Hiking at Bartholomew’s Cobble, Massachusetts
Updated: Jul 27, 2019
While in the Berkshire Hills area of Massachusetts visiting my husband's family, we had a chance to do a little hiking to Hurlburt’s Hill in Bartholomew’s Cobble, in the village of Ashley Falls. The trail is part of a nature preserve named for George Bartholomew, who farmed the land in the early 19th century. But the Bartholomews' property was once part of 3,000-acre parcel of land owned by Colonel John Ashley, a New England colonial revolutionary, who first settled there in the 18th century.
The Trustees of Reservations (a statewide land trust), acquired the Cobble in 1946, including Col. John Ashley’s House. It was designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1971, one of 11 natural landmarks designated in Massachusetts. Since 1946, Bartholomew's Cobble has been managed and expanded by The Trustees of Reservations. A small natural history museum and visitors’ center is located on the site.
THE COBBLE'S FOREST
The area around Bartholomew’s Cobble began as coral reefs, shells, and sand as many as 500 million years ago when the area was an inland sea. The rocks that formed were forced out during the formation of the Taconic and Berkshire Mountains (part of the Appalachian Mountains).
The area has two unique geological formations, composed of limestone and marble, with ribs of much harder quartzite which make them resistant to erosion. Outcrops like these are referred to as cobbles in New England. Hence the name Bartholomew's Cobble. the word "cobble" is derived from a German word, kobel (meaning, 'rock' or 'gorge'). In time, these bedrock outcroppings were covered by forest (pines, cedars, elms, ashes, a variety of ferns, moss, wildflowers) and animals.
HIKING THE HURLBURT’S HILL
There are five miles of trails at Bartholomew’s Cobble. We drove past the Visitor's Center and started at a small parking lot along Cooper Hill Road (we wouldn’t have known about it if not for my sister -in-law and her husband who took us there).
The Reservation's elevation begins at 600 feet along the Housatonic River and ends in high fields and forest at 1150 feet above sea level. Seasoned hikers might find it very sedate to hike at Hurlburt's Hill.
My husband, Hermann, considers it nothing more than a walk in the park. That’s because we are used to long hikes, usually with high elevation gain, living in the Rockies. I should say Hurlburt’s Hill is an easy short hike with gentle terrain, no scrambling on rocks or steep ascents. Unlike in Colorado where it is usually dry and rocky, here it is lush, wet and muddy in some areas. That is due to the Reservation’s location along the Housatonic River and the wetter climate of this region of the country.
Also, it had been raining hard the day before and everything was soaking wet. I suggest to bring along your hiking boots, no matter what season. We didn't bring ours, not expecting to do any hiking, but we made do with our walking shoes.
The changing of the leaves is the main attraction when travelling in New England during autumn, but it seems our timing was a little off that year. The change in color of the foliage from green to incredible golden yellows and reds varies from year to year, depending on the climates each year. We expected the colors to be at their peak, but that year the trees were just starting to change colors.
We saw some color but nothing as spectacular as what we have seen before. But there is one tree called a Tulip Tree that had changed completely to deep gold color (see right).
Even so, it was an interesting trail. Take some time to look around and you will find plenty of plants. We were there in the fall, but we still found plants that have yet to succumb to frost. Some flowers were still in bloom, such as the Bachelor button below.
That is due to Bartholomew's Cobble's location. The area is considered in a warm mesoclimate (a geographically restricted climate area) in the Berkshires. Winters are usually milder and shorter than in other areas of the county, while spring arrives early and summer and fall lingers.
Bartholomew's Cobble has over 800 species of vascular plants (trees, flowers, grasses and vines) and a greater diversity of fern species than almost anywhere in North America. Ferns they say are best to see in June in the Cobble.
We saw an abundance of interesting mushrooms as well, growing on the ground and on live and fallen trees. That's how you will know how wet the forests are, mushrooms abound. Some of them I'm sure are edible, but we are no experts For those who are knowledgeable about them, this forest is a haven for mushrooms. I'm not saying you are allowed to collect them, it's just so wonderful to see so many varieties. Examples below.
ATOP HURLBURT'S HILL
There are sweeping views of the Housatonic River Valley, forest, farmland and the Taconic Mountains from up on Hurlburt's Hill. The Mohicans called this valley "Housatonic", meaning "place beyond the mountains".
The high point has a big clearing that will give you a very impressive view of the mountains and the forest that extends across parts of Massachusetts and Connecticut.
There are interpretative panels on top explaining facts about Hurlburt's Hill. There is also a lone bench where you can rest and have a snack, enjoy the view, soak up the sun or watch the birds fly by. We saw a few.
BIRDS AT THE COBBLE
Bartholomew's Cobble is one of the premier birding-viewing spots in the Berkshires, good at any time of year, but best in Spring, summer and fall. Many raptors migrate along the Taconic Ridge and Housatonic River Valley. The location, diversity of ecosystems and habitats, with an abundance of fields, forests, and water, puts the Cobble on the favorite migration paths of variety of bird species (at their peak in May).
Over 240 species (including Broad-winged Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Bald Eagle, Osprey, American Kestrel, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper's Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, and the less common Northern Goshawk, Merlin, and Peregrine Falcon) have been recorded at Bartholomew's Cobble since 1946 (Hawk migration starts from mid-September through October). The picture on the left is of a Turkey Vulture.
* Dogs are not allowed to protect the habitat
* While in Bartholomew's Cobble, if you have time, before or after hiking, you can visit Col. John Ashley’s House (moved from its original site), located on the south side of Cooper Hill Road. It was built in 1735, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is considered one of the oldest structures in southern Berkshire County.
* If you love wildflowers, there is an annual tour that you can check which starts in April. The Reservation is said to have an incredible bloom of spring woodland wildflowers in late April and early May. Alas, we were there in the Fall. These spring flowers are often referred to as “spring ephemerals” (perennial plants that have short cycles). These early bloomers take advantage of the small window when there’s plenty of moisture from melting snow, when the soil has just starting to warm, and when sunlight still can get through the trees. These delicate wildflowers (white and red trillium, spring beauty, bloodroot, toothwort, wild ginger, blue cohosh and violet) are typical to New England forests.