Living in New Jersey, I’ve hiked all over my state: from the northwest region of the Water Gap, to the New Jersey Highlands (and their frequent view of New York City), to the majesty of the Pine Barrens in the south. I have made infrequent forays into the bordering states of Pennsylvania and New York, hiking a trail or two in both Harriman and Bear Mountain State parks. This past Fall, looking for something a little higher, different scenery, and a little bigger, I decided to explore both Harriman and Bear Mountain parks. It helps that both parks border each other, with some trails meandering into both parks.
Harriman State Park, found in Rockland and Orange counties in New York, borders Bear Mountain State Park, on the western side of the Hudson River. Both parks are a short jaunt from New York City, but are large enough to isolate yourself from the hustle and bustle of modern society. I usually do not lose cell service, but there are times where I have seen the signal get pretty weak. Visitors crowd some trails and you will be able to count your trail-mates on one hand in other areas. Both parks are open year-round, and there are plenty of shelters should you want to camp. (The parks also include beaches, picnic areas, and boat ramps. You even have the ability to drive up Bear Mountain to the observation tower.) I spent last fall making many day trips to hike all around the two parks, and I’ll describe some of my favorites.
Bear Mountain State Park
The first hike to describe is Bear Mountain itself. Park in the main parking lot for the Bear Mountain Inn (a note that there is a fee.) For this loop, take the Hessian Lake Loop (to the left of Hessian Lake) until it junctions with the Major Welch Trail. This trail goes right up the face of Bear Mountain where there are some great little rock scrambles. (Pro tip: don’t do this on a 90-degree day with humidity.) At the top you will find the observation tower which is easily climbable and offers spectacular views in all directions. When you’re finished climbing the tower, make your way beyond the parking lot to the rocks for a place to have lunch. Crowds abound here, as many people have driven up to this spot. To descend, look for the Appalachian Trail and head down. The AT is well-worn and there are many sections of stone steps. The AT winds its way down the mountain and will deposit you back to the Bear Mountain Inn and your car. Of note, before the lake is a large display describing how the New York New Jersey Trail Conference builds and maintains trails. This is a must see. (3.6 miles)
My favorite hike in Bear Mountain State Park starts from a hiker parking lot on 9W before access to Iona Island. From the lot, cross the road, and by the bridge start following the blue blazed Cornell Mine Trail. There are lots of mines in both Bear Mountain and Harriman parks; some are more easily found than others. The Cornell Mine trail is relatively flat until it climbs up the face of Bald Mountain using a few switchbacks. At the top, you will junction with the Ramapo-Dunderber Trail at a huge cairn. Turn right and head to the top of Bald Mountain. (To the right of this junction is the Cornell Mine, it takes some bushwhacking to find.) When the Ramapo-Dunderberg makes a hairpin turn, take a small spur trail to the rocks at the top of Bald Mountain. There, you will have great views of Bear Mountain, West Mountain, and the Timp.
Continue on the Rampapo-Dunderberg until the intersection with the 1777 Trail. If you would like, continue on the RD to climb the Timp – it’s not far, and there is not too much elevation gain. There is a large rock outcropping that has views onto West Mountain. Follow the RD back to the 1777 Trail and make a left. You will lose all your elevation on this wide trail that becomes a paved road. But, you will enter historic Doodletown, which thrived in the early 1900s. You can spend a lot of time in Doodletown – the 1777 Trail, though, will make its way back to the Cornell Mine trail and where you parked your car. Two mountains, some mines, and a historic abandoned town? There’s a lot to see here. (6.73 miles)
Harriman State Park
In southern Harriman state park, one of my favorite hikes is the Pine Meadow Loop. Note that this area is one of the most popular areas in southern Harriman and parking can get very crowded. Arrive super early to ensure you find a spot. You can find parking on Seven Lakes Drive around the Reeves Meadow Visitor Center. Take the Pine Meadow (red) Trail all the way up to the lake. The lake alone is worth the hike, and makes a great spot to picnic. I like this hike for the history and hike all the way around the lake. Follow the trail clockwise, passing many viewpoints of the lake and historical markers. At the eastern end of the lake, the Pine Meadow Trail veers left and you will want to jump on the Conklin’s Crossing Trail (white.) You will only be on this trail for a few minutes, as you will look for an unmarked trail to the right. This goes around the lake and meanders through an old Civilian Conservation Corps Camp. The trail joins up with the Pine Meadow Road and finishes circling the lake. Take the Pine Meadow Trail back to the visitor center. If you decide to take the Kakiat Trail (white) as an alternate, know that the bridge is out where it crosses Stony Brook. (8.24 miles)
A final hike starts from the parking lot on Kanawauke Road – take 17 north to the junction of 17A, make a right, and the parking lot is on the right after you pass Lake Stahahe. From the parking lot, head south on the White Bar trail around Car Pond Mountain. When you come to the junction of the Triangle Trail (yellow) make a left and take this all the way up Parker Cabin Mountain. Gorgeous views from the east greet you at the top. Make a left on the Ramapo-Dunderberg trail and head north to Tom Jones Mountain. At the top you will find the Tom Jones Shelter. Follow the RD trail north, down the mountain to the road. Cross Kanawauke Road and follow the trail uphill, steeply at times. At the top of the steep climb you will get to Black Rock (amazing views) and the junction with the Nurian Trail (white.) If you have had enough for the day, you can take this back to the lot. Or, you can continue on the RD to the junction with the Denning Trail (yellow,) crossing the highest point in Harriman State Park. You will pass the Bold Rocks shelter along the way. Make a left at the Dunning and take this to the White Bar trail, and follow this down to your car; ensuring you stay left at the junction with the Nurian Trail. (7.07 miles)
A couple of notes: I highly recommend the NY NJ Trail Conference map set for this park. The maps have all the trails, shelters, parking lots, topography, unmarked trails, roads, and more. The maps from the parks themselves are good, but there is so much more on the Conference maps. Link here – I’m not a member, but these maps are invaluable. And, they are great for planning your route from the parking lots.
Information: Harriman State Park is found in Rockland and Orange counties in New York, with Bear Mountain State Park bordering it on the east. Bear Mountain State Park rises from the banks of the Hudson River and besides hiking, includes an inn, a Merry-Go-Round, the Trailside Zoo and an ice rink. The Perkins fire tower is reachable by car (and trail) atop Bear Mountain; by car following Perkins Memorial Drive. There are many many miles of trails in both parks, with many trails crossing the park borders. Both parks include swimming areas (when open,) group campsites, and shelters for hikers. The Appalachian Trail winds its way through both parks. Permits are required for some group campsites, fees are required for day use areas. There is a $10 fee to park in the Bear Mountain Inn lot (which is huge), though there are plenty of lots and trails that leave from parking lots scattered around both parks. Both parks are open year-round; which affords some great winter hiking – though, bear (excuse the pun) in mind, some roads that cut through Harriman State Park are closed during the winter. Check the websites: Harriman & Bear Mountain.
Best Time to Go: Both parks are open year round. Some non-bridged stream crossings can be more challenging in the Spring with increased water levels from snowmelt and rain. Fall is probably the most popular due to the colors of the Fall foliage. You will see people in the winter. Super Important Note: The Reeves Meadow Visitor Center (which has a small lot) gets insanely packed. There is a pull-out lot across the street, but if you get to that lot late (8 am?) cars will be parked all along Seven Lakes Drive. This is a VERY popular trailhead.
Getting There: The main parking lot for Bear Mountain is at the Bear Mountain Inn (and costs $10.) That lot is huge. There are free lots scattered along 9W, 202, and Seven Lakes Drive. Parking in Harriman can be found at the day-use sites (which may have fees) and along Route 6, Seven Lakes Drive, Arden Valley Road, Kanawauke Road and Johnsontown Road. A Harriman parking area map can be found here.
Maps and Books: Both park sites have maps you can print. I cannot recommend enough the maps produced by the NY NJ Trail Conference. These maps have it all, trails, contour lines, roads, parking, unmarked trails, and forest roads. I find them invaluable. Harriman Trails is an excellent book describing the trails, unmarked trails, roads, lakes, mines, and history of both parks. While not necessarily a route-planning tool, the book will give great color to where ever you plan to go in the parks. Finally, if you plan to explore the abandoned town of Doodletown, I highly recommend the book: Doodletown: Hiking through history in a vanished hamlet on the Hudson. The author was one of the last residents to leave the town.