by Kezia Bacon, Correspondent
Quite by accident, I visited two of our state’s Top Ten waterfalls this summer. One weekend in late June, I went to the Berkshires for work. On my way from the turnpike to Sheffield, a picturesque town in Massachusetts’ southwest corner, I passed a sign for Bash Bish Falls, which I had once visited as a child. I made a mental note to return there if I had time. Then when I checked into my accommodations for the night, at a lovely little place called Race Brook Lodge, I learned that if I hiked a mile up the trail behind the inn, I would find a completely different waterfall halfway up the mountain.
The famous Kurt Vonnegut quotation, from his novel Cat’s Cradle, immediately sprung to mind. “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.” Neither of these side trips had been anticipated, but since I would have a few hours to myself the next morning, I decided to investigate.
By 7:30am Saturday, I had my hiking boots laced up and my water bottle filled. The well-marked Race Brook Trail, which the public can access from a parking area on Route 41 in Sheffield, led me into a cool, shady hemlock forest, which is part of the Mt. Everett State Reservation. For the most part, the trail traced the edge of the brook, offering one idyllic view after another. After a steep but pleasant climb, I arrived at an intersection. I could continue straight, to reach the Appalachian Trail and the summit of Mt. Everett, or I could veer off to the side, to view the waterfalls.
From there it was a short, flat meander to the falls. And oh my! What a treat to encounter such a gorgeous vista, in the middle of the quiet woods, with not a soul around. Race Brook Falls includes a total of five drops of horsetails and cascades, over 300 feet total. I couldn’t see them all at once, but from my vantage point, it was hard to tear my eyes away. I just stood there, watching the water pour down over the rocks until it dropped over a ledge and out of sight. Eventually I found a large flat boulder on which I could sit comfortably and contemplate my surroundings. Upstream was the waterfall, and downstream, a view of the valley below. I didn’t dare peek over the ledge to see how far the falls dropped. Instead I sat, listening to the sound of the water, meditating on the beauty of the forest, and promising myself that, going forward, my life would include more experiences like this.
After hiking back down to Race Brook Lodge for breakfast, and then driving to Great Barrington to attend to a few errands, I turned back toward Sheffield with Bash Bish Falls programmed into my navigation app. I had forgotten that there are two access points to the state’s tallest single drop (80 feet) waterfall – one on the Massachusetts side, in Mt. Washington State Park, and another just a mile or two away, in New York’s Taconic State Park. Distracted by the lush green, rolling hills, I didn’t realize right away that I was headed for the New York entrance. Both access points offer large parking areas and porta-potties. The trail from New York is longer (0.75 mile) and more gradual, while from the Massachusetts side it’s shorter (0.4 mile) but steeper.
Bash Bish Falls was a much less solitary experience. The trail from the New York side ran along a high embankment with a view of Bash Bish Brook. Not surprising on a summer Saturday, both the trail and the brook were well populated with families hiking, wading, and picnicking.
After a half-mile or so, I passed a large sign welcoming me to Massachusetts, and shortly thereafter I reached an overlook ringed with safety rails. Not far in front of me were the falls – considerably broader than Race Brook, and captivating in an entirely different way. From the overlook, a steep set of stairs led down to the base of the cascade, where a number of large boulders offered places to stop and sit. Swimming and wading are not permitted in the area just beneath the falls, but they seem to be allowed downstream. In case you were wondering, it really is BASH-bish and not BISH-bash, which rolls off the tongue more easily, thanks in large part to Bobby Darin. Local lore claims that the falls were named after a maiden from the Mohican tribe who met a tragic end.
The waterfalls of Massachusetts are nowhere near Niagara scale, but they’re still impressive. I was fortunate to visit two days after a big rainstorm, so they were flowing well – which isn’t guaranteed, especially in the summer. These unplanned excursions compelled me to research some of the state’s other waterfalls, which I hope to visit soon. Most of them are on the western side. One website I found, which rated the Top Ten, listed Bash Bish and Race Brook among the favorites, as well as Campbell Falls in New Marlborough, Royalston Falls and Doane’s Falls in Royalston, Goldmine Brook Falls in Chester, March Cataract Falls in Williamstown, Tannery Falls in Savoy, Twin Cascades in Florida, and Waconah Falls in Dalton.
Living at sea level, we don’t really have waterfalls here on the South Shore. The closest is Whitman’s Falls (aka Iron Hill Falls), on Herring Run Brook, at Whitman’s Pond in Weymouth. It’s only a 10-12 foot drop, but probably still worth investigating.
Kezia Bacon’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to protecting our waters. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168 or visit www.nsrwa.org. To browse 22+ years of nature columns, visit http://keziabaconbernstein.blogspot.com