Taking a stroll on a nice day or even in the rain or snow can be a pleasant diversion, but the idea of hiking for pleasure wasn’t an acknowledged pursuit until the Romantic poets and writers in 1700s Europe ignited the senses of the populace. Prior to that, if you were pounding the pavement it was probably because you couldn’t afford a horse or a carriage ride.
Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau in the states brought people closer to nature with their writings and while the first evidence of a cleared trail is on Mount Washington in New Hampshire in 1819, it wasn’t until 1876 that the Appalachian Mountain Club was founded to protect trails and mountains on the north east as well as promote walking and hiking for recreation. In New York, some of the best trails are in view of the mighty Hudson River that can be traced from the mouth of Manhattan to the peaks of the Adirondack Mountains. Find an easy or challenging hike among some of these hiker favorites in New York State.
Harriman State Park is the second largest park in the New York State parks system, with 200 miles of trails with fun names like the Doodletown Bridle Path and the West Mountain Loop, which is rated moderate to strenuous and takes about four hours to complete the 5.4 mile circuit. Many of the trails pass streams and beaches, with places to rest and admire it all. Located along Seven Lakes Drive, there are actually 31 lakes and reservoirs contained within the park and many vantage points that afford views of Bear Mountain and the Hudson River.
The Bear Mountain Loop is characterized as "demanding" with the 9.7 miles passing through woods with steep passages that give way to views of the Hudson River. Visitors urge a stop at Perkins Tower at the top of the mountain to take in 360 degree views. From the top you can head off on various trails, including the Appalachian Trail and if you packed a lunch you can enjoy it at the picnic area before you head down or off on another trail. City dwellers might enjoy a glimpse of the Manhattan skyline to the south (on a clear day), but look to the east for views of the Catskill and Taconic mountain.
Breakneck Ridge is a popular trail and strenuous for the short distance. Also, it can be hard to find a place to park along Route 9D, especially in the summer and fall, when the changing leaves super charge the views. Breakneck is in between Cold Spring and Beacon, New York, which are popular destinations for day trippers and easy to get to from the Metro North train stations. You can even take the train to the Breakneck trailhead, on weekends and holidays, but only on a limited schedule. The hike itself is no Sunday stroll. Expect a rock scramble in many places as you ascend the mountain and keep your eyes on your footing until you get to the top, when you can reward your concentration with breathtaking views. Recent reports of trash on the trails are a disappointment, but maybe Earth Day will ignite a clean up!
The Butter Hill Trail is one of three trails in the Storm King State Park, which is an undeveloped green space (limited parking/no toilets). The Butter Hill Trail is a loop that spans about 2.5 miles and ascends 600 feet. Hikers report it being a relatively easy hike you can make in a few hours, with a moderate incline and beautiful scenery all along the way. It's used for walking, hiking and trail running and it's dog and kid friendly. Just pay attention to the trail markers or you could have a bit of trouble finding your way out.
It's hard to imagine this was once someone's backyard, but locals have embraced it as their own since 1983 when it was donated to the state by the Rockefeller family. The land under management has grown to more than 1,400 acres and include a system of carriage roads designed to wind through the forest and wetlands over wood and stone bridges affording views of nature that were laid out by renowned landscape designer, Frederick Law Olmsted. Equestrian permits can be had, but most visitors prefer to walk the smooth and wide paths through the preserve, which is home to 180 recorded species of birds in a place of elegant and natural beauty and serenity.
Hiking the Mohonk Preserve is not free, but your fee goes to help maintain the area for everyone to enjoy, including carriage roads that make for easier hikes and even those with "overland wheelchairs" can navigate the shale-surfaced trails. In the winter, some of the carriage roads are given over for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, so heed the signs and respect the rules. This is a preserve where efforts are made by members and volunteers to maintain the conditions of the trails and keep the area pristine. Trails range from the easy .25 mile J&S Grafton Sensory Trail to the 7.5 mile High Peters Kill trail that is rated as strenuous.
The Minnewaska State Park Preserve is in the Palisades region of the state with 35 miles of carriage roads and 50 miles of footpaths. Hike through the hardwood forests of the Shawangunk Mountain range with cliffs and ledges that offer scenes of natural beauty, including three lakes and a number of waterfalls. The Shawangunk Ridge attracts migrating raptors, so look up to see what's soaring overhead and stare down into one of the "sky lakes" within the preserve, which are "pristine and often unusually clear lakes fed from rain water." Minnewaska contains a somewhat rare species of evergreen trees called pitch pines, that have adapted to the area and can be hundreds of years old. As with most preserves, restoration efforts are constantly ongoing, so check the conditions and print out or pick up a map before heading off on a hike.
The most popular hike in the Lake George region is not an easy one. It's a 3-mile loop, but the summit is 2,030 feet above sea level, so expect some difficult patches as you ascend. Like most hikes worth making, the end result will be pleasing to your eyes with 100-mile views of Lake George, the Adirondacks, the Green Mountains of Vermont and White Mountains of New Hampshire.
Rated as strenuous, with the 4.3 miles expected to take 3.5 hours, you will be going uphill a good deal of the way until you get near the top of Manitou Mountain. On the way down, spy views of the Hudson River as you gradually descend past brooks and rock outcroppings with more views of the Hudson, Iona Island and the Bear Mountain-Harriman State Park. Hikers report the views as awesome, but wish it wasn't within earshot of car traffic as that can detract from the feeling of being off the grid.
Mount Marcy is the highest mountain peak in New York State, standing tall at more than 5,300 feet. It's located in the Adirondacks region, a place known for wild and rugged beauty. The trails themselves are not considered strenuous, but are not recommended for the "out of shape" hiker or families with small children, as it's expected to take the experienced hiker six to seven hours to reach the summit. The Van Hoevenberg Trail is the most popular, accessible from Adirondack Road off of Route 73. The trail passes Marcy Dam and Phelps Brook before the steepest incline takes you to Indian Falls. From there you continue up to the tree line with incredible views, but also changeable weather with possible increases in wind or dips in temperature or visibility. Stay long enough to see all 46 of the high peaks from the summit.