Weekend Backpacker: New York
For New Yorkers, a big plus in hiking the Highlands is that there are good trips accessible via public transportation.
Here's an overnighter you can handle via the Hudson Line of the MetroNorth Railroad. Enjoy the roughly one-hour ride from Grand Central to Garrison. When you get off, stop to admire the imposing fortress of West Point across the river, then cross the parking lot, take a right, and start up the rise of Lower Station Road. As you look to your left, you'll see Ienia, Governor George Pataki's imposing home, through the trees, followed by the Mandeville House and its historic marker denoting it as one of the oldest houses in Garrison.
Go right at the traffic light and make your way cautiously down Route 9D for a quarter-mile to the state-owned Castle Rock Unique Area. Take a left into the area and head up the driveway -- you're now on the Carriage Connector Trail. Follow the Connector until the first marked turnoff, which as you'll plainly see will lead you on a bit of a scramble up the sharp rise of Sugarloaf Hill's east-facing rise. When you get to the top -- roughly 800 feet above sea level, the valley lies at your feet. To the north, the river disappears behind the grey bulk of West Point. To the south lies the graceful arch of the Bear Mountain Bridge. It's well worth rewarding yourself by finding a comfortable tree to rest against and simply absorb the view.
From there, retrace your steps back to Connector's first intersection. A right hand turn takes you onto the Osborn Loop. Heading south, follow the Loop blazes, which run roughly atop the spine of the hills, until you strike the Appalachian Trail. Its white blazes lead you through the serene high-country meadows of Canada Hill and South Mountain, then down the steep descent to South Mountain Pass, a narrow dirt road that looks little different today than it did hundreds of years ago.
Pick up the trail, in the form of a broad carriage road, on the far side of South Mountain Pass. You'll be climbing again, and after about half a mile you'll reach the Hemlock Springs campsite. From the Garrison train station, you've hiked about six miles. Depending on your energy and ambition, you can push on about 1 mile, then bushwhack through some modest ground cover tenuously hanging onto the rugged scarp of Anthony's Nose, for views of Bear Mountain Bridge, Bear Mountain, and Dunderberg Mountain, which marks the southwest entrance to the Highlands.
Until a few years ago, working further south along the east bank of the river was impossible because Camp Smith, an Army Reserve site, was strictly off limits. Now, however, hikers can swing onto the Camp Smith Trail after a night at Hemlock Springs. The trail ends at Rtes. 6 and 202 two miles north of the Peekskill train station. Follow the road into Annsville Circle, cross the creek (you'll see the train tracks on a berm crossing the broad mouth of the creek), and turn again toward the river at the first available spot. Kick back in Peekskill's waterfront park while you wait for a southbound train to pull into the station alongside.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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