The sounds of jack hammers from nearby construction projects and beeping car horns, the smell of gasoline and the ever-present sight of pigeons and people darting by are just a few of the things that make New York City fast-paced and unique.
But every once in awhile, the need to unplug is necessary for the mind, body and soul, and a walk around your local park doesn’t always suffice. Hiking isn’t just great exercise -- it’s a wonderful opportunity for fresh air, to connect with the beauty of the environment around you and to escape the hassles of everyday life -- and it’s only for a few hours! Whether traveling with a friend or a large group, these spots around the NYC area are a perfect temporary getaway for those needing to escape the cacophonies of the city.
Breakneck Ridge Loop
Considered to be extremely strenuous due to its steep rock climbs (that can become slippery when wet,) the Breakneck Ridge Loop also offers some of the most breathtaking views over the Hudson River in the Hudson Highlands State Park Reserve.
This trail is also very popular, especially on the weekends, so don’t plan on being alone for this one. The first panoramic view can be reached after roughly 20 to 30 minutes of hiking, and the whole trail in its entirety is no more than 3 miles long. You definitely have to work for the unparalleled views, but once you get to the top, all of the rock scrambles will have been worth it.
Open for breakfast and lunch, Hudson Hil’s Cafe & Market is a four minute drive from the trail entrance and offers menus that feature fresh and local ingredients from Hudson Valley Farms. The market also has a wide selection of New York breads, cheeses, jams, local grass-fed beef and other fresh baked goods available for purchase.
Getting there: By transit, start at Grand Central Terminal and take the Hudson Line to Cold Spring [Lyft?] or Breakneck Ridge. Walk for about half a mile to the beginning of the trail. By car, take the Palisades Interstate Parkway N to US-202. From here, you’ll turn left onto NY-9D N and the entrance will be on the right.
Blue Mountain Reservation
Accessible by the MTA, the Blue Mountain Reservation offers some of the best views of Westchester County with no limit of things to do and see. If taking public transportation, you can reach Blue Mountain Reservation by taking the Peekskill train from Grand Central Terminal.
At the Reservation, there’s the Sportsman Center where visitors can shoot pistols and arrows in a target range (the only public recreation center in the county that offers this), biking trails throughout the 1,600 acre park and hikes for all experience levels.
While the trails are open to both hikers and hikers alike, there is also fishing, a playground and plenty of places to set up camp for the night. Sedimentary rock cliffs and dignified trees give Blue Mountain State a postcard-like appearance; a great place to unplug for a few hours.
The Briarcliff-Peekskill Trailway is a 12 mile hike for both joggers and hikers alike. You’ll hear the faint sounds of guns being discharged from the shooting range, but the cascading views of the Hudson River from Spitzenberg Mountain and the magnificent foliage makes it all so easy to block out.
Whether grabbing a coffee before your hike or taking some sandwiches before hitting the road, The Peekskill Coffee House on South Division Street has a wide variety of drinks, sandwiches, soups and crepes in a funky, living room-type setting.
Getting there: By transit, start at Grand Central Terminal and take the Hudson Line to Croton-Harmon. Walk to the bus stop at Croton Point Ave and take the 0014 bus to Washington Street. The reservation is a seven minute walk from the bus stop. By car, take the Sprain Brook Parkway to NY-100/NY-9A North. Following US 9 North, take the Welcher Avenue exit to get to the reservation.
Harriman State Park
A 53-minute drive from Manhattan, Harriman is the second-largest state park in the state of New York. With 31 lakes and reservoirs, 200 miles of hiking trails, two beaches, two public camping areas and plenty of high vantage points, Harriman offers plenty to do year-round for people of all hiking experience-levels.
Reeves Brook Circular is a 4.5 mile hike that is rated as ‘moderate’ on the difficulty scale listed on the New York State Park website. Parking is available in the Reeves Meadow Parking lot, where on the trail, visitors can enjoy the passing streams, waterfalls and rock scrambles as they hike, along with some lovely views along the way. And best, the trail goes in a complete circle, so you’ll be back at your car once you’re finished.
Harriman State Park also has Lakes Welch and Tiorati, which are two beaches open to the public where visitors can enjoy swimming and sunbathing in the summer and (if conditions allow) ice fishing in the winter.
However, some hikers have found smaller, more secluded spots throughout the years, although there are no lifeguards patrolling the area. Surrounding its clear waters with sturdy rock formations, Pine Meadow Lake is one of Harriman’s best-kept secrets. Swimming and jumping are done at your own risk, but if you can find it (courtesy of See / Swim’s directions) then it’ll make for a nice day without the crowds.
Before heading home, be sure to stop at Hogan’s Family Diner -- just a seven minute drive from the park located in Stony Point, NY. A spot that’s perfect if you’re traveling with kids or a group of friends, Hogan’s Family Diner is open all day and also has daily dinner specials for patrons to choose from.
Getting there: By transit, head to Penn Station and get on the Montclair-Boonton Line, getting off at Sloatsburg. Upon arrival, head North on Route 17 and turn right on Seven Lakes Drive. Walk until you see the Reeves Meadow Visitor Center parking area. By car, take the Palisades Interstate Parkway North and get off at exit 16, continuing onto Lake Welch Parkway.
Stairway to Heaven Trail
Located in Vernon, NJ, this is arguably one of the most popular hikes on this list. Part of this 7.3 mile trail is done on boardwalks and suspension bridges, but the remainder of it involves areas that are steep and rocky to say the least. Good hiking boots are a must for this one, but the view at the top is so, so worth it.
Because this is one of the most popular trails, don’t expect solitude. This trail will probably most popular during the fall months when the foliage is in full effect.
If doing the full 7.3 miles up Wawayanda Mountain is a little too much for one day, doing only part of the trail is always an option. The boardwalk walk is only for about 2 miles and goes through wildflower fields. Hiking up the Stairway is also an option, with the starting point beginning at Route 94.
At the top of the Stairway, hikers are gifted with the view of Pinwheel Vista -- soaring valleys, the Kittatinny Mountains and straight ahead, High Point Mountain. Arguably one of the most Instagrammable spots in New Jersey, this trail will have you humming the Led Zeppelin song as you make the journey back down.
Just a 15 minute drive away is Granny’s Pancake House & Grill, serving breakfast all day and perfect for refueling before or after a long hike.
Getting there: By car, take NJ-3 West and follow signs for Clifton, later merge onto US-46 West. You’ll later merge onto NJ-23 North and drive on it for about 21 miles. Turn right onto Vernon Stockholm Road (or Country Road 515) for about 8.5 miles and the trail entrance will be on the right.