There are some who say you haven’t seen the Berkshires until you hike Monument Mountain in Great Barrington. There are others who say you’re not a local until you’ve hiked Monument each month of the year for at least three years. While the mountain’s main trailhead alongside Route 7 is one of the most easily accessed in the region, it’s the diversity and beauty of the trail itself, all packed into a moderate 1.45 mile climb via the Hickey and Squaw Peak trails, that makes this hike so popular and special.
From the trailhead on Route 7, you have your choice of two routes. The Indian Monument Trail heads south out of the lot and follows a 1.5 mile moderate incline, beginning with a historical carriage road and leading to an easier climb through the upper mountain hardwoods and hemlocks, before you reach the junction with the summit Squaw Peak Trail. It’s a great route and filled with history, but the slightly more challenging Hickey Trail is the shining star in my eyes.
Head north out of the lot to find the Hickey Trail. The trail starts in a hardwood forest, climbs into a magical hemlock grove, along the giant, white quartzite boulders and scree from the vertical cliffs above, past caverns that hold snow through June, over a cascading ravine, and then skirts along a ridge to meet up with the Squaw Peak Trail. While a little more strenuous of a climb, the views and variety along the Hickey Trail are well worth it for anyone in moderate shape.
Both trails from the parking lot connect to the Squaw Peak Trail to cross the ridgeline between the 1,642 foot Squaw Peak and the cliffs of Devil’s Pulpit. For a 1.5 – 2 mile hike, the payoff of a mostly barren-rock summit, 360 degree views and alpine-like krumholtz conifers, is almost unexpected, but wholeheartedly appreciated by every hiker who has reached the summit (including the likes of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville).
If there’s any drawback to hiking Monument Mountain, it would that it can get more crowded than other hikes in the Berkshires. The Trustees of Reservations, which owns and manages the 503 acre Monument Mountain Reservation, estimates the trails see 20,000 hikers each year. However, even on busy holiday weekends, when the lot is full, I’ve still been able to enjoy a near-private rest atop Squaw Peak. As with any well-traveled recreation area, plan to hike early in the day during the busy periods (summer holiday weekends) for the most solitude. Headed for a hike midweek? You could very well have the entire mountain to yourself. The trick, as many locals have discovered, is to hike Monument a few dozen times, and at least once every month of the year, to truly discover what this mountain has to offer, so says your Berkshire Mountain Rover.