The Easter weekend weather forecast was rainy so I expected to be stuck inside, but Saturday wound up warm and dry enough to squeeze in a late afternoon trip to Bear Mountain State Park for the loop up over the mountain.
This 4-mile loop starts on the red-on-white blazed Major Welch Trail. The first half mile or so is a nice, easy stroll on a paved path along the shore of Hessian Lake. I looked at an elevation profile for the hike before I left home, so I didn’t let this part lull me into a false sense of security. I knew I had an 1,100′ ascent ahead of me. The trail turns left near a strongly worded sign to the effect that hikers better be fit enough and properly shod for the trail ahead, then continues uphill at a mostly easy grade for another half-ish mile. The trail isn’t ideally marked but it’s easy to follow (the occasional stone stairs help) until it hangs a hairpin right turn around a large boulder that I nearly missed entirely (thank you to the helpful young woman who got me back on the path!).
After the unmarked hairpin turn, things get strenuous. The trail aims straight up the hillside and doesn’t look back. There are a few really lovely rock scrambles and stunning views of the Hudson River and the Bear Mountain Bridge. I stopped a few times to snap some pics and, coincidentally, let my heart rate fall back into a range compatible with life. At one of these resting places I commiserated with a group of young adults who had done the loop the other way and were on their way down; one of them complimented my t-shirt. This was a highlight of my day.
After the longest three quarters of a mile I’ve experienced in a while the trail levels off on the flat top of Bear Mountain. The NY-NJ Trail Conference has constructed a nice accessible gravel trail here among the pitch pines that serves as a wonderful cool-down and leads to the Perkins Memorial Tower, where the Major Welch trail ends and the loop picks up on the Appalachian Trail. The tower seems pretty cool, but it’s the parking/observation area for motorists so it’s pretty touristy. I gave it a pass and continued straight past and started my downhill on the AT.
The first part of the descent is pretty boring. There are gorgeous, expansive views of the Hudson River but the trail itself just sort of stumbles downhill over earthy/rocky terrain. It even follows a flat old dead-end road for a bit. Eventually, though, it hangs a left turn into what has to be one of the most beautifully constructed sections of the AT.
According to the NY-NJ Trail Conference, this approximately one-mile section of trail comprises more than 800 hand-cut stone stairs. It really is spectacular, and with every step down I grew more and more thankful I had done the loop in this direction rather than the other way around. After the heart-pounding ascent I’d had I relished the chance to skip lightly downstairs for the last mile back to the parking area.
I absolutely loved this hike and will definitely revisit it during my training, likely as a loop again as well as going up-and-back on the stairs part of the AT. I wish Bear Mountain State Park was just slightly closer so I could make it an after-work thing. At least it’s close enough to do as an early morning weekend hike and still have the rest of the day for other pursuits.
Length: ~4 miles
Elevation Change: ~1,100 ft
Hiking Time: 2 hours, 10 minutes
Training Grade: A+
Enjoyment Grade: A