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Thursday, September 8, 2016

Bear Mountain, Salisbury - Hiking Connecticut's Tallest Mountain Summit

Saturday's weather was about as good as it gets for a day out on the hiking trails.  70 degrees, partly sunny, light breeze, 0% chance of rain and not a single bug.  Thank you hiking gods for granting me beautiful weather after I drove 2:15  hours (one way) just for this hike.  

I am embarrassed to admit that since I moved back East I have been on zero hikes.  This is a really sad statistic considering I was hiking twice a week (on average) while living in Utah.  The summer was hot and I basically spent all my time at work, underwater, or on my horse.  Well, the first weekend that the temperatures dipped below 80 I grabbed my day pack and headed to the northwest corner of the state.  Most of Connecticut's hikes are a leisurely walk through the woods compared to hiking Utah's mountains.  While there are no peaks over 10,000', I was determined to find some elevation and enjoy Connecticut's hiking.  I did some research and decided a good first start for New England hiking was Connecticut's tallest peak, Bear Mountain in Salisbury Connecticut.

When you are driving to this corner of the state and looking at the map, you will notice that it is barely even in the State of Connecticut.  The peak lies within the Town of Salisbury in the Taconic Mountains.  Shortly after leaving the summit the trail crosses over into the Massachusetts border. Whats also interesting is that this peak is technically not the highest point in the state.  That designation goes to Mt Frissell which is the highest POINT in the state.   Instead, Bear Mountain is the Highest Mountain Summit.

Bear Mountain - Highest Summit:  2,323'
Mount Frissell - Highest Point:  2,379' 

Now that we are squared away on the differences, let's talk about the trail. 

Distance:  6 miles
Time:  About 3 hours
Dogs:  Yes!
Kids:  Older 
Minimum (trailhead start):  758' 
Maximum Elevation (summit):  2,323'
Elevation Gain:  1,797 feet
Time:  3:30 with a 15-minute break at the summit 
Trail:  Loop via Under Mountain Road to Paradise Lane 
Trailhead:  Under Mountain Trailhead on Under Mountain Road, Salisbury (marked with a small blue oval sign). At the junction of Route 41 and Route 44, take the left onto Route 41 and the trailhead will be on your left in 3.1 miles, shortly after Deep Woods Road. 
OtherNo bikes are allowed, camping only in designated areas, and no fires are allowed. Be bear aware and black bear sightings are common. This follows a section of the Appalachian Trail - be prepared to see some inspiring AT and Thru Hikers along the trail in mid summer. 

First Impressions: A fun hike if you want to "bag a Connecticut peak" relatively easily and hike some elevation in the state.  The trail overall was nice, but a little boring at times.  It was fun to be on the famous Appalachian Trail.  The signage along the entire trail was great (large signs with distances, arrows, etc).  The trail was almost entirely shaded and typical of wooded New England trails.   The elevation will make you work and the distance is short and manageable.  The summit had a pretty view of lakes and other peaks but was very crowded.  A fun hike that allows dogs and would be even prettier in the fall with the changing leaves.  

Undermountain Trailhead location.  3.1 miles down Route 41 shortly after Deep Woods Road. 

Parking area at the Under Mountain Trailhead

On a sunny Saturday, we drove to the Under Mountain Trailhead on Undermountain Road in Salisbury, Connecticut.  I was surprised to find the trailhead was packed and cars were parking up and down the road to access the trail.  We followed suit, parking along the road and walking to the trailhead, designated by a small sign stating "trail" and a large rock with a single blue blaze. 

Small sign for the Under Mountain Trailhead.

Start of the Under Mountain Trail (blazed blue) originating from the parking lot

Trail sign at the start of the trail

Trail Kiosk

Trail Kiosk

About 20' into the trail you will find a post with a bunch of trail information.  Warnings of forest fires, warnings of bears (black bears), and information for thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail (map, cabin information, etc).  There is also a map of the loop to hike to the summit of Bear Mountain.

Overview Map of theTrail (follow clockwise to complete the loop)

The hike starts out on the Under Mountain Trail (blue blazes).  You will follow this trail for 1 mile before reaching the T where the loop returns.  At this T, bear left to follow the trail to Riga Junction.  In 0.6 miles, you will reach Riga Junction where the Appalachian Trail (white blaze) meets up with the trail you are currently on now the Paradise Lane Trail (blue blazes).  Left will take you South on the Appalachian Trail while a right will take you North on the Appalachian Trail towards the Bear Mountain summit.  Follow this trail for 0.9 miles until you reach the summit (2.5 miles from the trailhead).  

First junction: left to follow the loop clockwise (recommended) .  
Connects to the Appalachian Trail and the summit of Bear Mountain.  
I love the Appalachian Trail (AT) logo. 

Riga Junction where the Undermountain Trail meets the Appalachian Trail (head right - North on the Appalachian) 

My first steps on the Appalachian Trail!

Right at the junction to the summit to loop to the Paradise Lane Trail and Sages Ravine (campsites).  Left takes you South on the AT towards Riga Shelter and Lions Head (well-known lookout along the AT). 

White tags marking the Appalachian Trail.  The two marks with one in the upper right means the trail is heading right. 

First views nearing the summit 

Remains of the stone tower at the summit

At the summit, you will see the pyramidal stone tower built in 1885 marking the formal peak and highest mountain summit in the State of Connecticut at 2,351'.  There is a placard marking this point, although it is wrong in calling this the "highest ground in the State of Connecticut" and the elevation is a little off.   The tower is now more a pile of rubble and stone, but makes for the perfect place to enjoy lunch and the surrounding views.  The summit was a little crowded for my taste so after a quick lunch, we continued North on the Appalachian Trail to complete a loop instead of heading back South and following the same route back. 

Not so true placard 

From the summit, the view includes Twin Lakes and cultivated fields to the east, the Catskills and nearby Taconic peaks to the west, and Massachusetts' Mount Everett and Mount Race to the north.

Views from the Bear Mountain Summit

Views from the Bear Mountain Summit

Signage regarding camping zones for thru-hikers- no camping allowed at the summit 

Just after leaving the summit, we passed some signage directing campers, backpackers and thru-hikers to the designated camping areas.  There is no camping allowed at the summit, and you must camp 1 mile north of the summit or 1.2 miles south in the designated zones. We started to descend and were shocked how steep the trail was on the north side of the summit.  I was glad we did the loop in the counter-clockwise direction as going down this steep section was a lot better than trying to go up (a lot of elevation over a short distance).  You make your way down large rocks and steep boulders before the trail flattens out again crossing into the Massachusetts border by Sages Ravine. 

Steep descent off the north side of Bear Mountain towards Massachusetts

Sages Ravine, where the AT heads north to Mt. Greylock in MA or Paradise Lane Trail loops back to the trailhead in CT

After leaving the summit, you will hit Sages Ravine in 0.5 miles where the trail splits again.  You can continue on this trail (white marks) North on the Appalachian further into Massachusetts or right onto the Paradise Lane Trail (blue marks) back to Connecticut and the Undermountain Trail and trailhead.  As much as I would have loved to follow the Appalachian deep into Massachusetts I took the right back to my car in Connecticut.  We follow the Paradise Lane Trail for about 2 miles where we turned to the start of the loop and were back on the Under Mountain Trail.  We traveled just over 1 mile on the Under Mountain Trail (again) before reaching our car at the trailhead. 

A break along the trail with Olive 

Enjoying the views and the quiet

I was happy to be back in the woods, hiking again with my favorite companions.  Time spent on trails that are dirt with my beloved dog makes for a great day.  With perfect weather and beautiful scenery, and another summit on my list, a girl cannot complain.  Over four hours of driving may seem silly for roughly 3-4 hours of hiking, but it was worth it in the end.  We spent some time walking around the quaint town of Salisbury, grabbing a coffee and desserts before continuing onto one more smaller hike in the area.  I highly recommend doing the same, grabbing a hot coffee and the unbelievable cheesecake and carrot cake at Sweet Williams before heading home.  You earned it (well, maybe one but who can decide?).  It was the best cheesecake I think I have ever eaten or was it the hike, the company, the small town and hot coffee that made it taste so sweet.

Cheesecake and Carrot Cake from Sweet Williams in Salisbury, CT

The best cheesecake I have ever had

Sweet Williams in quaint Salisbury

The quaint Salisbury downtown area
Quick and Easy Guide and Map (SAVE ME!)
Link to downloadable PDF 


  1. You actually have some views from this summit! Wow, only 2300 ft! That's like...half the elevation that SLC is at lol. I would definitely hike here if I were to visit this area. -Alicia @ www.girlonahikecom

    1. Haha yep! You can still find some steep hikes, but they never get too far because you are almost starting at sea level ;) Feels good to be hiking again though!


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