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You can easily spend days driving the backroads of the Berkshires, slipping into a daydream, imagining what life would have been like as a wealthy turn-of-the century socialite (and it’s an enjoyable way to go), or you can drive to the end of Park Street in Stockbridge, walk through the stone portal into Ice Glen and begin a physical trek into the heart of a mythical land of leprechauns and mist.
Finding Ireland in the Berkshires on the Ice Glen Trail
Rugged, romantic landscapes steeped in ancient lore. Ireland drips with mystery. Even the name is like a whispered breath of misty air, the type of place where you’d expect to find trails with names like Ice Glen. And if that’s your inclination, then this little crag of the Berkshires doesn’t disappoint. As you traverse the network of old tree roots and giant ice age boulders, a taciturn labyrinth opens up invisibly beneath your feet. The subterranean cavern silently follows your progress through the 200-year old forest, saying not a word, occasionally emitting a whispered exhalation from intermittent openings in the rocks.
Ice Glen Trail a Gem of the Berkshires
An archway shaped from native fieldstone is your portal into the otherworld of the Ice Glen trail. Prior to 1895, the Ice Glen ravine was cut off from the town of Stockbridge by the trickling flow of the Housatonic River. This is when a metal bridge was built to connect what is now a small parking area to the trailhead.
In the 1940s, the current suspension bridge was erected. The trail officially begins at the end of the bridge where you’ll take a companion walk with the Laura’s Tower trail on a quarter mile uphill jaunt. If you’re in average shape, you’re starting to feel a little winded as you reach the top of the trail and take the split to the right. To reach Ice Glen, say goodbye to your friends on the Laura’s Tower trail and amble through the pine woods and hemlocks.
It’s important to take a moment to appreciate the maturity of the forest. We’re still worlds away from Ireland here, deep in the New England wood. Colonial settlers didn’t make their way across the landscape until the early 1700s. They cleared trees for essential farmland, leaving the rocky slopes and flatland barren outside of summer’s planting season.
The forest grows so thick on this part of the trail, it’s hard to imagine a stripped and bare landscape. Even the roots defy the vision, rising above the surface thick and gnarly as if they’d been keeping the soil in place for centuries.
In reality, it’s been less than a hundred years. As settlement farms were abandoned around the turn of the century, white pines were the first to return, overtaking vacant fields. It wasn’t long, however, before hardwood trees began to re-emerge and dominate, creating the modern landscape that covers much of the eastern states to the Canadian border.
Descending into Ireland in the Berkshires: the Ice Glen Ravine
Until now, the trail has been recognizably the Berkshires, but soon you begin a descent through moss-covered rocks into the glacial cleft.
This is where the Berkshire’s Ireland really begins as the air turns damp and cool, and rocky walls rise around you. Ice Glen isn’t for the feeble-kneed, weak of heart or those with shaky balance.
You’re stepping through stones of history, rocks left in the wake of the giant glacier that once covered the land. You’ll find plenty of deceptive holes to step into as well, so a keen eye on the ground is strongly advised.
If you take your time and pause to explore each carefully crafted resting place, you might find icy pockets well into the summer, giving the ravine its iconic name. Unfortunately, the trail was busy on a perfectly sunny Saturday in July, and with little room for anyone following us to pass, we were rushed through the half-mile ravine, unable to pause and look for ice or snow.
With a more leisurely pace, you might fare better and could easily discover some of the entrances to the subterranean world below. This is Ireland in the Berkshires, remember, so expect slippery moss-covered rocks and craggy crevices. Use appropriate care and watch your step.
Other Berkshires Hiking Trails at Ice Glen
Ice Glen, nestled within the Berkshires, offers a range of unique trail experiences, from flat riverside strolls to the heart-pumping Ice Glen trek:
1. Ice Glen Trail: A Glacial Adventure
Difficulty Level: Difficult
Terrain: Rocky in places with visible tree roots in others
Time needed for completion: 30-60 minutes
If you’re up for a challenging hike that promises a unique adventure, the Ice Glen Trail is your go-to choice. As the name suggests, this trail takes you on a thrilling journey through a glacial ravine filled with giant boulders. As you clamber over, under, and around these rocks, you’ll feel like a true explorer.
The sides of the glen are draped in the greenery of old pine and hemlock trees, creating a mesmerizing contrast against the rugged terrain. In the summer, you might even find pockets of ice and snow hidden among the rocks.
At the north end of the glen, keep an eye out for a flat rock face with an inscription from the donor, David Dudley Field. And at the southern end, you’ll discover reputedly the tallest pine tree in Massachusetts.
2. Laura’s Tower Trail: A Panoramic Vista
Difficulty Level: Moderately difficult
Terrain: Uneven in spots with visible tree roots in others
Time needed for completion: 30-60 minutes
For those seeking a more moderate challenge with an incredible payoff, the Laura’s Tower Trail is a fantastic option. This quiet, wooded ascent starts with a walk through an old stand of pine and hemlock trees, setting a tranquil tone for your journey.
As you climb higher, you’ll encounter a boulder outcropping that offers a glimpse of the wonders of Ice Glen below. The trail then leads you through a beautiful section of birch trees, intermingled with mountain laurel.
The highlight of the hike is reaching Laura’s Tower at the summit. From here, you’ll be treated to a panoramic view of the middle Berkshires. On a clear day, the sights stretch 68 miles west to the New York Catskills and 50 miles north to the Green Mountains in southern Vermont.
3. Mary V. Flynn Trail: A Leisurely Riverside Stroll
Difficulty Level: Easy
Terrain: Flat, easily accessible
Time needed for completion: 30 minutes
If you prefer a relaxed walk through picturesque scenery, the Mary V. Flynn Trail is the perfect choice. This easy, wheelchair-accessible trail offers a gentle stroll in the woods along the Housatonic River.
Starting with a 100-foot boardwalk, the trail takes you through birch, pine, cottonwood, and even some invasive euonymus. Along the way, you’ll traverse two wooden bridges and reach the river near a railed section.
This trail is an ideal option for people of all ages and abilities. It’s not just a walk; it’s a serene experience that allows you to connect with nature and soak in the peaceful beauty of the river.
Visiting the Ice Glen Trail? Consider the Practicalities
Ice Glen’s beauty is a well-spread secret throughout the local area, so you can also expect to have company if you visit during the weekend.
A boisterous French-speaking group from Quebec and a young Golden Retriever enthusiastically rock hopping as gracefully as any mountain goat would have scared away any potential wildlife, but again, visiting at a different time, under less ideal weather conditions might afford you a little more privacy and a spotting or two.
Ice Glen is a moderate one-mile out and back hike or a two-mile loop trail if you exit down Ice Glen Road and hoof it back down Route 7 to Park Street. If you spent the hike wishing you were back in the car daydreaming about turn of the century elitism, this might be the way to go as you pass what appears to be an impressive Berkshires mansion. It’s hard to tell as it’s guarded by high hedges and a gated driveway, but you can take a peek at a fenced-in spring before trekking back down the road toward the entrance.
Best Time to Visit Ice Glen in the Berkshires
If you want the opportunity to thoroughly explore the Ice Glen ravine, we recommend a weekday trip. The trails get crowded on the weekend, and not all hikers are interested in enjoying the nature or the intricacies of the Ice Glen Trail. We were accompanied on the trail by a separate group of very rowdy hikers, so there wasn’t much time to enjoy the sounds of nature either.
For maximum solitude, you’ll want to head out on the other trails during week days as well. However, if you’re up for a leisurely stroll or a heartpounding climb to a stunning lookout, and don’t mind fellow hikers or the noise they may bring, head out on the Laura’s Tower Trail or the Mary V. Flynn Trail at any time.
Directions to Trailhead
Finding parking can be difficult during peak times. There is a small area at the end of Park Street, but the owners of the art studio that share the space might be happier if you didn’t use the lot during business hours. There is also parking at the beginning of Ice Glen Road if you don’t mind reversing the loop and possibly missing the stone entry portal on an out-and-back trip.
THINGS TO DO NEARBY
Norman Rockwell Museum – less than 4 miles
Naumkeag – less than 2 miles