December 10, 2017 – Tomkins Cove, NY
Length: Approximately 4.1 miles
Max elevation: 193 ft.– total elevation gain approximately 485 ft.
Route type: Circuit
Trailhead parking: Bear Mountain Ice Rink – Tomkins Cove, NY 10986
Bear Mountain State Park is a 5,205-acre state park in Rockland and Orange Counties, New York. It is situated in rugged mountains rising from the west bank of the Hudson River. It also includes several facilities such as the Perkins Memorial Tower, the Trailside Museum and Zoo, the Bear Mountain Inn, a merry-go-round, pool, and a skating rink. It is managed by the Palisades Interstate Park Commission. The park opened in June 1913.
There are over 50 official trails covering 235 miles, featuring a wide range of difficulties and elevation changes. The first section of the Appalachian Trail, taking hikers from Bear Mountain, south to the Delaware Water Gap, opened on October 7, 1923. The Bear Mountain Zoo, through which the Appalachian Trail passes, is the lowest elevation on the 2,100-mile trail.
The pond at the foot of Bear Mountain had been known since 1740 as Lake Sinnipink, from the Indian name of the nearby creek—Assinapink. When the British attacked Fort Clinton on October 6, 1777, there was a wall of sharpened logs between the pond and the edge of the cliff overlooking the Hudson River. After the battle, because many bodies of Hessian chasseurs had been thrown into the pond, it became known as Bloody Pond. In later years, it was given more genteel names—Highland Lake, then Hessian Lake.
I have wanted to hike the area around Hessian Lake for some time, but it is such a popular spot in warm weather that it gets overcrowded. With snow and ice on the ground, I figured it would be the right time to pay it a visit. We made sure to bring our traction devices along as they would be needed. We parked in the skating rink parking lot and hiked clockwise around the lake. We also walked down to Hudson River Dock and visited the zoo as well.
From the parking lot, we walked towards the skating rink with Bear Mountain in the background.
We turned right at the ice rink, heading north towards Hessian Lake.
As we neared the southwest end of the lake, we came to an intersection of three major trails, The Major Welch Trail, the Suffern-Bear Mountain Trail and the Appalachian Trail. The AT would be our return route, but for now, we would start on the red-ring-on-white-blazed Major Welch Trail and follow it along the west side of Hessian Lake. The Major Welch Trail, named in 1944 in memory of Major William A. Welch, the first General Manager of the Park, starts behind the Bear Mountain Inn, and follows the paved path along the west side of Hessian Lake.
We walked on the paved park road which was plowed at the beginning.
Then we arrived at a wooden road barrier that blocked the trail due to icy conditions. We were wearing our microspikes so we walked around the barrier.
The trail was icy as we made our way up the trail at the base of Bear Mountain.
We stopped many times along the trail to take in the scenery. Looking east, Anthony’s Nose stands out proudly just across the Hudson River. During the nineteenth century, ice was cut from the lake by the Knickerbocker Ice Company and shipped to New York City.
The Bear Mountain Bridge is also visible from the edge of the lake.
The trail ascends slightly and passes by some rock formations.
After the slight ascent, the Major Welch Trail levels off with some rock formations that overlook the lake. The Major Welch Trail then turns left and leaves the road. We stayed on the road that circles the lake.
The Major Welch Trail climbs steeply to Perkins Memorial Tower and the sign made it enticing, but not on this day.
So we continued on the park road as we made our way around the lake.
Now on the east side of Hessian Lake, Bear Mountain is clearly visible.
We veered left towards the restrooms (which were closed) and away from the lake. We were now headed to Hudson River Dock which is easy to find because there are plenty of signs pointing the way.
We turned left and walked down the stairs, now traveling on the Appalachian Trail.
The AT travels through a tunnel under US 9W.
On the other side of the tunnel, the AT turns right.
The AT now travels south for a short distance and towards some park buildings as it briefly parallels US 9W.
The AT then turns left and passes by the concession stands and the pool.
After passing the concession stands, the AT turns left and enters the zoo. We turned right to continue heading down to the river.
We walked downhill as we headed to Hudson River Dock.
Off the left side of the path leading down to Hudson River Dock, and mounted on a projecting rock overlooking the River and the Hudson Highlands, is a sculpture of an elk’s head.
The larger than life bronze sculpture was presented to the Palisades Interstate Park by Commissioner Victor Berman in 1935.
There is a great view of the Bear Mountain Bridge from this spot. When the bridge formally opened on November 27, 1924, it was the longest suspension bridge span in the world at 2,257 feet, and the first of its type to have a concrete deck. It also carries the Appalachian Trail across the Hudson River.
We continued towards the river and walked through a tunnel under the railroad tracks.
Arriving at Hudson River Dock, we were just across the river from Anthony’s Nose. The park operated a fleet of steamers that brought millions of NYC people to Bear Mountain for recreation during the 1920’s and 1930’s. The docks burned in the 1960’s and 1970’s. This dock was rebuilt in the early 1990’s.
This is a great spot for some really good Hudson River views. Looking north, the Bear Mountain Bridge is visible.
We walked north along the river to a picnic area and took a short break. Looking south, on the right is Hudson River Dock, where we were just at.
We stopped inside a shelter for a moment where I captured this shot of Anthony’s Nose.
The American Flag atop Anthony’s Nose was visible from this spot as well.
We then retraced our steps back to the elk’s head where I just had to capture another image.
We continued ahead to the Bear Mountain Zoo. The Trailside Museums and Zoo, was built during the years 1932-35 by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). They expanded an earlier Trailside Museum in the park that dated to the 1920’s.
The Trailside Museums and Zoo are located at the former site of Fort Clinton. Its name is a reference to the Appalachian Trail that runs through the complex.
Shortly after the entrance to the Zoo is the striding statue of Walt Whitman, sculpted by Jo Davidson. The Harriman family presented the statue in 1940 to commemorate the 1910 gift of land and money by Mary W. Harriman that made the Park a reality.
This famous statue depicts the poet and newspaper editor in a pose that portrays the image created by his “Song of the Open Road.”
Continuing through the zoo, we viewed some of the animals that are in captivity. The zoo began as a bear den in 1926 and is currently the home of a wide variety of local injured or rehabilitating animals, including bears, otters, deer, bald eagles, and owls.
We then arrived at the lowest spot on the entire Appalachian Trail, at an elevation of 120 feet.
We took a walk down a side path that leads to an overlook.
This is a good spot to take a break and take in the scenery, which is exactly what we did.
Aside from the fabulous views from this spot, there are small informational signs on the railings. I found this one to be quite interesting.
We retraced our steps back to the AT and walked up to the Coyote Den. Just prior to us getting there, they were making quite a racket. Usually a sign that they just killed something.
We wandered around a bit and then began retracing our steps on the AT, once again passing by the Bear Den to have one last look at the bears and of course the Black Vultures that are all over the place in this area.
Back at Hessian Lake, we headed to the southern end of the lake to get one last look. Spring-fed Hessian Lake, named for the bloody events of the British attack on Fort Clinton in 1777, when many of the Hessian chasseurs (soldiers) were thrown into the Lake.
We decided to walk across the snow covered field back to the parking area. Visible just ahead is the merry-go-round building which is beautifully constructed of stone and wood in a traditional style that complements the adjacent historic Administration Building and Bear Mountain Inn. It includes 38 carved animals that are native to the Hudson River Valley, as well as two chariots for accessible seating.
Looking to our left, We could see the Bear Mountain Inn with Anthony’s Nose just beyond. Originally completed in 1915, the Bear Mountain Inn is an early example of the rustic lodge style influenced by the Adirondack Great Camps and later used extensively in the National Park System. It closed in 2005 for extended renovations, reopening in 2011.
We then made our way to the skating rink parking area, where our hike began.
Some tidbits that I dug up about Bear Mountain State Park:
- Bear Mountain was historically known as “Bear Hill” and “Bread Tray Mountain”.
- Franklin D. Roosevelt’s paralytic illness developed in the summer of 1921, two weeks after he visited a Boy Scout camp at Hessian Lake on the eastern edge of Bear Mountain. It is possible the illness was related to exposure at the camp.
- Bear Mountain was once the premier ski jumping site in the United States. Because of its notoriety as a ski jumping location, Bear Mountain was considered as a possible site for the 1932 Winter Olympics, which were held in Lake Placid, New York. The ski jump run has not been used in decades, and its stone steps built into the eastern side of the mountain are now crumbling.
- During World War II, the Brooklyn Dodgers held their spring training here.
This was a fun hike packed with points of interest and history. I recommend doing this hike in the winter months to avoid the crowds. Definitely worth the visit with all that there is to see.
To get a better idea of what the hike is like, view the short video below, with additional images added.
Pros: Historical features, scenic views, Trailside Museums and Zoo, lake, Appalachian Trail.
Cons: Overcrowded in the warmer months.
Take a hike!