By Matthew Young
Bear Mountain State Park
Stony Point, NY
Major Welch Trail/Appalachian Trail Loop
Approximately 4 miles round trip
Bear Mountain is one of the closest and most easily accessible trails for those living in the New York City area. Sitting only forty miles north of NYC, the state park provides a convenient escape, perfect for a day trip. Even though it may be close to the city, don’t expect this hike to be anything like the Big Apple. Bear Mountain is a rugged landscape with challenging hikes, quaint mountain lakes, and even hosts a portion of the famed Appalachian Trail.
On weekends during the warmer months, the parking area can fill up quickly, so get there early or even consider going on a weekday if possible. There is also a $10 entrance fee for vehicles, but as with some of the other hikes I’ve covered, it is well worth it.
You’ll see the Bear Mountain Inn as you head towards the trailhead. Originally constructed in 1915, the Inn is an Adirondack-style lodge. If you are looking for a longer rustic getaway, you can spend a night or two here, and take in everything the park has to offer. If you are just sticking around for the day, you can still stop in and admire the architecture while grabbing a pre-hike coffee or post-hike beer.
There are two ways to get to the top of Bear Mountain. You can either take the Major Welch trail towards the summit and the Appalachian Trail back down, or vice versa. I suggest taking the Major Welch trail on your trek up the mountain, as it gets steep in some sections and can be tricky and hard on the knees trying to descend those portions.
The trail begins close to the shores of Hessian Lake. Its calm waters reflect the mountainous backdrop. A relaxing place to sit and appreciate the natural beauty of the State Park.
At the trailhead you’ll find a map with the various trails highlighted. Follow the red Major Welch trail sign to the right around the the lake’s edge. It begins as a flat paved road, passing through some picturesque rocky outcroppings to your left, with Hessian Lake to your right. This specific section of the Major Welch trail can get crowded, but as you continue towards the summits the crowds tend to thin out.
As you make your way around the lake, you’ll come to a small wooden sign about .5 miles down the road, branch off to the left and continue to follow the Major Welch trail through the forest, which now becomes a narrower rocky path. Keep an eye out for the Red Bullseye shaped trail markers. This is where the trail starts to get more strenuous. Sturdy footwear is recommended, for the ground is uneven and requires more attention.
A little further down the trail you’ll pass over a small stream with a water tank on your left. Follow the trail to the right at this point. Shortly after that split, you’ll branch off to the left, onto a level but narrow path. You’ll notice the familiar red circles on the trees. Large stones jut out from this section of the Major Welch Trail. The crickets and cicadas are active in the trees and tall grass that line the footpath. You can also occasionally hear the proud shouts of those who have already reached the summit.
The trail levels off briefly before beginning to climb again. Several stone steps lead up the side of the mountain. Be sure to look out through the gaps in the trees for glimpses of the Hudson and the protruding peak of “Anthony’s Nose”. There are plenty of spots along this route to take a breather.
A little further up the trail the terrain switches from stone steps to natural stone slabs, which require some mild rock scrambling. Though the trail can be steep and difficult at times it doesn’t require any technical climbing. It can also be somewhat challenging at times to distinguish a clear path, though as long as you keep following the slabs uphill you’ll eventually meet up with the marked trail.
The first viewpoint is a welcomed break from the uphill climb. Below you can clearly see the Bear Mountain Bridge as it spans a gentle bend in the Hudson River. The view is outstanding any time of year, though the steep trail can be significantly more dangerous when snow and ice are present.
After a rest, or mid-hike snack, keep following the trail as it snakes its way upwards through the forest . When you arrive at a paved road, cross over and follow the markers to the left. At the summit you’ll find the Perkins Memorial Observatory Tower which can be climbed for an even higher vantage point.
The Panoramic views from the top of Bear Mountain provide a birds eye view of the Hudson River and its sloping banks. On clear days you can even see the New York skyline in the distance. It can be hard to believe that this type of rugged mountainous terrain is within eyesight of the largest metropolitan area in the country.
There are a few wooden benches at the summit, where you can relax and absorb the view. Although it is possible to drive your car to the top of Bear Mountain, there is an extra sense of accomplishment knowing that you trekked all the way from the base of the mountain.
To complete the loop trail, follow the paved road and signs pointing towards the Appalachian Trail North. The Appalachian Trail will eventually loop back to the Inn (Unless you plan on continuing to Maine or Georgia). The trail markings now switch to white blazes. At the next paved road cross over and follow the white blazes as the trail starts descending.
Once again you’ll encounter the road. This time you’ll follow the white arrows to the right and walk along the road until it dead ends in a paved loop. Continue right when you get to the end of the road and you’ll see the white blazes leading you back towards the Inn.
On the way down this side of the mountain, a train can be heard in the distance, reminding you just how close you are to New York, no matter how far away it may seem. There is another rocky ledge with a great view. You can watch the boats travel down the Hudson, while the Bear Mountain Bridge sits perfectly framed in tree branches.
At the final junction head right towards the blue markings and you’ll find yourself back on the original paved road with the Lake and Inn coming into view. If you still aren’t ready to head back to the city once the hike is complete, spend some time exploring the Inn and resting by the Lake. Bear Mountain’s proximity to New York City is a true treasure that should be experienced by all those who find themselves needing a nature break from the fast-paced city streets.