When I was growing up in northern New Jersey, on the border of New York State, I fell in love with hiking. Just a short walk from my house across the virtual state line was a wonderland that beckoned to be explored — Harriman and Bear Mountain State Parks.
Two parks adjoining one another that offered an amazing array of hiking adventure, history, and an eclectic array of outdoor recreational activities. It also offered first class lodging, dining, and more.
I recently went home and revisited the twin parks and was not disappointed. These gems of the Hudson Valley have not changed and once again took my heart away as they did all of those years ago.
Harriman State Park is New York State’s second oldest park, first opening in 1910. The park encompasses over 45,000 acres of beautiful mountains, 31 lakes and reservoirs, and today, boasts over 200 miles of hiking trails.
Bear Mountain State Park is situated along the western shore of the Hudson River in the town of Bear Mountain, New York. Its rugged namesake mountain rises majestically from the banks where the gleaming Bear Mountain Bridge crosses the wide river.
Travelers flock to the base of the mountain to begin their hiking adventures, take in the many outdoor activities found there, relax in the park’s pool, or dine in the beautiful rustic inn that opened here in 1915.
When visiting the New York Tri-State Area, it’s well worth your while to drive up Route 9W and pay a visit to the parks. Here are eight reasons why they are a must-visit.
1. A Hiker’s Dream: 200 Miles Of Unique Trails
Within the boundaries of the twin parks, there are over 200 miles of hiking trails that lead to the most incredible panoramic views, tranquil lakes, abandoned mines, and more.
The most famous trail that winds through the parks is the Appalachian Trail (A.T.). The first section of the famous long path was built here by volunteers and opened in 1923. The first section of the trail stretched westward from Bear Mountain through the length of Harriman and today spans the eastern seaboard from Maine to Georgia.
While there are plenty of easy-to-moderate hikes, many of the trails can be challenging as they make steep and steady climbs to the tops of ridges but are so worth the effort. Personal favorites include the 7.1-mile moderate-walking West Mountain-Timp Torne Trails with a spectacular view of the Hudson River Valley, a tranquil 3.7-mile moderate walk to Island Pond via the A.T., and the challenging 5.2-mile Ramapo Torne Loop. And, on the Ramapo Torne trek, there are even more stunning views from a tall rock bald of the surrounding mountains looking into New Jersey and, on a clear day, the New York City skyline on the horizon.
Many of the trails interconnect so you can form many different loops for any skill level. Visit the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference website for more information.
2. Perkins Memorial Tower
From the entrance to Bear Mountain State Park, take the winding Seven Lakes Drive and Perkins Memorial Tower Drive to visit the stone Perkins Memorial Tower. Here, you will be treated to breathtaking 360-degree views of the Hudson Highlands and surrounding valley.
During the Great Depression, the 1,305-foot tower was built by hand, stone-by-stone, by the young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps. The tower is named after the first president of the Palisades Park Commission, George Perkins, and is open from April through November weather permitting.
3. The Bear Mountain Inn
The first thing to greet you as you pull into the Bear Mountain’s main gate on Route 9W is the rustic elegance of the Bear Mountain Inn.
The inn was constructed by park staff using reclaimed river and mountain stones from old, abandoned buildings in the area, and cedar timbers that were cut and milled on-site.
Today, guests visiting the inn can stay in one of its 15 fully-appointed deluxe guest rooms that are described as being the “quintessential romantic Hudson Valley destination.”
The Inn also has several stone cottages that were built in the 1930s, each with six cozy rooms all connected to a common area with a large stone fireplace. Each room is outfitted with queen size beds, private bath, cable TV, and refrigerator. Each cottage has a wide porch that overlooks the beautiful Hessian Lake, the perfect place to start the morning with a hot cup of coffee.
All rooms in the cottages are ADA-accessible.
Then, there is the Overlook Lodge, with 24 nice, cozy guest rooms with a lobby that offers a gorgeous view of the Hudson River Valley.
Pet-friendly rooms are available at each location. Make reservations through the Inn’s website.
4. The Carousel
Take a trip back in time to your childhood for a ride on the glorious Bear Mountain Carousel. Located just a short 0.1-mile walk from the inn, the carousel harkens back to an earlier, innocent time — your childhood — when it was a thrill to circle endlessly on the 42 hand carved and painted seats while calliope music filled the air.
Children of all ages will love this ride housed in an elegant stone and timber rotunda. Contact the park for current operating hours and prices.
5. Year-Round Recreation
Bear Mountain has been a favorite destination for locals, tourists, and city dwellers for decades because of its seasonal amenities.
In mid-June, the park opens its large swimming pool. From spring through fall, rental a paddle boat and take a quiet paddle on Hessian Lake. And in winter, break out the ice skates or rent a pair and practice your salchow around the park’s ice rink.
Speaking of ice skating, you are allowed to skate on several lakes within Harriman State Park including Lake Tiorati, Lake Welch, and Silver Mine Lake, but being on an open lake in wintertime means special rules apply.
Check the Bear Mountain website for updated fees and schedule for all outdoor activities.
6. The Trailside Zoo And Museum
Take the short, leisurely walk from the inn, down a paved walkway that is actually part of the Appalachian Trail, and visit the park’s Trailside Zoo and Museum.
The zoo and museum features a self-guided walking trail that leads you past exhibits that introduce you to the area’s ecology and history. Along the forested route, you will experience native gardens and incredible geologic features.
In the zoo, you will see black bear, porcupine, deer, bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, and more. A variety of local reptiles and fish will be seen at the Amphibians, Reptiles, and Fish Museum.
There is also a nature study and geology museum as well as a butterfly garden. And for history buffs, stop to see the redoubts of Fort Clinton that played a role in the Revolutionary War and an extra side trail that leads to historic Fort Montgomery.
The zoo and museum are open daily from 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m. There is a $1 admission donation per person that helps keep the facility operating.
7. Dining Experiences
Dining is as much of an experience as anything at Bear Mountain State Park. The Bear Mountain Inn offers two distinct dining experiences. The first, and my favorite since I am an avid hiker, is the Hiker’s Café.
Located on the side of the inn, the café serves up traditional and quick American fare — hamburgers, hot dogs, grab-and-go sandwiches, salads, and even hearty breakfasts. It is a relaxing, casual atmosphere where hikers — especially those through hiking the A.T. — gather to grab a quick, delicious breakfast or lunch. It’s a wonderful place to sit and chat with them to hear about their adventures.
On the opposite end of the scale is the Restaurant 1915 and Blue Roof Bar. As its name implies, it was opened in 1915 and serves some of the most delicious and creative global cuisine you’ll find anywhere.
Start with your favorite beverage from their full wine and specialty menu. Then, try their delicious pork back ribs marinated in ginger and soy, and side pickled vegetable salad; or try a cheese and charcuterie board brimming with local and imported cheeses, artisan meats, honeycomb olives, fig cake, and toasted baguette.
8. Harriman State Park Campgrounds
Harriman State Park has several nice campgrounds available and one of the best is Beaver Pond located at Lake Welch. Beaver Pond is open for both tent and RV camping. Each site allows for two tents or RVs/trailers up to 30 feet long. There are no electrical hookups.
If you don’t want the hassle of bringing your own tent, TentRR has nice and big four-wall cabin tents already set up at some of the most desirable lakeside camping locations in the park.
People flock to Bear Mountain from all over the world, so expect it to be crowded most anytime of the year. If you plan to stay at the inn, make your reservations well in advance — at least 6 months ahead of time.
There is no admission fee to hike in Harriman but there may be a parking fee at the lakes if you plan on swimming or ice skating. There is a $10 parking fee at the Bear Mountain parking area near the inn.
Check out some of the most popular hiking trails in the country: