As spring of 2017 rolled around, I began to realize that we had just over a year left in Connecticut, very little vacation time (Pat was still in school), and far more than a year’s worth of adventures left on my New England to-do list.
Memorial Day Weekend isn’t always the best time to travel in New England. My first couple years in Connecticut, it torrentially rained the entire weekend. One year it was fairly nice. In 2016, we were camping in Pennsylvania and it was 95°F (35°C) with 95% humidity.
This year was anyone’s guess.
But I wanted to go to Taconic State Park and knew from past attempts to book this trip that if I waited too long, there wouldn’t be any campsites left. So I reserved a site for the weekend and crossed my fingers that the weather gods would be on our side.
They mostly were.
Taconic State Park is located in the Taconic Mountains of eastern New York, just across the Massachusetts and Connecticut borders. The park itself doesn’t really stand out to me in any way. Don’t get me wrong, it was a decent place to stay. But the real reason I wanted to go is because of its close proximity to many hiking trails, including one that leads to the tallest waterfall in Massachusetts.
So on Friday afternoon underneath a rainy sky, we loaded up the car and headed out. By the time we arrived at our campsite in the Copake Falls section of the park, the rain had downgraded to more of a mist. We put up our canopy over the picnic table, and by the time we finished dinner the precipitation had completely stopped, allowing us to put up our tent.
We had a decent site. It was one of the larger ones, but it also seemed like someone had just haphazardly placed a bunch of picnic tables and fire pits throughout the campground. Campsites were everywhere and close together, so we had many neighbors. Thankfully most of them were pretty respectful.
(One set was not, which you can read all about here).
Saturday morning, we were on our way to the trailhead fairly early, which I definitely recommend. When we arrived, we had our choice of parking spaces; by the time we returned from our hike, both the regular and overflow lots were full.
There are many trails in Taconic State Park, but 3 of them conveniently converge at the Bash Bish Falls parking area. We headed first to Bash Bish Falls, an easy-moderate 1.5-mile (2.4 km) round-trip hike across the state line to the tallest single-drop waterfall in Massachusetts. The trail parallels Bash Bish Brook for the full distance, and it was a nice, shaded morning walk.
Bash Bish Falls drops about 80 feet (24 m) as two streams of water separated by a large boulder. The two falls then converge near the bottom as the water spills into a deep pool. The trail to the top of the falls was closed owing to the recent rains; slippery rocks have led to quite a few injuries and deaths at Bash Bish Falls in recent years.
Because it was relatively early, there were very few people and we were able to take photos with no one in the way and then find our own spot on a rock to relax for a few minutes and listen to the thundering water. The fact that it rained for almost 2 days straight prior to the weekend was certainly ideal in terms of water volume.
After returning to the parking area, we headed off in the opposite direction on a 1-mile round-trip trail to the old Copake Iron Works (you can drive to the Iron Works, too, but we didn’t want to give up our parking space).
In the late 1800s-early 1900s, this area of the country was known for its rich deposits of iron ore and limestone; in its heyday, Copake Iron Works produced nearly 4000 tons of iron per year! Most notably, this region was known for making barrels for various types of weaponry and wheels and axles for rail cars.
Today, the remnants of the iron works belong to Taconic State Park. The old furnace and some of the buildings have been restored, informational signs explain each building as well as the entire iron-producing process, and a small museum of iron artifacts is open from 2-4pm on weekends. The museum displays the many iron pieces that remained at the Iron Works when it was sold to the park service. They have giant saws, tiny drill bits, and everything in between.
Iron working was extremely complex, beginning with the production of charcoal to be burned to produce steam to heat the iron to the proper temperature. A large blowing machine was used to blast air into the furnace and cast iron heat exchangers would harvest the energy released from the smelting process and use it to heat the incoming air.
The molten iron ore was then reduced to pure elemental iron using the limestone as a catalyst; the iron was funneled out the bottom in one direction where it was hardened into large bricks. The waste went the other direction and hardened into glass-like blue chunks called slag, which was discarded.
After finishing our tour of the Iron Works, we headed back to the parking area and then across the road to the third trail that departs from this area: the blue-blazed Cedar Brook Trail. This was a fairly steep 1.7 mile (2.7 km) climb to Sunset Rock Viewpoint, which provided almost 180° views to the west.
The Cedar Brook Trail included 5 creek crossings, none of which had bridges. The recent rains may have been great for Bash Bish Falls, but they were less than stellar for creek crossings. What would normally have been a simple walk through some shallow water (easily managed with waterproof hiking boots) became a careful tip toe across some very wet rocks.
Two women we met at the viewpoint suggested we make it a loop hike and take the white-blazed South Taconic trail back to the parking lot instead. We did, and it was slightly longer but much more gradual and without treacherous creek crossings.
The next morning, we drove up and around to the Massachusetts side of the Taconic Mountains for a (steep!) hike to Race Brook Falls. Here, Race Brook drops a total of 300 feet (91 m) in 5 sections. A 1-mile (1.6 km) round-trip trail on one side of the brook leads to the lower falls; a 2-mile (3.2 km) round-trip trail crosses the brook (again, no bridge; apparently they’re not big on bridges in the Taconic Mountains) and heads up to the upper 4 sections.
We were able to make it to 3 of the falls; the other 2 required walking across a steep hillside coated with wet leaves, which didn’t seem like the safest idea.
To finish up our weekend, we headed back across to New York to the southern portion of Taconic State Park: the Rudd Pond area. This area is much smaller and less developed than the Copake Falls area. Rudd Pond is mostly geared towards water-related recreation; this particular day was cool and cloudy and not well-suited for such things. There were a couple boats out on the water and a couple people fishing, but the parking lot was mostly free of cars and the lifeguards were watching over an empty swimming area. We had our choice of spots to lay out our picnic blanket and eat some lunch while gazing out at the pond.
This rounded out our weekend adventures, and we spent the rest of the evening relaxing around the campfire and preemptively packing up everything but our tent so we could wake up early and beat the rain in the morning.
Which we did, with about 2 minutes to spare.
All things considered, a pretty successful weekend!
The Important Stuff:
- Getting there: Taconic State Park is located a couple miles off Route 22 in southeastern New York, just across the border from MA and CT
- Fees and passes: $7 per car to enter during peak season (waived if camping)
- Camping: Copake Falls campground (where we stayed) has 106 sites and Rudd Pond has 38 sites ($18-27 per night, reservations accepted)
- Hiking: Bash Bish Falls (1.5 miles/2.4 km, easy) and Sunset Rock Viewpoint (3.8 miles/6 km, moderate) are the main hikes in the park; for other hikes, see the park maps page
- Other: Parking at Bash Bish Falls is nuts on weekends, so definitely plan to arrive early