Hiking Bear Mountain in Mount Riga State Park in Salisbury, Connecticut
Mount Riga State Park in Salisbury, Connecticut is known for having several of tallest points in Connecticut. Seriously, if you want to get a great workout while seeing incredible views extending from CT and into NY/MA – then this park is for you!
I recently climbed Bear Mountain in Connecticut. When I tell people this, the most common response I get is “I didn’t realize Bear Mountain was in Connecticut, I thought it was only in New York.” Although frequented by avid local hikers, and Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, this place is relatively unknown by the masses.
And, what a shame too. This trail really has everything you could want. It is family friendly (for older children who have hiked before), has rock scrambles on the north side of the mountain, an incredible view, and even a state border crossing. It’s such a cool trail.
Before heading out though, definitely be prepared for your trip. Due to the rock scramble, there are some considerations and planning you should do before heading out. Below I’ll explain the trail in detail and give you all you need to know about hiking Bear Mountain in Connecticut!
Overview of Bear Mountain in Connecticut
Location: Salisbury, CT
Distance: 6.1 miles
Time: 3.5-5 hours
Cell-Phone Service: Okay. Had great service in some places, and spotty service in others
Features: Overlook (2,300ft total elevation, 1800ft climb), Appalachian Trail,
Hours: None – open 24/7
Parking: Small lot off of I-41 on Undermountain Rd. Street parking for overflow allowed.
Dog Friendly: On-leash only
Location and Parking for Bear Mountain in Mt. Riga State Park
Mount Riga State Park has several areas to park to access the Northwest Connecticut mountains. For Bear Mountain in Mt. Riga State Park, the easiest parking for a day-hike is the lot on Undermountain Rd.
Can you park in other areas? Yes, absolutely! Bear Mountain is a part of the Appalachian Trail, so technically you could park in Georgia and make it here, eventually, if you wanted. Additionally, if you want to explore multiple peaks in a day then you may want to park at a different lot.
But, if you’re looking for a shorter loop that hits only Bear Mountain, then this trailhead is the right one for you.
When you get to the parking area, it’s easy to miss. I drove right past it my first time out here, and had to turn around and go back. For some reason, I think it’s easier to see the lot entrance going south on I-41 than it is going north. But, when you get there it is a small dirt turn in leading to a dirt parking lot. There are plenty of spots, but it does get full quickly. By 10am on a weekend (when I arrived) there were only 2-3 spots left in the actual lot.
If the lot is full you can park on the street directly next to the lot. Just make sure you’re not blocking the road. These spots get full too. By 2pm, when I left, there were about 10 cars on the road with little room for other people anywhere in the lot or on the road.
Also, there are no bathrooms here. So, be prepared. Either stop somewhere before you get there, or know how to properly dispose of bathroom waste in the woods according to Leave No Trace principals
Bear Mountain Hiking Loop in Mt. Riga State Park Trail Entrance
From the parking lot you’ll start out on Undermountain trail. The loop starts about a mile in from the trail, so when starting there’s really only one way you can go. However, after about a mile, you’ll come to a split to paradise trail and this is where you’ll need to have a plan on which direction to head.
The Three Ways to Hike The Trail to Bear Mountain in Mt. Riga State Park
Clockwise: Heading clockwise means that you’ll continue on Undermountain trail and turn right when you hit the Appalachian trail. After about 2.5 total miles you’ll summit Bear Mountain from the south. The entire 2.5 miles is a 1,800 ft. elevation climb with very little flat areas on the way to the top.
If you choose this way then you’ll end up going DOWN the rock scramble on the North Side of the mountain. I DO NOT recommend this without proper equipment, especially hiking poles or if you are not an experienced hiker with previous experience going down rock scrambles.
Counterclockwise: Heading counterclockwise means that you’ll start on Undermountain trail, and about a mile in you’ll turn right to start on paradise trail. The first mile on Undermountain is about 1,200 foot climb. Then, once you get on paradise it’ll flatten out as you go up into Massachusetts, before summiting Bear Mountain from the North.
If you choose this way then you’ll end up going up the rock scramble on the North Side of the mountain. This is much safer, in my opinion, and better for people new to rock scrambles. As for elevation, it will be about 600ft in elevation over 0.4 miles – so it’s incredibly steep. You’ll need to use your hands to help you climb this part. This isn’t recommended for beginner hikers. But, if you have some experience and are looking to try a rock scramble for the first time – this is a great one to start off with.
Don’t do the loop – do an out-and-back: If the idea of the rock scramble intimidates you, you can always choose to avoid it by not doing the full loop. If choosing this path, then you’ll want to follow the “clockwise” route until you get to the summit. Then after scaling Bear Mountain, you’ll turn around and go back the way you came. No rock scramble involved!
When I went hiking I saw several people doing this, especially families with children. You still get a great workout as the entire way up is 2.5 miles of increasing elevation to 1800 ft. But, when you turn back around the entire way down is 2.5 miles of downhill, which is always a nice way to end a trail. Expect around a 5.0 mile hike if you choose this path.
What to Expect Hiking Bear Mountain in Mt. Riga State Park
Outside of summiting Bear Mountain (which I’ll discuss later in this post), I think this trail has so many other features. The section of the paradise trail that extends from Undermountain, up into Massachusetts, and connects with Bear Mountain from the North is an experience of its own.
The Undermountain trail, where you start, is what you’d expect for a “parking lot” trail. This isn’t its official name, but what I call any main trail that extends from the parking lot and connects to other trails a little way into the forest.
On Undermountain trail you’ll see the most people, with the exception of the summit. This is because everyone connects here. No matter which direction you’re traveling everyone (well not the Appalachian Trail thru hikers) has to start and end at the parking lot.
The first mile of the Undermountain Trail was also the buggiest part of the entire hike. I am somewhat blessed to NOT be a bug magnet and generally do well with little to no bug spray on most hikes. NOT here. I was swarmed within minutes of stepping onto this trail. Stopping wasn’t an option or you’d be eaten alive. Luckily, this cleared up as I climbed up in elevation, and by the time I hit Paradise Trail, the bugs were mostly gone (at least for me – the non-bug magnet).
Paradise Trail to Bear Mountain
I did this trail counterclockwise, which meant once I turned off of Undermountain Trail and onto Paradise Trail.
Well, I attempted to – there is an unmarked turnoff maybe 15 ft. away from the actual Paradise Trail turn off. I went up this way for about 0.3 of a mile before realizing it and heading back. So, if you do plan to take the counterclockwise approach – just know it’s not the first turn off, it’s the second. Wait until you see the sign before turning onto paradise trail.
After walking uphill for a mile on Undermountain trail, I was ready for some flat hiking. Paradise trail is fairly flat and is a great stroll in the woods. Some small up and downs, but nothing too intense. This is where I felt the most remote and I only came across two people the entire 3 mile hike in this area (and they were both passing me – I’m a slower hiker).
The trail through here is very narrow most of the time. Definitely a one person at a time type of trail. The vegetation is dense, so be prepared for it to be extending into the trail for most of this section.
I think one of the coolest parts of this section of the hike was when I traveled into Massachusetts. I really didn’t except it to be that different, but the landscape completely changed. Much more flat, covered in pine needles, and pine trees – I could tell I was in a totally different state. I wasn’t expect that, so it was really neat to experience.
Summiting Bear Mountain in Mt. Riga State Park
If you’re hiking counterclockwise (like me), prepare to start the climb after leaving Massachusetts. I was expecting a little bit of hiking between MA and Bear Mountain, but really there was none.
And what a climb it was. It started off as a steep rock climb, but definitely bearable. Quickly though, this climb became an all-fours scramble to the top. It was straight up, and I needed to find hand holds and foot holds on the rocks to make it to the next section.
With that said, it is a fairly safe rock scramble. The rocks were divided into sections where you could rest without hanging off of a rock. I never felt in danger that if I stepped wrong or lost my grip I would seriously hurt myself. Even if I did fall, the fall would be very short and in no way was I ever in danger of tumbling off the mountain.
So, if you’re an experienced hiker but haven’t yet done a rock scramble, this is a great first-time rock scramble. For more experienced scramble hikers, this won’t seem too intense at all.
Do note, it is about a 0.4-0.5 mile scramble – so you’ll be headed uphill for a while. It doesn’t go fast, so be prepared to spend some time at this part of the hike.
The Overlook at Bear Mountain in Mt. Riga State Park
When you make it to the top of Bear Mountain you can take a deep breath. Then as you start to look around all you’ll see are trees. Yes, trees entirely block your view at the top of the mountain.
But, you may ask, “I see beautiful overlook pictures from the top – how do they get those?”
People are able to get these photos because at the top of Bear Mountain there is a large rock structure extending 15ft in the air. Climbing this leads to a small rocky area you can take in the views from.
So, the only way to fully enjoy the views at the top of Bear Mountain in Mt. Riga State Park is to climb on top of this structure and peer out onto the 180 degree view.
I was able to pause an eat lunch up at this spot, but it can get a bit crowded. There were about 8 people at the top when I was there and it probably wouldn’t have fit many more comfortably.
But, the views are absolutely stunning. I just sat there for a while looking out onto the rolling mountains. It was beautiful and one of those moments where you take a few minutes to reflect.
Everyone who was up there with me was respectful of this. And, it was a great chance to meet some of the Appalachian Trail Thru Hikers who would be scaling many nearby summits that day or in the days ahead.
Views From the Trail Near the Top of Bear Mountain
I started back down the mountain on the south side. If you’re doing the out-and-back, or the clockwise direction of this trail this section would be right before you hit the summit. For me, I hit it after the summit. There are some incredible views of their own at this part, so if you’re hiking uphill here make sure to take a second to look back. Don’t miss these views just because you’re focused on taking one step at a time while climbing the mountain.
Also, as you can see, this part of the trail is without a lot of tree cover. This really only occurs on the south side of the mountain, as the north side has tree cover really the entire way to the top.
So, if you sunburn easily be sure to lather up before hitting this portion of the trail. The sun is hot and bearing down, so you’ll want to cover up when hiking this area.
This section of the trail lasts for a little less than half a mile. Once it ends you’ll be back under the shady tree cover the entire way back to the parking lot.
Other Tips to Remember
Mt. Riga State Park is a remote park in the northwestern part of Connecticut. This is prime bear country, so be sure to be prepared with bear spray and to follow all proper bear precautions before heading out onto this trail.
These trails are not for beginners. Even if you choose to do the out-and-back version of this trail, I still recommend this not be your first hike. So, you need proper gear. This includes hiking boots, having a proper backpack, and if you’re going to be doing the rock scramble, then hiking poles. Can you do the trail without these things? Sure. But, you’ll be more comfortable, and in better shape with them than without them.
Not quite ready for this trail, but wanting to build up to this? Try either Bull Hill Full Loop in NY or the Regicides Trail in CT. Both have the length and an intensity slightly less than this, with no scramble to climb. Perfect for someone building up to Bear Mountain in Mt. Riga State Park.
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