Bear Mountain: NYC's Urban Antidote

Harriman/Bear Mountain State Park is only an hour from Manhattan, but you'll feel like you're worlds away.
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Harriman/Bear Mountain State Park is only an hour from Manhattan, but you'll feel like you're worlds away.

New York City, 3 p.m., Friday. The boss just parked a special project on your desk with instructions to have it completed by close of business. So much for getting to the Adirondacks by nightfall. But wait, all is not lost. Hustle that project through by a decent hour and traffic gods willing, you can be camped before dark in a beautiful setting with a full weekend of challenging hiking ahead.

Just an hour north of New York City lies one of the state's leading hiking resources: 51,600-acre Harriman/Bear Mountain State Park, which serves up 225 miles of marked and well-maintained trails arrayed in a spider web-like network. You can escape for a weekend or backpack for a week following paths to lakes, swamps, rocky summits, and even abandoned iron mines.

A recent trip found me atop Bald Rocks along the Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail, from which vistas of the distant Catskills opened to the northwest. Continuing along the Dunning Trail, I passed through laurel thickets onto boulder-strewn expanses of bare rock in an area appropriately called Bowling Rocks.

No matter which trail you choose, the open landscape holds rewards big and small. West Mountain shelter on Timp-Torne Trail looks east toward a wide stretch of the Hudson River. From Big Hill shelter at the intersection of the Long Path and Suffern-Bear Mountain Trail, you can catch panoramic views of Rockland County to the southeast. From Bear Mountain, the park high point, you can see the New York skyline 35 miles to the south on a clear day. But you'll be seeing plenty of those concrete canyons come Monday morning.

QUICK TAKE: Harriman/Bear Mountain State Park, New York

DRIVE TIME: The park is about 35 miles (1 hour) north of New York City.

THE WAY: From New York City, take the New York State Thruway (I-87) north to exit 13 N (Palisades Interstate Parkway North). Park access is from exits 15 through 19. The park visitor center is between exits 16 and 17 in the center island. City dwellers can take PATH to Hoboken where they can pick up the Port Jervis line to Tuxedo Station, then walk into the park. Call (212) 532-4900 for the schedule.

TRAILS: Forty-three marked trails cover 225 miles. Another 103 miles of trail are unmarked. The Appalachian Trail traverses the park for 20 miles.

ELEVATION: Nearly sea level at the Hudson River to 1,305 feet atop Bear Mountain.

CAN'T MISS: The Hogencamp Mine, one of roughly 20 abandoned iron mines dotting the park, can be reached via the Dunning Trail.

CROWD CONTROL: Crowds swarm certain areas of the park on summer and fall weekends. Visit off-season or midweek, or try a remote area of the park.

PIT STOP: The Orange Top in Tuxedo, serving Italian-American food, is a hiker's favorite. It's located on NY 17, less than 5 miles west of the park on the left.

WALK SOFTLY: Camping is allowed only in shelters. Shelters closest to the park roads go quickly. Hikers are asked to share space (shelters sleep six to eight).

MAP AND GUIDES: The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference sells a two-map set of the park ($6.95, plus 95 cents postage and handling), and Harriman Trails: A Guide and History, by William J. Myles ($14.95 plus $1.95 postage and handling). Both are available at the address below or at the visitor center. New York residents must add sales tax.

MORE INFORMATION: New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, 232 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016; (212) 685-9699; http://www.NYNJTC.ORG.