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Ascent to Bear Mountain summit


SALISBURY — Bear Mountain is the highest peak in Connecticut, and as such, offers a remarkable view from the top. Travelers have a number of choices as to how to climb to the summit, making it easy to customize your hike according to your own time and skill.

The Undermountain Trail parking lot can be found on Route 41 in Salisbury. The trail is marked with the traditional small, blue, oval sign that indicates where the Undermountain Trail begins. There is plenty of space in the lot, enough for about a dozen cars, so parking shouldn’t be a problem.

Trail information can be found posted on a bulletin board located near the trail’s start and there is a very handy brochure that includes a detailed trail map.

The hike begins by following the blue-blazed Undermountain Trail that leads you along a slight incline that gradually becomes increasingly severe. The Undermountain Trail is well worn and will take you through a forest that is quite dramatic at this time of the season, as the foliage still radiates fiery splendor. Travelers can get their first glimpses of the view through the trees along this path, and develop a sense of the mounting elevation. The Undermountain Trail keeps you moving upward with only the occasional plateau, so be prepared for a steady uphill hike.

Eventually you will reach a brook that sits below the trail to your left, and just ahead over a few stone steps there is a sign that points the way to the Paradise Lane Trail. Should you decide to take the Paradise Lane Trail, you will add significant mileage to your hike but will be treated to the landscape along that path. If you prefer to stay on the Undermountain Trail, the hike will be shorter but still offers a pleasing trip through the surroundings before you reach the Appalachian Trail junction.

Following the Undermountain Trail, the path will begin to even out, carrying you over a number of small streams and footbridges. Be sure to take some time to admire the surroundings, which provide a perfect example of a mixed hardwood forest devoid of pine, consisting of birch, oak and beech. The Undermountain Trail will continue upward on large wooden stairs that lead you to Riga Junction, which connects Undermountain to the white-blazed Appalachian Trail.

The Appalachian Trail offers a brief rest from the uphill difficulties of Undermountain. The trail flattens for a short distance and takes you along a very scenic path bordered on both sides with mountain laurel. There will be a sharp right turn indicated with white blazes and a sign posted to a nearby tree.

This portion of the trail becomes quite challenging, as you ascend a rocky path that rapidly becomes sheer and laborious. The surrounding forest will begin to fade and is replaced with dwarfed oak and pine. Travelers will have to summon up the mountain goat within, as the rock outcroppings and ledges become large and unsteady.

There are a few spots where you can take a moment to stand on the outcroppings that sit above the stunted tree line and get a fantastic view of the landscape below. Once you are ready to go on, the path will continue steadily uphill, winding over rocky terrain and through narrow spots where nearby blueberry bushes snag at your clothing.

Despite the actual brevity of this section of the trail, a mere .9 miles, the difficult terrain can make it seem tremendously long, so prepare for a challenging uphill struggle to reach the peak. You will know you have reached the top when you approach a clearing with a large rock lookout. After scrambling up the lookout you will get views of the Berkshires, Mt. Everett and Mt. Greylock to the north. Looking to the east and south you can see Salisbury’s Twin Lakes, Canaan Mountain and the Housatonic Valley. The view west looks out over Mt. Frissel, Round Mountain and to the Catskills far in the distance.

The peak is an excellent spot to snap a few photographs, so be sure to bring along a camera and perhaps a pair of binoculars to take advantage of the elevation. The vista, at 2,316 feet, is certainly one of the finest in the state, and the hike leading to the top provides plenty of scenic beauty to make it worth the moderate difficulty.

The ascent to the Bear Mountain summit is a challenging hike that pays off in a spectacular panorama from the highest peak in Connecticut. There are a few routes available that all reach the top, so those who want to extend the length of the hike can do so with little difficulty. Be certain to pick a dry, clear day as the view will be better and segments of the trail will be treacherous in rainy or icy conditions.

The Undermountain Trail to the Riga Junction is approximately 1.9 miles in length, and an additional .9 miles on the Appalachian Trail, taking roughly five hours round trip depending on your pace. Taking the Paradise Lane Trail will extend the length of the hike, but will lead you to the Appalachian Trail and the climb to the peak as well. If you have time for a testing and lengthy day hike this fall, Bear Mountain is a suitable destination.

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