Bash Bish Falls State Park

Bash Bish Falls State Park Bashbish ..... Bashbish ..... Bashbish ....... Repeat the words quietly to yourself several times. Then listen and try to hear the Falls whisper its own name. . . ..Bashbish ..... Bashbish ..... Bashbish ....


The waters of Bash Bish Falls begin at a spring high in Mount Washington and tumble into an aquamarine pool at the bottom of a deep snakelike gorge. After the 200-foot plunge of the Falls, Bash Bish Brook continues on a gentler course through New York State until it finally joins the Hudson River on its way to the Atlantic.

The Falls is made up of a series of cascades that twist between the cliffs of a precipitous gorge. A diamond shaped schist and granite outcrop divides the last section of the Falls into two 50-foot freefalling cataracts.

The beauty of Bash Bish changes through the seasons. Spring brings the greatest torrent of water, churning the cascades to foamy ribbons. In summer, the Fall's cooling spray provides an uplift to hikers Autumn frames the Falls in brilliant reds and yellows. Winter transforms Bash Bish into a sparkling wonderland.

How the Falls Came to Be

Long before the last ice age, the Berkshires underwent three major periods of mountain building. The last of these took place 225 million years ago, during the period when the Appalachian Mountain system was formed. The four glacial periods that came much later changed the courses of streams and rivers and rounded mountain peaks, but didn't radically alter the landscape.

"On letting Woodcut circa 1830down a stone from this spot, with a string attached, I found that it required a length of 194 feet before the water was reached. I have scarcely ever felt such a creeping and shrinking of the nerves and such a disposition to draw back as here. Even though I took hold of bushes with both hands, I could not comfortably keep My eye turned long into the frightful and yawning gulf: for it seemed as if it needed only a stamp of the feet, Perchance only my weight; to cause the rock on which I stood to follow the example of multitudes of the same kind that were strewed at its base. "

Waterfalls are short lived and "unimportant" geologic phenomenon when compared with events like the formation of mountain ranges. Bash Bish Brook, like all other streambeds in New England, is only as old as the retreat of the last glacier that covered the region 10,000 to 12,000 years ago.

During the melting of the last glacier, mounds of glacial debris blocked streambeds. When dammed streams finally broke through, they cascaded wildly down mountains, often following joints or weaknesses in the structure of the mountain and creating waterfalls.

A white quartz dike, which angles across the gorge halfway up the falls, is the result of hot silica- rich liquid escaping from within the earth 400 million years ago. The liquid forced itself upwards along a weakness in the gorge. The water of the brook has cut away enough rock to make the seam visible. The sediment carried in the water works to sand- blast the rock, eroding the streambed. Bash Bish, like all waterfalls, is slowly destroying itself.

How the Falls Got its Name

Legend has it that a beautiful Indian woman, called Bash Bish, lived in a village near the Falls. She was a cheerful sister to all. Yet one day a jealous friend accused her of adultery. She pleaded innocent before the village council, but the stern elders sentenced her to death. She was to be strapped to a canoe and turned loose upstream from the Falls.

The moment before her execution, the rays of the sun formed a halo around her body and a ring of colorful butterflies fluttered around her head.

The canoe plunged into the Falls. Smashed, it was retrieved from the pool at the base of the Falls, but no trace of Bash Bish's body was found. Villagers concluded Bash Bish was a witch. The memory of her execution haunted their sleep for years to come.

The story might have ended there had Bash Bish not left a young daughter, White Swan. White Swan grew to enjoy health, beauty, and the love of Whirling Wind, a great chief's son. But some unexplainable loneliness often caused her to climb to the gorge above the Falls. When she discovered she was unable to give Whirling Wind children, she decided to end her life by plunging into the turbulent waters of the Falls. Whirling Wind, who without White Swan's knowledge had followed her up the gorge, followed his love into the water.

Once again, the villagers searched the lower pool. Although they found Whirling Wind's battered body, they never found any sign of White Swan. It is said the images of Bash Bish and White Swan sometimes appear fleetingly in the Falls.

The Plants and Animals of the Falls

The rugged beauty of Bash Bish contrasts pleasingly with the soft, undulating terrain of most of Berkshire's South County. Mountain slopes on both sides of the Falls are heavily forested with maple, oak, beech and hem- lock. In spring, wildflowers carpet the forest floor, among them the pink lady's slipper, purple virgin's bower, and false -yellow foxglove. - Liverworts and mosses thrive in the constant spray of the Falls.

The open rocky ledges of Bash Bish gorge provide ideal habitat for the Timber Rattlesnake, which lives in the forested, hilly regions of southern New England. They are frequently seen in this gorge, particularly as they sun themselves on the ledges during the spring and fall months. Check a.Field guide to see the diagnostic markings of the yellow and black color phases of this reptile. The best precautions against the Timber Rattler are to stay on the trail, and avoid putting hands and feet on or under rock ledges, logs, or stumps without looking carefully first.

Many birds currently nest in the Bash Bish area, but perhaps none are as spectacular as the peregrine falcons which nested in the gorge for centuries. These dramatic birds of prey would whirl and veer through the gorge at speeds of up to 160 mph with their wings wet from the spray of the Falls. Use of DDT in the 1950's destroyed the population here, but it is hoped that the current ban on the pesticide will allow the peregrine to return.

Many wilder species of Massachusetts mammals, such as bobcat, black bear, fisher, and porcupine, can be found in this scenic comer of the state.

The History of the Falls

Jean Roemer, a mysterious professor closely connected with European royalty, became enchanted with Bash Bish Falls in the early part of the nineteenth century. He bought the Falls in 1860, and nearby built an elaborate Swiss-style chalet mansion which burned to the ground years later.

Roemer invited Charles Blondin, the little French acrobat who had walked across Niagara Falls on a tightrope 'in 1858, to come to Bash Bish. Blondin spread a rope from one side of the gorge to the other and blithely crossed it. He reputedly found Bash Bish more frightening than Niagara because of the black boulder-lined chasm beneath him.

The Massachausetts Department of Conservation ( now the Department of Environmental Management), recognized the area's scenic value and purchased 400 acres surrounding Bash Bish in 1924. During the 1960's, the state obtained 4,000 more acres, and .named the entire area Mount Washington State Forest.

Unfortunately, visits to the Falls have sometimes ended in tragedy. Inexperienced climbers have fallen to their deaths when crumbly ledges gave way. Careless swimmers have plunged into pools without realizing rocks lay near the surface. During the 1960's, two or three people died in accidents each year. A steel and cable fence, built in 1973, and frequent patrolling by state rangers have reduced accidents considerably.

Bash Bish Falls is part of Mt. Washington State Forest, 4500 acres in extreme southwestern Massachusetts. Managed by the Department of Environ- mental Management, Division of Forests and Parks, this rugged, mountainous area offers a variety of recreational opportunities and scenic vistas.

Backpack camping is available year round at 10 sites located approximately two miles from the park headquarters on East Street. Hikers can find roughly 30 miles of trails in the forest, including ridge-top paths affording views of Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut. The Appalachian Trail is nearby. Hunting and fishing are popular here, with trout found in both the ponds and streams of the forest. In the winter, 21 miles of trail are open to skiing and snowmobiling.

A reminder: Bash Bish Falls is a spectacular sight at all seasons of the year. However it flows from a deep chasm into a boulder-strewn stream. THE FALLS CAN BE VERY DANGEROUS. For that reason, the following regulations have been established for Bash Bish Falls.

  • 1. Swimming is not allowed above or below the Falls.
  • 2. Drinking is prohibited.
  • 3. Camping is not allowed.
  • 4. Climbing is allowed by permit only. Permit is available from the Director of Forests & Parks (see address below).
  • 5. All pets must be leashed.
  • 6. The Falls area is open from dawn to dusk.
Location: Bash Bish Falls is located on Falls East Street in Mt. Washington, Massachusetts. It is 14 miles from Great Barrington via Routes 23:and 41, and 4 miles from Copake Falls, NY on Route 344. Bash Bish Falls is approximately 145 miles from Boston and 125 miles from New York City. For more informnation, contact:

    Park Supervisor
    Mt. Washington State Forest
    RFD 3 Mt. Washington, MA 01258

    - or -

    Region 5 Headquarters
    Pittsfield State Forest
    P.O. Box 1433 Pittsfield, MA 01202

    - or -

    Director Division of Forests and Parks
    100 Cambridge Street
    Boston, MA 02202