Weekend Backpacker: New York

Escape the Big Apple
By Tim Nolan
  |  Gorp.com

One hour and another world north of Times Square run the Hudson Highlands, a landscape of rumpled shale and upland woods threaded by the Hudson River. Latticed with hiking trails and blessed with views of Empire State classics—to the north, the Catskills, far to the south, the Manhattan skyline—the Highlands are a welcome antidote to the noise of life in the city.

In Henry Hudson's hopeful eyes, these mountains framed a river that was a path to the Orient. Upon possession of the Highlands pivoted the outcome of the American Revolution. Hikers meander past history as they make their way along Highland trails, crossing paths that were built to carry iron to riverfront foundries and later used by Gilded Age barons to tour their acres via horse and carriage.

The Highlands still unfold in graceful procession, with stunning river views, flaming sunsets, and small rock-fringed ponds. At their heights, they feature rugged high-country vegetation and views that encompass much of the northeast.

The spine of the east-bank Highlands is the Appalachian Trail, which angles northeast from the Bear Mountain Bridge to Fahnestock State Park, and then I-84.

On the west bank, Bear Mountain and Harriman State Parks provide the nexus for a number of trails along the lower west bank Highlands. To their north, trails leave Route 9W and climb to the crests of Cro's Nest and Storm King, perhaps the most dramatic single thrust of the Highlands chain.

The Highlands are relatively compact in overall acreage, and they are easily reachable from anywhere in metropolitan New York, increasing usage, and hence the chances of abuse. In the summer of 1999, fires burned out of control on both sides of the river for nearly a month. The fires underlined the already acute desire of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, which builds, repairs and monitors all the trails in the area, to control impact on the trails and surrounding lands.

Open fires are permitted at few places in the Highlands, although overnight backpackers can use stoves. Primitive lean-tos, which usually operate on a first-come first-served basis, provide shelter for sleeping. Because some routes are heavily trafficked, hikers should follow minimum impact guidelines: Stay on the trails even when you're tempted to shortcut a switchback or detour around a puddle.

The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference (212-685-9699) is the main source of information for all of the hikes listed below. It can provide up-to-date trail maps, the current version of the Appalachian Trail Guide, and information about campsites and shelters. Be sure your trail maps are up to date before you staRte. As a result of changes in land ownership in the area, trails are continually being rerouted.

One word of warning: Dutchess and Putnam counties report among the highest incidences of Lyme Disease of any part of the United States. Light colored clothing, a knowledge of the difference between a deer tick and a common wood tick, a daily tick check, and a knowledge of the disease's symptoms are a must for anyone spending time on Highland trails at any time of the year.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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