Background you can feel free to skip: For the first several years I lived in the Hudson Valley, I thought the Catskills, Shawangunks and Hudson Highlands were the only real mountains in town. What a great discovery, then, to find that the Taconic Mountains had been hiding to our northeast the entire time.
These mountains are the real deal, and their trails feel like they’re leading you deep into the New England wilderness. Since you’re likely to spend time in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts as you meander about these mountains, I suppose that’s actually the case.
On the day I visited Brace Mountain, toting my son on my back, a nice older couple on the way down stopped and chatted me up. “Oh, there’s nobody else with you?” they asked, checking down the trail behind me.
“No, it’s just me, the baby and the pooch today,” I said.
They exchanged glances.
“Do you have a cell phone?” they asked.
“I do,” I said, and they looked relieved. As I continued on, I understood their concern. This is a tough trail, probably the toughest I’ve done with a baby on my back, and it should only be attempted if you’re looking for a serious hike.
As it turned out, that couple had just given up on making it to the summit, turning around maybe 25 minutes before the top. I can see why someone might do that. The climb up Brace fakes you out multiple times, letting you think you’re near the top only to plunge you back into the woods for another rolling stretch of climbs and descents.
The payoff, though, is well worth all the burned calories. The view from Brace Mountain is incredible, and when you’re lounging about in the grass at the top, it seems like you’re a world away from your normal life. Which you are, unless your normal life has awesome wrap-around views and a huge rock cairn marking its summit.
Plus, if you want to gain some of those calories back, there’s a gas station on the drive up there, out in the middle of nowhere on Route 22, north of Millerton (I believe it’s a Citgo, and the store attached to it is called Ameri-Store or something patriotic like that), that is the only place I know of in the Hudson Valley that serves as a reliable source of Zagnut candy bars, the greatest and rarest confection on Earth. (When I tell people that Zagnuts are like Butterfinger bars, but with toasted coconut instead of chocolate on the outside, they don’t look that excited. But there’s just something about the fact that you hardly ever see Zagnuts anywhere that makes them taste so much better. Finding a Zagnut is an event, like catching a leprechaun. I like a candy bar that plays hard-to-get.)
It’s probably safer if you wait to reward yourself with a Zagnut until after the hike. If you ate one while taking in the awesome view on Brace Mountain, the sheer scale of awesomeness intake all at once might ruin your brain for any future awesome life experiences, especially ones that don’t involve toasted coconut.
1. There are many ways to get to the top of Brace Mountain, and several of them are very nicely documented on BerkshireHiking.com’s Brace Mountain page. The hike I’ll describe below assumes you want to hike Brace via the Mt. Frissel Trail, since it’s the easiest (and “easiest” is an extremely relative term here) way to get up there. If you want to try any of the other ways, check out the BerkshireHiking page – and see some of their other excellent hikes as well, while you’re at it. That site is a great resource.
2. There are a couple of parking spots directly in front of the first red blaze of the Mt. Frissell Trail on the west side of the road, or there’s a small lot just a few yards south on Mt. Washington Road (aka East St) on the east side of the road. From that small lot, look for the red blazes across the street. If you’re standing in the parking area facing the road, the red-blazed Mt. Frissell Trail begins across the street and to your right. When you find it, go ahead and hop on it, plunging into the woods.
3. The trail begins as a flat stroll, but that won’t last for long. Soon, a gradual incline gives way to a steep ascent up some rocky, tricky terrain. It’s not quite classifiable as a rock scramble (my 40-lb dog had no trouble with it), but you will likely need to use your hands a bit.
4. You’re now climbing Round Mountain, which doesn’t have an open summit, but it will present quite a speed bump on your way to Brace Mountain. So will Mount Frissell, actually, which you’ll also climb along the way. Just keep climbing, and you will occasionally pop out onto some rocky stretches with nice views. The trail rises and falls, taking you into the woods and back out again.
5. It took me 65 minutes from the parking area to make it to the concrete NY/Mass border marker. I felt like I was truckin’ to get there that fast, but I had a baby on my back, so it’s hard to judge how long it should take someone who’s not lugging their offspring all over the place.
6. After you cross into New York, it’s an easy ten-minute stroll to the intersection with the South Taconic Trail, where a nice view is already opening up in front of you. The sign here points you towards Brace Mountain, and tells you that you only have .4 miles left to go. Wahoo! Take a left here to head south on the South Taconic Trail.
You’re coming down the homestretch now. Well, up the homestretch.
7. In about ten minutes, you’ll stroll out into what must be one of the nicest viewpoints in the Hudson Valley, or anywhere else. At 2,311 feet, you’re standing on the highest point in Dutchess County, so you’ve got that going for you, too.
Take your time and enjoy the meadow-like summit, with views in all directions. You’ve earned a break. If you brought a Zagnut with you, you might want to eat it with your eyes closed, just to make sure your brain doesn’t explode.
8. When you’re done relaxing, head back down the way you came. And up, and down, and up, and back down again. I hope you saved a Zagnut to eat in the car.
Directions to the trailhead: From Millerton, NY, head north on Route 22 for 12 miles. Turn right onto NY 344 (Old Rt. 22), and follow signs to stay on 344, which turns into Falls Road as you enter Massachusetts. Turn right onto West Road when Falls Road dead-ends into it. West Road merges into East Street in 2.1 miles. Continue on gravelly old East Street for 2.7 miles, and be on the lookout for a large white sign on your left that says “Mt. Washington Road” at the top. This sign stands at the MA/CT border, and the small pulloff is on your right in just a moment, right in front of a red-blazed tree. If the spots at this tree (the trailhead) are taken, there’s another small area just ahead on the left. If those spots are taken, too, you can carefully make your own spot on the side of the road.
You can also get directions by checking out the Brace Mountain entry on the HiketheHudsonValley.com Google map.
Sorta nearby address for your GPS: The intersection of East Street and Garrett Farms Road in Mt. Washington, MA is about 2.6 miles north of the East Street trailhead (there’s hardly anything else out there, but that’ll get you close). My old-ish Garmin Nuvi lets me put in an intersection as a destination, so hopefully yours does, too. Just head south for 2.6 miles on East Street and you’ll be there in a few minutes.
GPS coordinates of parking area: 42.05012, -73.46694 (Clicking will open in Google Maps or the Apple Maps app, depending on your browser/device.)
Related resources: If you’re looking for actual facts and/or useful information, there’s a surprising wealth of information on the Brace Mountain Wikipedia page. Otherwise, you can read some more nice write-ups and check out alternate routes on these pages:
- BerkshireHiking.com’s Brace Mountain page
- New York-New Jersey Trail Conference’s Brace Mountain page
More Brace Mountain pictures from the hike’s Picasa album:
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.)