Massachusetts: Berry Pond & Onota Lake

Berry Pond, Berkshire Mountains

I’ve loved James Taylor since I was a kid. Listening to his music takes me back to riding in the back of my parents’ truck singing along to mix tapes my mom used to make. That voice. It’s one of a kind for me. Since he was born and raised in Stockbridge, MA, James Taylor’s summer concerts at Tanglewood in Lenox, MA are a homecoming. He plays an epic July 4th show every year and the suckers who aren’t quick enough to get tickets to a guaranteed sold out show have to settle for the July 3rd show. That was us two years ago, but in 2016 we got tickets to the big night. I bought tickets for my brother Chris, his fiancée Emily, Tony and I. Chris and I were raised on his music. We had to experience the epicness together. We decided to make a weekend of it and strap the canoe to the top of the car and head to the Berkshires.

I researched campgrounds around Tanglewood and came across Pittsfield State Forest, which is about 13 miles north of the concert venue. Pittsfield State Forest is home to Berry Pond which sits at 2,150 feet in elevation, one of the highest natural bodies of water in the state of Massachusetts. From Connecticut it’s not too bad of a drive. We left the Hartford area early to hit Collin’s Diner in Canaan for a quick bite in a classic aluminum diner and then popped into Great Barrington Brewing for a pint before making our way to Pittsfield.

Setting up camp, Pittsfield State Park

The drive through the campground is scenic in itself. Your ears pop as your car climbs up the one way road, past the group campgrounds, past the wild azalea fields, and up to an amazing panoramic of the Berkshires. The pond sits right at the top along the left side of the road. As you start to head down to mountain you come across the campsites. Campsite #10 is a great spot; it’s a Tent Only spot separated from the other tents and RVs. The other spots didn’t seem too crowded, but ours was ideally set apart. We set up camp, Tony and I in our tent and Chris on a hammock with a tarp pitched over the top. Emily is not a camping fan so she opted to join us just for the concert.

Walking on water, Berry Pond.

Berry Pond Paddle

Arranging our living quarters was top priority, then we made our way up to Berry Pond with the canoe. The pond is not very large, but it was a good paddle before dinner. This was our first time giving our removable middle seat a whirl. Tony maintained his position in the back of the canoe while Chris took over my bow (front) seat. While the two of them paddled, I relaxed with my oversized sunhat in the middle of the canoe. The weight balance worked out just fine and the seat gave me enough room to not feel too cramped.

View from the temporary middle seat

Onota Lake Paddle

There is more than one place to paddle in the Berkshires. The next day we hit the water one more time before we headed to Tanglewood. We cooked a hearty breakfast that morning and packed lunches, beers and our bathing suits before making our way to Onota Lake. Just a ten minute ride from the campground, Onota Lake is a 617 acre “great pond.” We recommend Burbank Park as a put in spot. From there we paddled south along the shore. The lake had a moderate amount of motorized traffic, mostly pontoon boats and jet skis. Standup paddleboards, kayaks and other canoes paddled along the shore around the lake. It was a hot one. We made it a priority to find a spot to tie up the canoe and get in the water. The rocks along the shore provided places for tucking the canoe away so we could enjoy a swim or a beer in the water. We paddled back to the car with just enough time to get back to the campground, prep and pack dinner and make our way to the concert.

Onota Lake, Pittsfield, MA

The  show was epic. With our blankets spread out in the lawn we listened to all the hits, “Fire and Rain,” “You’ve Got a Friend,” “Country Road,” “Carolina on My Mind.” Need I go on? He sounded just as perfect as the other three times I’ve seen him play, but this show had an extra touch of magic. You could feel it in the crowd. And just as I suspected, the man made me cry when he sang “Sweet Baby James.” Gets me every time.

Next stop:

Rangeley, Maine where we’ll canoe on LL Bean’s private campground!

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