The trailhead is easily accessible from the Williams College campus. It can be reached by a leisurely five-mile bike ride. Head southbound on Water Street/Rt. 43, past Water Street Books and the Taconic Golf Course. The road follows the Green River as it winds its way towards sources on either side of Brodie Mountain. If you’re biking, be especially careful, as there are no shoulders whatsoever and the road twists around several blind corners. You pass Ide and Gale Roads, which loop back to campus via the Clark Art Institute, and Blair Road, a popular but hilly running route. About a third of a mile after passing Blair Road, Rt. 43 swings to the right. This is Sweets Corner, where the Hopper Brook meets the Green River. Make a left on Hopper Road, crossing the stone bridge over the Green River. As you follow the road up through rural Williamstown, the Hopper begins to emerge from behind Mount Prospect. Passing numerous farms, including a llama ranch on the right, the paved road turns to dirt. After about a mile and a half, there will be two roads on the left. Be sure to take the second of these (Hopper Road, not Bresett Road). After a half-mile or so, the road ends in a parking lot next to the trailhead.
(originally published in the "Williams Record", used with permission by the author)
The Hopper Trail is one of the more historical trails. It was built in 1830 by Williams students as a horse trail when it was learned that President Griffin could no longer hike up Mount Greylock. Today, it is one of the most popular routes up the mountain, providing a short and dramatic ascent. Check with a display near the parking lot for more information about Mount Greylock.
The Hopper Trail beings on an ancient road that once separated the Haley and Greene farms. Notice the stone walls lining each side of the road. Even if the entire hike is too much, just walking down this road provides a dazzling color display that more than justifies the trip from campus. Just beyond the trailhead, the Haley Farm Trail begins. This trail is shorter and much steeper than the Hopper Trail. After about a quarter-mile, the Hopper Trail branches off from the road, which continues through a backcountry campground and becomes the Money Brook Trail, climbing the divide between Mounts Prospect and Williams until it reaches the Appalachian Trail four miles later.
The Hopper Trail begins slowly, passing over terrain that was extensively farmed throughout the nineteenth century. The land’s transition from an area of heavy agriculture to a typical New England forest has taken most of the twentieth century, but has largely returned the Greylock area to its original state. Passing beyond the confines of the original meadow, the trail enters the forest proper. Notice how everything changes – the variety of flora, light level, and soil composition – a reminder that the process of returning to nature is not finished.
The trail begins ascending the steep-sloped ridge whose crest is crowned by Stony Ledge. It crosses several small streams that eventually feed into the Hopper Brook. Looking up, notice how higher leaves have different colors than their lower counterparts, transforming each tree into a spectrum of fall color. After several miles, the trail passes through a patch of red spruce, interspersed with taller birch and somehow able to survive beneath the forest canopy.
Just beyond the red spruce, the trail intersects with Sperry Road at the 2.4-mile mark.
Intrepid Greylock summiteers should make a left and walk up the road until they come to a sign for the Hopper Trail. 1.5 miles and 1,150 more vertical feet deliver the hiker to the dramatic roof of Massachusetts.
To find the upper part of the Hopper Trail, hike up Sperry Road past the kiosk and ranger station on the right. Look for a sign on the left that says “Hopper Trail”. I’ve forgotten this crucial step many times and gotten off course many times.
During the peak foliage season, this upper section is one of my favorite hikes. A kaleidoscope of color completely envelops the trail, as fallen leaves below furnish a dazzling ground cover and the canopy above seals in the forest, protecting the trail from the summit’s sometimes fierce. Combined with the numerous small streams intermittently intersecting the trail, the surroundings provide a charming backdrop to the hike. The trail winds through the forest, occasionally intersecting with the main road.
At about the 3/4-mile mark, the Hopper Trail intersects with the Appalachian Trail, indicated by its distinctive white blazes. At this point, you are on Mount Greylock’s broad south ridge. Notice how the forest has completely changed from largely deciduous to nearly completely evergreen, mainly spruce. Crossing into this new ecology means that you have also entered a new environmental zone: the Greylock summit and upper ridges are the only areas in Massachusetts that support a truly sub-alpine environment.
With the radio tower in clear sight, the AT continues upward, passing Gore Pond, the state’s highest body of water. After crossing the main road, a brief quarter-mile hike brings you to the summit. Cross the road and hike past the rock inscribed with the famous Henry David Thoreau quote (see bottom).
After crossing the road once more, you come to the summit area. Directly in front is an impressive model of the Greylock massif, complete with town boundaries, trails, and landmarks. Behind it stands the War Memorial, built in 1930 to honor Massachusetts’s veterans. The 100-foot tall tower is a lighthouse, originally slated for construction near the mouth of the Charles River. However, it was constructed atop Greylock as a beacon for planes. Its light can be seen for seventy miles. To the right of the memorial is the Bascom Lodge, built in the 1930’s in the CCC rustic style. From its back porch, there is an amazing view southward past Cheshire and Pittsfield to (theoretically) Connecticut. If you walk around the summit area behind the War Memorial, there is a great vista with an accompanying etched aluminum diagram detailing the surrounding topography. On a clear day, Mount Monadnock can be seen behind the shadow of the Connecticut River valley.
To quote Henry David Thoreau’s 1849 book A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, that with the natural beauty of the Greylock area, students “will remember, no doubt, not only that they went to the college, but that they went to the mountain”.
Boots and water, although the trail can be done in winter with snowshoes or cross-country skis.
Scott Lewis, Director of the Williams College Outing Club:
Phone: (413) 597-2317
Fax: (413) 597-4449