lake.
If you’re looking to rent a canoe, kayak, or stand-up paddle board (SUP), head over to Berkshire Outfitters in Adams. The rentals come with paddles and PDFs, everything you need for a great (and safe) day on the lake. Cal site.
Recommended Resort for Families: Cranwell Spa and Golf Resort
During the Gilded Age (late 19th century), it was very fashionable among a certain wealthy industrialists set to build a “summer cottage” in the Berkshires. And by cottage, they meant large and elaborate mansions.
Today’s Cranwell Spa and Golf Resort in Lenox is an opulent Tudor cottage built by John Sloane in 1894. This Gilded Age mansion gives you the chance to glimpse a bygone era of New England’s history, while enjoying modern amenities. Among them: an indoor and outdoor pool, a golf course, and a fabulous spa.
Many of the Cranwell’s suites have separate living rooms with sofabeds and are a great option for families.
Recommended Restaurant for Families: Baba Louie’s
In the middle of downtown Great Barrington sits a wonderfully family-friendly pizza restaurant, Baba Louie’s. Although you can get a classic cheese pizza for your picky ones, their menu is full of fresh combinations that will make you want to return, and soon. In lieu of a kids menu, check their daily pasta special for children.
We were particularly taken with the Puttanesca pizza, with shrimp, anchovies, capers, and green olives. They offer a gluten-free crust. Also, check for the daily pasta special, and a children’s pasta meal served with a side of broccoli.
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An earlier version of this post was published September 15, 2016. It has since been updated and revised.