When I was growing up in northern New Jersey, bordering New York State, I fell in love with hiking. A short walk from my house, across the virtual state line, was a wonderland just waiting to be explored: Harriman and Bear Mountain State Parks.
Two parks adjoining each other that offered an incredible array of walking adventures, history and an eclectic range of outdoor recreational activities. It also offered first class accommodation, restaurants and much more.
I recently returned home and revisited the twin parks and was not disappointed. These gems of the Hudson Valley have not changed and have once again taken my heart away like they did all those years ago.
Harriman State Park is the second oldest park in New York State, first opened in 1910. The park encompasses over 45,000 acres of beautiful mountains, 31 lakes and reservoirs and today has over 200 miles of hiking trails.
Bear Mountain State Park is located along the west bank of the Hudson River in the town of Bear Mountain, New York. Its rugged namesake mountain rises majestically from the banks where the brilliant Bear Mountain Bridge crosses the wide river.
Travelers flock to the base of the mountain to begin their hiking adventures, enjoy the many outdoor activities found there, relax in the park’s pool, or dine at the beautiful rustic inn that opened in 1915.
When visiting the New York Tri-State Area, it’s worth taking Route 9W and visiting the parks. Here are eight reasons why they are essential.
1. A hiker’s dream: 200 miles of unique trails
Within the boundaries of the twin parks, there are over 200 miles of hiking trails that lead to the most incredible scenic views, tranquil lakes, abandoned mines, and more.
The most famous trail that winds through the parks is the Appalachian Trail (AT). The first section of the famous Long Way was built here by volunteers and opened in 1923. The first section of the trail ran west from Bear Mountain the full length of Harriman and today stretches up the coast east from Maine to Georgia.
Although there are many easy to moderate hikes, many of the trails can be challenging as they make steep and steady climbs to the top of the ridges, but are definitely worth the effort. Personal favorites include the 7.1-mile West Mountain-Timp Torne Moderate Walking Trails with spectacular views of the Hudson River Valley, a leisurely 3.7-mile moderate walk to Island Pond via the AT, and the challenging 5.2 mile Ramapo Torne loop. And, on the Ramapo Torne trek, there are even more breathtaking views from a large bald rock of the surrounding mountains overlooking New Jersey and, on a clear day, the New York skyline beyond. .
Many trails interconnect so you can form many different loops for all skill levels. Visit the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference website for more information.
2. Perkins Memorial Tower
From the entrance to Bear Mountain State Park, take the winding Seven Lakes Drive and Perkins Memorial Tower Drive to visit the stone Perkins Memorial Tower. Here you will be treated to stunning 360 degree views of the Hudson Highlands and surrounding valley.
During the Great Depression, the 1,305-foot tower was built by hand, stone by stone, by the young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps. The tower is named for the first chairman of the Palisades Park Commission, George Perkins, and is open April through November, weather permitting.
3. Bear Mountain Inn
The first thing that greets you when you arrive at Bear Mountain’s main gate on Route 9W is the rustic elegance of the Bear Mountain Inn.
The lodge was built by park staff using salvaged river and mountain stone from old abandoned buildings in the area and cedar wood cut and machined on site.
Today, guests visiting the inn can stay in one of its 15 fully-appointed deluxe rooms, described as “the Hudson Valley’s quintessential romantic destination.”
The inn also has several stone cottages that were built in the 1930s, each with six warm rooms all connected to a common area with a large stone fireplace. Each room is equipped with queen size beds, private bathroom, cable television and refrigerator. Each cottage has a wide porch that overlooks the beautiful Hessian Lake, the perfect place to start the morning with a hot cup of coffee.
All rooms in the cottages are accessible to people with reduced mobility.
Then there’s the Overlook Lodge, with 24 cozy and comfortable rooms with a lobby that offers great views of the Hudson River Valley.
Pet-friendly accommodations are available at each location. Make reservations on the hostel’s website.
4. The carousel
Travel back in time to your childhood for a ride on the glorious Bear Mountain Carousel. Located just a 0.1 mile walk from the hostel, the carousel is reminiscent of an earlier, innocent time – your childhood – when it was fun to spin endlessly on the 42 hand-carved and painted seats while the music played. calliope filled the air.
Children of all ages will love this carousel housed in an elegant stone and wood rotunda. Contact the park for current hours and prices.
5. Recreation all year round
Bear Mountain has been a favorite destination for locals, tourists, and city dwellers for decades due to its seasonal amenities.
In mid-June, the park opens its large swimming pool. From spring to fall, rent a paddle boat and take a leisurely stroll on Hessian Lake. And in the winter, break out your ice skates or rent a pair and practice your salchow around the park’s ice rink.
Entrance to the pool is $5. Check the website for the latest schedule. The rink is generally open from November to March. Skate rentals are $10 a pair.
Speaking of ice skating, you’re allowed to skate on several lakes in Harriman State Park, including Lake Tiorati, Lake Welch, and Lake Silver Mine, but being on an open lake in the winter means special rules. apply.
Check the Bear Mountain website for up-to-date rates and schedule for all outdoor activities.
6. The Trailside Zoo and Museum
Take a leisurely short walk from the inn, along a paved driveway that’s actually part of the Appalachian Trail, and visit the park’s Trailside Zoo and Museum.
The zoo and museum have a self-guided walking trail that takes you through exhibits that introduce you to the ecology and history of the area. Along the wooded route you will discover native gardens and incredible geological features.
In the zoo, you will see black bears, porcupines, deer, bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, and more. A variety of local reptiles and fish will be seen at the Amphibian, Reptile and Fish Museum.
There is also a nature study and geology museum as well as a butterfly garden. And for history buffs, stop to see the Fort Clinton redoubts that played a role in the Revolutionary War and an additional side trail that leads to historic Fort Montgomery.
The zoo and museum are open daily from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. There is a $1 per person admission donation that helps keep the facility running.
7. Culinary experiences
Eating is as much an experience as anything else at Bear Mountain State Park. The Bear Mountain Inn offers two distinct dining experiences. The first, and my favorite since I’m an avid hiker, is Hiker’s Café.
Located on the side of the inn, the cafe serves up traditional American fast food – burgers, hot dogs, take-out sandwiches, salads, and even hearty breakfasts. It’s a relaxing, laid-back atmosphere where hikers – especially those hiking the AT – gather for a quick and delicious breakfast or lunch. It’s a wonderful place to sit and chat with them to hear about their adventures.
Opposite the scale are the 1915 Restaurant and the Blue Roof Bar. As the name suggests, it was opened in 1915 and serves some of the most delicious and creative global cuisine you can find.
Start with your favorite drink from their extensive wine and specialty menu. Then, try their delicious Ginger-Soy Marinated Pork Back Ribs, served with a salad of pickled vegetables; or try a cheese and charcuterie platter brimming with local and imported cheeses, artisan meats, honeycomb olives, fig cake and toasted baguette.
View the current menu and hours of both restaurants online.
8. Harriman State Park Campgrounds
Harriman State Park has several nice campgrounds available and one of the best is Beaver Pond located at Lake Welch. Beaver Pond is open for tent and RV camping. Each site can accommodate two tents or caravans/trailers up to 30 feet long. There are no electrical connections.
If you don’t want to have to bring your own tent, TentRR has some nice big four-wall cabin tents already set up in some of the most desirable lakeside campsites in the park.
People flock to Bear Mountain from all over the world, so expect it to be the busiest at any time of the year. If you plan to stay at the hostel, make your reservations well in advance – at least 6 months in advance.
There is no admission fee for hiking in Harriman, but there may be parking fees at the lakes if you plan to swim or ice skate. A $10 parking fee applies at the Bear Mountain parking lot near the hostel.
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