Hiking Near NYC
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 close to New York City.
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 most 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 Northeast, with 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. We also have 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 240 miles of hiking trails), 14,000-acre Fahnestock State Park (more than 75 miles of trails), and several especially scenic parks alongside the Hudson River -- including the Palisades Interstate Park, Hudson Highlands State Park, Storm King State Park, Hook Mountain State Park, and Nyack Beach 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, about 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, within 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 -- along with 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.
Offering still other opportunities for hiking near 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.
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 few limits on where you can travel or hike. If you don't have a car, your hiking options are going to be more limited.
Excellent public transportation is available in and near New York City, 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 transit. And on most of our hikes we deliberately avoid utilizing trails that are situated near bus or train stops, since some of those trails are overcrowded (whereas trails in remote areas tend to attract far fewer hikers).
Since the 1980s Wild Earth Adventures has offered round-trip transportation on all of our trips from The American Museum of Natural History on Manhattan's Upper West Side for those who need it, which resolves the transportation problem for city residents (and those from nearby areas) who are car-less, and makes hiking near NYC ultra-convenient.
Many of our New York City participants do hike with us, in part, because of the transportation we provide, which requires no planning or additional cost beyond getting to our Upper West Side departure point. 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, 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 in 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 often aren't indicated by signs (other than perhaps a few paint markers on trees).
To complicate things, GPS as well as Google Maps and Mapquest are riddled with errors when it comes to less-traveled rural routes, including dirt roads. 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 cell phone is never sensible (since in mountain areas you often won't have a signal, and your battery could die).
Advantages of Hiking Near NYC
If you live in the city or close by, aside from being able to enjoy a host of beautiful "local" hiking destinations, one of the obvious advantages of hiking near NYC is that the travel portion of your journey won't take long, which can allow you to spend more hours out hiking and enjoying the natural world. And you can get back home much earlier than if a longer trip was involved. If you're not too tired, you'll often 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 (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 usually somewhat later, and in the case of the longest drives and hikes, we're sometimes not back till mid evening or later.
On our trips up to half of the group sometimes consists of people from upstate New York, northern New Jersey, western Connecticut, and other nearby states (and on overnight trips, occasionally 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 NYC, plus still others who take a bus or train (to ride with us ) from communities in NJ, Long Island, and elsewhere.
Incidentally, there are some well-known parks suitable for hiking near NYC that we don't visit because of their unfortunate 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 most metropolitan areas, of course.
But newcomers are often pleased to discover that hiking near NYC entails following trails that often traverse truly wild and natural terrain. Relatively pristine hiking is not what most people expect to find close to a city of 8 million people.
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 -- places that many of us treasure.
At the same time, there are a few extremely scenic and noteworthy trails that tend to be overcrowded much of the year. 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 New York City does. That's in good part thanks to the foresight of local leaders over a century ago in setting aside so much land for public parks and forests (which would otherwise have been developed). And also because the region is blessed with extraordinary natural beauty, ample rainfall to nourish vegetation, and a rich array of wildlife and birdlife.
Those are some reasons why it's safe to say -- without the slightest exaggeration -- that the hiking near NYC is actually some of the best you'll find anywhere in the eastern United States.
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