January 2015: Bear Mountain

Salisbury, Connecticut

Through much of the 19th century reference books stated confidently that no part of Connecticut was higher than 1,000 feet. No one living in the remote Litchfield Hills probably paid much mind but Robbins Battell of the prominent musical family of Norfolk wanted to set the record straight.He identified Bear Mountain as the highest point in the state, negotiated a long-term lease on the property and had it surveyed to make it official. But having set out in his quest for accuracy, Battell actually muddied the waters more. Long after the expert flutist, state senator and philanthropist died in 1894 modern surveying techniques identified the side of Mount Frissell, four miles away, as the highest point in Connecticut. Bear Mountain, however, is the state’s highest summit.  

Every Nutmeg state dog should get a chance to stand on the state’s highest summit. The most popular route is via the blue-blazed Undermountain Trail to the Appalachian Trail, tagging the peak in just under three miles. Bear Mountain is an honest mountain - there is scarcely a downhill step on the ascent to the top - no depressing drops into saddles and ravines that set tails to drooping when you know you should be headed up. You are gaining over 1,500 feet in elevation on this canine hike but the serious panting does not begin until the final half-mile. Across Bear Mountain you’ll find view-blocking stretches of blueberry and huckleberry struggling with pitch pines and oaks in the stingy mountaintop soils. The views come soon enough, first to the west, then to the south and finally in all directions. You can continue across the summit and return on the 2.1-mile Paradise Lane Trail that crosses upland forests with small ups and downs. The drop down the north slope is steep, quick and rocky and will challenge the most cautious of dogs so take your time here. The full loop with a backtrack on the Undermountain Trail will cover about 6.6 miles.  

Robbins Battell hired local mason Owen Travis to erect a tower on the roof of Connecticut in 1885. Without the aid of any roads, Travis spent the next three years hauling 350 tons of stone to the summit. He built a pyramid 20 feet sqaure and 22.5 feet high in the rural tradition of New England stone fences with no mortar. A lightning rod extended another 17 feet above the surrounding countryside. Over the years the tower has crumbled but you and your dog can still scramble up ten feet of stabilized rubble and think about what it took to bring all these stones to the top of the state.

From Salisbury head north on Route 41 from the intersection with Route 44 in town. Go 3.5 miles to a large parking lot on the left for the Undermountain Trail (it is signed).