One of the most fun things to do in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts is FREE…
See the tiny airplanes at Walter J. Koladza Airport!
When we got the tip that Great Barrington, MA had a teensy, tiny airport, I figured it would be good for a 5-minute glance. In fact, however, the airport was so awesome that our whole family spent a full morning there… then returned again for a second visit another day.
THE Place for Kids to Watch Planes
Yes, if you’re looking for a fabulous free activity in Western Mass for both kids and adults, you’ve found it.
Do you know a child obsessed with aviation? I sure know two! Our kiddos were entranced by the soaring wings, shiny colored metal, and twirling propellers of the planes during our visit to Great Barrington Airport, as was I!
Great Barrington’s Friendly Airport
But wait — kids and adults are allowed to just walk right in to Walter J. Koladza Airport?! For free, and without anyone yelling at you? Yes. The official Great Barrington Airport website says it best:
“Welcome home to GBR, the friendliest airport in the Northeast. ‘Personal and friendly’ is how most people describe the atmosphere at Great Barrington Airport. ‘It’s like returning to the earlier days of aviation — it’s like coming home.'”
Watching Airplanes Taking Off and Landing
It is exhilarating to ogle the moment when a plane LIFTS into the sky! Even more exhilarating is to get to see it from right next to the runway. At Great Barrington Airport, you can stand directly next to the strip where the tiny airplanes land and take off, and it’s fantastic!
Little ones may need some hands covering their ears from the noise, but the decibel level was surprisingly fine for being so intimately close to the action.
See Airplane Repairs in Action!
When there’s a lull in the planes taking off, mosey a few feet over to the plane repair shop at Koladza Airport. In this hangar, see the innards of these graceful metal beasts being operated on to perfection.
The Berkshire Aviation Maintenance Shop
I found it very moving how welcoming the repair hangar was to our clan! The six of us (my parents included) were able to watch the technicians working for quite some time.
It’s nice to have the indoor space when touring the airport, as outdoors can get a tad sunny and buggy. (The first day we visited was insect party central. As I was editing my pictures for this article today, some photos were unusable because a flying critter had photobombed the frame with its big black wings!)
The Walter J. Koladza Airport Dog?!
To emphasize the friendly, homey nature of the space: a caramel brown dog loped around the planes the whole time! How many airports have their very own jolly dog?
Gaze at the photo below and count all the things a young child (or adult!) would be delighted by, starting with the striped-propeller helicopter…
How Does One Pose With a Small Plane?
Now, it’s a good thing I just published my treatise on ridiculous photo poses to explain some of what you’re about to see. In short: Posing for photos is silly to begin with, but posing with a tiny plane is even weirder.
Arms Like Airplane Wings
For these pictures, I opted to be as foolishly dramatic and plane-like as possible: arms flung out wide, and body angles exaggerated-ly mirroring the flying machines! Shout-out to the Great Barrington Airport staff for not laughing TOO hard during all this…
Learn to Fly in Western Mass
When I saw the “Learn to Fly” sign at Great Barrington Airport, I slid my body between it and my husband so he wouldn’t notice it. You see, my spouse has a drive to soar in tiny planes that was evident from the early flying lesson DATE he took me on, nearly terrifying me away from continued romance! (Or did the danger draw me in?)
A Beautiful Setting for Flight School
I will say, though, if there is any good place to learn to fly, the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts might be it. Just look at those rolling blue hills, lush emerald forests, and expansive sky…
Scenic Flight Tours of MA and NY
Should learning to fly your own plane be very much NOT of interest (this is me waving my hands in agreement over here), a nice tidbit to know is that Great Barrington Airport offers scenic flights of the surrounding Berkshires and nearby New York State.
I haven’t tried this in Western MA, myself, but it sounds lovely. We did launch our honeymoon in Belize on a tiny plane over the Caribbean, though, and those views were scrumptious.
The History of GBR Airport
So where did this teensy plane haven in Western Massachusetts come from, anyway? Well, its deliciousness may come from the fact that it used to be a potato farm.
The field was converted into a family-run airport in 1931, and has been run by Berkshire Aviation Enterprises since 1944. The name “Koladza” honors the WWII test pilot who owned the airport for over 60 years. See fascinating historic photos of Great Barrington airport here.
Aviation Events and Air Shows
Though we visited Great Barrington Airport on a day when we were the only guests, Koladza Airport has plenty of events for families.
The day we were leaving Western Massachusetts to go home from our vacation, there was a giant air show going on! Check local calendars for what you can partake in… or just pop by to wander without an event. The planes’ existence in themselves are an event for the soul.
Love the creativity of these planes’ colors? See my giant drawing prompts article which uses them as art inspiration!
Other Fun Things to Do in the Berkshires
Convinced to visit Great Barrington Airport, but curious what else there is to do in Western Massachusetts? You’re in luck! I’ll start with activities near Koladza Airport, then move outward.
Bash Bish Falls: Tallest Waterfall in MA
In the description for the scenic flights offered at Koladza Airport, you’ll see that one of the top attractions to fly over is the highest waterfall in Massachusetts: Bash Bish Falls! It’s just a 25 minute drive southwest from Great Barrington, towards the New York border.
We had a lovely hike there with the kids… except we made one mistake in deciding whether to start hiking at the MA or NY entrance, so make sure to click that link to my article to get the scoop on avoiding our errors!
Stockbridge, MA: Charming Rockwell New England
If you enjoy the homey charm of Norman Rockwell paintings, definitely check out Stockbridge, MA, less than 15 minutes north of Great Barrington.
The centerpiece of the town is one of the oldest and most historic hotels in all of America: the Red Lion Inn, which is worth a tour, if not a meal or stay to fully explore the hundreds of years of antiques displayed therein.
Family Fun Near Williamstown and North Adams
If you’re willing to drive an hour north from Great Barrington for amazing kid-friendly activities (all worth the trip!), consider:
- Hiking (or just driving up!) Mount Greylock, tallest mountain in MA.
- Seeing stunning modern art at MASS MoCA — great fun for all ages.
- Delighting in this alpaca, llama farm in Williamstown, MA!
The Tiny Planes of Koladza Airport are Awesome!
So what do you think? Are you as charmed by the petite airport and tiny places of Great Barrington Airport as we were? Have you visited already?
Do share your experiences and thoughts!
The author, Lillie Marshall, is a 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 4.2 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!