March 30, 2019 – Alpine, New Jersey
Length: Approximately 5.2 miles (includes off trail exploration)
Max elevation: 446 ft.– total elevation gain approximately 613 ft.
Route type: Circuit
Trailhead parking: Alpine Boat Basin – Alpine, NJ 07624
Overlooking the Hudson River in Bergen County, NJ, Palisades Interstate Park is about 12 miles long, a half-mile wide, and encompasses 2,500 acres of wild Hudson River shorefront, uplands, and cliffs. There are over 30 miles of trails that range from easy to strenuous. The two main trails within the park are the Long Path, which runs along the top of the cliffs and the Shore Trail which runs along the banks of the Hudson River. Five short trails link the Long Path and the Shore Trail, ranging in classification from moderate to steep.
Palisades Interstate Park is a National Historic Landmark, and the Palisades Cliffs are a National Natural Landmark.
The Long Path and the Shore Trail are National Recreation Trails.
Mansions that stretched for twelve miles along the cliffs of the New Jersey Palisades from Fort Lee to the N.Y. border was once known as Millionaires’ Row. The wealthy in the mid-19th century were drawn to the river views and summer breezes. Most of these estates were knocked down with the construction of the Palisades Interstate Parkway; all that now remains are a few stone walls, a scattering of foundations and steps leading nowhere.
The fifteen-room manor house called “Cliff Dale” that was built for George A. Zabriskie at Alpine in 1911 was constructed of native stone on a 25-acre estate high atop the cliffs of the Palisades. His was just one of many mansions that used to line “Millionaire’s Row.” Today all that remains of those stately mansions are some foundations, with the exception of Cliff Dale. The two-story ruins of the foundation, along with the man-made pond and the surrounding area, make for an interesting off trail exploration. Below are images of Cliff Dale, courtesy of of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission.
For most hikers familiar with the trails in the park, the signature former Palisades estate would have to be Zabriskie’s “Cliff Dale.” The imposing, two-story gray stone ruins of the manor house foundation — built in 1911, the upper floors torn down by the WPA in 1939 — still loom along the Long Path about half a mile north of Alpine Lookout.
I completed a similar hike a couple of years ago, but started from Park Headquarters. I decided to begin this hike by the river for two reasons, I wanted to get the steep ascent to the Long Path out of the way early and I wanted to end the hike by the river. There is a large picnic area with plenty of tables and some grills, and we wanted to grill some food at the conclusion of the hike.
This is a hike that is better done when there is no foliage or snow covering the ground. The ruins and the area around it becomes more visible and easier to explore during the cooler months. There is no parking fee off season at the Alpine Area.
This hike follows the white-blazed Shore Trail north a short distance to the orange-blazed Closter Dock Trail, which climbs steeply to the top of the cliffs. We then followed the aqua blazes of the Long Path south along the cliffs. We turned left on the red-blazed Huyler’s Landing Trail and followed it down to the river. We then turned left on the white-blazed Shore Trail and followed it north back to the Alpine Boat Basin and Picnic Area.
This hike begins at the northern end of the Alpine Boat Basin. Walk towards the river, turn left and continue north through the parking area for the boat basin. Here the white-blazed Shore Trail travels on a paved path. Proceed past the historic Kearney House, a small white building on the left. This house is the oldest building in the New Jersey section of the park. The oldest part of the house – which once served as headquarters for the park – dates back to the eighteenth century.
Just beyond the Kearney House, you’ll notice a plaque on the left entitled “Old Alpine Trail,” which states that the trail you are about to use to climb the Palisades was used by British troops in 1776 during the American Revolution. (As an adjacent sign points out, the information on this 85-year-old plaque is no longer considered to be historically accurate.) Bear left here and climb the old stone-paved road.
At the top of the rise, turn sharply left and continue uphill on the road, now marked with the orange blazes of the Closter Dock Trail. The trail climbs steeply on switchbacks and gains approximately 460 ft. in elevation.
When you reach the tunnel underpass on the left, proceed through the tunnel, and climb stone steps on the other side. You’re now following both the aqua blazes of the Long Path and the orange blazes of the Closter Dock Trail. Turn left at the T-intersection and continue ahead parallel to the Parkway on your right.
In a few minutes, you’ll notice a tunnel under the Parkway to the right. Here, the orange blazes turn off, but you should continue ahead, parallel to the parkway, following the aqua blazes. Soon, you’ll pass by old stone foundations and walls. These are the remains of large estates that once graced the Palisades cliffs. The properties on which these estates once stood was acquired by the Park for the construction of the Parkway.
A short unmarked footpath leads to views from the edge of the cliffs.
Just ahead is Pulpit Rock, large pillar of rock and a parapet that used to be part of the Anthony Fokker estate.
To the left of the Long Path, are the foundation ruins of the Fokker estate, “Pulpit Rock.”
Anthony Fokker bought a large property on the edge of the Palisades Park in New Jersey for $16,000 per acre. “Pulpit Rock,” as the location was called, was to become the spot for the construction of an enormous Fokker mansion. The house itself was to be laid out in the style of the classic British country houses and was to be of monumental proportions. With its nearly 300 ft. front, three stories and several towers. Toward the end of 1928, the first phases of construction began. After the death of his wife Violet Eastman in 1929, Fokker lost all interest in the project and abandoned it. The building activities did not extend beyond the foundations, groundwork, and walls that would enclose the house’s cellars. Construction ceased before the walls were more than three feet high. Anthony Fokker sold the property shortly thereafter.
Violet Eastman died in a fall from their hotel suite window on February 8, 1929 in New York City. The original police report said her death was a suicide, but this was later changed to ‘vertigo victim’ at the request of her husband’s staff.
The plans for this home called for a very complicated set of foundations.
You have now traveled just over a mile and this is a good place to take a break and enjoy the view.
Looking north up the Hudson River.
The Alpine Boat Basin, where the hike began, is visible below.
A Peregrine Falcon sits on a ledge some distance away, eating what appears to be a Northern Flicker Woodpecker.
The Glenwood Power Plant in Yonkers, is visible across the Hudson River. The Glenwood Power Plant (also known as the Yonkers Power Plant) in Yonkers, built between 1904 and 1906, is one of two power stations constructed for the electrification of the New York Central Railroad from Grand Central Terminal to the northern suburbs of New York City. The New York Central Railroad owned and operated the power station between 1907-1936, when it served the sole function of powering the railroad.
When you’re ready to proceed, continue south on the Long Path (keeping the river on your left).
Keep your eyes open for wildlife and birds. We spotted this Downy Woodpecker right along the trail.
In about another 375 yards, the Long Path appears as a well constructed road with border stones on both sides of the trail. This is part of the former “Glen Goin” Estate. To the east of the road are stone steps and a retaining wall that holds up the road.
Charles Nordhoff, a reporter for the Evening Post, built an estate here with an elaborate terraced garden. His wife is said to have named Alpine. Later on, Manuel E. Rionda, the nephew of Manuel Rionda, a Cuban sugar dealer, built “Glen Goin” on the grounds of the Nordhoff estate. You may want to take a little time to explore this interesting area.
Below is an old aerial image of how it once looked.
In 1911 Manuel E. Rionda married Ellen Goin. The wedding took place under a large maple tree on the lawn of the Nordhoff residence. Two years later the newlyweds purchased 12.45 acres “at the edge of the steep rocks” (according to a deed dated February 24, 1913) and named their resultant estate GLEN GOIN. Mr. Rionda was elected mayor of Alpine in 1931 and served for 10 terms.
The terraced gardens adorned the cliff edge to the east.
Manuel E. Rionda died on February 8, 1950 at the age of 72 and his widow inherited the bulk of his large estate. Mrs. Rionda converted the outbuildings into attractive rental units, and gradually developed a 30-home colony occupied by young married couples at modest rates, which helped them to get started in life. Ellen Goin Rionda passed away in 1966.
A walkway right alongside the Long Path leads down to the garden.
In about another 300 yards from the terraced gardens, as the trail turns right at a T-intersection, you’ll notice the stone ruins of a large building on the left. This was the “Cliff Dale” estate of George Zabriskie, built in 1911 (the date is still visible in the stonework of the building). The ruins that remain are only the basement portion of the building. Use caution if you wish to explore the ruins of this once-magnificent structure.
The fifteen-room manor house that was built for Zabriskie at Alpine in 1911 was constructed of native stone on a 25-acre estate. In addition to the manor house, Zabriskie had a gate house built on the Boulevard (today’s U.S. Route 9W).
The property was purchased by John D. Rockefeller Jr. in 1930, along with much of the surrounding area, in an attempt to halt over-development of the cliffs spurred by the newly built George Washington Bridge.
In the natural hollow to the south of the manor house was a man-made pond.
A rock outcrop adjacent to the man-made pool provides Hudson River views.
After exploring the Zabriskie Ruins, continue south along the Long Path as it travels along the cliffs edge.
In another half mile, you’ll reach the Alpine Lookout, with outstanding views over the Hudson River. The trail follows a paved sidewalk along an iron railing around the perimeter of the lookout.
This was the site of the “Rio Vista” estate, the home of Manuel Rionda.
In 1904 Spanish-born Manuel Rionda, a Cuban sugar dealer, and his wife Harriet bought thirteen acres in Alpine. At the time of his death his property, which he called “Rio Vista,” extended to 200 acres, running from the center of Cresskill to the cliffs. The manor house was built where Alpine Lookout is today.
Its wrought iron fence remains along the cliff edge.
After reentering the woods, the trail reaches a fenced-in parapet that juts out over the river, with even better views up and down the river.
After taking in the view, continue heading south on the Long Path, passing more foundations.
Soon the trail approaches the Parkway. Just ahead, a sign and three red blazes mark the start of the Huyler’s Landing Trail. Turn left and follow this red-blazed trail, which descends to the river along the route of an old road (in places, the road has narrowed to a footpath).
After a sharp switchback to the right, the trail emerges on the paved Henry Hudson Drive. Turn left, follow the paved road for about 300 feet, then bear right at a chain and continue to descend on a wide woods road.
You’ll reach the river at an old picnic area, with an abandoned stone jetty just ahead named Huyler’s Landing. This makes a nice spot to take a break and enjoy the river view. In 1776, General Cornwallis landed 5,000 British Troops at Huyler’s Landing in order to head to Fort Lee, which is south of this hike and also within Palisades Interstate Park.
When you are ready to proceed, follow the white-blazed Shore Trail north, which follows a path between the cliffs on the left and the river on the right, passing several former beaches along the river.
In half a mile, the trail climbs stone steps and follows a path above the river level. After crossing a wooden bridge over a stream, you’ll pass a plaque affixed to a rock on the left in memory of John Jordan, the first Superintendent of the Park, who died here in 1915.
A short distance beyond, you’ll reach a grassy area at the southern end of the Alpine Boat Basin. Continue north to the parking area for the boat basin, where the hike began.
While not a truly remote wilderness experience, the Palisades offer a unique hike experience that every area hiker should check out at least once. The many points of interest, the spectacular cliff top views and the final stretch along the Hudson River make for a great day on the trails. There are plenty of picnic tables where the hike begins and ends for a post hike barbecue by the river if you are so inclined. By beginning the hike at the Alpine Boat Basin, we got the steep climb out of the way early and enjoyed a leisurely walk for most of the way. The only people we saw during the hike were near the parking area.
Pros: Hudson River views, Palisades cliffs, wildlife, historical ruins.
Cons: Sections of the Long Path and Shore Trail (near parking areas) get a lot of foot traffic in warm weather.
Take a hike!
- New York-New Jersey Trail Conference
- Palisades Interstate Park in New Jersey
- Cliff Dale
- Glenwood Power Plant
- Anthony Fokker: The Flying Dutchman Who Shaped American Aviation
- Millionaire’s Row – Mansions Along The Cliff
- Ellen Goin Rionda