"In the woods is perpetual youth" - Emerson

GUIDED HIKES: 1-2 north of NYC, 2-3 hours west of Boston (click here)

Mount Washington State Forest

Difficulty:Easy, Moderate, and Strenuous

Main Attractions: Unbelievable 360 degree views, remote hiking location, open fields,dense forest.

10 day forecast

Nearby Hikes: Bash Bish Falls  Mt. Everett

Mount Washington State Forest sits atop the Taconic Plateau in the town of Mount Washington, MA right in the corner where NY, CT, and NY meet. The western edge of the state forest sits on the New York border and the southern edge borders Connecticut and its Mount Riga State Reservation. It's about 1,000 feet above sea level, high up over the surrounding valleys, and may be one of the last places in the tri-state border area of CT, MA, and NY where you'll experience forest as it may have been before early Americans leveled all trees for various reasons over hundreds of years. Perhaps that explains why The Nature Conservancy has called the surrounding area one of the last great places and work hard, along with local individuals and state entities, to try and protect and expand it as much as possible. Nowhere in southern New England or southeastern New York is there a remnant of the original forest before Europeans landed hundreds of years ago. The original forest was much different than the one we see now covering the hills and mountains. However, a "second forest" is starting to emerge as a magical environment all unto its own in isolated places such as Mt. Washington State Forest.

It's been set aside and protected from development while logging stopped years ago and it was a very remote/rural spot even before conservation efforts. As a result, it just has a feel to it as if it's about to become a forest similar to the ones pre-European settlers experienced. It's still a baby in relative terms but it's starting to get some real legs to it. It's a small spot in relative terms as unfortunately folks didn't have the foresight to create National Parks in southern New England as they have done out West. But the efforts of individuals and small groups have really paid off. It's a strong, healthy forest from ground to canopy. Hardwood trees, lush ferns, bushes, wild flowers, Mountain Laurel...it's green in there during summer with colors flashing about! Hikers aren't the only ones to love it. Black bears by the dozens, if not hundreds, if you take in lands outside the state forest boundaries. It is highly unlikely you'd see a bear as they are shy and/or nocturnal. The Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake sunbath in certain spots in the Taconic Plateau region and may cross the hiking trails while you're on them (though just the the bear, sightings of rattlesnakes would be extremely rare. Lynx and bobcat roam in stealth mode and there's a small-scale fierce debate as to whether mountain lion (cougar) has made it's way back into here after at least a century of being missing in action. Some locals are adamant they've seen one while others point to "no biological proof" of their existence. Even the fischer has made a come back so that all tells you how different this spot is in comparision to the rural but somewhat suburban terrain outlining this forest plateau outpost.

Mt Washington is bounded by New York's Taconic State Park north and west, Connecticut's Mount Riga Reservation south, and the Appalachian Trail runs just to the east of it a few ridgelines away. Hiking up in this region is very different from even hiking in the rural forests 15 miles away. There's just a different feel altogether up here. It's not just a conservation thing...it's also a unique geological feature rising 1000 feet or so from the valleys around it. It's physically separated and if it weren't for all the trees and rolling hills around it, it probably would look very similar to a rock formation you'd see rising up off a desert floor in Australia or Arizona. Though northwestern Connecticut and southwestern Massachusetts are very rural and the least populated areas of their state, it's still land that is constantly changing with farms being sold and new development creeping in slowly but surely. People are constantly changing and shaping the landscape even though it remains a really nice region where nature seems to dominate. This isn't true at all in the area where Mt. Washington State Forest lies. There is some monitoring/maintaining of the forest but it's more to protect it from invasive species or for scientific reasons more so than constantly logging. The only way you'll experience Mt. Washington is if you hike into it. The only people you'll see are other hikers. And the trail system allows you to not only immerse yourself into a forest wonder with amazing mountain views but it's in a region where the trails link to the trails of Mt. Riga Reservation, the long north/south trail of South Taconic Trail within Taconic State Park, and the world famous Appalachian Trail also running north/south just a few miles away. It wouldn't be hard to backpack in this region, disappear for days, and not see many people at all nor much sign of civilization. You can of course just hike in for an hour and disappear from the hustle and bustle!

There is a large trail loop outlining the Mount Washington State Forest boundaries, with 4 distinct trails which allow you to hike the entire forest zone if you are a conditioned hiker into all day outings. Alander Trail, Ashley Hill Trail, Mt Frisselll Trail, and South Taconic trail intersection and/or join to create the loop or allowing some crisscrossing through the forest. Doing the entire loop is anywhere from 12-15 mile round trip so perhaps the smart choice for most is just take on Mount Alander Trail from the ranger's station parking lot to Alander's peak which is about 3 miles.

Mount Alander Trail is the main trail leading out from the parking lot and leads up to the stunning views atop Mount Alander which tops off at 2,250 feet, rising high above the western New York valley and offering up stunning views in all directions. It's a steady rise of a trail but never very steep as the parking lot itself is high up in the mountain area. From Mount Alander you can see way off west into New York state with Catskill Mountains rising up high in front of you and glimpses of Adirondacks foothills way up in the northwestern view. Massachusetts's Berkshire Mountains roll up north-northeast and the tall one way off in the distance is Mount Greylock. Southeast views show off the last and highest hills of Connecticut. Mountain Alander is a large plateau and not your typical peak view where you stand and turn to look in all directions. You can walk up and down the South Taconic Trail that runs right over the top of Alander for southern views or northern views. Most people take just the southern views but don't forget to follow South Taconic Trail's white hash marks along a tight forest trail up north to a small clearing for views of the Berkshires and distant Adirondacks (see if you can spot the skyline of Albany...hint...it's REALLY tiny). You'll also get a grand view from there of the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts by looking due north and slightly northeast. Mt Greylock is the tallest mountain in the Berkshires just over 3400 feet. Back at the southern views of Alander's plateau, Connecticut's Litchfield Hills roll off in a southeastern view with southwest views presenting New York State's Taconic State Forest in the foreground and Columbia/Duchess counties in the background. You may have to hike down a bit along South Taconic Trail to get to the southern and western views. On crystal clear days mountain tops roll on for as far as the eye can see. Alander Trail is about 3 miles from parking lot to mountain top and takes about an hour to get up there for most, a little more if your pace is real easy going.

Ashley Hill Trail heads off left (south - southwest) from Alander Trail about a mile in. Ashley Hill goes for miles eventually spilling out just beyond the state forest's boundary line almost literally on the spot where CT/MA/NY meet where it ends at Mt. Frissell Trail. Frissell Trail starts back at a dirt road (East Street) parking area where CT/MA meet and takes the hiker to Mt Frisselll whose peak is in Massachusetts but holds the highest point in the state of Connecticut at a spot on Mount Frissell's southern slope). Ashley Hill Trail allows the hiker to disappear into a forest Robin Hood would have loved. Lush green ferns and flora on the ground, heavy bush cover with tall hardwood forest canopy. You certainly will be alone if you are hiking solo and it's a sloppy rugged trail at points that doesn't get a huge amount of traffic so not a trail for a beginner or solo hiker and new to the area. (NOTE: Just before Ashley Hill Trail as you hike in on Alander Trail is Charcoal Pit Trail. It's a short trail that leads in to Ashley Hill Trail before you get to the main Ashley Hill/Mount Alander Trail intersection. Ashley Hill Trail has first come, first served back country campsites. Just follow the signs for "Camping" to get to the campsites. Once you meet Mt Frissell Trail via Ashley Hill Trail you go RIGHT (west) onto Mt. Frissell Trail for a little less than a half a mile before taking another RIGHT onto South Taconic Trail as it heads north to the peak of Mt. Alander.

GRAB A MAP ON THE INFORMATION BOARD BEFORE VENTURING IN. YOU'LL NEED IT especially if you try some of the lesser used trails. It would be easy to get lost in there if you're not familiar with it or don't have a good grasp of how maps work. Even the main Mount Alander Trail near the top can get confusing for first timers though most will have no problem with that trail.

As noted Mt Frissell Trail curves along the southern boundary of Mt. Washington State Forest. At times it winds in, but most of it is just off, the forest boundary. It dances along the CT/MA/NY borders. Mt Frissell begins back on East Street (same road to the entrance to Mt Washington parking lot but just a few miles up) just were the state boundary marker for Connecticut and Massachusetts stands. Frissell trail is a red marked trail that goes over Round Mountain first then Mt Frissell and eventually to South Taconic Trail.

South Taconic Trail skirts the western boundary of Mt. Washington State Forest and rises right over the top of Alander. South Taconic Trail description can be accessed here. It's a 12 mile long trail that encompasses the best natural highlights in this region (Bash Bish Falls, Mt Alander, and Brace Mountain). It parallels the Appalachian Trail which is about 7 miles to the east on the other side of a mountain ridge. (If the allure of the Appalachian Trail is more your style than nearby Bear Mountain, Sages Ravine, and Mount Race are amazing spots to visit.)

The northern tip of Mt. Washington State Forest meets Bash Bish Falls State Park. You can access Mount Alander from Bash Bish but it's a steep 3.5 mile hike in so be in very good hiking shape and some folks claim that trail is hard to follow at times...and this forest isn't a place you want to get lost so go with a group and with at least one person who has done the Bash Bish to Mountain Alander hike.

Another option for hiking into Mount Alander is via Undermountain Road which is not far at all from Route 22 in Copake, NY. Click here for that option which also gives a nice description of the views that await you at Mount Alander.

Berkshire Hiking offers guided hikes in this region so don't be shy about sending an email and ask about rates and availability. You can tackle the trail yourself but if you're new to hiking, nervous about venturing off in an area you're not familiar with, or just like the idea of having a guide we have the experience, first aid training, and friendly demeanor to make it worth your while.

WARNING: If you camp out over night at the shelters observe proper food storage etiquette. You're in black bear country. Although they are extremely shy and most come out at night to rummage for food (I have never seen a black bear in the wild in all my years of hiking), they are not shy about visiting sleeping campers who haven't stored food properly. Visit the official website listed below for information on bears and how to enjoy the forest without encouraging bears to visit you! Also, this region is one of the last places in the area to have a decent rattlesnake population. STAY ON THE TRAILS and there won't be a problem. I like to hike alone but honestly for the remote possibility of getting bitten it's not a place to hike alone. When visiting Alander's peak don't venture off trail through the grassy areas looking for your own spot to escape to. Rattlers like to sunbath like models vacationing in St. Tropez! They love to chill out in the sun and would never attack but will bite if you step on them or go into Australian-tv-host snake-fan mode and try to grab one! About 10 miles away at Bear Mountain in Salisbury, CT a hiker was bitten in 2006. I heard a first hand account from a person on the scene and the story is the hiker hiked passed a trail he had wanted to access and when told he had passed it, he turned around and sort of jogged back to make up time. A rattler on a rock that basically was almost on the trail saw him coming fast and lashed out. The first serious hiker/rattler encounter in most people's memory. It probably was a dry bite since he recovered fast and was fine the next day. Dry bites are common since most rattlers employ it as a "next time I'M DUMPING VENOM IN YOU" warning. But if it's a venomous bite then more severe symptoms will occur the longer it takes to get the patient to the emergency room. If a person completely blew off medical help they could easily lose a leg (or arm if that's where the bite was) since the venom kills the cells and it will keep spreading out if not treated. It's highly unlikely a bite victim would die but it's important to get to an emergency room as soon as you can keeping them as immobile as possible since it's important to keep heart rate low in case venom was injected and it wasn't a dry bite. Faster blood rate means venom spreads faster through the area so the best immediate remedy is remain calm. Each anti-venom shot is $1,000 (as of 2007) and it takes up to 10 shots so you do the math. If you're uninsured, that's coming out of your pocket unless you apply for some sort of financial aid with the local hospital. All the more reason to stay on the trail and to simply look before lying down in a grassy couch-like spot off trail on the peak of Alander. Alander sees a fair amount of daily visitors to the peak so rattlers don't just hang around with hikers. They are extremely shy and wary of people. They run from us. Staying on trail and using common sense will further decrease the already remote odds you'd be bitten.

Directions: The best way to get yourself there and find updated information, such as a map, is to visit the official Mount Washington State Forest website, Mount Washington State Forest

You can also map search and type in Under Mountain Road, Copake, NY. for custom directions on how to get to Under Mountain Road option which is on the other side of the mountain range from where the state forest is. There are other options as far as hiking up Mount Washington State Forest. One way is to start at Bash Bish Falls State Park and follow the South Taconic Trail until it meets Alander Trail. You could also hike Mount Frissell Trail from East Street and take South Taconic Trail up to Mount Alander.

Printable version of the  Mount Washington State Forest page

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