September 23, 2019 – Mount Washington, Massachusetts
Length: Approximately 2 miles
Max elevation: 950 ft.– total elevation gain approximately 220 ft.
Route type: Out and back
Trailhead parking: NY-344 – Copake Falls, NY 12517
Bash Bish Falls is a chain of falls and cascades found in a deep gorge along Bash Bish Brook in Mount Washington, Massachusetts, about a quarter mile from the New York border. Topographic data suggests the series of falls descends a total of approximately 180 feet over a linear run of about 540 feet, with no individual section standing more than 50 feet tall. The falls consist of a series of flumes, cascades, and punchbowls in a deep, constricted, and highly inaccessible gorge which has claimed the lives of many who have attempted to find a view into the narrow entry of the gorge. While portions of the upper gorge can be seen from places along the trails leading to the falls, only the final tier, which splits around a huge boulder lodged in the canyon and falls 49 feet in parallel streams to a large pool below, is clearly visible.
Bash Bish Brook is a moderately large stream, draining a basin covering approximately 13 square miles. A handful of small ponds feed into the drainage, but the vast majority of the volume of the stream comes from ephemeral runoff and ground seep throughout the basin.
Though the falls are occasionally known to be reduced to very low flow during periods of drought in the summer months, because New England commonly sees heavy precipitation through the summer and fall months, the falls are often flowing well, if not quite powerfully, and should be considered worthy of visitation during just about any time of year.
Bash Bish (not Bish Bash, as is commonly mistaken) is said to be the name of an Indian maiden who was tied to a canoe and sent over the top of the falls as punishment for being unfaithful to her betrothed. In a twist of irony (or perhaps destiny), White Swan, the daughter of Bash Bish, is said to have suffered the same fate at the same waterfall. Given the geology of the gorge at the top of the falls, it seems unlikely that a canoe would be able to float downstream over the falls (lots of boulders getting in the way), so this tale is likely more legend than anything else.
Bash Bish Falls is perhaps the most well-known and frequently photographed waterfall in Massachusetts. The basin at the bottom of the falls is fairly wide open and the falls will see much direct sunlight during the afternoon hours, so best photography is had during the morning or late evening. Spray can be a problem during high water. Early mornings are preferable due to the amount of people that are usually scattered about near the base of the falls, especially in warm weather.
Bash Bish Falls is located in Mount Washington, Massachusetts but the most direct access is from Copake, New York. There are two parking areas, the first in Taconic State Park about one half of a mile before crossing into Massachusetts, and the other about a mile further up the road near the top of the falls on the Massachusetts side of the border. Both are connected to the same trail system. From the lower parking area in NY, the hike to the falls is an easy three-quarters of a mile stroll along an old road bed. From the upper parking area, the hike is about half the distance, but is also much steeper as it loses over 300 feet in elevation descending to the base of the falls.
This is a pretty straightforward out and back hike on a woods road that begins and ends from the lower parking lot in New York.
The parking area, which is just off NY-344, is marked by a small sign. Although the lot appears sizable, it does fill up. Arriving early will help to avoid the crowds.
The parking lot is filled with signs, but the one that caught my attention is the one about not leaving valuables in your vehicle. I never do, but there are several of the same signs posted, which leads me to believe that there must have been issues with thefts here.
The trail begins at the eastern end of the parking lot on a woods road that descends slightly to reach the level of Bash Bish Brook, which is on the right. The woods road is well shaded throughout which helps when the sun is blazing during the summer. Soon the road begins to climb gradually through the ravine, with the brook visible through the trees below.
The road begins to climb steadily at a slightly steeper grade and in about a 1/2 mile, the woods road reaches the Massachusetts border and enters Bash Bish Falls State Park, marked by a sign. Go ahead and pose for a photograph, I’ll wait.
In another 3/10 of a mile, the Bash Bish Falls Trail passes the junction with the Blue Trail which leads to the Massachusetts parking lot. Just beyond is the viewing platform for Bash Bish Falls.
You can take in the splendor of the falls from the viewing platform, or you can descend a steep stone staircase with a center railing that leads to the base of Bash Bish Falls. Due to a relatively dry spell, only one side of the falls was flowing during our visit.
The falls splash into a beautiful pool of clear water, then travel down a stream bed of large rocks.
After viewing the falls, climb back up the stone staircase. We held on to the railing on the way down and the rust from the handrail got all over our hands.
Retrace your steps on the woods road, and as the road comes to a fork, bear left. The right fork climbs steeply a short distance to Falls Road, the continuation of NY-344 in Massachusetts.
A short distance later, you will reenter NY and Taconic State Park. The Bash Bish Falls Trail continues to descend and in another 1/2 mile, returns to the parking lot, where the hike began.
Bash Bish Falls is one of the most publicized waterfalls in the state. Just about every hiking guide to Massachusetts, whether online or in print form, mentions this waterfall. There is a downside to this immense popularity; large crowds often visit the falls on hot summer weekends. Bash Bish Falls is certainly one of the more scenic waterfalls in Massachusetts simply because the geology of the canyon which forms the falls is so extreme and pronounced compared to the other waterfalls found in the region. The short walk and considerable payoff, makes this waterfall worth the visit. If you are looking for solitude, you won’t find it here unless you visit early mornings and it won’t be for long. Nevertheless, one of nature’s wonders that has to be seen in person in order to be appreciated.
Pros: Scenic waterfall, relatively short walk on a woods road, the return trip is all downhill.
Cons: Tourist destination and does get crowded at times.
Take a hike!