Brace Mountain (2,316-feet) and its sister peak, South Brace, are the southernmost trailed peaks in Taconic State Park. A there-and-back hike from the south is an approximately 4-mile trek that climbs over 1,500-feet in elevation. The "Robert Brook Trail" and "South Taconic Trail" is another, more gradual ascent that approaches the mountain from the north. From the summit there are incredible views in almost every direction; to the Catskills in New York, the Berkshires in Massachusetts, and Riga Lake, Connecticut’s highest lake, amidst the privately owned yet undeveloped Riga Plateau. Like many of the treks to the Taconic Plateau, this path follows a very steep approach to the top. As such, this route is not recommended in the winter during icy conditions. However, if you make this trek in the middle of a hot and sunny summer day, you are likely to be greeted by world-class paragliders at the top getting ready to take off the western face of the mountain down into the valley far below. Enjoy this spectacle at the eastern limit of the Hudson Valley and embrace the unique views of this Tri-State Highland area at the borders of New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. Dogs are permitted on a leash under 6-feet and camping is prohibited. The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation has a published Southern Taconic map to help you navigate your route.
Begin your trek at a small parking area on Quarry Hill Road in Millerton, a long, dead-end road. There is a sign indicating the entrance to Taconic State Park and yellow-blazes at the Quarry Hill Trailhead. Pass through a stone wall and along the border of an estate with a large brick house. The path follows a gradual ascent for the first half-mile and comes to a creek originating from high up the mountain. The trail stays to the left of the water and proceeds up a very steep slope with a grade that averages about 35 percent. There are magnificent red oak woods and exposed boulders all around as low-flow waterfalls follow a series of cascading drops down the rock faces before you. The trail becomes so steep that you may need to begin climbing on all fours, and at this point, an opening in the trees will emerge behind you.
Upon reaching 1,700-feet in elevation, the path intersects the white-blazed “South Taconic Trail.” Continue left, and to the north where a sign indicates the remaining distances to various destinations. The path meanders through more northern hardwoods and mountain laurel before beginning the ascent of South Brace. The trek over the next 500-feet in elevation gain will be much more gradual than the preceding climb. As you get higher, blueberry heaths will matte the ground all around you and can be an excellent snack when they ripen in July. Behind you, to the south, are sweeping views Regal Lake and South Pond. The peak of South Brace is marked by a large cairn. Stay on this path and continue to the north.
The trail dips downhill through thicker tree cover. It drops almost 100-feet in elevation and then climbs slightly higher to the main summit over another half-mile. The Brace Mountain summit is marked by a much larger rock pile than the one on South Brace, and it is topped with an American flag. The summit is an open area with scrubby forest on the slopes. The Mount Brace Outdoor Club, located far below in the valley to the west, keeps this cleared as a wide runway for hangliders and paragliders. Small windsocks are mounted at various locations up this slope to help relay wind strength and direction to pilots who hike up with their equipment via the trail to the north. It is one of the more popular locations for hang gliding and paragliding in the northeastern United States due to the gradual geography of the area and the thermals that regularly form here and allow for a smooth, 1,600-foot flight down to the landing area.
Brace Mountain is the highest peak in Dutchess County. This spectacular setting is at the western limit of the Hudson Valley and marks the watershed divide of the Hudson and Housatonic Rivers. On clear days there are exceptional views to Mount Greylock (3,489-feet) to the northeast (the highest mountain in Massachusettes), the Helderberg Escarpment near Albany to the norhwest, the Catskill Mountains to the west, Bear Mountain (2,316-feet) to the west (the highest mountain in Connecticut), Housatonic State Forest to the southeast, and the Hudson Highlands to the south (Hudson Highland State Park and Storm King State Park). The Stissing Mountain Fire Tower can also be seen to the south standing above the Thompson Pond Nature Preserve near Pine Planes.
If you are feeling more ambitious, you can continue on the “South Taconic Trail” peak of Alander Mountain (2,239-feet) in Mount Washington State Park located 4.4-miles to the north. The entire white-blazed “South Taconic Trail” spans 15.7-miles. This path also connects to the Mount Frissell Trail, which traverses the highest point in Connecticut (not the highest mountain). The tri-point of these three states also lies on an unmarked path approximately 0.3-mile to the northeast of Brace’s summit where there is a large stone marker. Return to the south on the same trail and be careful descending the steep rock faces on the Quarry Hill Trail.
Pilots must sign in at the Mt Brace Outdoor Club LZ and obtain a state park permit before launching off of Brace Mountain. A park ranger must also be notified before the first flight of the day. The club is based in the valley below the mountain, and it operates the landing zone. All such foot-launched aircraft pilots must sign in at the club, whether or not they are members, otherwise they will be cited and fined by the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Let’s Go Paragliding LLC is the local Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association, and they have a variety of instructional packages for those interested in learning about this sport.
Taconic State Park is located in Columbia and Dutchess Counties of New York, and it is part of 14,400-acre area that is one of the largest contiguous forests between Virginia and Maine. There are number of recreational opportunities in this 16-mile stretch of the Taconic Mountains including hiking, biking, snowshoesing, cross-country skiing, camping, bicycling, swimming, and seasonal hunting. Some of the main peaks include Alander Mountain, Mount Fray, and Sunset Rock. Nearby, the 15-mile Harlem Valley Rail Trail passes through the park. There is also the Copake Iron Works Museum that tells the mining history of this region since the days of the American Revolution. Copake Falls offers an excellent place to camp in the summer months with large fields, tent platforms, cabins and RV hookups. Bash Bish Falls, Massachusetts' most famous waterfall, is another popular and beautiful destination a few miles to the north and just over the border. The Northern Taconic map produced by NYS OPRHP displays some of these points of interest. Nearby preservation areas include the Mount Everett State Reservation, Mount Washington State Forest, Mount Riga State Park, and the Appalachian Trail corridor. The Catamount Ski Area is also about 13-miles to the north on the state line.
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