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Backpacker Magazine – August 2000

New York's Long Path: Winning The Rat Race

Even when you're trapped in the nation's most crowded metropolis, backwoods relief is only a short hike down a Long Path.

by: Jonathan Dorn

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Expedition Planner:
The Long Path, NY

Trail description: The Long Path begins at the bottom of the steps descending from the pedestrian walkway on the north side of the George Washington Bridge (GWB) in Fort Lee, New Jersey. From these unlikely beginnings, it runs 329 miles almost due north to its current terminus in John Boyd Thatcher State Park near Albany, New York.

The trail initially follows the dramatic Palisades escarpment with views of Manhattan and the Hudson River before turning into the village of Nyack and winding through Harriman State Park and the gentle but scenic Ramapo Mountains. Roughly 60 trail miles north of the GWB, the path dips back down into the Hudson Valley, hopscotching on and off roads for the next 50 miles. Then come the white cliffs and high lakes of the Shawangunks, mountains beloved by rock climbers, and soon Catskill Park, where the Long Path rambles over 95 miles of rugged, rocky trail and some of the highest peaks in the range. North of the Catskills, the route drops lower and passes through several state reforestation lands; highlights of the home stretch include the Schoharie Valley, Vroman's Nose, and the Endless Mountains.

Most Long Path aficionados I've chatted with stick to the wilder backcountry portions of the trail (including the four hikes described below), avoiding the long road walks and no-camping areas of more populated sections. Thru-hiking the Long Path takes about a month. Your proximity to roads and villages for much of the route makes resupply fairly easy, and finding lean-to or tent space is rarely a problem on state land. Plan to spend a few nights in hotels between the GWB and Harriman, however, and expect some high-mileage days traversing private land.

The Long Path is reliably marked, but you should carry your guidebook on every outing to navigate the numerous, sometimes confusing trail intersections, road and railway crossings, and property markers. The level of difficulty is easy to moderate, except in the more vertical Catskills. In dry summers, water can be scarce.

Best hikes

1. Harriman State Park is loaded with loop-hike possibilities, but an end-to-end run on the Long Path provides a gratifying 30-mile tour through a diverse landscape of granite outcrops, quiet lakes, grassy woods roads, wetlands, Revolutionary-era iron mines, and hardwood forests that explode with color in autumn. Hike it south to north to save the best scenery for last. Don't miss a short detour to the aptly named Lemon Squeezer, and stay on the trail up north, where the path skirts the West Point Military Reservation.

2. Strong hikers can knock off the Catskills' famed high-peaks trio-Slide, Cornell, and Wittenberg-in one long day with an early start and wise car placement. But why miss spending several days in the high country and a night at the site of the former Denning Lean-To beside the picturesque East Branch of the Neversink River? I like to hike this 19-mile section north to south, beginning at Woodland Valley campground, spending a night in the saddle between Slide and Cornell to summit Slide near dawn, dropping down to Denning for night 2, then finishing with an early-morning traverse to Peekamoose Road, where we grab a car and race back to Phoenicia for pecan-encrusted French toast at Sweet Sue's.

3. From Mink Hollow to Kaaterskill Cove in the Catskills, the Long Path punishes you with the most strenuous sustained climbing along the whole route, while rewarding you with some of the path's best mountain and waterfall views. The first half of this 22.5-mile hike traverses Sugarloaf and Twin Mountains on the infamous Devil's Path, a butt-busting trail with rough charms of its own (see "Tough Love," October 1999). Diverging from the Devil's Path, your route continues north past Buttermilk and Wildcat Falls, which cascade hundreds of feet into canyonlike Kaaterskill Cove.

4. My favorite stretch of the Long Path runs 18.5 miles from North Lake Campground to NY 23 in East Windham on the northern border of Catskill Park. Follow the Escarpment Trail past viewpoints made famous by painters of the Hudson River School, plus Blackhead Mountain, the Long Path's second highest peak, and Windham High Peak, where rock outcrops offer outstanding views to the north and east. Hike this section in either direction, but don't miss a dip in North Lake when you finish or come back to retrieve your car.

Longer hike options: Link hikes 3 and 4, which are separated by a steep 5-mile climb in and out of Kaaterskill Cove, for a terrific 46-mile, 4- or 5-day tour of some of the most beautiful and rugged country in the Catskills. Or combine hikes 2, 3, and 4 for one of the East Coast's premier weeklong backpacking trips.

Trail access: The Long Path is easily accessed via the Palisades Parkway or New York Thruway, and one of many state and local roads intersecting the trail. Harriman State Park is 45 minutes north of Manhattan; 3 hours gets you to the central Catskills. Boston, New Haven, and even Philadelphia are close enough for a weekend outing, thanks to direct road approaches. Public transportation is a viable option from Manhattan. For bus and train directions to points near the Long Path and other trails, check www.nynjtc.org/trails/no-car.html.

Several short stretches of the Long Path are currently closed, and most of the mileage across private land closes during hunting season. To check closures and route changes, visit the Web sites of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference www.nynjtc.org/trails/longpath) or Long Path committee chairman Howie Dash (http://members.aol.com/howiedash/howied.html).

Camping: This is strictly regulated along most of the Long Path. Read your guidebook carefully before you hit the trail. Several well-situated campgrounds charge during the summer season.

Season: Snow lingers late in the Catskills, making the trail's premier range a slushy, slippery mess. Better to save the high peaks for the drier, less buggy days of late summer and fall. For real solitude, wait for winter's first storm, then grab snowshoes (plus crampons for the high peaks) and try any of the hikes listed here.

Guides: Guide to the Long Path (NYNJTC, $9.95). Leave map and compass behind, but not this essential guidebook, which describes every turn, trail junction, parking area, and campsite.

Useful resources for designing loop hikes around sections of the Long Path, all available from the NY-NJTC (see Contact, below): Harriman-Bear Mountain Trails (2 maps, $7.95); Catskill Trails (5 maps, $13.95); Guide to Catskill Trails ($16.95).

Contact: New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, (212) 685-9699; www.nynjtc.org.


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