October 15, 2016 – Sleepy Hollow, NY
Length: approximately 2.5 miles
Route type: circuit
Rockwood Hall is the site of the former summer home of William Rockefeller (1841-1922), brother of John D. Rockefeller. In 1886, he purchased Rockwood, a 200-acre estate, and built Rockwood Hall, a mansion with 204 rooms. Frederick Law Olmsted designed the landscape, which includes many ornamental trees. Following Rockefeller’s death in 1922, the estate was converted into a country club, which soon went bankrupt. In 1937, the property was acquired by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., William’s nephew, who arranged for the mansion to be razed in 1941-42.
The Rockefeller family donated Rockwood Hall to New York State in 1999, and it is now part of Rockefeller State Park Preserve. Although the buildings are gone, the foundations remain, and the carriage roads that were constructed by the Rockefeller family, make for good hiking, with panoramic views of the Hudson River.
I grew up in the area and Rockwood has always been my go to place. Since high school I have visited this great gift that the Rockefeller family bestowed to us. I can remember cutting class on the first warm day of Spring and going to Rockwood, finding numerous other classmates already there enjoying the day. Frisbees, boomboxes, leather wine sacks and other unmentionables were a part of the landscape at Rockwood. I remember once the school came up there with a school bus and teachers trying to corral us truant teens and bring us back to school. Some gave up easily, but many, such as myself retreated into the woods until the coast was clear. Visiting this place always brings back memories of my youth.
I have hiked all over Rockwood many times, but it was mostly just wandering and just seeing where the trail took me. I don’t remember any of the trails being blazed back then, nor a map being available, but now they are and much easier to follow as well. I wanted to do a blog post about it that was a little more detailed, so I roughly followed one that I found on the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference website. This is a nice introduction hike into the Rockefeller State Park Preserve, which Rockwood Hall is a part of.
We parked in the lot by the entrance which is located at the intersection of Phelps Way and Rockwood Road. This is the GPS location of the parking area. The lot holds about 22 cars, but does fill up, especially on weekends. We crossed the road and proceeded past the chained off area and up the road into the park.
We walked up the paved road and veered right at the kiosk.
Just past the kiosk on the left are some interesting rock formations, so we took a few minutes to climb on them and just check them out.
Once we were done checking out the rock formaton, we jumped on the cobblestone path that gave us a glimpse of the Hudson River and was always the first sign of the beauty of Rockwood.
Back in the day, once you turned that corner, you would be able to see all of the people that were enjoying a day off from school. From the cobblestone path all the way down towards the river is laughing hill. Way back when, they used to keep it nicely mowed and there would be groups on blankets lounging all over the hillside.
A nice view of the Palisades and the Hudson River open up at this point.
Just off to the right, just across from laughing hill, is what I have always called the “umbrella tree.” Whenever it rained many of us would gather under this tree to stay dry.
We continued along the cobblestone path towards the foundation of the once majestic mansion that overlooked the river.
The foundation was where the majority of us hung out. The foundation walls make for a good place to sit and the view isn’t bad either.
Once we walked through the foundation, we turned left and followed the carriage road as it descended slightly. At a break in the wall we went left and followed a trail towards another rock formation that I usually visit every time I come here.
Bearing slightly right when the unmarked trail fades out, we arrived at a split in the rock formation, where there are stone steps that bring you down in between them.
There are a few crevasses which we used to crawl through and enter cave like chambers. I didn’t enter any on this day, but I remember them well.
Once we were done exploring these rock formations, we jumped back on the carriage road and proceeded to the “Upper Trail,” which is just past the break in the wall where we veered off the carriage road.
This gravel road led us past a meadow that had some decent fall colors.
We continued along this picturesque trail……
and another nice view opened up to our left.
The trail ended at a gate, where we turned left and followed Rockwood Road down over a concrete bridge which carries the road over Rockwood Hall Brook. The hike description says to turn left, but we saw some interesting stone walls that extended far beyond the bridge and we bushwacked through pricker bushes to investigate. We came to a small pond that feeds Rockwood Hall Brook and stopped for a few minutes.
We walked across a small dam and headed underneath the bridge.
It looked more like an abandoned road than a brook.
This wall was quite long and I assume it was built to support the weight of the vehicular traffic on the bridge and to prevent erosion and runoff into the brook.
When we were done pondering the reason for such a well built wall that was well hidden, we walked back through the pricker bushes and onto Rockwood Road. We crossed over and continued on our hike. We walked across five small bridges that spanned the brook in close proximity.
We followed this trail, which I believe is named the “Lower Trail,” all the way near the edge of the river. There we came to a bench where we sat for a minute and captured some images of the cliffs of the Palisades.
We walked south on the Lower Trail which paralleled the river. I saw another rock formation that was a little different than the others. It sat out in the open and I have hung out there before, but I figured it was a good place to stop.
I’m glad that we stopped here because all of a sudden we looked up at the tree that was within feet of us and a Red-tailed Hawk was just sitting there on a branch.
This is the closest I had ever been to any bird of prey and we just continued snapping away.
It seemed to be posing for us as we just sat there enthralled by it’s presence.
Once our feathery friend flew off and swooped down on some prey, we hoofed it up laughing hill and back to the mansion foundation.
We walked back to the foundation an descended the stone steps, walking along the west side of the stone walls where the mansion once stood.
We walked around the foundation and entered onto it once again. We walked down another set of stone steps to the lower foundation.
We descended the double stone staircase at the east end of the lower foundation and headed for a small rock formation that afforded some shade. From there we had two distinct views. First was a nice view of the foundation itself.
Looking north across the field was very attractive also.
After sitting on the rocks for a bit, we decided to take off. It was another gorgeous day at Rockwood Hall, and we fully enjoyed our visit. I hope that you enjoyed the hike and the images captured from that day. Until next time folks, now get out there and take a hike!