Sunset Rock Trail
Sunset Rock is the type of hike that allows you to hop out of the car, hike a short distance without much elevation gain, and take in sweeping views; the valley below spreads out all around and the Catskill Mountains rise up in the distance. Sunset Rock surely gets its name for the simple reason that the hike ends at a small rock facing west, which should proceed some spectacular sunsets as the day's rays disappear behind the distant Catskill Mountains. It's kind of funny though...the sign at the trail head says "Closed at sunset". How are you supposed to visit Sunset Rock at sunset if they want you out of there by then? Well, I suppose you'll be just fine if you linger on for the show but you wouldn't want to stay too long after the sun dips beneath the tall mountains anyway. Though the trail is clear and passable with ease, the forest is thick like a jungle right up close to the trail, path is quite rocky in the beginning, with small canopy overhead, so it would be a nasty spot to hike in the dark or in the twilight hours of dusk. The trail is about 1.2 miles round trip so it's just a half mile to take in the views. Sunset Rock is a side trail off the much longer South Taconic Trail, and the are one most of the way until you get to a plateau clearing where they split off again. South Taconic Trail runs for about 10 miles up, down, and on top, of the Taconic Plateau - a region The Nature Conservancy has designated one of the last great places. It's not hard to see why. The hike is beautiful. It's one of those hikes where you're immediately transported into nature's world; just the new kid on the block passing through. It's classic hardwood forest mixed in with all sorts of wild bushes, ferns, flowers, and berries. But one thing you're likely to notice is how short all the trees are. Some of the birch, oak, pine look like some sort of Japanese banzai tree garden. You're just high enough (parking lot is about 1,700 feet above sea level and Sunset Rock is probably 1,850 feet) where the trees find it easier to survive being small rather than grand. If you hike in mid/late June til very early July, Mountain Laurel explodes in the forest and completely takes over. The white and pink blossoms are quite a sight to behold.
You want wildlife? You're in the right spot. Birds are the most obvious wild ones since you'll see (or should I say hear since they are so good at hiding in this terrain) and don't be surprised to encounter dozens within 5 minutes of your hike. Downy Woodpeckers usually clang back and forth and it's possible a Towhee will bounce along in the bush right along with, close by but never allowing you a good glimpse. Early summer also brings wild blueberries which are a favorite of black bear. They can eat until their hearts content in this region since the forest you're hiking through is a zone of preserves involving Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York - you're very close to the tri-state border. You'll be hiking south through New York's Taconic State Park. To the northeast is Massachusetts' Mount Washington State Forest and to the southeast is Connecticut's Mount Riga Forest. All three zones are protected and create a magnificent corridor for nature to dominate. Therefore, black bear, coyote, fox, bobcat, lynx, and some say (though it could be just a local legend) that mountain lion have returned. Mountain lion claim aside, it's not hard to see how all the others can thrive here.