I had not hiked the northern end of Paris Mountain State Park in a long time, never with the boys. Not long ago I was searching for hikes that would be appropriate for a group of friends with kids, and remembered the Brissy Ridge loop, a hike that I first explored when Roberts and I were still dating. After taking a look at the topographic map and reading some trail reviews, I decided to invite one of those friends with in attempt to hike this trail with the backpack carrier and 4 year-old; at least that way if I got into trouble I wouldn’t be alone with the kids!
The 2.4 mile loop starts at the parking lot at the top of the mountain, at the last parking area before it descends to Camp Buckhorn. There is an overflow parking lot just past the main lot if the first is full, connector trails keeping pedestrians off the winding road. From the kiosk at the trailhead the yellow-blazed trail heads north and then east along Brissy Ridge before it descends south and down into the Buckhorn Creek drainage, crossing the creek and turning west, then making a steep ascent back up the mountain to the parking lot. Having discussed it we chose to hike the loop counterclockwise, starting off with the steep portion down to the creek and leaving the views along the ridge for last. This also ensured we wouldn’t face the most difficult portion of the trail last, as the ascent along the north ridge is gradual as opposed to the steep descent to the creek – 2200 feet in just over ½ of a mile.
The Brissy Ridge loop is labeled as the most strenuous of the trails at Paris Mountain along with the section of Sulphur Springs past Mountain Lake, because of the precipitous southern portion of the hike. We descended a series of switchbacks to a side-drainage of Buckhorn creek, rocks and a log allowing us dry passage to the other side. It was at this point we discovered Vilis had lost a glove; thankfully Sarah climbed back up to retrieve it while the boys and I continued our careful descent. Despite the bare winter trees we could not see Buckhorn Lake, but we knew we had reached the lowest elevation of the hike once we crossed Buckhorn Creek.
We started the gradual climb up to Brissy Ridge, crossing the access road which marks the beginning of the mountain bike trail. Another plus to hiking the loop counterclockwise is the majority of bicyclists are riding the trail clockwise, as they descend the ridge and then complete the loop by taking the access road back up to the parking lot. We would usually see them from a distance, giving us plenty of time to corral the kids to the side until the cyclists had passed.
The next section was the steepest uphill of the trail, but we had plenty of energy and stopped frequently to climb downed trees, peek into hollow stumps and examine rocks. After crossing under the lines that supply power to Camp Buckhorn the forest-type started noticeably changing to one more suited to the harsher conditions of a ridgetop.
At 1.5 miles, the Pipsissewa Trail splits off to the north, a 1 mile (one-way) hike leading to North Lake. We continued on the Brissy Ridge trail, and from here it was smooth sailing as the last mile follows the ridgetop for the entire way. We saw lizards, large granite outcrops, and some views of Greenville. During the summer months most of these views will be obstructed, however in February, on a clear, sunny day such as this one, it was a rather impressive panorama. From this vantage point Greenville looked rather small but definitely deserving of its name, as even in winter the distance between Paris Mountain and the city was green with conifer-covered hills.
The trail that splits off a little more than ½ mile before reaching the parking lot is the Kanuga trail, the 2 mile trail that leads to the opposite end of North Lake. There is a loop trail around North Lake (1.2 miles) and so it is possible to add ~4 miles to your hike by taking the Pipsissewa to North Lake and Kanuga back to Brissy Ridge. That is one loop we will be putting off for a few more years as together with Brissy Ridge it is easily a six-mile loop…
Just as I was starting to worry about finishing our hike in time to go pick up Lauris, Mikus spotted the sun hitting the cars in the parking lot; we were almost back. I let Vilis out of the backpack to ‘hike’ on his own a bit, meanwhile our 3 year-old hiking buddy finally accepted the offer of a short carry – although upon reaching the trailhead all three boys had a burst of energy and so we stayed a bit longer to enjoy the fresh mountain air.
I think the Brissy Ridge trail is one of the best on Paris Mountain, because of the views and also the interesting ridgetop scenery. If I were to recommend it to a group with younger children, I would suggest making it a 2-mile, there-and-back hike along the ridge, turning around once you reach the intersection with Pipsissewa trail. This way you get the views along the ridge without the steep climb up the south slope of the drainage. However in the autumn the hardwood forest along the east end of the loop might be the most scenic, and the challenge of the hikers-only section of Brissy Ridge has its own allure. In total the loop took us 3 hours, as we stopped frequently to snack, explore and tie shoes. The parking lot next to the trailhead only has about 10 spots, and so on weekends the overflow might be your best option. Paris Mountain State Park does have an entrance fee; for more information on the trails, fees and history of the Park, please visit their website.