January 27, 2019 – North Salem, NY
Length: Approximately 5.2 miles
Max elevation: 982 ft.– total elevation gain approximately 629 ft.
Route type: Circuit
Map: Brochure and trail map – Maps available at Visitor Center
Park hours: Open seven days a week, dawn to dusk, year-round.
Phone: (914) 864-7312
Trailhead parking: 201 Hawley Road, North Salem, NY 10560
The 1,082-acre Mountain Lakes Park is Westchester’s northernmost county park. It is characterized by a rugged landscape and native hardwood forest with miles of trails. The park boasts five lakes and a spectacular overlook, which makes for breathtaking hiking destinations. Although located in North Salem, 68-acres of the park are in Lewisboro. The highest point in Lewisboro, at 850 feet, offers a view of the three lakes. The highest elevation in Westchester County, Bailey Mountain, at 982 feet is also inside the park.
Mountain Lakes Park offers the total outdoor experience including camping, fishing, ice skating, hiking, nature exploration, snow-shoeing, cross-country skiing, picnicking and a high/low ropes challenge course.
During July and August, the park is home to Camp Morty, a traditional camp experience for underprivileged children residing in Westchester County. Camp Morty is the county’s sleep-away summer camp for boys and girls who live in foster homes or are receiving assistance from the Department of Social Services. It is named in memory of Morton Hyman, who served for nearly 20 years as supervisor of camping for Westchester County Parks.
Mountain Lakes Park was purchased by Westchester County in 1961. Part of a tract of land originally settled as Ridgefield, it was purchased sometime in the early 1700’s from Chief Catoonah of the Long Pond Indians. When the CT-NY border was changed in 1731, this was part of the “oblong lands” given to New York. Part of the property was once owned by George F. Bailey of circus fame. Later it belonged to Henry B. Anderson, a prominent attorney who built ten miles of road in the park in anticipation of developing a rival to Tuxedo Park. Until its close in the 1930’s, it attracted more than 20,000 visitors who enjoyed the view to the Hudson River. In 1956, the property was sold to a developer, but then bought by the county to establish an overnight camp for youngsters.
The park features seven well blazed trails plus several connecting trails that travel through hardwood forests, rock outcrops and cross meandering streams.
- The 3.6-mile-long Orange Trail loops around the park, following woods roads for most of its length (the first 0.7 mile east of the park office is paved).
- The 1.7-mile-long Yellow Trail loops around the northeast corner of the park.
- The 2.0-mile-long Blue Trail loops around the eastern end of the park.
- The 1.2-mile-long White Trail leads to a panoramic south-facing viewpoint and can be combined with a portion of the Orange Trail to make a 1.7-mile-long loop.
- The 1.9-mile-long Old Sib Trail, the newest trail in the park, traverses its northern section. It features rolling terrain and passes through an area with an abundance of old stone walls. The Old Sib Trail can be combined with the Yellow, Orange and Blue Trails to form a loop.
- The 0.3-mile-long Green Trail leads to the summit of Bailey Mountain, the highest point in Westchester County (unfortunately, there is no view).
- The 1.5-mile-long Red Trail goes around Hemlock Lake and Spruce Lake.
This 5.2 mile loop hike was done counterclockwise and involves some bushwacking and off trail exploration. Hikers can choose to stick to the marked trails if so desired. Longer or shorter loop hikes can be done using this guide as a reference.
From the park office, we proceeded ahead on the paved road, passing a gate. The road is marked with orange blazes and passes the entrance to Camp Morty on the left.
Near the the top of the hill, there is a gravel parking area on the right. The White Trail begins just past a locked gate in the back of the parking area onto a woods road that heads uphill in a southerly direction. Seeing white blazes throught the trees, a short distance away, we took a shortcut on an unmarked path to the White Trail.
We followed the woods road, the route of the White Trail, which climbs gradually and reaches a turnaround at the crest of the rise. Bearing right here and leaving the White Trail, we continued to a viewpoint by a cedar tree. A bench has been placed here for hikers to take a break to enjoy the panoramic south-facing view over Lakes Waccabuc (to the right) and Oscaleta (to the left).
After taking in the view, we went back to the White Trail and continued ahead. The trail now follows a footpath through a ravine and bears left to climb stone steps below a large rock outcrop.
After bearing right and continuing to climb, the trail reaches a seasonal viewpoint over Lakes Rippowam and Oscaleta from a rock ledge.
From the viewpoint, the trail bears left and continues to climb. At the crest of the rise (910 feet), this hike has climbed about 300 vertical feet from the park office. The trail now levels off and soon joins a woods road that runs along the park boundary, with private property on the right. The woods road descends gradually, curves to the left and ends at the park road which is the Orange Trail.
We turned right and followed the Orange Trail, which begins a steady, gentle climb. After curving to the right, the trail passes a trail on the left that leads to the Larch Lean-to, as well as an interesting rock outcrop. The trail now curves to the left and descends slightly to reach a junction. We veered right at the fork and continued on the Blue Trail, soon reaching the start of the Green Trail on the left.
The Green Trail climbs gradually towards the summit of Bailey Mountain, the highest point in Westchester County at 982 feet. After a brief climb, the trail levels off and reaches the highest point, marked by a Witness Post. Previously there was a sign there, but it is frequently stolen and according to a park employee, it is replaced about every six months.
From the summit, the Green Trail is relatively level as it heads northwest along the ridge. It then turns left, descends steeply and ends at a gravel road, the route of the Orange Trail.
We turned right on the Orange Trail which heads northwest on the gravel road and passes the Cedar Campsite on the right. In about 630 yards the Orange Trail comes to a junction with the Blue Trail, which crosses the road. Here we turned left.
The Blue Trail enters the woods and heads southwest. In about 280 yards, the Blue Trail comes to a fork with an unmarked woods road. That road leads to the northern side of Hemlock Lake. We veered left to remain on the Blue Trail.
The Blue Trail begins a steady descent through a valley with some interesting rock formations. At the base of the descent, the trail levels off and crosses Crook Brook alongside a lovely cascade.
Just before the trail begins to climb and veer to the east, we left the trail and began to bushwack in a westerly direction towards Hemlock Lake. In about 200 yards we reached the Hemlock Lake (HL) Trail and turned left. The trail comes close to the shore of the lake and runs along its edge, soon reaching a lean-to at the Hemlock South Campsite, which overlooks the lake. We stopped here to take a break and have a snack.
The Hemlock Lake Trail passes alongside the mess hall and a moss covered area with some rock outcrops along the shore of the lake. We then left the trail and walked the park road to the western end of Hemlock Lake.
Directly in front of the lake is a gravel road that is not listed on the trail map. We took this road past the swimming pool and onto an open field. We then entered the woods and began bushwacking towards Spruce Lake. Along the way we saw a cluster of small cabins and a stone wall that leads all the way to the lake’s shore.
Once near the shore of the lake, We reached the Spruce Lake Trail and turned left. The trail crosses a stone wall and runs close to the edge of the lake. It then crosses Crook Brook on a small wooden footbridge, with another lovely cascade to the left.
In about 210 yards, we reached the start of the Red Trail, which begins on the left. The Red Trail climbs gradually through the woods as it heads east and parallels Crook Brook, passing another cascade. The trail soon reaches a stone chamber to the right of the trail.
Corbelled Stone Chambers are scattered throughout the Eastern part of North America. They were intricately built by overlapping stones to curve the wall inward, with a massive lintel stone placed across the top of the entranceway and capstones put in place to form the roof. They were often built into hillsides and near water sources. There is much debate over who built them and their original purpose. Some believe they are equivalent to root cellars built by the colonists while others believe they date back thousands of years.
We then took a small footpath next to the stone chamber, passing the infirmary and out to the paved road, the route of the Orange Trail.
We turned right on the Orange Trail and began heading downhill. We passed through a gate, with a small gravel parking area on the left (the start of the White Trail from earlier), now retracing our steps past Camp Morty (on the right) and continuing downhill on the paved road back to the parking area, where the hike began.
This is one of Westchester’s best kept secrets (maybe not anymore). The trails are rugged enough to make it interesting and the meandering streams with their many cascades make for an enjoyable hike. We only explored a small section of the park and look forward to a return visit. This is a better place to hike in the winter months as it probably gets quite crowded in the summer with all the activities they offer.
Pros: Scenic trails, rock formations, Lookout Point, many stream crossings, lesser traveled.
Cons: No view on Bailey Mountain.
Take a hike!
- Mountain Lakes Park – Lewisboro Land Trust
- Sal J. Prezioso Mountain Lakes Park
- New York-New Jersey Trail Conference