He was born in Minnesota but moved to Oregon as a young man and came to think of himself as a native of that state. He attended Reed College in Portland, Oregon. During college his housemates included the poet Gary Snyder, who shared Berry's interest in Eastern metaphysics.
In 1960 he published Trask, a historical novel about Elbridge Trask, an Oregon settler in the 1840s who was the first white homesteader on Tillamook Bay. It was followed by two sequels, Moontrap and To Build a Ship. The novels have collectively become known as the "Trask novels." His other works include A Majority of Scoundrels, a history of the fur trade in the Rocky Mountains. Besides writing, his lifelong artistic pursuits included bronze sculpture, sumi painting, and blues guitar playing.