July 7, 2016 – Closter, NJ
Length: approximately 5.5 miles
Route type: circuit
View a more recent version of this hike HERE
Palisades Interstate Park is on the western shore of the Hudson River in northeastern New Jersey and also stretches into Rockland County, NY. It is about 12 miles long, a half-mile wide, and encompasses 2,500 acres of wild Hudson River shorefront, uplands, and cliffs. The Palisades affords some great views of Manhattan and the Hudson River.
I have done numerous hikes in the park which is just across the river from where I live. The one hike that I was dying to do was the Giant Stairs hike. It is the most strenuous hike in the park and I have been wanting to do it for quite some time. On this day we did a variation of the hike listed on the NY/NJ Trail Conference website. Although there are many steep sections of stairs throughout the park in order to navigate the steep cliffs in such a short distance, “Giant Stairs” refers to a mile long section of jumbled boulders that are part of the white blazed Shore Trail that runs along the Hudson River. Most of which is 100 vertical feet above the river.
The day of this hike called for temperatures in the 90’s, high humidity and a poor air quality alert. probably not the wisest decision on my part to choose to do such a tough hike on a day like this, but I did. It was exactly a year ago to the day that I did Breakneck Ridge under similar circumstances and it kicked my ass. This day would be no different.
We arrived at the State Line Lookout to find flyers posted about a missing man whose car was found in the parking lot several days earlier. More on this later. We began at the NW section of the parking lot following the aqua blazed Long Path which then runs jointly with Trail A.
I had done a portion of this hike 4 days earlier( Women’s Federation Monument Loop Hike ) so I decided to take a more gradual descent towards the river than have to walk down the steep steps which the NY/NJ Trail Conference suggests. By taking this route it also added mileage to our hike. We took the Forest View trail towards the Women’s Federation Monument and snapped a few photographs.
From there we continued on the Forest View trail which was now joined by the Long Path. The trail split where the Long Path went uphill and to the left (which would have been the way we came down if we took the suggested route) and the Forest View trail turned right and descended towards the river.
This is where the day got interesting to say the least. As we were about to descend the trail towards the river I wanted to stop and take a shot of the sign pictured above. Right after taking that shot we heard a tree cracking and a few seconds later it broke and fell down with a thundering roar upon the trail just a few feet from where we were standing. If we didn’t stop when we did that tree would have come crashing down on top of us. That was a close call. The tree blanketed the stairs along the trail and we had to climb over and around it to get by.
Once getting past that obstacle we proceeded down the trail which descended steeply on a narrow path and switchbacks towards the Shore Trail and the river.
The Forest View trail ended at a T-intersection with the Shore Trail where we took a left and began to follow the white blazes. It was a nice level walk at this point which led out to an area filled with vines. At this point the Palisades cliffs were on our left and the Hudson River was to our right.
As we neared the Giant Stairs there was a Park vehicle sitting across the trail. When I didn’t see any park personnel nearby, I knew that it had something to do with the missing man on the posted flyer that we had seen earlier.
We continued on and began the arduous undertaking which was the Giant Stairs. I have to say that this part of the hike was not easy for me on this day. I attributed this to having had only 3 hours of sleep the previous night combined with the heat, humidity and poor air quality. I had to stop often to rest as I felt the strength and stamina being sucked out of my body. I am a trooper so I was going to complete this hike no matter what. Click on the ensuing images to enlarge.
Not too long after beginning the Giant Stairs section of the hike we saw a helicopter hovering above. News 12 was on the scene covering the missing man which I now assumed was a recovery effort. We saw some park employees along the trail and were told that they had found a body just above us on a cliff. Emergency workers were trying to recover the body and from the location I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. You can read about it here.
As we continued on I was really feeling the ill effects of the weather along with the strenuous nature of the hike. I was guzzling water and stopping frequently to catch my breath. My hiking partner had no difficulties whatsoever. Somewhere along the way I lost a bottle of water and that surely didn’t help.
After a mile (which felt much longer) of maneuvering along the giant boulders and talus field we were at Peanut Leap Cascade and the ruins of the Italian Garden. Peanut Leap wasn’t more than a trickle, but after a good rainfall it is supposed to be spectacular.
The ruins, which are remnants of an Italian Garden built around 1900 were pretty cool.
Click on the ensuing images to enlarge.
There was a nice breeze coming in off the river which seemed to come from the impending thunderstorms, but at this point I was in no hurry to climb 550 feet back up the cliff. I was tempted to sit on this swing that was hanging from a tree by the shore, but thought better of it.
After a lengthy rest at river’s edge and darkening skies, it was time to go.
The Shore Trail continued up over the ruins…..
and almost immediately to our right another tree snapped and came crashing down. It barreled down the hilly slope taking out smaller trees in it’s path until it came to rest on the banks of the river. Another close call. We continued up the Shore Trail where we caught up to the Long Path. As we followed the Long Path up to old Route 9W it began to pour. We got totally drenched as we walked the last mile back to the State Line Lookout. The most eventful hike I have ever done. I was wiped out and vowed that I wouldn’t revisit this hike again. As I write this, a day removed from this journey, I would definitely do this hike again. Next time in cooler weather. Until next time, happy trails………