I had been in the car for almost five hours. Leaving my home in Maryland at around 8:30am, I had driven straight to the Bash Bish Lower Lot in Copake Falls, New York. At the time, New York State was only accepting visitors from a select list of states; fortunately for me, Maryland was on that roster. We were less than two weeks into autumn and COVID-19, which had waned slightly during the summer, was surging. Pulling into the lot after the long car ride, I lurched out of my Subaru Crosstrek on stiff legs and hobbled back to the hatch like a stop-motion Ken doll to grab my daypack.
My destination, Bash Bish Falls, was eight-tenths of a mile to the east and across the state line in Massachusetts. I (naturally) had worked out a circuitous route that would net almost seven miles and 1,800 feet of elevation – culminating at the falls. Funny thing though, I had intended to start my New England hiking weekend with a low key hike. When I mapped this route out on Gaia GPS, it gave me 5.35 miles and (I swear) around 1,100 feet of elevation. I generally find Gaia to be accurate, and when I tried to recreate these results post-trip I still got five and a third miles, but the elevation was spot on. Of course, I wouldn’t know any of this until after the hike, at which point it was too late for me. But not for you! As a service, I miscalculate distance and elevation so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.
The South Taconic Trail departed from State Route 344 just west of the lot, so I crossed the bridge over Cedar Brook and turned north up the trail. Taconic State Park smelled damp (it had rained earlier that morning), but the sun was peeking out of the clouds, and the temperature was a perfect-for-hiking 60°F. After scaling a short flight of wooden stairs, the trail opened up into a road-width, semi-paved, woodland thoroughfare. I strolled unconcernedly up the path through patches of sunlight, barely breaking a sweat. That halcyon saunter up easy street lasted just over a quarter-mile. On my right ( I almost missed it) was a smallish brown sign with an arrow pointing up a narrow, single-track trail that looked as if it hadn’t seen a hiker in a couple of weeks. Up I went, the wet brush soaking my pants as I hiked.
I climbed steadily for the next mile through towering hardwoods. On the cusp of autumn, New York’s leaves had not yet begun to turn, although here and there were some occasional splashes of color. The trail had widened, and I pushed north on a relatively smooth path that alternated between rock and dirt. By the side of the trail, lush, green mosses begged to be touched, and I reached down to pass my hand gently over the sporophyte capsules that reached upward from the soft, viridescent bed. The South Taconic Trail was well marked and easy to follow, blazed with white, plastic discs. A mile and a half into my hike, I came to a wooden sign for the Cedar Run Trail. That was my blue-blazed return ticket, and I happily turned downhill.
A few hundred yards of trail took me east to Cedar Brook, a narrow, effervescent watercourse that was making its way back south to Bash Bish Brook. I joined it on its journey. The trip back down the draw was delightful; the creek gamboled by my side and, despite the verdancy of the Taconic forest, the trail was littered with colorful leaves, stippled flecks of color on a burnt umber canvas.
Cedar Brook tumbled playfully over countless, tiny drops set in stone and fern. Down a flight of stone steps, I discovered a slender chute falling seven or eight feet, in two stages, into a long, narrow, crystal-clear pool. Framed by rock draped in green velvet, it could not have been more picturesque. Getting the best picture of it required some scrambling – shuffling sideways on a ledge while clinging by my fingertips to another stony shelf. I came away with a bloodied finger – but I got the shot!
I continued down the Cedar Brook, enjoying the day, the dappled trail, and the frequent, splashing waterfalls on the creek. At one point, on a nice flat stretch of trail, I paused, feeling uneasy. I looked up. I was staring straight up the barrel of a five-inch-diameter, twenty-foot tree limb which was suspended precariously, entangled in the canopy above. The branch of Damocles was hanging over my head. I quickly moved on.
I was nearly four miles into this hike when I returned to the Bash Bish Lower Lot. I had climbed and descended 700 feet; this left me thinking, based on my erroneous pseudo-research, that I had a mile, mile and a half left to go with relatively little elevation. Little did I know that most of the climb was yet to come. I crossed State Route 344 and Bash Bish Brook, road-hiked down the entrance lane to a block of rental cabins, and found the continuation of the South Taconic Trail. I started to climb.
The next mile was a strenuous push up an unnamed Taconic mountain. Near the top, I started scanning for a spur to the “Taconic View” I had seen marked on the map. A couple of times the dense foliage broke, and I glimpsed distant peaks but nothing screamed, “SCENIC VIEWPOINT!”. I checked the map. I had clearly missed it. I backtracked – downhill – a few hundred yards and found a place where I had a very obstructed view of the valley. I looked for a bit and then continued on – uphill.
I had passed my first turnaround point when I decided that there was no way that the mediocre vista I had just visited was the map-marked feature I was looking for. I turned around. Again. Downhill. This time I found it.
The view was worth my yo-yoing up and down the trail. The Taconic View looked over an idyllic valley of lush green grass surrounded by tree-covered hills. Fluffy clouds floated lazily over blue-grey mountains in the distance, and the afternoon sun washed the entire scene in warm light. The outcropping of rock on which I stood was small and jagged, or I would have taken a seat and soaked up the scene for a long while. As it was I stood, valley-gazing, for ten minutes before resuming my hike.
I could not pinpoint the spur on Google Maps but the following coordinates can be used as a guide to help find the side trail: 42.112239, -73.499700. They should be accurate within a handful of feet.
When I returned to my route – uphill – it was with only two hundred feet left to climb. I passed into Massachusetts. The trail no sooner leveled out than I was staring at the steepest descent I had ever seen. The South Taconic Trail bore right and continued to climb. On the map, the trail down which I was looking was represented by a definitive dotted line and the words “Connector Trail”. Regardless, I felt certain that somewhere I had missed a sign telling me that this was a bad idea.
To my left was a fence of steel pipe and cable that forestalled my inevitable half-gainer over a six-hundred foot cliff. I appreciated that. Ahead, the trail plummeted down that very same distance in a mere 330 yards. Trees were spaced too far apart to safely careen from one to the other, and there was no way I was making this descent without handholds. Unless I did the butt-scootin’ boogie. I clutched the fence and stumbled down the mountain.
When I returned to my route – uphill – it was with only two hundred feet left to climb. I passed into Massachusetts. The trail no sooner leveled out than I was staring at the steepest descent I had ever seen. The South Taconic Trail bore right and continued to climb. On the map, the trail down which I was looking was represented by a definitive dotted line and the words “Connector Trail”. Regardless, I felt certain that somewhere I had missed a sign telling me that this was a bad idea. To my left was a fence of steel pipe and cable that forestalled my inevitable half-gainer over a six-hundred foot cliff. I appreciated that. Ahead, the trail plummeted down that very same distance in a mere 330 yards. Trees were spaced too far apart to safely careen from one to the other, and there was no way I was making this descent without handholds. Unless I did the butt-scootin’ boogie. I clutched the fence and stumbled down the mountain.
When at last the trail leveled out, it was at the top of Bash Bish Falls, but my troubles were not yet over. I was now faced with a stream crossing for which I was unprepared. Bash Bish Brook was shallow and slow-moving, but there was no rock-hop across. I scanned upstream a few hundred yards. Nothing. There was a large fallen tree spanning the brook but, despite it’s girth, when I climbed on it swayed precariously. Nothing to do but lose the socks and shoes and wade across. The water in Bash Bish Brook was cold.
Across the creek, and with my feet back in dry boots, I headed for the falls. I passed through the Bash Bish Upper Lot where I climbed an adjacent knoll for yet another view of the Taconic Mountain Range. From there it was a rocky quarter-mile to the base of Bash Bish Falls.
The falls tumbled in two chutes into a grey-green basin. As if in preparation for camera-toting cataractophiles, autumn had come to the Bash Bish Gorge – but only at the falls. The twin chutes were set in a frame of yellow and orange as they gushed around a granite snaggletooth that jutted upward from the gorge. Bash Bish Brook plummeted eighty feet before continuing on its way toward the New York State line. Massive boulders were scattered carelessly around the plunge basin, and I scrambled over them searching out the best vantage point from which to capture the falls.
I spent a good while at the base of Bash Bish Falls enjoying the lengthening shadows and the roar of the water as it crashed into the pool below. Despite the glorious weather, only a handful of others were there to view the natural wonder that surrounded the cataract. When a chill began to creep into my bones, I hefted myself up and headed west down the bipedal super-highway that connected the falls with the lower parking lot. A few hundred yards down the path I was greeted by a rustic wooden sign letting me know I was re-entering the state of New York. Ten minutes later, I was shrugging off my pack and hopping back into my car.
Bash Bish Falls was worth every step I had taken to get there. Despite my issues getting accurate pre-hike information, and knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t change a thing. Well, maybe one thing. I would feel irresponsible if I did not advise caution on the “connector trail” between the South Taconic Trail and The Bash Bish Upper Lot. Was it a trail… wasn’t it? Who knows? What I do know is that it was steep, un-blazed, and dangerous. I almost always like a loop better than an out-and-back, but were I to do this hike again, I might hike up to the Taconic View and then turn around, heading back down to the lower lot, before taking the Bash Bish Falls Trail to the falls. However you structure your hike around Bash Bish Falls – do hike there. You’ll be glad you did. Just don’t blame me if your mileage and elevation turns out to be longer than expected. On second thought, go ahead, I can take it! ♦
Date: October 2, 2020
Location: Copake Falls, NY
Trailhead: 42.117668, -73.508540
Distance: 6.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,791 feet
BIT|Hiker acknowledges the indigenous peoples who are the original inhabitants of the lands on which we hike. Our research for this post indicated we were on ancestral lands of the Mohican, Munsee, and Lenape.