Only an hour and a half away from midtown Manhattan by bus, this place, along with Harriman State Park, is a real treasure. I can’t believe it took me this long to finally go check it out. I’ve always admired the wooded areas just north of the city from inside the confines of motor vehicles. The weathered boulders and large trees with lots of space between them plus little to no undergrowth always seemed very inviting. If you’re looking for some place to hang a hammock for the night, as I usually am, even when I don’t have plans to actually do so, then it doesn’t get much better than this. You’re spoiled for choices here though most of the trees are actually too far apart for a comfortable hang.
Besides the magnificent trees there are rocks everywhere, of all sizes, and in many places the trails are quite difficult to walk due to the uneven surface. You never know if the next rock you step on is going to stay put or shift under your weight. The last thing you want is to fall and or twist your ankle especially with a heavy pack on your back. Good hiking boots are essential and I’ll be sure to buy myself a good pair of trekking poles before I ever head out there again. The steep trail up the north face of Bald Mountain was particularly brutal!
At the top though it was all worth it. The view was incredible and the setting was quite lovely. Water was a bit of an issue though. On the south side of the mountain there is another trail that crosses a little stream that is fed by a small swamp. No matter which part of the stream I chose to pump water out of it kept clogging up my filter so that I’d have to clean if after every liter or so. Even after it was filtered it retained a weird greenish yellow tint to it. I dubbed it “Dunderberg Tea”. It was however quite cool, refreshing and tasted just fine.
To the east I found part of the Dunderberg Spiral Railway route that was never completed. According to the map construction ended abruptly in September 1890. Sounds kind of suspicious though I suppose there’s a good reason you could find if you cared to look it up. The trail got really rough there and then I found myself between impenetrable walls of short straight trees on both sides of the path which was kind of strange and spooky in sharp contrast to the openness of most parts of the forest. I had to turn around since I had already run out of water some way back because I hadn’t been able to filter as much as I had wanted to that morning…
On the lower elevations to the north, between Dunderberg and Bear Mountain itself, you have the abandoned village of Doodletown with a number of old homestead sites and cemeteries. I didn’t get to explore it much because I was hurrying to catch the bus back to the city which I ended up missing anyway. All of this stuff was starting to remind me of the Blair Witch Project but then I have an over active imagination some times.
Again the top of Bald Mountain was marvelous and there is plenty of room to have a group camp out there some day. I believe you’re not supposed to camp outside of the provided shelters in the park(s) but as long as you’re smart and not obnoxious about it you can do pretty much whatever you want, especially in the off season. For such a gathering I would bring some kind of bucket to try to let the sludge settle out of the swamp water before attempting to filter it. I would also try the trails to the south to reach the road and use one of the bus stops there instead of the more obvious Bear Mountain Inn stop. You could bring all kinds of fresh breads, cured meats, cheeses, and wine (without the bottles) and make it a wilderness gourmet event with spooky trail hikes for added amusement. The best time would be an unusually warm and sunny weekend in spring or fall. Contact me if that sounds interesting and/or if you know of any other particularly interesting areas like that within those parks, I’m sure there are many!