A Guide to Hiking Bear Mountain


Tourists arrive at the summit of Bear Mountain. See more national park pictures.
Johann Schumacher/Peter Arnold/Getty Images

While standing among the skyscrapers in the busy streets of Manhattan, it can be hard to imagine that the tranquil and beautiful wilderness of Bear Mountain lies just 45 miles (72.4 kilometers) away. Some say that the mountain got its name because it resembles a resting bear. Some called it Bread Tray, however, because from the east it looked like a plate of bread. It also earned the nickname of "Bare Mountain" because the demands of the iron industry for charcoal resulted in cutting down many of the trees.

If it weren't for the intervention of some wealthy citizens, however, Bear Mountain would not be a state park, as it is today, but rather the site of a prison. In the early 1900s, the state planned to relocate the Sing Sing Prison there, but local residents, including E.W. Harriman, opposed the project and donated money and land for the establishment of a state park in 1910.

So what is there for a hiker to do on Bear Mountain? See the following pages for a guide to one of New York State's most popular destinations.

Bear Mountain Hiking: Appalachian Trail

Bear Mountain along the Appalachian Trail offers plenty of beautiful sites.
Bear Mountain along the Appalachian Trail offers plenty of beautiful sites.
Robert Vizzini/Workbook Stock/Getty Images

Today, the Appalachian Trail is a famous long-distance trail spanning from Georgia to Maine that some attempt to hike in one season. But when the idea of the Appalachian Trail was first proposed, it was simply thought to be a series of retreat, farming and work camps along the Appalachians, where city-dwellers could occasionally return to nature. Hiking wasn't really the purpose of the Appalachian Trail at the beginning -- instead, the idea was to have a particular trail to connect the camps. That's what made Bear Mountain, located so close to New York City, such a perfect place to start forming the trail back in the early 1920s.

The Bear Mountain portion of the Appalachian Trail reaches an elevation of 1,305 feet (397.8 meters) for breath-taking views of the Hudson River. This part of the trail also puts the hiker through a series of ups and downs, as it also contains the lowest point of the trail that sinks to 120 feet (36.6 meters) above sea level [source: Adkins]. As it happens, this low point is located at the Trailside Museum and Zoo, which acts as a refuge to injured local wildlife.

Bear Mountain Hiking: Perkins Tower

When it was completed in 1934, the Perkins Memorial Tower atop Bear Mountain was dedicated by then-president Franklin Roosevelt. It is dedicated to George W. Perkins, the president of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, who died in 1920. In addition to helping form several trails, Perkins was credited with saving the Palisades (the west bank of the Hudson River) from quarry operators.

The Civillian Conservation Corps, a public program established under Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, took on responsibility for building the tower. And the tower still stands as a popular tourist attraction for hikers. Consisting of five flights, each floor contains exhibitions. Photographs in the exhibitions include ones of the tower being built, as well as boats bearing loads of tourists across the Hudson River.

The top floor of the tower holds a spectacular view of the surrounding wilderness, as well as a view of the Manhattan skyline on a clear day.

Bear Mountain Hiking: River Lookouts

The Bear Mountain Bridge spans the Hudson River.
The Bear Mountain Bridge spans the Hudson River.
Visions of America/Joe Sohm/Photodisc/Getty Images

Whichever trail you decide to take, you'll encounter several scenic outlooks of the Hudson River while climbing Bear Mountain. The Bear Mountain Office also points out that the zoo actually provides a great view of the river, as well. Although it's the lowest point on the Appalachian Trail, the zoo is nevertheless situated at about 120 feet (36.6 meters) above sea level.

If you stand and take look at the Hudson River as it flows past Manhattan in New York City, it might be hard to believe that almost 50 miles () away lies the Bear Mountain Bridge. Several lookouts on Bear Mountain will offer excellent views of the Bear Mountain Bridge, completed in 1924. It was commissioned because of the popularity of Bear Mountain, and became the first vehicular bridge between New York and Albany. At the time it was opened, it was actually the longest suspension bridge in the world.

The bridge might be high above the water, but some of the terrain around Bear Mountain reaches even higher. Read more about the land on the next page.

Bear Mountain Hiking: Elevation and Terrain

The terrain surrounding Bear Mountain is relatively low.
The terrain surrounding Bear Mountain is relatively low.
Stephen Mallon/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Bear Mountain reaches the relatively modest height of 1,305 feet (397.8 meters). But for casual and serious hikers alike, it makes for a nice afternoon excursion to the top. Two trails can take you to the top of the mountain. The first is the Appalachian Trail, mostly consisting of more than 700 stone steps. This is the easier of the two hikes. It also isn't too difficult of a hike for children, so it makes for a good family hiking trip.

The second trail is called the Major Welch Trail and is a little more challenging. According to the Bear Mountain Office, they only recommend the Major Welch Trail for more seasoned hikers. However, if you're up for the challenge, you'll be rewarded with some stunning views. About three-quarters of the way up the Major Welch Trail you will encounter a great view of the Bear Mountain Bridge over the Hudson.

Bear Mountain Hiking: Campsites

Unfortunately, there are no campsites on Bear Mountain, and the Bear Mountain State Park doesn't allow visitors to camp there. Luckily, it's so close to the city that urbanites can come for a day trip. But if you want an overnight stay, there are other options.

For instance, Beaver Pond Campground is not far from Bear Mountain and includes tent and trailer sites. It even offers laundry and bathroom facilities with showers.

Bear Mountain Inn is situated within the state park at the base of the mountain and overlooking Hessian Lake. It's also an historic inn that dates back to 1915, and was even a training location for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Inn has been recently renovated and reopened in 2012 after being closed for years.

Bear Mountain Hiking: Bike Trails

Harriman State Park also borders Bear Mountain.
Harriman State Park also borders Bear Mountain.
Ron and Patty Thomas/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Biking is allowed on the paved paths on Bear Mountain. The Bear Mountain Office does warn, however, that biking is not allowed in the zoo, and that cyclists are required to wear a helmet. If you're looking for a good scenic bike route, try the West Mountain Loop from the Anthony Waye Recreation area. (To get there, you can take exit 17 off the parkway.) Mountain biking is not permitted at Bear Mountain off of these trails.

For road biking, a popular route is 7 Lakes Drive, a scenic route that extends about 20 miles (32.2 kilometers) between Sloatsburg, N.Y. and Bear Mountain. Another possible road biking option is taking Perkins Memorial Drive to the top of the mountain. However, the Bear Mountain Office cautions that this a tough ride and really for advanced cyclists. Because it is windy and narrow, the Bear Mountain State Park doesn't encourage it, but it's still allowed.

Although there aren't any bike paths on Bear Mountain, Perkins Memorial Drive is a paved road that will take you all the way to the top, where Perkins Memorial Tower sits.

Need more hiking information? See the links on the next page to get your outdoor fix.

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Sources

  • Adkins, Leonard M. "The Appalachian Trail." Menasha Ridge Press, 1998. (May 22, 2012) http://books.google.com/books?id=X_-BYGKyPsUC
  • Bear Mountain Inn. "History of Bear Mountain." Bear Mountain State Park. (May 22, 2012) http://www.visitbearmountain.com/history.htm
  • Coffey, Ronnie Clark. "Bear Mountain." Arcadia Publishing, 2008. (May 22, 2012) http://books.google.com/books?id=VlpHmkfquFIC
  • Giraud, Carolyn. Bear Mountain Office. Personnal Correspondence. May 22, 2012.
  • Lillard, David. "Appalachian Trail Names." Stackpole Books, 2002. (May 22, 2012) http://books.google.com/books?id=XRsC_EBRPEwC
  • NYSBA. "Bear Mountain Bridge." New York State Bridge Authority. (May 22, 2012) http://www.nysba.state.ny.us/bridgepages/bmb/bmbpage/bmb_page.htm
  • NYSParks. "Bear Mountain State Park." New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation. (May 22, 2012) http://nysparks.com/parks/13/details.aspx
  • NYSParks. "Beaver Pond Campgrounds." New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation. (May 22, 2012) http://nysparks.com/parks/116/details.aspx
  • Stutzman, Paul V. "Hiking Through." BookPros, LLC, 2010. (May 22, 2012) http://books.google.com/books?id=o9G5hii5aNgC