Ah, spring. Admittedly, we can’t complain too loudly about the freakishly mild winter we’ve just endured — but the longer (warmer) days, chirping birds, and blooming daffodils beckon us to head outdoors for a hike.
Spring is a perfect time of year to visit a local waterfall, says Russell Dunn, author of five guidebooks to cascades in eastern New York and adjacent western Massachusetts. “New York State waterfalls may not be as big or high as some of the waterfalls out west,” he says, “but what they lack in height they more than make up for in terms of their majesty and variety. In the springtime, New York State waterfalls are thunderous and awe-inspiring.”
We asked Dunn to recommend two of his favorite waterfall hikes. Taken from his book, Hudson Valley Waterfall Guide (Black Dome Press), here are descriptions of two Columbia County cataract rambles: High Falls, near Philmont, and Bash Bish Falls in Copake Falls.
Photograph by Julian Diamond
High Falls Conservation Area
Hours: Daily, dawn to dusk
Restriction: Pets must be leashed
Accessibility: 0.3–0.4 mile hike
Difficulty: Moderately easy
Additional information: Trail map available at the kiosk or at www.philmont.org/news0612_highfalls.html
Description: High Falls is a 150-foot-high waterfall, the highest waterfall in Columbia County, and quite possibly the highest single drop waterfall in the Hudson Valley.
History: High Falls is the centerpiece of a 47-acre conservation area owned and managed by the Columbia Land Conservancy (www.clctrust.org).
Agawamuck is Native American for “creek of many fish,” a truism no doubt prior to European settlement of the area.
Philmont was known as Factory Hill during the 19th century, a nod to the numerous mills lining the Agawamuck Creek between Summit Reservoir and High Falls.
The dam near the top of High Falls was built in 1845 and provided water power to a number of mills that took root in the gorge above the falls. The dam can be seen from the High Falls Overlook (but is hidden from sight when viewed from the base of the fall).
By 1950 virtually all of the mills in Philmont had closed.
The forest in the conservation area was selectively cut years ago. You will see large, decaying stumps along the hike to the fall.
Directions: From the Taconic Parkway, get off at the Harlemville/Philmont exit. Turn left onto NY 217 and head west for 2.5 miles to Roxbury Road. Turn left onto Roxbury Road, go 0.1 mile, and then turn left into the parking area for the High Falls Conservation Area.
Hike: From the parking area, follow the Green Trail southeast. It leads downhill, paralleling a small stream in a ravine to your right, and then crosses over the small stream via a footbridge. In over 0.05 mile from the kiosk (or a hundred feet past the footbridge), you will come to a junction with the Lower Blue Trail, to your left. Continue southeast on the green-blazed trail for another 0.05 mile. When you come to the Red Trail on your right, bear left, staying on the Green Trail and proceeding southeast for 0.1 mile. At the junction with the Upper Blue Trail, continue southeast on the Green Trail. In 0.05 mile, you will come to where the Red Trail enters on your right. Stay on the Green Trail, now a loop, for a couple of hundred feet more and you will reach the High Falls Overlook. High Falls looms right in front of you in the distance, framed by nearby trees, as though seen through a picture window.
Photograph by steheap/Fotolia
Location: Copake Falls
Accessibility: 0.5-mile walk along an old abandoned road; little change in elevation; open dawn to dusk
Description: Bash Bish Falls is a stupendous, 80-foot-high waterfall formed on Bash Bish Brook, a medium-sized stream that rises from two tributaries in the highlands of Mount Washington State Forest in Massachusetts and joins with the Noster Kill south of Copake. Bash Bish Falls is located in a 3,290-acre park that contains a variety of hiking trails. Nearby are the historic ruins of the Copake Iron Works, which operated from 1845 to 1903. Many years ago, a rustic footbridge used to span the creek slightly downstream from the base of the falls.
The waterfall is distinguished by a massive boulder of schist and granite near its top, which splits the fall into two rivulets much like a cleaver. Posted warnings should be heeded; a number of people have died at the fall over the years. There are several smaller cascades just upstream from the main waterfall, but they are inaccessible. Anyone caught trespassing in that section will be fined several hundred dollars. The upper parking area provides a way to look down into the gorge and to gaze out west across Bash Bish Valley, but there is no legal way to access the falls in the upper section of the gorge. You will have to be content with the sound of the rushing waters below.
There are two stories about how Bash Bish Falls came to be named. According to one, the name is onomatopoetic, suggestive of the bashing and bishing sounds produced by the falling waters. The more popular (and much more romantic) version is that an Indian maiden named Bash Bish was accused of being unfaithful. She was strapped to a canoe and sent over the top of the fall to her death. Her body was never found, but if you look into the veil of water at just the right angle (according to legend), an image of the beautiful maiden can be seen as the sound of the falling waters call out, “Bash Bish.”
Bash Bish Falls is actually located in Massachusetts, just over the state boundary line with New York. To access the fall from the main parking area, however, you need to approach from the New York State side, so in this sense, at least, it is a New York State waterfall.
History: Bash Bish Falls is one of the most often photographed falls in the Hudson River Valley region. In the early 19th century, it was painted by John Frederick Kensett, one of the leading landscape artists of the Hudson River School of painting.
It is believed that a rustic tavern was built near the foot of the falls in the 1850s. In 1858 the famous tightrope walker Jean Francois Gravet (whose stage name was Blondin) walked across Bash Bish Gorge, imitating the famous feats at Niagara Falls.
Directions: From the Taconic State Parkway, get off at the Claverack/Hillsdale exit and drive east on Rte. 23 for 7.4 miles to Hillsdale (junction of Rtes. 23 & 22). Turn right onto Rte. 22 and drive south for 4.1 miles. Turn left onto Rte. 344 at Copake Falls. Proceed east on Rte. 344 for 1.3 miles and turn into the parking area on the right for Taconic State Park.
Hike: Continuing on foot, follow a gravel road that leads from the east of the parking lot, paralleling Bash Bish Brook, up to the falls, a distance of 0.5 miles.
It is possible to hike down to Bash Bish Falls from the upper parking lot. Proceeding east from the lower parking areas, drive uphill on Rte. 344 for 1.0 miles and then pull into the upper parking area on your right. From here, you can follow a trail down hill for 0.3 mile to the base of the falls. Bear in mind that although the hike is short, it is steep and involves a descent of over 300 feet. The upper parking area also provides access to an overlook of Bash Bish Valley and the top of the gorge above Bash Bish Falls.