Hiking Near New York City
The Northeast isn't especially known for wilderness or for hiking (the mountains and national parks of the western states receive vastly more publicity, of course). So newcomers to our region -- and/or to hiking -- are sometimes surprised to learn how much beautiful wild land actually exists in our part of the country, and what a wide range of options exist for hiking near NYC. Even people who grew up in the area often aren't aware of how much natural scenery there is to enjoy.
The state of New York, for example, has one park that's the size of the state of Vermont: the 6,000,000-acre Adirondack park, where there are some 2,000 miles of trails, nearly 3,000 lakes and ponds, and 46 peaks over 4,000 feet. It's where the majority of our wilderness camping and backpacking trips take place. And there are literally hundreds of other parks, large and small, in the mountain regions of the northeastern states, with many thousands of miles of hiking trails.
Most of our repertory of over 150 different day hikes take place in the well-populated states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut (plus a few in eastern Pennsylvania and southwestern Massachusetts). A number of the beautiful hiking parks we visit are only an hour or so from NYC, including NY's 52,000-acre Harriman State Park (which alone has 235 miles of hiking trails), 14,000-acre Fahnestock State Park (probably 75 miles of trails), and several especially scenic parks alongside the Hudson River (including Palisades Interstate Park, Hudson Highlands State Park, Storm King State Park, and Hook Mountain State Park).
Along with dozens of smaller parks suitable for hiking near NYC, there's a legion of larger parks that are a bit further away (1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours from NYC), first and foremost being the spectacular 700,000 Catskill Park, which features many mountains in the 3,000-4,000 foot range. Another favorite, a little less than 2 hours away, is 21,100-acre Minnewaska State Park, famous for it's multi-layered cliffs that offer countless scenic vistas, probably more than any other park.
A little closer, from 1 to 1 1/2 hours of NYC, is a band of parks and forests that stretch across northern New Jersey. Among the larger ones, which include segments of the legendary Appalachian Trail, are the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (which protects a 40-mile stretch of the Delaware River and features scenic hiking trails and many waterfalls on both the New Jersey and Pennsylvania sides of the river), Worthington State Forest, Stokes State Forest, High Point State Park, and Wawayanda State Park. This is an abbreviated list, as there are many other New Jersey locations that are well worth a hiking visit.
Also relatively close to NYC are a host of parks and preserves scattered around western Connecticut. While none are very large, many are nevertheless sizable enough for a day hike and have appealing scenery that includes small mountains, attractive forests, and rustic rivers and streams. We offer, for example, at least 8 different day hikes along wilder stretches of CT's Housatonic and Shepaug rivers, plus other hikes that feature trails to beautiful lakes or alongside streams with roaring rapids and waterfalls. For more about specific hiking areas we visit on our scheduled hikes, see the Hiking Destinations page of this site.
Traveling to the Trails
Most hiking areas, by definition, consist of parks and forests with reasonably wild and natural scenery, and they're not always situated near major highways or easy to get to, although there are many exceptions. Some require traveling down back roads (occasionally even one-lane dirt roads!) to reach. If you have a car or other transportation, there are no real limits on where you can travel or hike. If you don't have a car, your travel and hiking options are going to be more limited.
Excellent public transportation is available in and near NYC, of course, and you can indeed get to quite a few of the more popular hiking parks and forests by bus or train from NYC. But many others can't be reached by public transportation. The vast majority of the over 150 hikes we offer, in fact, aren't served by any form of public transportation. And on our hikes we try to avoid utilizing trails that are situated near bus or train stops, since those trails can sometimes be overcrowded.
Since 1980 Wild Earth Adventures has offered round-trip transportation on all of our trips from The Museum of Natural History on Manhattan's Upper West Side for those who need it, which solves the transportation problem for city residents (and those from nearby areas) who are car-less. Many of our NYC participants do hike with us, in part, because of the convenient transportation. And riding with a congenial group of hikers makes for an enjoyable, stress-free travel experience.
Those in our groups who do have cars, including participants who live in other areas and states, obviously have different reasons for hiking with us. These include the comaraderie and safety of going with a group, opportunities to visit a huge variety of hiking areas (some off-the-beaten-path and hard to find), and being able to enjoy interesting, well-planned itineraries that feature scenic highlights of each area. Detailed directions are sent to everyone who drives directly to the locations.
Some people understandably prefer to hike alone or with friends -- but that can entail a few possible hassles (and risks) that are avoidable by going with a group, including the challenges of finding one's way to hiking areas that aren't accessible via well-marked roads, and locating trailheads that aren't indicated by signs (other than a few paint markers on trees). To complicate things, GPS as well as Google Maps and Mapquest are riddled with errors regarding many less-traveled rural routes. Finding suitable (and legal) parking is also an issue in some areas. A good trail map and/or hiking guidebook (plus a compass) are essential for those who hike on their own. Trusting a cellphone is never sensible (since in mountain areas you won't always have a signal, and your battery could die).
Advantages of Hiking Near NYC
If you live in or near New York city, aside from being able to enjoy a host of beautiful "local" hiking destinations, one of the obvious advantages of hiking nearby is that the travel portion of your journey doesn't take long, which can allow you to spend more hours out hiking and enjoying the natural world. And you can expect to be back home much earlier than if a longer trip was involved. If you're not too tired, you'll usually have the option of enjoying some evening activities after a hike.
For those who ride with us from NYC, our morning departure times (from the Museum of Natural History) are usually between 7 and 8 am. During the cooler seasons, when on chilly days we tend to take somewhat shorter rest breaks during the hikes, we're often back in the city by mid-afternoon (and sometimes even earlier on easy hikes). In the summer, when we frequently travel farther to visit the higher mountain ranges where cooler temperatures reign, and swimming is a popular and refreshing option that's available on many of our hikes, our return times are often somewhat later, sometimes well into the evening.
On our trips up to half of the group may consist of people from upstate New York, northern New Jersey, western Connecticut, and other nearby states (and on our overnight trips, often from other parts of the US and other countries). But we've always had a sizable contingent of "regulars" and other participants who live in the five boroughs of New York City, along with others who take a bus or train (to ride with us ) from nearby communities in New Jersey, Long Island, and elsewhere.
Incidentally, there are some well-known hiking parks near NYC that we avoid because of their proximity to noisy highways and major eyesores -- unpleasant distractions such as giant power lines or crowded shopping malls, which are inevitable elements of the landscape of virtually every metropolitan area, of course.
But newcomers are often pleased to discover that there's so much relatively pristine hiking not far from a city of 8 million people, on trails that often traverse truly wild and natural terrain -- not what most people expect near a major metropolitan area. Among the tens of thousands of acres of scenic mountain parkland are some areas where not even the faintest sound of traffic can be heard in the distance, and where one only rarely sees other hikers (granted there are also a few noteworthy trails that can be crowded, and we usually only schedule hikes on such trails during the coldest months, when we're likely to see the fewest people).
Probably no city in the East comes close to having as many wild parks and natural areas within a relatively short drive as NYC does. Which to a good extent is thanks to the foresight of local leaders over a century ago in setting aside so much land (that would otherwise have been developed) for public parks and forests. And also because the region is blessed with extraordinary natural beauty, and abundant rainfall to nourish lush vegetation and a rich array of wildlife and birdlife.
Those are some reasons why it's safe to say -- without exaggeration -- that the hiking near NYC is some of the best you'll find in the eastern United States.
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