Where We Went : Natural Bridge State Park (North Adams, MA)
When We Went : Early June - both times!
Difficulty (Boots 1 - 10) : 2 Boots around the Bridges Area - 1 Boot on the Elder Trail (Healthy Heart Trail)
Trail Length : The Natural Bridge "Trail" is a short 0.3 mile - The woodland Elder Trail (Healthy Heart Trail) is about a 0.5 mile loop.
How Long it Took Us : We spent 2 hours exploring on our 1st trip and 4 hours, on the 2nd (including a picnic lunch!)
Overview : Natural Bridge State Park is home to the only naturally occurring, white marble arch in the US. According to geologists, the park's namesake natural bridge, was created when glacial melt water made its way through a fault in 550 million year-old bedrock marble, carving a 30-foot cleft right through it, over 13,000 years ago. Today, the bridge traverses the gurgling Hudson Brook, whose waters torrent and pool in the many crags and fissures, while falling into a steep 60-foot deep gorge. Said to be one of the best demonstrations of glacial erosion in New England, the park also houses the only white marble dam in North America. From 1810 - 1947, it supplied power to a marble factory that operated until multiple fires ceased operations.
Nathaniel Hawthorne, wholly unknown in 1838, enjoyed solo skinny-dipping sojourns in the deep chasm during his 6-week stay in North Adams. Recording 5 different al fresco floats from July - September, Hawthorne found he didn't always have the marble tub to himself: "A small stone tumbled down; and looking upwards towards the narrow strip of bright light, and the sunny verdue that peeped over the top, 'looking up thither from the deep, gloomy depth,' I saw two or three men; and, not liking to be to them the most curious part of the spectacle, I waded back and put on my clothes." A pastime no longer permitted in the area, it seems no scarlet letters were received for his scandalous behavior.
From 1950 - 1983, the bridge remained a popular roadside tourist attraction off of the scenic Mohawk Trail, and in 1985, it officially became a state park and historical site.
During park hours, stop in the Visitor's Center for extensive and interactive information about the geology and natural history of the area.
What We Dug : Initially, we decided to take Mason here for a rare trio outing, but returned a week later with Veda and Mimi in tow. On our 1st visit, we spent the majority of our time exploring the nooks, crannies, and stairs that make up the arch, bridge, and dam area. We climbed glacier erratics, investigated factory ruins (you can still see where factory employees etched their names in some of the marble, bring paper and crayons to take a rubbing!), and got our feet good and wet creekside. During our time, we saw some college kids playing frisbee in the field below the quarry and immediately made plans to return to this perfect spot for a picnic.
On our 2nd visit, because we brought along Veda, our 2 year old, we were less keen on spending so much time around bridges and precipitous ledges near the gorge. Since Veda's been mobile, I now fully understand why parents insist on "harnessing" their children. Quick, gimme the leash! Luckily, there is so much more to explore than just the incredible geologic wonder. First order of business was lunch. Let me just say...picnicking in a gorgeous field, under early summer sun, at the base of an 80-foot tall marble wall was pretty freakin' spectacular. The expansive green space gave the kids plenty of room to run amok.
After lunch, we took a walk. Around the left side of the Visitor's Center you will find signs for the Elder Trail, a "Heart Healthy Trail," named for prior owner and geologist Edward Elder (not indicative of the path's intended demographic). An easy, flat path, we found many points of interest along the way. About a minute into the woods we discovered play structures built from stray sticks, a large tire suspended between trees, and a stump throne fit for knee-high royalty. The trail winds itself around the back of the Visitor's Center and back towards the park road. If you cross over the road and climb a short hill, you'll find a small sculpture park and a few picnic tables. We completed our Natural Bridge redux
with a quick nip to the riverside,
stacking marble stones and cooling our toes.
What We Could Do Without : If you're anything like me, somewhat adverse to heights and experience anxiety when your kids are nearing edges of things...I know...I'm trying to reign it in - the wide open area of the quarry, the forest trail, and the sculpture garden make it still worth the trip. Just go slowly and use caution - or a leash! I won't judge you. Promise.
Consider yourself forewarned that you cannot remove any marble from the property, my dreams of ferrying out new marble countertops dashed.
Keep Your Eyes Peeled For: Remnants of marble quarry and factory, glacial erratics, glacial potholes, hemlock, spruce, white cedar, bulbet fern, cattails
*If your visit coincides with the sunset, a sensory point of interest to experience is the "Music For A Quarry" installation. Created by Walter Fahndrich, 10 speakers surrounding the quarry conduct in the twilight within this natural amphitheater for fifteen minutes at the stroke of sunset, every evening.
Must Know Before You Go’s : The park gates close at 5pm, but you can still park at the end of the road and walk up. There is a parking fee for both MA/Non-MA residents during open hours. No swimming. Dogs must be leashed. Bathroom facilities during park hours. Carry in/Carry out policy in regards to trash.
Directions : Drive a mile (1.6 km) along MA Route 8 northeast from the center of North Adams MA. Just past the Beaver Mill, turn left (west) across a bridge, then follow the signs 1/2 mile up a narrow, winding road across a one-lane bridge, past the marble quarry (where the marble factory was) to the Visitor Center and parking area.
McCauley Road, off Rte. 8, North Adams, MA 01247
Scroll through for more photos of our Natural Bridge Adventure!