After two straight days of yard work, my husband and I decided our bodies weren’t quite sore enough and we’d go for a day hike on Memorial Day. The weather was glorious – high 80’s, bright sunshine and piercingly blue sky. As we had not climbed Bear Mountain for many years, we decided to take a trip up to the northwest corner of Connecticut and give it a go. Our previous visits had been with our two kids when they were younger, and according to the notes in our hiking book, it took us 3.5 hours to do the hike with them.*
Bear Mountain is located in Mt. Riga State Park and, at 2,326 feet, is the highest summit in CT and the most prominent peak of the southern Taconic Mountains. Part of the Appalachian Trail passes over the summit of Bear Mt., from which the meeting point of Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York can be viewed, with MA’s Mount Everett to the north and NY’s Catskills to the west. There are a few ways of getting to the summit. We chose the Under Mountain Trail, one of the more challenging hikes in the area with a round trip of 6.7 miles. For the first bit of a mile off the parking lot, the trail is a consistent steep climb, often used by more experienced hikers to practice and improve their speed. After that, the Paradise Lane Trail veers off to the right and levels off, going along the base of the mountain, past fern groves, bogs and blueberry patches.
Fern Grove on the Paradise Lane Trail
Before veering to the left, this trail merges with the Appalachian Trail and presents a very steep, Class 1 “rock scramble” directly up the northern side of the mountain. While climbing the northern face (and, believe me, I wasn’t scrambling), I tried to imagine having a 50 or 60 lb. pack on my back, as through climbers on the AT do. Personally, no thanks.
Joining up with the Appalachian Trail
On the summit is a rock pile (originally a pyramid) upon which you can take in the panoramic views of neighboring mountains and lakes while eating lunch and enjoying some well-deserved rest. The original stone pyramid was built on the peak in 1885 by Robbins Battell of Norfolk, CT, who was convinced that the Encyclopaedia Britannica was wrong in stating that there was no point in CT over 1,000 feet above sea level and proved it by having the Litchfield Hills surveyed. Lesson learned? Never take any source as the absolute truth, even such a credible one as the Encyclopaedia Britannica – always question and seek the truth, even if it means hauling a ton of rocks up on top of the mountain to remind everyone you were right after all.
On the summit overlooking the Twin Lakes
Going down the south side presented a more gradual descent, eventually splitting the AT with the trail back to the parking lot. Next time, I think we’ll stay on the AT a bit farther and go over Lion’s Head, a neighboring peak with spectacular views as well, which is approximately an 11 miles hike. After the two days of hauling mulch, weeding & planting gardens, and cutting shrubs, 6.7 miles was plenty and a very nice way to spend a holiday.
*Just in case you are wondering, it took us 4 hours this time around. That's what an extra 17 years will do to you, not to mention the few in there spent as parents of teenagers.