Hiking up Bear Mountain, New York

Last autumn, I traveled with my wife Rachel and parents up the Hudson River by ferry from New York City to Bear Mountain.  Inspired by the natural splendor on display, I decided to try to come back to upstate New York this year.  Traveling by water left precious little time at Bear Mountain.  In addition, we now had a ten week-old baby, with associated baby stuff…this would have to be a road trip.  We’ve been taking Baby Dana out and about since right after she was born.  We’ve taken her to restaurants, parks, and even ballroom dancing and she did great flying to California to meet relatives earlier in the month.

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Autumn foliage on Bear Mountain, New York.  Lowell Silverman photography, 2015

Having a newborn does make getting an early start something of a challenge.  We didn’t get on the road until around 9:20 am on Saturday, October 29, 2016.  Heading across the Delaware River and up the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway, we arrived in our road trip base of operations (the Hilton Garden Inn in Nanuet, New York) just before noon.  In a curious quirk of fate, I learned from my parents after I booked the room that the hotel was a block away from where my great aunt Rose once lived.  Her grand old house at 46 Hutton Avenue—which I’d visited only once as a newborn over three decades before—and the camp run by my great uncle nearby were gone, replaced by a Home Depot.

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Bear Mountain Inn

Nanuet is about a 30 minutes south of Bear Mountain by car via the scenic Pallisades Interstate Parkway.  After Dana and Rachel got some food and a nap, we joined my mother and north.  We arrived at the Bear Mountain Inn 2:45 pm and paid a $10 fee to park near the Bear Mountain Inn (appears to be on weekends only).  The area was crowded with other “leaf peepers.”  During our 2015 visit, there hadn’t been enough time to scale Bear Mountain, and doing so was a top priority.  The mountain can be hiked or, when Perkins Memorial Drive is open, simply driven up.

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Map of the hike up Bear Mountain, starting near Hessian Lake and finishing at Perkins Memorial Tower. The green pin midway up is the clearing discussed below.  Imagery via Google.

We picked up the trail at the foot of Bear Mountain, near the shores of Hessian Lake.  The trail is contiguous with the famed Maine to Georgia Appalachian Trail, with white blazes marking the route.  The trail ascends fairly steeply via stairs and switchbacks through the forested slopes of the mountain, rising about 1,100 vertical feet (335 vertical meters).

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Trail up Bear Mountain.  Lowell Silverman photography, 2016

By ordinary standards the trail wasn’t particularly difficult and the trail was crowded with decidedly non-hiking types.  Having a baby along did make things a bit more complicated.  Rachel had the baby in a chest harness and grumbled that I hadn’t told her to bring more water.

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Rachel and Dana ascending Bear Mountain

Baby Dana didn’t mind hiking in the harness at all; the warmth and movement typically puts her right to sleep.  Still, Rachel had to hike carefully and the baby’s position obstructed her vision, so she had to take it slow.  It was generally cloudy, although some sunshine appeared as we climbed.

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View from the clearing towards Iona Island and the Hudson River

About one mile into the hike, at about 655 feet (200 meters) altitude, we came to a clearing that provided a clear view south along the Hudson River.  It was now around 3:30 pm and we had a little over two hours of sunlight left.  Rachel and my mom decided to descend and get the car, while I continued to Perkins Memorial Tower (which was accessible by road as well).  In short order I was up to the end of Perkins Memorial Drive.  Rachel called me to say she didn’t feel comfortable going down the trail’s stairs carrying the baby, and she would continue ascending as well.

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Foliage atop Bear Mountain

The Appalachian Trail cuts across the top of Bear Mountain, crossing the sweeping loops of Perkins Memorial Drive three times on the way to the Perkins Memorial Tower.  The trail provides better views of the forest atop the mountain, but bypasses an overlook along the drive that provides an unobstructed view of the Hudson River below.

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Just prior to the tower, the trail passed through a field filled with an unfamiliar red plant.  I arrived at the tower just before 4:30 pm, just as the clouds were rolling back into the area.  The viewpoint was crowded with both hikers and people who’d driven up.

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Perkins Memorial Tower

I took a quick look from the top of the tower.  The new One World Trade Center tower was visible through thick haze at a distance of 41 miles (66.5 km).  The Empire State Building and other structures making up the New York City skyline were also visible.

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New York City skyline as seen from Bear Mountain with a superzoom camera

I headed back the way I’d come in order to meet Rachel, this time sticking to the Perkins Memorial Drive.  At the east end of the drive, there is a pullout with a spectacular view of the Hudson River and the Bear Mountain Bridge.  I reached Rachel just as my mom arrived with the car.  We all agreed that our sometimes haphazard travel planning wasn’t going to work anymore now that we had a baby.

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Bear Mountain Bridge, the Hudson River, and Hessian Lake as seen from Perkins Memorial Drive

On Monday morning, I drove back to Bear Mountain while Rachel and the baby slept in.  The weekend crowds were gone and I don’t think I encountered more than a dozen people walking in the area.  With the passage of a cold front on Sunday afternoon, the clouds of the previous two days were gone. The trees could finally display their full autumn splendor.  Some of the images in the gallery below were processed from raw in Photoshop Elements with a cloudy white balance, as auto white balance tends to make the foliage colors too cool and subdued.

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Bear Mountain and Hessian Lake

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Trail circling Hessian Lake

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