October 21, 2017 – West Park, NY
Length: Approximately 4 miles
Max elevation: 439 ft.– total elevation gain approximately 396 ft.
Route type: Circuit
Map: Trail Guide
No admission fee. Donations are welcome.
Trailhead parking: 103 Burroughs Drive – Highland, NY 12528
Please note: The listed address is 261 Floyd Ackert Road, but the entrance is at 103 Burroughs Drive.
John Burroughs (1837-1921) was one of the most popular and influential authors of his day and is considered the originator of the modern nature essay. The inspiration for many of his essays was the wild land around Slabsides. Through works written at Slabsides about nature close at hand there, Burroughs had a profound impact on the emerging conservation movement and inspired generations of readers to head out of doors and national leaders to preserve land and its wildlife.
The John Burroughs Nature Sanctuary is a pristine and rugged 200-acre oasis set in the Mid-Hudson River Valley. It is where John Burroughs built his rustic cabin Slabsides, a National Historic Landmark and a Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area site.
The John Burroughs Association owns and maintains Slabsides and the surrounding 200-acre John Burroughs Nature Sanctuary with its network of trails that make up a part of the broader regional Hudson River Valley Greenway Trail system. The trails, rated easy to moderate, take you among rocky ridges and out to a peninsula in a stunning eight-acre pond enabling you to experience the same forest and wildlife that Burroughs reveled in over a hundred years ago.
As a lover of the outdoors, I was curious about the setting that inspired such a famous writer. From what I had read, it sounded like the ideal place to explore and as Burroughs once said “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” I decided to see for myself and paid a visit on a Saturday morning. Arriving shortly before 10:00 am, I was surprised that there weren’t any other cars parked along the road. There is no formal parking area and visitors are directed to park on the road.
After parking on Burroughs Drive, I walked up the driveway to begin the hike.
A banner strung across the entrance, welcomes visitors to John Burroughs’ backyard.
A sign on a tree next to the entrance cautions visitors about hunters on the property. I did not see any on my visit, but wearing bright orange clothing is a good idea anytime that you are in the woods.
Even though there are some homes nearby, walking down an old logging road, the tranquility of the area made it feel as I was descending into the wilderness.
The road comes to a fork, the right fork leads to private property, marked with a sign on a tree. I took the left fork on the old logging road.
To the left of the road, is a quote by John Burroughs.
Just past the sign is the start of the white-blazed Ridge Trail. This trail explores the southern area of the Nature Sanctuary following the contours of broad, wooded ridges.
Across from the trailhead is Slabsides, the cabin he built in 1895 as a writing retreat. It also served as a place to entertain his visitors. Preservationist John Muir was an early overnight guest, with other visitors such as Henry Ford, and Thomas Edison. President Theodore Roosevelt and Mrs. Roosevelt visited Slabsides in 1903, coming up the Hudson River on the Presidential yacht. They dined on Burroughs’ famous brigand steak and peas from his garden. His guestbook contains nearly 7,000 signatures.
The name “Slabsides” came from the rough bark-covered lumber strips covering its outer walls.
The Ridge Trail passes an imposing cliff.
The Ridge Trail is just under a mile long and is rated as moderate. I found it to be an easy walk and barely broke a sweat.
There are many interesting features along the trail, such as this stone staircase that ascends the cliff.
The 70-foot boardwalk was built through the celery swamp.
The rock formations and cliffs along the Ridge Trail are quite a sight to see.
After approximately 1.1 miles, the white-blazed Ridge Trail comes to a junction with the orange-blazed Ladder Trail.
The Ladder Trail is 0.2 miles long and traverses two cliffs that lie between the Ridge Trail and the Chodikee Trail in deep woods.
The Ladder Trail is short, but it has multiple points of interest.
The Ladder Trail ends at a T-intersection with the red-blazed Chodikee Trail. Going left (south) leads to Black Creek State Forest. I made a right turn to stay in the sanctuary.
The Chodikee Trail is 0.7 miles long and winds through dense hemlock woods and rock cliffs.
The Chodikee Trail comes to a junction with the green-blazed Amasa Martin Trail. The Amasa Martin Trail loops around the former homestead of Amasa Martin, who worked in Burroughs’ celery swamp.
The trail starts out marked with green blazes, but soon the green blazes disappear.
The trail is discernible as it passes through the stone walls of the former homestead.
The Amasa Martin Trail ends at the Pond Lane Trail and directly across the road is the Peninsula Trail, which is also blazed with green markers.
The Peninsula Trail is 0.1 miles long and follows a narrow rock ledge that extends into the Pond.
At the northern end of the Peninsula Trail, there are wide open views of the Pond.
Retracing my steps back to the Pond Lane Trail, I turned left and headed toward the Pond House.
Passing through the stone columns, there is a stone sculpture along the road.
There are several fine vantage points of the Pond, looking north.
There are another set of stone columns at the southern end of Pond Lane. That is the start/end of the Chodikee Trail.
In a short distance, I turned left on the yellow-blazed South Pond Trail. The South Pond Trail is 0.3 miles long and connects the Slabsides area with the Pond.
The South Pond Trail ends near Slabsides and there I turned left and retraced my steps back up the old logging Road.
Back out on Burroughs Drive, I turned left and walked downhill a short distance to the East Overlook Trail.
The East Overlook Trail is 0.3 miles long and from Burroughs Drive loops through mixed woods and is supposed to provide an eastern view toward the Hudson River. I found no such views and the trail does not look like it gets much use.
The East Overlook Trail ends downhill on Burroughs Drive and the North Pond Trail begins across the road, a short distance up the hill.
The North Pond Trail connects Pond Lane with Burroughs Drive. I found it a little difficult to follow and ended up bushwacking down the hill to Pond Lane. I found where the the North Pond Trail begins on Pond Lane. There I enjoyed a nice view of the Pond, with the Peninsula in the center where I was earlier in the hike.
I walked the North Pond Trail back to Burroughs Drive, turned right and walked uphill about 0.3 miles back to where the vehicle was parked. A very nice hike and the trails travel through a very scenic area, but if I was to do it again, I would skip the East Overlook and North Pond Trails. They were somewhat boring, with not much to see and they appear to be poorly blazed and not well maintained. Other than that, this is a great place to visit for an easy hike through attractive woods.
The trails are open dawn to dusk everyday, but the cabin itself is only open for two days a year.
Pros: John Burroughs, Slabsides, cliffs, rock formations, the Pond, secluded.
Cons: Some trails are not well blazed.
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