At Bear Mountain State Park hiking the world famous Appalachian trail, visiting the zoo and bird sanctuary, going ice skating; and noshing and swilling at Oktoberfest are just a handful of things to do.
Escape the city as a day trip, or stay a little longer. The Bear Mountain Inn, Overlook Lodge, and Stone Cottages are perfect accommodations for a romantic weekend, family retreat, or destination wedding.
Brief Background Information
Bear Mountain rises 1,293 feet (394 m) west of the Hudson River, mostly in Orange County New York. But the park itself stretches into Rockland county and contains other Hudson Highlands peaks such as Dunderberg and West Mountain.
Together with Harriman State Park, and the Palisades Interstate Park system, the area amounts to one of the largest contiguous wildernesses in New York State.
The area was once privately owned by railroad tycoon Edward H. Harriman.
After his death in 1909, his wife Mary donated 10,000 acres of the family property and $1M to New York State to establish the parklands.
Civil Engineers, George W. Perkins and William A. Welch built much of the infrastructure in and around the Hudson Highlands. They later expanded the parkland to 40,000 acres, getting financial help from JP Morgan and the Rockefellers.
Since opening in the early 1900s, it's been a favorite weekend retreat for millions of urban New Yorkers (45 miles away from Midtown Manhattan) and people from all over the North Eastern United States.
There are 14 trails totaling some 38 miles within Bear Mountain State Park, making it a favorite hiking destination in the lower Hudson Valley. You can get the complete trail guide here.
Appalachian Trail: (white/6 miles) The AT is one of America's longest and most famous hiking trails - stretching 2,160 miles from Georgia to Maine.
When foresters and engineers had the idea to create a super trail that would connect the Appalachian mountains in the Eastern United States - they chose Bear Mountain State Park as the first place to start construction, back in 1924.
Thus, we can say that Bear Mountain is the birthplace of the Appalachian trail. Neat, huh?
It has since become a mecca for hikers around the world.
You can access the trail by parking at the main lot near the Bear Mountain Inn. Walk towards Hessian Lake and the boat rental dock; and look for the trail head near the playground.
Beautifully built stone walkways and steps - mostly hand cut and placed by volunteers over the course of 4 years - lead you up the once eroded trail on the steep slope of Bear Mountain.
The new steps make it easier, but still, you're acscending 1,000 feet in less than a mile, so prepare to work those quads.
You'll then reach Perkins Memorial Drive. Make a
right and follow the road 1/4 mile; pick up the trail on
your left and continue 1/2 mile through the woods, crossing over the road another 2
Views from the summit...
You're now at the summit of Bear Mountain. Stop here a while and soak up the views - They're some of the best in the Valley... Absolutely incredible! And make sure you climb Perkins Memorial Tower.
The tower is a museum of sorts, and you can learn a lot just by climbing the stairs and reading the narrative tile mosaics on the walls, which tell the story of the park.
From the windows, four states are visible: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. On a clear day, you can see the Hudson river meander all the way to the Manhattan skyline 45 miles south.
The Taconics, Hudson Highlands, Palisades, Ramapos, New Jersey Highlands, Moosic Mountains, Shawangunks, and the Catskills pop up all around you, near and far.
When you leave the tower the Appalachian trail continues south, south-west for another 19 miles through Harriman State Park, down to the Delaware Water Gap and beyond...
You might want to head back here, unless you're feeling ambitious. I suggest heading down the Major Welch Trail (red); it takes you down the north slope of Bear Mtn. to Hessian Lake and back where you started.
Walk across the Bear Mountain Bridge...
But wait! Before you get back in your car and drive away, there's one more thing you should do on the Appalachian Trail... Cross the Bear Mountain Bridge!
Take the trail past Hessian Lake, head down the stairs, and go through the tunnel under Rt. 9W.
Go through the Trailside Museum & Zoo and soon you'll reach the bridge.
The bridge, in many's opinion, is the most beautiful on the Hudson.
It soars 185 feet above the river and was once the longest suspension bridge in the world.
*The story goes that Mrs. Harriman built the bridge with $5 million of her own money so she could visit friends on the other side of the river. People thought she was crazy, but apparently the Harrimans got the last laugh after setting up toll booths and eventually selling it to NY state in 1940 for a nice profit.
(*from Traveler's Guide to the Hudson River Valley Traveler, Tim Mulligan)
If you're feeling really ambitious, east of the bridge, the Appalachian trail climbs Anthony's Nose and continues through Putnam County, New York towards its northern destination in Maine.
Watch the Video...
The Trailside Museum and Zoo (named for the Appalachian Trail ) is a great way to spur your kid's curiosity of the natural world. Or just to stroll through yourself, see some animals, and learn a thing or two.
Park in the main lot at the Bear Mountain Inn and use the stairs near Hessian Lake to reach the pedestrian tunnel, crossing under route 9W. Enter the zoo on your left after the pool house.
Once inside, you immediately learn the names of all the trees and some interesting facts about what you're looking at. Signposts everywhere!
For instance, boulders take on a new life when you learn they're 1.2 billion years old, some of the oldest in North America.
a statue of Walt Whitman, one of America's great poets here. An excerpt from Whitman's epic poem, Leaves of Grass is inscribed on the adjacent rock.
the statue you'll start seeing the animals - all native to the Hudson
Valley - either rescued as orphans or defenseless and injured.
When I visited last there was a pair of Red Fox, resting snug in their den; two Eastern Coyote, doing laps around their fenced-in domain; and of course, the two Black Bears - the apparent kings (or queens?) of the zoo, lounging in their playground.
In the darkness of the reptile and amphibian house, you'll see lots of snakes, turtles, and fish that are local to the Hudson Valley habitat.
And, at the far end of the zoo, you'll come to 3 museums buildings - perfect for teaching the kids (and yourself) a thing a two about the world we live in.
In the Historical Museum, Native American and early settler culture is on display with exhibits of pottery, arrowheads, old rifles, and bullets, all found in the park.
There's also a 3D model of Fort Clinton, which occupied this site overlooking the Hudson. The British destroyed it during the revolutionary war, but the remaining foundation walls can still be found outside - and the sign that reads:
"Please treat this hallowed ground where patriots spilled their blood for American independence with respect and reverence."
In the Geology Museum you'll find a skull and tusk of a Mastodon found nearby. But, mostly this building deals with the rock formations of the Hudson Highlands, providing samples of the different kind of rocks and where they're found.
The Nature Museum is all about animal identification and has many stuffed birds and pinned butterflies which could provide some name game "edu-tainment." Notably there's a display of the extinct passenger pigeon, which were once numbered in the billions.
Phone: (845) 786-2701 ext. 263
Here we have a blissful 1500 acres of solitude. The tidal marsh located in Bear Mountain State Park is home to 165 bird species and an
important winter nesting area for Bald Eagles data-custom-mark="true".
Park at Iona Island Road off route 9W (no parking lot).
It's a lovely 1/2 mile walk and worth checking out - whether or not you like bird watching. It's simply a great meditative spot. Early morning/evening are best for both activities:)
There are a great variety of warblers, ducks, and other marsh nesting birds such as the Great Heron, Belted Kingfisher, and Marsh Wren. Listen for them. If you're lucky, you might see one of the more rare species such as the Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, and Osprey.
I went on a very foggy, wet day and the marsh had this mystical, dream-like quality to it. It was early morning and absolutely quiet, except for the birds.
I walked past the giant clumps of cattails and murky channels of water.
Suddenly, ducks burst out of the water, flapping and quacking madly
in the sky... And silence again.
The dry rocky barrens of Iona island, rising out of the marsh and dressed in Oak beckoned me to veer off the path and climb. But this was no time for detours, where does this road lead to?
When you go around the bend, past the national landmark sign, a towering sight comes into view... Dunderberg mountain to the south and Anthony's Nose across the river, fading in and out of the clouds.
Eventually, the end of the road is reached at the train tracks. The rest of the island is off limits. I checked out the viewing platform and nearby signs about the wildlife and history of the place - completing the journey.
Here goes a little of the history...
I have fond memories of the Bear Mountain Ice Rink. As a child, my mother would take me and my best friend there for night skating.
Driving up the winding mountain road from our home in Westchester, I remember getting pumped up at the sight of the frozen Bear Mountain State Park and the rink - all lit up across the river.
We would lift our legs up as we crossed the bridge out of some silly superstition, sitting in very back seat of her Ford Taurus station wagon, facing the cars behind us.
When we got there, we'd go in the locker room and lace up our hockey skates, slurp down a hot chocolate or a highly caffeinated "Jolt" soda (remember those?) and go berserk on the ice, trying to perfect our "hockey-stops." (I was never very good at it.)
I remember my buddy, attempting to talk to a girl, falling
and splitting his lip on the ice. Ah, memories... I
urge you to go and make some of your own at Bear Mountain State Park.
You can bring
your own skates, but they rent them, too (figure skates only) $4 a pair.
Skating sessions are 1hr 30min starting at 10am; 12pm; and 2pm. 8pm-10 pm sessions are Fridays and weekends only.
Skating season is typically from late October to early March.
Phone: (845)786-2701 x266
If you're not up for camping, you've got three hotel accommodations at Bear
Mountain State Park. They make a great romantic weekend getaway; family retreat; or wedding destination.
All are situated around Hessian Lake, are clean, and have that rustic lodge charm reminiscent of America's National Parks. But, what's the difference between them... Which do you want?
Bear Mountain Inn: The luxury option, totally renovated in 2012. As Noreen, the hotel manager puts it - "It's the brand new Cadillac."
the main lodge you'll see when you drive into the park. There are 15
guest rooms split into large family suites ($199 - $259) and standard rooms, which come with a King or double queen sized bed ($159 - $199). Make sure you ask for a room with a view.
All rooms are equipped with the modern conveniences you'd expect in a brand new hotel. There's a gift shop and cafe on the premise, as well as the new ballroom.
The 1915 Restaurant is scheduled to open for Spring 2013 - so if you're looking for dining options that go beyond the somewhat limited Bear Mountain cafe - head into the nearby towns of Highland Falls, Stony Point, or across the river in Peekskill and Cold Spring.
Overlook Lodge: The cheaper, "aged," less luxurious option ($119 - 169). It's billed as a "little hiker's
honeymoon lodge" and makes for a great place to crash. In the
lobby there are fantastic views, and they do a Sunday Brunch which could be fun. As for the rooms, not all are created equal. Again, ask for a room with a view. The Lodge also has its own banquet hall.
The casual option. These stand alone buildings are perfect for family retreats and wedding
parties. ($219) Each cottage has 6 bedrooms with one queen bed and a private
bathroom; a common area with a wood-burning fireplace that stretches
high to the ceiling; and a front porch (some of which overlook the
*Keep in mind, if you don't rent out all 6 rooms with family or friends, you'll be sharing it with other guests.
The Bear Mountain Oktoberfest is held annually and lasts 6 wild weekends, every weekend from late September to the end of October.
Honestly, who doesn't like German Beer, Bratwurst, Knishes, Polka-Bands, Crafts, Books, and Knick-Knacks....against the backdrop of scenic Hessian Lake.
If you're coming from NYC or New Jersey, you might be interested in taking a cruise up the Hudson to the event. Many cruise boat companies such as SeaStreak are happy to whisk you away. After you port at Bear Mountains dock, walk up the nature path one mile (past the zoo) to Hessian Lake.
You can buy a giant 32 oz. beer stein I think for $16 and then refill for $9 (lager, dark, or oktoberfest). Not cheap, but not bad considering that it's Spaten and your getting 32 ounces!
When we went, they had an incredible book booth set up. Me and Ana snatched up "The Traveler's Guide to the Hudson River Valley" by Tim Mulligan and "A Kayaker's Guide to the Hudson River Valley" by Shari Aber. I highly recommend both books.
We ate our 2 big bratwurst smothered in spicy mustard and sauerkraut and fried potato Knishes with apple sauce for dipping.
Delicious.. There were also coffee vendors serving Belgian waffles with whipped cream and strawberries. Mmm.. looked good, but beer + dessert? No, thanks.
After eating we sat next to the stage and watched people dance to the polka band in the round.
The band was playing it's pumpy 2/4 measure and a spirited young man pulled a girl onto the empty round and proceeded to jig. Suddenly the band broke into a familiar song. They called out ziggy socky ziggy socky ziggy socky oy oy oy! And...
The floor erupted with dancers - all grabbed arm in arm doing the chicken dance. They fell into a synchronized movement and flapped their wings - they slowed down - they sped up... A polka band favorite it seems.
It's not a huge festival and after a couple beers, eating, watching the band, and checking out the crafts bazaar (seen one, seen 'em all) you might want to take a stroll around the park. With all the fall foliage, this is the best time to go to Bear Mountain State Park!
Route 6/202: This is the way to reach the Bear Mountain Bridge from Westchester County, New York. 2 miles before the bridge there is an excellent viewing area that's worth stopping at. Plus, there's usually a hot dog truck there.
Use Route 9 or the Bear Mountain State Parkway and take it across Annsville Creek at Peekskill NY. Go around the traffic circle and stay left to get onto Bear Mountain Bridge Road via Route 6/202.
As you drive alongside the bay you'll see Indian Point and the Indian Point nuclear power plant to your left.
You'll then pass Camp Smith.
Look out for the army tank parked on on the side of the road.
The hair-pin turns are a bit fun as you climb the mountain.
Scenery from Rt. 6/202 in Westchester, NY
Seven Lakes Drive: As the name implies this drive passes a number of scenic lakes. I suggest getting out at Lake Tiorati and exploring the shoreline - It's quite beautiful. Especially in autumn when the water reflects the trees and sky above.
Seven Lakes Drive takes you through Harriman State Park and eventually into Rockland County and the town of Sloatsburg. It's a nice way to leave Bear Mountain State Park if you're going over the Tappan Zee Bridge, or south in general.
View From Perkins Memorial Drive in Bear Mountain State Park
Perkins Memorial Drive: This road was built with a lot of elbow grease and dynamite back in 1932; and its a must do if you don't plan on hiking to the summit.
Use Seven Lakes Drive to get there, stay right at the traffic circle and follow the signs. You'll wind several miles up Bear Mountain state park. Take it all the way to the observation tower. Stop here if you like, but get back in your car, the best views are at the dead-end section after the tower. Open April - November only.
By Car from New York City: Take the West-Side Highway to the George Washington Bridge. Cross the bridge and take exit 74 to Palisades Parkway. Continue on Palisades Parkway North for 34 miles. Take exit 19 towards Perkins Memorial Drive/Bear Mountain State Park. Estimated travel time: 52 minutes.
By Boat from New York City: Perhaps the most remarkable way to get to Bear Mountain State Park is doing the Circle Line Full Day Cruise. The boat departs from Pier 83 on Manhattan's west side at 9am and returns at 5:30 pm. $65.
By Bus from New York City: Short Line Bus runs a daily round-trip route to Bear Mountain State from from October to May. Buses depart from the Short Line terminal at the Port Authority (42nd St. & 8th Ave.) Adults: $26.70 Kids: $13.35.
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