We had some beautiful weather the Sunday before Memorial Day weekend and I intended to make the best of it. I poked around the internet looking for a long-ish new to me loop hike that might have some interesting features. Not surprisingly, I found what I was looking for on the NY-NJ Trail Conference’s wonderful website: a 9-mile loop with an abandoned mine, two lakes and an old burial ground. Sign me up! I packed my bag and made my way down to Harriman State Park.
Harriman State Park is huge. It covers 47,527 acres and contains 325 miles of hiking trails, including 19 miles of the Appalachian Trail and 25 miles of the Long Path (a mile of which comprises the last leg of this loop). If you’re into lakes, Harriman has a couple of dozen of them. The terrain on the hike I chose is relatively flat as it circumnavigates the base of Rockhouse Mountain, one of the Hudson Highlands’ highest peaks. Unfortunately there is no trail to the summit, and I’m not into bushwhacking. Nearby Bear Mountain is a touch taller and a much easier score, anyway. I was perfectly content to stay at my lower elevation.
I got to the park at around 10:30 and had to circle the Lake Skannatati parking lot a few times before a space opened up. There is no swimming in the lake, but it seems like a popular fishing and picnicking spot. Once I parked, I put on my sunblock and bug stuff, changed into my hiking boots, clapped my hat onto my head and set off to find the three red triangles on white blaze that mark the start of the Arden-Surebridge trail. I had the benefit of reading Daniel Chazin’s excellent description of this hike so I knew exactly what to expect. The first half-mile of this nearly 9-mile loop presents the only uphill challenge as the A-ST climbs Pine Swamp mountain. Once the trail levels off, the triple red cross on white marker signifies the right turn onto the Red Cross trail, which the loop follows for the next three and a half-odd miles. Almost right away, after the trail crosses the paved and busy (this time of year) Seven Lakes Road, I got to enjoy some gorgeous views of Lake Askoti and, after a bit of an uphill, some nice mountain views.
The trail levels off again and heads into the woods on what I guess was probably and old mine road. I guess that because after about a mile on that old road the Red Cross trail in fact passes an old mine. Continuing on, I crossed a paved road, walked across what used to be a baseball field but is now a nice meadow with a backstop in it, and re-entered the woods to cross a sweet little brook. Not long after that I came to a large cairn in the trail and triple blue blazes on a tree on the right of the trail. This was the start of the Beech Trail, which the loop follows for the next 3.7 miles.
The Beech Trail stays relatively flat through its first wooded mile, then descends to intersect with a paved road. The trail follows the road very briefly across a bridge, then passes back into the woods on the same side. This whole thing happens again almost immediately–the trail intersects the road, crosses a bridge, then passes back into the woods, only this time on the other side. The next mile after the road crossing is just plain picturesque. As the trail heads uphill, a stream to the left rushes down, occasionally breaking into charming little waterfalls and cascades. Eventually, the trail crosses a dirt road and encounters some old stone property line walls. I’d been watching anxiously for this, because I knew soon I’d be able to see the coolest man-made feature on this loop: the cemetery.
I was not disappointed. Restored as part of an Eagle Scout project (“Dedicated to those who are part of our heritage and those who have served our country.”), the little burial ground dates back to the late 19th century and includes graves of Civil War veterans. There was nothing spooky about this collection of graves in the middle of the woods. It was kind of ghostly, but not in a creepy way. If I had to pick a word to describe it, I’d say it was peaceful. I was glad I got to see it.
Moving on from the cemetery, the trail joins an old farm road and follows that for the next mile, then suddenly makes an incredibly poorly marked left turn while the old farm road continues straight another 600 feet or so to dead-end into Route 106. Reader, do you think I spied the really unbelievably poorly marked left turn onto the narrow footpath that intersects the road a bit further west? Or do you think I continued along the old farm road, crossed Route 106, and searched in vain for any sign of a blue blaze in the woods on the other side? If you chose the latter, you’re absolutely right! I stomped up and down the paved road for a few minutes. My anxiety level ratcheted up as I realized I was 7 miles into a 9 mile hike, foot fatigue had begun to set in, I’d drunk 3 of the 4 liters of water I’d brought with me and I suddenly faced the prospect of hiking seven miles back.
I did what I always do when I think I’ve lost the trail: I turned around to look for the last blaze behind me. Only I didn’t see one. I re-crossed Route 106 and followed my footsteps with my eyes peeled until I did see a blue blaze, then I turned around again and scanned the trees on either side of the trail. Sure enough, I spotted the left turn. With a sigh of relief, I followed the footpath, crossed Route 106 and easily picked up the Beech Trail on the other side of the road. Here the trail passes through some cool flora, including a creepy swamp and open-roofed rhododendron tunnels, until it dead-ends into the Long Path.
I turned right onto the Long Path for the home stretch, the last mile. it starts off with a steep-ish downhill to a brook crossing. Then it’s a straight, sort of flat shot back to the parking lot at Lake Skannatati (crossing Route 106 and Seven Lakes Road on the way). I popped a squat on a rock overlooking the lake and chomped on a well earned rye bagel with veggie cream cheese.
Difficulty: Moderate (due to length)
Length: 8.9 miles
Total Elevation Gain: ~1030 ft
Hiking Time: 3.5 hours
Training Grade: B+
Enjoyment Grade: A