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JUST AN HOUR’S DRIVE from Manhattan, the Bear Mountain Trail climbs around 1,000 feet in less than 2 miles to views over the green Hudson Highlands. With so much beauty so close to a megalopolis, this trail takes a beating: First laid out in 1923, the route was relocated seven times, most recently in 1979. Each time, narrow steps and a ball-bearing-like footpath tempted hikers to forge their own routes over the forest floor and through trailside grasses, leaving a denuded swath 40 to 50 feet wide.
In 2006, a team led by trail designer Peter Jensen and builder Eddie Walsh, who grew up 10 miles away from Bear Mountain, crafted a carrot-and-stick solution: Broad granite steps and a steady grade pleased the casual hikers flocking from the city, and a new alignment through a boulderfield and across steep slopes meant staying on the trail was the easiest option. Quarrying and crushing more than a million pounds of granite required an army of volunteer—more than 700 labored on the project before the trail opened in 2010.
For a full day in 101-year-old Bear Mountain State Park, tackle this 8-mile loop that hits all the park highlights. Start along the Appalachian Trail toward Bear Mountain, then head south after .3 mile, following the yellow blazes of the Suffern–Bear Mountain Trail to 1,257-foot West Mountain. At a junction with the blue-blazed Timp-Torne Trail, walk a couple of minutes south to the West Mountain Shelter for expansive views over the Hudson River. Follow the Timp-Torne Trail and then rejoin the AT to follow West Mountain’s bare ridgeline down to a road crossing and then back up 1,283-foot Bear Mountain. Now descend the smooth stone steps installed by Eddie Walsh and his legion of volunteers, a trail at once blatantly artificial yet completely in harmony with the Northeast’s granite landscape.
Trailhead 45 miles north of New York City ($8/car for parking); 41.31294, -73.98895Season Year-round; fall colors are spectacular starting in early October. Contact (845) 786-2701; nysparks.com/parks/13/