South Taconic Trail is a north/south 12-mile
gem skirting along Massachusetts and New York borders in
the region where Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York meet. The
northern end of the trail begins off Route 23 just up the road from the
Hillsdale, New York, Catamount Ski Area. About the middle of the trail sits
Mount Washington State Forest way up high on the eastern side of the
mountain range South Taconic blazes through. Adjacent to that, just over
the other side and down in a western valley, is the popular tourist spot
Bash Bish Falls which is home to Massachusetts' biggest waterfall. It's
this middle section that sees the most visitors along the 12-mile trail
since the northern ending point is not known but by a few avid locals and
taking the time to search online in detail. The southern ending point of
South Taconic Trail is literally a tiny patch of dirt across the street from a house in very typical suburban
neighborhood. It's an odd ending/beginning for such a great trail.
Crowning off the middle section of trail, and bridging the state forest and
Bash Bish waterfall, is Mount Alander. The views from Alander are magnificent in
all directions. You'll see very far on a crystal clear day. Nearby
Mountains of Mount Frissell (the highest point in the state of Connecticut
lies on the southern side of Frissell whose peak is in Massachusetts),
Brace Mountain, and South Brace Mountains add some more crowning jewels
dotted around nearby each other. Overall, South Taconic doesn't see that
many hikers relative to other places in the area but online resources (guitly as charged starting back in 2000!)
and growing U.S. population does seem to have brought a few more on the trail these days.
Still...you could hike there prime summer time and barely seen anyone while portions of the trail are rarely used.
That's good news for
you since South Taconic Trail might be the best least-known-trail in a 50
mile radius. Some of the long distant views along the trail are absolutely
stunning with a gorgeous waterfall (Bash Bish Falls) via a short side-trip off trail and wonderful
highlands rounding it all off. Wild flowers blossom throughout the spring,
while summer brings a white and pink Mountain Laurel extravaganza exploding
late June. Fall foliage is a Perfect 10 and winter hiking is bitter
cold, like only a high ridge-line can be, but also beautiful in a way only
winter in southern New England can be. It all runs through a region The Nature Conservancy has
designated "one of the last great places". Up high along the plateau region it feels more like pre-European settlement,
than early 21st century. It's remote without
actually being remote. It can also feel more like Irish highlands or Maine
backwoods more so than a spot just three hours from Manhattan and an hour
away from mall suburbia. It can be hiked full in one day if a car can be
parked on both ends. To do all would require excellent physical
conditioning and lots of trail experience (or if you happen to be in world
class hiking shape then you probably could tackle a 24-mile back and forth
trip with thousands of feet of total elevation gain which would allow one
car access!). But it's mostly a place where day hikers venture in from side
trails rather than tackling the whole thing.
South Taconic isn't a trail
with back-country camping but there is a back-country camp site within
Mount Washington State Forest that's just about a mile away from South
Taconic Trail. You can also camp at Bash Bish Falls State Park or nearby
Taconic State Park and use those rustic settings to venture off up into the
hills. But there are no camp sites along South Taconic Trail. Nearly all
hikers will want to choose from a variety of short side trails
that hook up into South Taconic Trail to enjoy a brief or medium-sized
foray into a region that is truly unique.
You probably won't see them, but
black bear, lynx, bobcat, rattlesnake, and ...mountain lion? (uh oh, big
debate ensues!!). It gives you an idea of what a special ecosystem it is. You can get
lost back there if you're not familiar with the entire trail systems. South
Taconic runs straight up and down but does intersect with several side
trails leading off into remote forest. Locals have blazed some of their own
trail and old logging roads are easily spotted. It's a wild place for what
it is and South Taconic Trail has some "good goons" protecting it from
suburban sprawl. Mt. Riga Reservation to the southeast in Salisbury,
Connecticut, Mt Washington State Forest to the east, and New York's Taconic
State Park to the west, and Bash Bish State Park to the north. It sits up
on a plateau almost like a table with rolling hills, with a massive
watershed falling off each side into valleys below. If you visit Mt.
Washington State Forest website you can download a basic map to use as
trail reference for this entire region. It includes almost the entire South
Taconic Trail. http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/dcr/massparks/region-west/mt-washington-state-forest-generic.html.
Other maps are listed below.
Each side trail leading in to South Taconic Trail has their own unique
beauty but all of them are wonderful starting points. Some folks enter in
via Bash Bish Falls parking area while others choose Mt. Washington State Forest. (You
can also try another direct route to Alander by clicking on the "Mount
Alander" link near the top of this web page after reading this trail
description. This trail leads up to Alander's peak from Undermountain Road
in New York and meets up with South Taconic Trail at Alander's peak.)
Getting to Alander can be done several ways. One option is to start off at
Bash Bish Falls and hike a tough 3.4 mile trail to Alander's peak. Bash
Bish is the tallest waterfall in Massachusetts and when rains are gushing
it's a spectacular sight. However, Bash Bish is NOT part of South Taconic Trail as some think.
So you won't see it along your South Taconic Trail hike unless you first hike in to see the falls along its own 3/4 mile trail
from main parking lot. It would be great idea to camp out at Taconic State Park down the road and hang out there
one day and see Bash Bish then the next day hike South Taconic up to the views.
Some seasoned hikers do the falls first back in, back out, take a rest, fuel up,
tackle South Taconic up to Mt. Alander views.
Bash Bish Falls sees a lot of visitors especially summer
weekends and fall foliage season but 90% of the people only visit the
falls and don't even know South Taconic Trail is next to the parking lot.
Most weekdays even during heavy family
camping season aren't too bad in terms of crowds so even summer weekends
you should be able to use Bash Bish as a jumping off point for South
Taconic Trail. It's postcard perfect all year round (early spring, fall, or
winter are the best times since a hot dry summer is when the falls is at
its least). Bash Bish to Alander is steep and through a cool, dark hardwood
forest for the most part until it nears the clearing of Alander's peak. As
you rise up to the plateau the rest of the world is left behind you. You
emerge into something else...and it's a great something else. It's just
really nice up there and the more you hike the more views open up. Alander
peaks out at 2,250 feet with unbelievable views in all directions and it
stands right about at the half way point for the South Taconic Trail. If
you get one of those crystal clear days you won't want to come down.
Alander, with it's vast grassy plateau and rocky outcrops, almost feels
like "the couch" of The Berkshires. It makes you want to lie back and take
in the cinematic experience...and you may just doze off into a nice comfy
nap before heading back. But, oh... keep an eye on the rattlesnakes when
trying to find a spot to lunch or get away from other hikers if it's a
fairly busy weekend day. Stay on the trail and don't venture off singing
"the hills are alive with the sound of music!" with arms wide and strides
galloping. Eastern Diamondback's hate Julie Andrews...no just
kidding...they hate being stepped on. They're not usually on the
trail...rarely in fact...but they are up in that region. Stay on the trail
and you'll be fine. Don't go off blazing your own trails. You could step on
a rattlesnake. They might bite you if you did. That would hurt. Maybe even
worse. If you stay with the trails there's no worry at all because they are
so incredibly shy and wary of people (hunters). Alander sees lots of hikers
and no reports of bites in recent memory. But if you're the type that likes
to venture off and explore off trail...don't. Just kick back and enjoy the
beauty of this unique mountaintop. You've been warned...each anti-venom
shot will cost $1,000...and it might take as many as 10 to get you right.
At the northern section of S.T.T. (South Taconic Trail), not far from Bash
Bish Falls, is Sunset Rock. Probably popular with locals since it's a short
hike from a dirt road (West Street) that you would cross if you were hiking
the S.T.T north/south. This spot offers a wonderful western view of the
valley below and the Catskill Mountains way off in the distance. It's a
photographer's dream with a perfect vantage point for sunsets. You can
drive up to a trail head that leads to Sunset Rock if you just wanted the
view and not a hard hike. West Street is a short distance off Route 341
which brings you close to Taconic State Park. Ask the park ranger if you
can't find West Street on your own. It's not a safe road at all during a
heavy rain or in winter when it may in fact be closed. Even in dry times
it's a bit hairy in one small section so use good judgement. You can also
hike up to Sunset Rock from Bash Bish Falls parking lot. Just check the trail map in
the parking lot and head north following the trail directions.
At the southern end of S.T.T., Brace and South Brace Mountains, near twins
at 2311 and 2304 feet, offer up wonderful views as if looking down over an
Irish countryside. It's Columbia County New York and these western views
are gorgeous. They go a bit unnoticed but a fair amount of hikers do pass
over them so the trails are fine. Brace is a spot where you shouldn't be
shocked to stumble across a paraglider backpacking in to launch him/herself
into the thermals that rise over the valley below. What a ride they must
have though what a tough hike to launch that flight!
South Taconic Trail starting options:
Northern Trailhead. Technically there is one, but locally there are two.
Most people start out at Bash Bish Falls parking lot and up to Alander which is about a
3.4 mile hike one way. However, the trail actually starts several miles
north right off of Route 23, just up the road from Catamount Ski Resort.
Some local folks don't even realize the official start of S.T.T. isn't Bash
Bish. Route 23 to Sunset Rock trail portion sees the least amount of hikers
since some may consider it boring. It's not, but it's certainly not as
spectacular as starting from Bash Bish Falls which can be crowded at its
base on summer or foliage weekends but never crowded high up in the
mountain. From Route 23 south to Sunset Rock is about 2 miles, mostly
uphill. From Sunset Rock to Bash Bish is about another mile. From
Bash Bish Falls to Alander. The Bash Bish-Alander
portion of the trail is steep up out of the parking area, then steady climb to
the peak. Whether you do the Route 23 or Bash Bish start, this northern
portion of S.T.T. to Alander is a hiker's dream. But not at all for
beginners or those just bringing a bottled water and a snack. Lunch is a
must and so is plenty of water (2 liters at the very least).
Mid Trail entry. Along with Bash Bish, this trail entrance sees the most hikers.
Mt. Washington State Forest headquarters offers a wonderful
hiking experience from its base over to Alander Mountain. From there you
could choose to hike a bit of S.T.T. north or south before heading back.
Just be careful when heading out from Mount Washington's parking lot not to
take Ashley Hill or Charcoal Pit trails off of the Alander Mountain Trail
since they both take you way away from Alander Mountain and south towards
the tri state marker where CT/MA/NY meet. There are some
first-come-first-served backpacking campsite on Ashley Hill Trail so if you
were thinking of heading out in this region for a few days you could camp
down here. It's about a 4-5 round trip hike, less if you keep a quick pace
and in very good hiking shape. Another option to just hike up to Alander a
bit is via Undermountain Road trailhead. A third option, that would be a definite workout but quite
doable with lots of sun light, patience, and lots of water/food to power
you along, could be to hike in from the Mt. Frissel dirt parking lot high
up on East Street and a few miles south of Mount Washington State
Reservation parking lot (in winter and very early spring the dirt road can
become beyond muddy to down right impassable to all except 4 wheel drive
and is closed during winter in). Click here for
details and driving directions - a long hike but you'd get to visit
Connecticut's high point (on the side of Frissel's southern slope), then
the tri-state cement border almost 100 years old, then onto the STT and
north (right) to Alander Mountain. This option also offers a loop option by
hiking east out of Alander Mountain along Alander Mountain Trail back
towards Mt. Washington State Park. You could follow Alander Trail all the
way back to Washington's headquarters then walk the few miles back to your
car along the nice rural road that eventually turns gravel. Or you could
hang a right well before headquarters onto Ashley Hill Trail (or if you
missed that Charcaol Pit Trail a short distance later) and hike back to
Frissel trail and east back to your car going back over Frissel. This would
be an all day marathon hike but it's about as good a hike in this region as
one could do.
Southern Trailhead. This is trailhead is more remote than the others since
it's a little tricky to find because it just sits across the street from a
house in a residential neighborhood. And the hike from here is not easy. It
is...for about 5 minutes...then trail then hits it hard and steep passed a
sometimes flowing waterfall, along a ridge, then up and up to both South
Brace and Brace peaks. Then you have to decide if you've got the water,
food, and energy to press on to Alander which is still a good long distance
away. This trail is not recommended for those new to this part of the trail
and/or if you're in just so-so shape. In summer this hike usually is one of
those hot ones where only briefly will the forest cover you from blazing
sun. In this area, this is a 5 on a scale of 5. It may not be the Rocky
Mountains but it's a tough hike for most people and would give a workout to
even those in outstanding physical condition. Many hikers under rate this
portion of trail. It's not bad if you just wanted to huff and puff up to
the first overlook and perhaps on a little more from there to South Brace
or Brace Mountains. But be well prepared (physically and with supplies) if
you tackle it all the way to Alander. You're in officially fantastic shape
if you make it there and back without too much trouble. If you want to try
this section of the trail, get on Route 22 going north/south in New York.
Watch for Whitehouse Crossing. Take Whitehouse Crossing through some farms
until it ends at Boston Corner Road. Take a left on to Boston Corner Road,
then a very short distance up the road will be Deer Run Road. Take a right
on to Deer Run which is a dead end road but just before it ends take a left
on to Quarry Hill Road. You'll go up and then bend down to the right along
Quarry Hill Road. As it flattens out a bit look to your left and you'll see
a sign for South Taconic Trail and Taconic State Park. It's across the
street from a house and just a barely visible dirt/grass parking area.
YOU DEFINITELY SHOULD NOT HIKE INTO SOUTH TACONIC TRAIL WITHOUT A MAP.
Don't under estimate your ability to get confused at certain trail
intersections if you're not familiar with the South Taconic Trail.
South Taconic Trail Map - a great map and the best looking one out there.
Nice and big and easy to read. Created by a group that really did extensive
research to create this map and produced a beautiful map. Become a member
for just $25 and get 3 maps - Mount Greylock, Yokun Ridge, and South
Taconic Trail. Or you can get the South Taconic map for $8. http://www.bnrc.net Click on STORE to buy
New York/New Jersey Trail Conference South Taconic Trails Map - most avid
hikers consider this the best map for South Taconic Trail. http://nynjtc.org Click on STORE to find maps and
it's called South Taconic Trails. $4.95 for non-members.
If you buy a copy of AMC Massachusetts and Rhode Island Trail Guide the
back of the small paperback has a map of several areas. One of the areas is
South Taconic region. It's a great map except it's too light on the print
it almost seems faded or you need a magnifying glass to look at elevations
or certain key trail intersection. The northern few miles where trail
starts at Route 23 are cut off so you can't see where exactly the northern
most point begins. But it's one that is easily folded up and used so don't
let that comment keep you from buying it because it includes a good deal of
hiking trails in that general area including the parallel Appalachian Trail
which is really nice to have in one map. Most bookstores should have it
along with online bookstores like Borders or Barnes and Noble. If you buy
used book MAKE SURE IT STILL COMES WITH MAP.
Snakes? Well, probably not but it is worth noting that the highland regions
on either side of the trail are ideal Eastern Timber Rattlesnake country.
These snakes want nothing to do with people and don't ever venture far from
the dens where they were born. Very secretive and not exactly teeming in
numbers like an Arizona dessert. Unfortunately for the snakes, they've been
hunted and poached to only a few hundred. It is HIGHLY unlikely you'll see
one let alone have a worrisome encounter. (Sadly, one man, has hunted an
estimated 4,000 snakes in his life and seems to take glee in that he knows
he's going to prison IF they can prove he's hunted one...which they never
have. He literally is a wanted man in many eastern states.) But if you turn
out to be the rare hiker to see a rattler and you're worried, just stop and
give the snake plenty of time/room to get away from you which is what it
will be desperate to do. If by some insane odds you become one of the first
hikers bit by a rattler in recent memory (you'd literally have to step on
one for that to happen), call 911 if you have a cell phone and are alone.
With or without a companion, proceed very slowly back since blood rushing
faster through the body spreads venom quicker. If you are with several
people it would be best if they could carry the bite victim out or perhaps
going for help so emergency workers can carry them out. It won't kill you
but if you didn't get to the hospital within a few hours you could be in
for a terrible experience. If you ignored it completely and didn't go to
the hospital at all, well...that could be a problem greater than just a
horrible inconvenience. Statistically speaking, you have to be a young
male, drunk, (sorry my Southern friends...I'm just going by statistics)
Southern, and hunting or teasing snakes to be a likely snake bite victim.
They do not advance on people nor can they strike farther away than their
body length. So if you're 7 feet away from one that looks to be about 5
feet you've got no worries...unless you decide to try and walk over it.
Once in a blue moon someone living in the area is jumped at or bitten if
they are gardening in their yard and not thinking "this is rattlesnake
country" as they reach down to weed or prune right where a rattler is
resting. Unlike some of their cousins in other parts of the country, it's
not clear why these snakes are so docile to the point where they may not
even rattle if you had an encounter or move even if you touched one (DON'T
TRY THAT!!). These might be the only rattlers that won't bite you if you
stepped on them...though don't test that theory! Some researchers feel it's
because the more dominant ones who rattle and warn were completely hunted
out of existence leaving the shy/quiet ones to propagate the species in the
region. This is noted here as an obligation to warn you but it shouldn't in
any way keep you from hiking here since you're more likely to see a bear
than a snake...oh sorry...the bear's sleep all day and roam at night so
don't worry about them either because you're not going to see one! Just be
aware of things and stay on the trail and all will be well.
Directions: For easy access to the trail use the trail entrances via Mount Washington State Forest (http://www.mass.gov/dcr/parks/western/mwas.htm) or Bash Bish Falls (). If you're the type that just likes to find all trail heads then the northern extreme of the trail is off Route 23 up the road from Catamount Ski Area. The southern extreme entrance via Quarry Hill Road is described above.
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