Background you can feel free to skip: During my most recent hike up Brace Mountain, three things made a big impression on me:
1. The amazing views from the highest point in Dutchess County.
2. The rugged beauty of the South Taconic Trail.
3. The giant (4+ foot?) timber rattlesnake that rattled right next to my ankle, then slowly meandered across the trail as I got my heart palpitations under control.
Also, there’s a beautiful waterfall! And did I mention the views? Man, it is gorgeous up there.
And the South Taconic Trail is really… Hello? Hey, where did everybody go?
Oh, you’re still hung up on the rattlesnake thing? Actually, I kind of am, too (as you may have noticed by the 37 rattlesnake references so far). This route up Brace Mountain is one of my favorite hikes in the Hudson Valley – it is stunning and wonderful in so many ways. It’s also the site of the closest call I’ve ever had in the outdoors, so even though you probably won’t have any rattlesnake run-ins, it seems prudent to emphasize some mindful stepping out there. (I’d also recommend reading the extremely informative Timber Rattlesnakes and Copperhead Snakes page, which is alternately comforting and horrifying, from the always helpful Catskillmountaineer.com. And for a nice, soothing take on this critter, check out timberrattlesnake.net.)
Right after my snake incident (which I documented in more detail in one of my weekly columns here, in case you’re not already sick of hearing about it), I ran into a group of four ladies coming down from the summit.
“Dude, there was a giant rattlesnake just off the trail down there!” I said, motioning excitedly. They stared back at me, not returning my excitement.
“We saw a three-footer on a rock up there, sunning itself,” one of the ladies replied, ho-hum, pointing up the way I was headed. “They don’t bother anybody.”
All of a sudden, I felt like Indiana Jones in the snake pit. I gulped and continued climbing, glad I brought my hiking poles to serve as decoy legs. Fortunately, the rest of the day was only eventful in the way you’d hope for a hike to be.
This happened on the sunny afternoon of August 10, 2013. A couple weeks later, my neighbor hiked this exact route and saw no snakes. A co-worker of mine also hiked this route earlier in the summer and saw no snakes. The range of the timber rattlesnake runs pretty much from here to Texas, too, so this really could have happened anywhere. Also, I nearly stepped on that giant snake, and he decided to warn me, rather than attempt to kill me, so, you know, he did me a solid.
Update May 25, 2014: From a comment that just got dropped on this site’s Facebook page: “Hi Mike, man you weren’t kidding about the snakes on the NY side of Brace. As I was coming back down the trail near the waterfall, a copperhead was in the middle of the trail, staring at me and hissing a little.” I’m wearing hip waders next time I come here.
Okay, okay, enough with the snakes already. Let’s talk about the hike. It’s gorgeous at the summit of Brace Mountain, the highest point in Dutchess County, where a huge cairn sits surrounded by a grassy meadow, looking out over an enormous view of the Hudson Valley, clear across to the Catskills.
Getting there is a wonderful, very difficult experience, with steep, rocky terrain that will require you to use your hands at times.
If you’re thinking of bringing a dog here, my forty-pound dog loved this hike until the very end, almost back to the car, when the rocks began wearing on the pads of her feet. She’d been doing lots of jumping from rock-to-rock all day, and by the end, she was stepping gingerly, her pads a little scraped up. (She was fine the next day. She also kept her distance from the snake – perhaps she’s not so dumb after all.)
So while I may be slightly hysterical regarding the snake situation, I really do highly recommend this hike. It’s a unique and sincerely awesome experience, one of the best in the area. Just, you know, watch where you step.
1. From the pull-off on Quarry Hill Road (see “Directions to the trailhead” below), head into the woods on the trail beside the sign reading “Taconic State Park – Brace Mtn. Area.”
**UPDATE July 2017** Thanks to SWJ’s very helpful comment below, it appears that the beginning of this hike is now blazed yellow, with the white blazes taking over again at .8 miles. The signs pictured below have also been updated. Otherwise, the route is unchanged, and the trail guide below should still do the trick as written. Thanks for the updated info, SWJ!
2. In just a moment, stop to check out the sign above the three white blazes marking the start of the South Taconic Trail, the only trail you’ll be travelling on today. Notice the part that warns you about the “VERY DIFFICULT” climb ahead? That sign is not lying. But only 1.9 (rather strenuous) miles from here to the summit! (It took me about one hour, forty-five minutes to get to the summit from here.) Let’s do this thing.
3. Follow the trail beside the meadow and into the woods to the right of the big brick house, and be assured that it just FEELS like you’re trespassing, but you’re not. No worries – you’ll be in the wilderness soon enough.
4. Optional step: Almost step on a coiled rattlesnake. Change underwear, continue hiking.
5. In less than ten minutes (.2 miles from the trailhead), arrive at another posted sign. It warns you that in another .2 miles, you’ll arrive at a “hard 1/4 mile climb.” This sign is also telling the truth. Over the next .5 miles (the steepest section of the hike), you’ll ascend 700 feet.
6. Going up! In another quarter mile, a pleasant brook joins just off to your right, giving you something to listen to other than your own panting. In another few minutes, the brook puts on quite a show, cascading down a steep rock face. I was here the day after a good hard rain, so I may have just lucked out, but man, when it’s going, these are some beautiful falls.
7. Continue scrambling over the rocky terrain past the falls as you head toward the summit of South Brace Mountain (a minor speed bump on our way to the top of regular old Brace Mountain — it’s .9 miles and 740 vertical feet to the top of South Brace Mountain from the falls.)
8. Ten minutes after the falls, your first views of the day open up to your left. Not too shabby! Plenty more where these came from, too.
9. The trail alternates between woods and open rock faces, crossing the occasional stream. During those rocky stretches, keep your eyes peeled for painted blazes on the ground.
10. Just keep on chugging, carefully following the white blazes and enjoying the beauty of the South Taconic Trail. Though you’ll see them on the way back, don’t forget to check behind you occasionally for some nice intermittent views.
If you’re here at the right time of year, you might also notice some blueberry and huckleberry bushes along the trail. (If you notice any of the bushes rattling at you, perhaps move along to the next bush.)
11. Near the summit of South Brace Mountain, I noticed a couple out-of-place blue blazes. Just ignore them and make sure you keep following the White Trail.
12. A large cairn lets you know that you’re very close to the summit of South Brace Mountain (my GPS marked the actual summit in another 300 feet).
13. From the summit of South Brace Mountain, it’s an easy half-mile stroll across a gentle saddle to the top of Brace Mountain. You may notice the occasional rogue blue blaze as you plunge through some more wooded areas. The South Taconic Trail does its best singletrack impression in this stretch, too.
14. And then, BLAMMO! There it is. The money spot.
Such a unique place. This has to be one of the best summits in the area. Plenty of elbow room here, and views in almost every direction.
Have a seat. Take your time. Soak it in.
15. When you’re done communing with nature and/or eating candy bars, retrace your steps back to your car (in case you got turned around while mesmerized by the view, make sure that if your back is to the view and you’re facing the huge cairn, you hang a right onto the South Taconic Trail).
It took me about 70 minutes to get back to the car from here.
Enjoy the views on the way down, and step carefully in those steep spots!
16. A hop-and-a-skip down the mountain later, and hello again, civilization! We’ll miss you, nature.
Thanks for all the amazing views and good times! And for, you know, keeping your venom to yourself.
Directions to the trailhead: From the Taconic Parkway and Rt 44 in Pleasant Valley, take the exit for Route 44, then turn right off the exit to hop on 44 East. Follow signs to stay on 44 East for the next 12.6 miles. At the stoplight in the center of Amenia, turn left to hop on Rt 22 (also still labeled as Rt 44). Continue following Rt 22 North for the next 14 miles, saying bye-bye to Rt 44 when it splits off to the right in the town of Millerton. In 5.4 miles after Rts. 22 and 44 split, you’ll turn right off of Rt 22 onto White House Road, which shortly becomes White House Crossing Road. In less than a mile, this road dead-ends into Boston Corners Road. Turn left onto Boston Corners Road. In .2 miles, turn right onto Deer Run Road.
Hello over there, mountains! We’re coming to see you.
In .5 miles, turn left onto Quarry Hill Road, which was unmarked as of late summer 2013. (No worries about getting lost here – if you miss the turn, which is your first and only option that isn’t somebody’s house, you’ll end up in a cul-de-sac in just a moment.)
Follow Quarry Hill Road as it loops around to the trailhead, just after a field with a brick house in the back.
The well-marked pulloff is on the left.
Find a spot, hop out and let the adventure begin!
You can also get directions by checking out the Brace Mountain II (South Taconic trailhead) entry on the HiketheHudsonValley.com Google map.
Sorta nearby address for your GPS: This intersection is right around the corner from the trailhead:
Quarry Hill Road and Deer Run Road
Just turn left onto Quarry Hill Road from Deer Run Road and follow it for .5 miles to the trailhead parking on your left. Rock and roll! (And rattle.)
GPS coordinates of parking area: 42.03258, -73.50463 (Clicking will open in Google Maps or the Apple Maps app, depending on your browser/device.)
Super-cool Google Earth flyover of hike route:
Google Terrain Map of hike route:
Related resources: If you’re looking for actual facts and/or useful information, visit these resources:
- My other Brace Mountain trail guide for a nice hike to the same summit from the other side of the mountain
- A great Brace Mountain write-up (also climbing from the other side of the mountain) from the always helpful Berkshirehiking.com
- A nice overview of the entire South Taconic Trail from Berkshirehiking.com
- The brief, informative South Taconic Trail Wikipedia page
- A nice series of Brace Mountain/South Taconic Trail photos from taconichiking.com
- An alternate 7-mile hike up Brace Mt. from the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference
- Some very cool shots of paragliders launching from Brace’s summit on this excellent photo page (thanks for sharing these pictures, Katherine!)
- A PDF trail map from NYS Parks (see the right-hand side, where the White Trail is marked ST (for South Taconic), close to Riga Lake)
Want to support trails in the Hudson Valley? Here’s one great way: Visit the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference homepage and click on Volunteer, Donate, or Shop! (Then you can volunteer, donate, or shop, depending on your mood.)