Sawkill Trail at Montgomery Place


Many of us are discovering new trails and parks we can visit across the seasons in the Hudson Valley. Bard College alone has many paths, both around cultivated gardens and landscapes as well as through woodlands and along waterways. Montgomery Place offers several of each. One of the gifts of this strange COVID era is how much more time many of us spend outdoors. Heading outdoors has become a safer way to live. For some of us, this also means additional healthy exercise hiking around. In addition, shared walks allow us a way to socialize, refreshing and deepening old friendships and making new ones.

Montgomery Place Walks

Montgomery Place is open daily for walking from sunrise to sunset. Park in the Visitors Center parking lot, and then you can head to the Hudson River via the old-growth forest on a southwest trail, wander the cultivated grounds around the mansion itself or stroll north to the old service road that leads to the Sawkill Creek. Cross the north lawn to the west edge of the farmlands and follow the path where the arrow points towards the Sawkill Trail, just a bit more than 0.1 mile from the parking lot.

Towards the Sawkill

Wear good walking shoes. Some people carry a walking stick to ensure better footing on the trail, which can be uneven. When you come to the first fork with signage pointing left to Sawkill Trails/Lower Falls and right to The Lakes, you have, in fact, three options ahead of you, each of which is an out-and-back. While the initial section is level and fairly even, it becomes rocky and muddy if it has rained recently when you head downhill after the first fork in the path. Slipperiness and loose terrain are less of an issue if you head right to the lakes.

Downhill Trek

Taking the left fork heads you downhill towards where the Sawkill flows into the Hudson River at the South Tivoli Bay. Some of this area feels totally undisturbed by humans. However, there is archaeological evidence of people having had an impact in this area some 12,000 years ago. Nomadic hunters seemingly followed megafauna (indeed, large wild animals) during the period when glaciers were carving out the shapes of the valley we recognize now. The first people to cultivate and settle in this area were the Munsee and Muhheaconneok (People of The Waters That Are Never Still) around 2700 BP. They hunted, fished, and harvested along what they called the Metambesem, the waterway we know as the Saw Kill (kill is creek or stream in Dutch, courtesy of early Dutch and English settlers). Mahicannituck, The River That Flows Two Ways, what we know as the Hudson River, provided a rich source of food, too, on its currents and twice a day high and low tides. Amazing that the Hudson is actually an estuary, this far up from the Atlantic.

Alongside the Creek's Mouth

As the ground starts to level out downhill, we see the remains of the hydroelectric power station that the Montgomerys constructed in 1921. The water running through the turbine produced electricity for Montgomery Place and some houses in Annandale. It was only in 1965 that Montgomery Place joined the power grid. The signage there, with images and additional information, provides a richer frame of reference. Happily, at the foot of the slope, there are two plank benches along the stream where you can sit, watch and listen to the water cascading over the waterfalls and dams heading into the Hudson. Silt and clay are deposited at the mouth. As the leaves fall, it will become easier to see further in all directions, including north across the creek to the Bard field station.

Returning Eastwards

When you are ready to head back, it is recommended that you retrace your steps up to the fork in the service road (0.2 mile). While the mountain goats among you may be tempted to hike back east and inland uphill alongside the bank of the Saw Kill, going that route can prove not only treacherous but also erodes the bank further. Note the tree roots that have become more exposed, making the trees’ footings less secure when rain washes soil away, along with impact from off-trail hikers.


Once you return to the initial fork, you can head right (south 0.1 mile) back to the great lawn, ending your exploration or turn left (north) on the path that leads towards the swimming hole created by the dam, 0.1 mile further. The left trail back towards the Sawkill has a gentle slope down, and it splits in two along the way. Stay left to find the old changing shed/bathhouse, a dam, and glimpses through the trees of the pooled water. Signage there has reproductions of old images and more information about the lake. As the leaves come down, the view opens up even more. There is plenty to note in the woods as you walk along—varieties of mushrooms cropping up on the forest floor and on rotting tree trunks. Enjoy the last of the wildflowers of the season—goldenrod, the gazillions of varieties of asters, some (white) thoroughwort. On the bank by the creek, you may note a creekside trail going downhill alongside the Sawkill. Please observe from inside the fence though, so the bank is disturbed no further.

Upper Lake

When you decide to head back, note the other trail that veers off to your left. You can take this short, northeasternmost branch to get nearer the calmer, larger, eastern part of the lake. It won’t take long to retrace your steps that short distance and continue straight back to the great lawn.

Heading Back

My experience has been that these trails are never full of people. Only now and then is someone else out there crossing one’s path. This means you can actually stop and listen for birds and insects. What you see and hear depends on many things—time of day, weather, the season. Returning to a trail one knows is always a new experience. Bring your phone and capture what you can. You may even come across a fawn. Share your discoveries.