The Appalachian Trail begins climbing Bear Mountain just behind the Bear Mountain Inn and just up the hill from the shores of Hessian Lake. Several years ago the trail was a 40 foot wide scar up the side of Bear Mountain, but today thanks to the Trail Conference and the efforts of its hundreds of volunteers, the Appalachian Trail has been rebuilt in a sustainable way to handle the amount of use it receives and to be able to withstand the elements without erosion or other problems. That's been done through a series of major trail building projects that include stone steps, turnpiking, crib walls and bridges. This section of the AT is unique, one because of the number of users it gets every day (hundreds of thousands a year) and two because of the way that it has been built to withstand that use. It is an experience to spend a few hours hiking up to the summit now and even though I've seen the work before, I still think it's amazing just how much was done every time I go up the mountain.
The AT begins ascending after passing by a unused lodge. This small building and the area around it will soon become the focus of an educational trail exhibit area. It will provide educational kiosks, displays and models to show how the work was done on the AT in Bear Mountain and what the Trail Conference does on trails like the AT and all throughout the regions where it works.
From the lodge, the AT begins ascending the mountain. The trail is wide enough for two folks to walk comfortably shoulder to shoulder for most of the way up and given the amount of traffic going back and forth, this comes in handy because people going up and people going down can pass one another without any problem.
The trail winds its way up through the mountain, in places looking it has just grown out of the mountainside, and you climb higher and higher up the shoulder of Bear Mountain.
After following the Appalachian Trail up about 2/3 of the mountain, we were able to take a tour of the new section of AT that is being built from the old Perkins Drive up to the summit of the mountain. Currently the AT turns right at the old road crossing and makes its way to the summit, but soon the trail will continue up along the upper east face of the mountain as it makes it way to the summit.
The higher up on the mountain we got, the thicker the fog and the more drizzle was coming down. Thankfully it wasn't an overly cold day, but it was pretty damp at times. When we were on top, you could barely see the observation tower and views of anything but of stuff a few feet in front of you were impossible. That's too bad since on a clear day you can see from the Catskills in the north to the New York City skyline in the south.
From the summit we continued along the Appalachian Trail on what is only one of the few sections of fully accessible trail. This section of the AT was built by the Trail Conference to meet ADA standards and is available to all, so anyone can get out and enjoy the Appalachian Trail. It's a really cool thing and a great way for folks who may be unable to enjoy other sections of the AT to get out and know that they have enjoyed a section of the Appalachian Trail.
The accessible portion of the AT ends at what on a clear day is a stunning vista and from there starts descending Bear Mountain. Along the way it passes a series of open rock ledges that offer views down into the surrounding park lands. The AT gets progressilvy steeper as it descends, finally winding its way through a boulder field before reaching the old Perkins Drive once again. Here the trail turns to the right following the old roadway a distance before again descending, however we headed left and followed the old roadway to rejoin the Appalachian Trail where we had first crossed the roadway on the ascent. From there we headed back down the section we had started up on so we could finish our trip at the Bear Mountain Inn where we had started.
Octoberfest was going on full steam when we got off the mountain, so there was a chance to enjoy some German food and some German beer.
All in all, even with the clouds, fog and drizzle, this is a hike that offers a lot in a small package. You get to enjoy trails that have been painstaking built with TLC, (on a clear day) you have views all along the way, and you get a heart pumping workout as this mountain sure doesn't think a gentle slope is the way to go. Of course there are some crowds, but climbing Bear Mountain via the Appalachian Trail is something that any hiker in the area (or visitor) should do at least once and probably multiple times. I'm sure I will be back.
- Free day hiking map for Bear Mountain
- Volunteer on Bear Mountain - email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Support the Trail Conference's effort on Bear Mountain and give a gift today
For more information on hiking in Bear Mountain State Park and environs
Within New York, the Trail Conference publishes the Harriman Bear Mountain Trails Map Set, maps for the adjacent Sterling Forest State Park, along with maps for Northern New Jersey Trails that are in the vicinity. We have a number of books and maps for more information hiking in this area available in the Hudson Highlands section of our Adventures in the Outdoors Bookstore.