There’s more to hiking in the Hudson Highlands than Mount Beacon, Storm King Mountain and Breakneck Ridge. Take, for instance, Mount Beacon’s near neighbors: Lamb’s Hill and Bald Hill, which offer arguably better views, present a beautiful challenge and aren’t completely overrun with tourists. I had to work in the morning on the Saturday after Memorial Day, but the weather was gorgeous and I didn’t want to waste the whole day. I’d been taking it a bit easy with the difficulty on my recent hikes. I wanted to find something strenuous with worthwhile views that didn’t require a long drive. So I changed into my hiking togs at the office and hopped down to Beacon to Scenic Hudson’s Fishkill Ridge.
I was wrong about a few things going into this hike, but I was right about this: it is a strenuous hike, and the views are more than worthwhile. The things I would soon learn I’d been wrong about included the actual length of the hike, how much time it would take, and where the short trail that closes the loop on the lollipop was. I’m usually pretty chill about this kind of thing, but I had some special circumstances that day that made these mistakes particularly inconvenient.
When I hike solo–which is most of the time–I text my sweetie information on where I’ll be, what my route looks like, and how long it should take. That way he knows I’m in trouble if he doesn’t hear from me by a certain time. But that day, my sweetie was traveling for work. I was very close to where my parents live, though, so I called them instead when I got to the parking area at 1:30. I’d printed out a trail map [jpg], but the part of the image that included trail names and lengths was cut off. By eyeballing I guessed the route covered about 6.5 miles (it was actually 8.25 miles) and at my usual pace should take me about 2 1/2 hours (this was wildly ambitious, but more on that later). To be on the safe side, I told my parents I should call them by 4:30, but they shouldn’t worry unless they hadn’t heard from me by 5:30. With that bit of safety business taken care of I started off up red-blazed Overlook Trail to the top of the ridge.
The Overlook Trail is the 1.75 mile-long first half of the long lollipop “stick” and this trail is no joke. It gains 1300 feet of elevation at an average grade of 14%! Climbing that steeply with a 35 lb pack slowed me down. A lot. I had plenty of water and plenty of daylight left so I didn’t mind taking my time. This part of the route passes through cool green forest over some seriously ankle-turning terrain. About a third of the way up it crosses Clove Creek at a noisy little waterfall. It follows a stone wall for a bit, then passes through it at almost exactly the half-way point. Some nice views of the Hudson River and the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge can be had from this general area, too. From there’s it’s really just a slog ranging from merely arduous to practically precipitous until, finally, the Overlook Trail dead-ends into the (obviously) white-blazed White Trail. The big green deciduous trees give way to open rock and pitch pine, and a 180° view opens up to the west and south.
This was an excellent place for a break. I took off my pack, let a lovely mountain breeze dry my back, and made a quick phone call to my mother to push back our time-frame by 30 minutes. I usually have a rule against using my phone on the trail. Most of the time I can’t get service anyway. I didn’t want to freak my parents out, though, and, besides, there’s a giant honking communication tower on top of Mount Beacon and I was looking at it. At any rate, after a much-needed rest I turned left onto the White Trail and continued on to the summit of Lamb’s Hill.
Not long after that, the trail briefly re-enters the woods for a short and moderately steep downhill section to “Dozer Junction,” where the loop part of the lollipop starts. The White Trail crosses an old woods road and the Blue Trail–which according to my map hooks up with the White Trail at the end of the line (spoiler: it doesn’t!)–departs to the right, just past the eponymous abandoned bulldozer. I misunderstood the markings here and briefly turned left onto the woods road, but realized my mistake after only a few minutes, retraced my steps and got back on track.
After it crosses the woods road, the White Trail continues straight and mostly flat along the exposed eastern ridge between the Lamb’s Hill and Bald Hill summits. This stretch of trail is just plain spectacular, especially under a big blue sky like the one I had that day. Halfway along the ridge I stopped and ate a snack of fruit and Cliff Bars and took in the view overlooking the Thalle Quarry to the east. When I was full and rested I stood and stretched and, after blinking a few times to make sure I wasn’t imagining things, checked out the New York City skyline, clearly visible to the south. (I tried to snap a pic, but my phone’s camera doesn’t have the juice for that kind of shot.) Eventually I had to tear myself away and continue on the White Trail, which summits Bald Hill about three-quarters of a mile later.
The White Trail pulls a 180° turn to double back the way it came. It was around this point that I realized I’d miscalculated the overall length of this route. I knew this was the halfway point of the hike. I also knew I’d already done more than 4 miles. I was still on track time-wise for my check-in with my parents and I had brought plenty of water (it’s the easiest thing to use to weigh down my pack) so I still wasn’t worried. I did call my parents again, though, to let them know I’d be still later than I’d planned.
The trail enters the forest and heads moderately downhill, then continues straight and flat along the east side of the mountain below the ridge. About two miles from the hairpin turn I ran smack into three white discs–the end of the White Trail–at a junction with a left turn onto a yellow blazed trail. According to my map, that yellow trail connects to the Wilkinson Memorial Trail, which leads to Mount Beacon and Breakneck Ridge. The Blue Trail should depart from this same general area on the right, up the hill, to connect with the White Trail at Dozer Junction and close the loop. I searched the trees on the right side of the trail and found… nothing at all. No trail, no markers, nothing. I walked back the way I’d come, watching for anything resembling a trail or a blue blaze. Still nothing. I walked back to the end of the White Trail.
I knew the Blue Trail existed. I’d seen it when I passed Dozer Junction on my way out. I just kept looking at my map and looking around in disbelief. The Wilkinson Memorial Trail departed to the left at the end of the White Trail, exactly as it appeared on the map. The Blue Trail should depart on the right at around the same spot. It just wasn’t there. I did see something that did not appear on my map, though: a yellow trail continuing straight ahead from the White Trail. I decided to follow that for a bit as long as it seemed to go in the right direction. After about maybe a tenth of a mile I started to worry about the time. If I invested much more time in the yellow trail, I ran the risk of losing daylight. I have a horror of getting caught out on the trail after dark. I decided not to risk it, turned around, walked back to the end of the White Trail and checked my map one last time. The outbound section of the White Trail should be 600 feet straight up the hillside. I turned right and started climbing. My Hoka One One hiking boots were more than up to the task on the traction front, so I wasn’t too nervous about tumbling down (on a 50% grade hill, I probably should have been more worried than I was), but every time I put my hand down into the inches of dead leaves I was sure I’d disturb a timber rattlesnake or a brown recluse spider. After a few terrifying minutes I stumbled onto the White Trail exactly where I expected it to be, more or less.
I breathed a sigh of relief, turned left onto the trail and followed it for a bit, and ten minutes later crossed the woods road at Dozer Junction. If it had been even 30 minutes earlier than it was, I would have followed that trail to see where exactly it went. I didn’t have the time for that, though. I hurried along back the way I had come, over the exposed rock and pitch pines, back to the Overlook Trail. From there, the incline and the rough terrain required me to take my time. I finally made it back to my car at 6:45.
Directions-related SNAFUs aside, Fishkill Ridge is not to be missed. Next time I’m up there, you better believe I’ll do the loop the opposite way. I can’t wait to find out where that blue trail actually goes.
Length: 8.75 miles (including backtracking)
Total Elevation Gain: ~1830 ft
Hiking Time: 5 hours
Training Grade: A
Enjoyment Grade: B+