Bash Bish Falls – Sunset Rock – Prospect Hill via the northern section of the South Taconic Trail
Directions to trailhead
Take the New York State Thruway (I-87/I-287) to the Saw Mill River Parkway North. Proceed on the Saw Mill River Parkway to I-684 North, which becomes NY Route 22 North. Follow NY Route 22 North for about 54 miles to Route 344 in Copake Falls, NY. Turn right onto Route 344 and follow it east into Taconic State Park. Pass the lower Bash Bish Falls parking area in New York (on the right), and continue for just under one mile to the upper Bash Bish Falls parking area (also on the right) in Massachusetts (when you cross into Massachusetts, Route 344 becomes Falls Road).
This hike begins at Bash Bish Falls - the highest waterfall in Massachusetts, and a very popular destination for non-hikers - so you might want to start your hike early in the day to enjoy the falls before the crowds arrive. But while everyone else is at the waterfall, you can find solitude on the trails. There are two parking areas for the falls - the lower parking area in New York, which usually becomes extremely crowded on weekends (with the overflow traffic directed to an adjacent lot by park staff), and the smaller, less-used upper parking area in Massachusetts. We will start the hike from the upper parking area.
Begin the hike on the blue-blazed trail that begins near the west end of the parking area. This trail leads downhill through dark woods, with the sound of the falls becoming increasingly louder as you descend. (This trail is shown - although rather poorly - on an inset map that appears on the reverse side of South Taconic Trails Map #4. It is not shown on the main map. The area is more clearly depicted on the Mt. Washington State Forest map of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, www.mass.gov/dcr/parks/trails/print/mt-washington.pdf.)
In 0.4 mile, you'll reach a gravel road. Turn left and walk the short distance to Bash Bish Falls - a spectacular twin waterfall that drops 60 feet into an emerald green pool. Even during dry spells, there is usually plenty of water going over the falls. To the left of the upper viewing platform are steps that descend closer to the falls.
After viewing the falls, retrace your steps, remaining on the gravel road when the blue-blazed trail you arrived on goes off to the right. At the next fork, keep left on the gravel road, with Bash Bish Creek below on the left. You will soon enter the State of New York and Taconic State Park.
At 1.0 mile, you'll arrive at the lower Bash Bish Falls parking area that you drove by earlier. Continue through to the west end of the parking area and turn left onto Route 344. The trailhead for the blue-blazed Cedar Creek Trail - a possible return route - is directly across from the entrance to the parking area, but you should bear left and cross a bridge. On the other side of the bridge, turn right into the woods, and you will see signs that mark the start of the northern section of the white-blazed South Taconic Trail (the signs also point the way to a campground). Bear left and follow the South Taconic Trail, which soon becomes a woods road. It will remain a woods road for the next 1.5 miles, gaining a little over 1,000 feet in elevation over the next two miles.
In about half a mile from the road, with the campground in sight straight ahead, the South Taconic Trail turns sharply right and continues uphill. Here, the red-blazed Sunset Rock Trail joins, so the trail is also blazed with red markers. Markings are sporadic, but the woods road is obvious and easy to follow.
After a steeper uphill section, you'll arrive at a fenced-in area at 1.7 miles. Here, the white-blazed trail turns left and continues uphill, first gradually, then more steeply. Although the grade steepens, you continue to follow a woods road, with no rock scrambles. You will pass two woods roads on the left, both of which seem to be unmarked (these trails are shown on the park map as being blazed yellow, although the Trail Conference map indicates that the first trail is blazed blue). In each case, bear right to continue on the white-blazed South Taconic Trail.
At 2.6 miles, the upper trailhead of the blue-blazed Cedar Brook Trail is on the right. Stay left to continue on the white-blazed South Taconic Trail, which soon narrows to a rocky footpath. In another half mile, the trail comes out of the woods and enters an area covered with scrub oak.
You'll come to a junction at 3.25 miles. Here, you should turn left, following the red-blazed Sunset Rock Trail (with blazes painted both on the rocks and on the trees). In a short distance, you'll arrive at Sunset Rock (elevation 1,788 feet). If you climb the rock, you'll be able to get views of the Hudson Valley and Catskills over the tops of the trees. Turning back at this point makes for a 6.5-mile hike, but if you choose to continue onto Prospect Hill for the 8.1-mile hike, you'll be afforded even better views.
In any case, retrace your steps on the red-blazed trail. When you reach the white-blazed South Taconic Trail, turn right to return to the trailhead for the 6.5-mile hike. For the longer hike, turn left. You will soon enter a unique and beautiful arbor tunnel where the trees form a canopy overhead. At 3.5 miles, an unmarked trail veers to the right, but you should stay left to continue on the South Taconic Trail.
At 3.7 miles, you'll reach a small parking lot on Sunset Rock Road. (This would be a good place to spot a second car if you wish to make this a shuttle hike.) Turn left onto Sunset Rock Road and follow the road for a short distance, then turn right to continue on the South Taconic Trail.
A very obvious Massachusetts/New York state-line marker dated 1898 can be seen straight ahead at 4.1 miles. Just before the marker, the South Taconic Trail veers left and climbs to Prospect Hill (elevation 1,919 feet), with great views of the Hudson Valley and Catskills. This is the turnaround point for the 8.1-mile hike (although, if you wish, you can continue ahead on the South Taconic Trail for two more miles, to its end at the Catamount Ski Area).
Retrace your steps on the South Taconic Trail to Sunset Rock Road, which you reach at 4.5 miles. Turn left along the road to the small parking area, then turn right to continue south on the South Taconic Trail.
You'll reach the junction with the blue-blazed Cedar Brook Trail at 5.6 miles. If you prefer, you can bear right to continue on the South Taconic Trail (this would make the hike 0.2 mile longer but easier). But if the water level of Cedar Brook is not too high, you may choose to bear left and follow the more challenging Cedar Brook Trail - a footpath which descends very steeply at times and requires close attention to footing on rocks and tree roots (although there are also sections of smooth, level trail along the brook). This trail takes you through a wild and beautiful area - completely different from the woods road followed by the South Taconic Trail - but it requires rock hopping back and forth over Cedar Brook multiple times. So do keep in mind that, as the sign at the trailhead says, this trail is indeed impassable if the water level in Cedar Brook is high.
Either way, you will end up at on Route 344 across from the lower Bash Bish Falls (New York) parking area (if you've chosen to return via the Cedar Brook Trail, you've gone 6.7 miles). Cross the road, turn left and proceed through the parking area, and continue on the gravel road towards Bash Bish Falls. At 7.7 miles, just before reaching the falls, turn left on the blue-blazed trail to return to the upper Bash Bish Falls parking area, where the hike began, at 8.1 miles.
At the edge of the woods, towards the middle of the parking area, you'll see a "scenic view" sign. If you are up for a short but steep and challenging rock scramble to another spectacular view, hike on up, using the cables and railings for support if needed. This short rock scramble is definitely worth it, as you're treated to a spectacular east-facing view over the ravine of Bash Bish Brook, with Cedar Mountain in Massachusetts to your right, and Washburn Mountain in New York to your left. Even though it is a very short distance, make note of how you arrived at the overlook, as there are no trail markings to follow back to your car.
Date of hike: August 8, 2010
0.0-mile Blue-blazed trail west from upper falls (MA) parking lot
0.4-mile Left on gravel road to Bash Bish Falls; retrace and continue left on gravel road
1.0-mile From lower falls (NY) parking lot cross over Route 344, turn left on Route 344, cross bridge, turn right on white-blazed South Taconic Trail
1.5-miles White-blazed South Taconic Trail makes sharp right turn before campground.
1.7-miles White-blazed South Taconic Trail makes left turn at chain link fence.
2.6-miles Keep left on the white-blazed South Taconic Trail as the blue-blazed Cedar Brook Trail begins to the right.
3.25 miles Turn left at Sunset Rock directional sign to short red-blazed trail to overlook; retrace and continue left on white-blazed South Taconic Trail or turn back at this point for 6.5 mile hike.
3.5 miles An unmarked trail leaves to the right, stay left on the South Taconic Trail.
3.7-miles Cross Sunset Rock Road, turn left walking on road short distance to continuation of white-blazed South Taconic Trail on the right.
4.1-miles Massachusetts state line marker; turn left to Prospect Hill overlook; retrace steps and turn right on white-blazed South Taconic Trail
4.5-miles Cross Sunset Rock Road, turn left on road to the white-blazed South Taconic trail on the right.
5.6-miles Arrive at the Cedar Brook Trail junction. Turn left if water levels are low for strenuous return or keep right on white-blazed South Taconic Trail for moderate return.
6.7 miles Cross Route 344, keep to the left through the lower falls (NY) parking lot to gravel road for Bash Bish Falls.
7.7-miles Left on blue-blazed trail just prior to Bash Bish Falls to return to upper parking lot (MA).
8.1-miles Arrive back at parking lot. Optional short, strenuous rock scramble to overlook from parking lot