Located just an hour from New York City, Bear Mountain State Park provides a much-needed reprieve from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Pros and cons
Bear Mountain State Park park encompasses 5,000 acres of tree-covered trails, lake and river recreation, a variety of amenities, and 360-degree views looking out over the Hudson Valley. Once the snow falls, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing turn this location into a year-round recreation destination perfect for a day or weekend excursion from surrounding urban areas.
As development increased throughout the Hudson Valley at the turn of the century, efforts were made to preserve the rugged natural beauty of the area. Bear Mountain State Park was established in 1910, thanks to the combined efforts of wealthy local businessmen. It has grown and expanded in the 100+ years since its creation to become a hub of recreation and a getaway to the heart of nature within close range of New York City.
I hiked through Bear Mountain State Park (and over Bear Mountain) during my Appalachian Trail thru-hike, and was highly impressed with the state of the trail and the park itself. The grade is challenging but not unreasonable, the tread is smooth, and the trails around this area are incredibly well maintained. There is a truly amazing section of trail heading up the mountain with over 1,000 stone steps, which are at once exhausting to climb but one of the most amazing examples of trail building I’ve seen in my time on the trails.
There is a huge variety of activities found here, making Bear Mountain State Park a highly popular getaway. Depending on the season, be ready for crowds at the pavilion, on the trails, at the zoo (yes, there’s a zoo and a carousel), and on the water. I visited this area in early July, and it was highly populated. We saw a school bus for a summer camp unloading dozens of children, passed many families on the trail, and were surprised to see a crowded parking lot at the top of Bear Mountain. Keep these things in mind when planning your trip, and if crowds aren’t your thing, consider a shoulder-season or weekday visit.
Bear Mountain State Park Quick Facts
- Location: Nestled in the Hudson Valley on Palisades Parkway, Bear Mountain State Park sits on the west bank of the Hudson River and stretches into the surrounded mountains and hills
- Phone: 845-786-2701
- Fee: Entrance to the park is $7, with additional small fees for parking and pool entrance
- Size: Bear Mountain State Park encompasses 5,000 acres
- Terrain: Wooded trails, open access riverside and lakeside. Includes urban amenities such as a pool, picnic areas, a lodge with a restaurant, and playing fields.
- Best season: Bear Mountain State Park is optimized for year-round recreation — it all depends on what you want to do
- Get there: Accessing Bear Mountain State Park is simple. Simply take Palisades Parkway North, then connect to US 202 West. Directions can be found here, and a map of the area can be found here
What to do at Bear Mountain State Park
There’s no shortage of activities at Bear Mountain State Park. Whether you’re looking for a challenging day hike, a relaxing wooded stroll, an afternoon fishing, a peek at the zoo animals, or a ride on the carousel, you’ll find it here. These are a few highlights.
Hiking: Hiking options in the park range from challenging, steep climbs to peaceful walking paths. The Bear Mountain Loop Trail is the classic choice, with some steep, rocky sections to get the heart rate up. Two lookouts along the way provide a nice break during the climb, and the view from the top (along with the lookout tower) is worth the effort it took to get there. Yes, there is a parking lot at the top. Don’t let that discourage you. There are over 200 miles of trails spanning all corners of the park, so if you’re not up for a summit day, take a stroll along the lower elevations or piece together a connected series of loops depending on how much time you have.
Visit the Bear Mountain Inn: Coming from farther out of town and looking to stay a night or two? Check out the Bear Mountain Inn, a historic, elegant lodge situated right alongside the Appalachian Trail. The Bear Mountain Inn opened in 1915, and is honored with a spot on the National and New York State Registers of Historic Places. Admire the classic Adirondack architecture — the building was constructed with locally sourced stone and timber. I didn’t stay overnight at the Inn (thru-hiker budget!) but I did stop for lunch here before we continued up the trail. Try to snag a spot on the porch while enjoying your meal.
Take a dip in the pool: There is a small fee to get into the pool, but on a muggy New York day? Totally worth it. I spent an hour relaxing in the pool and hit the trail feeling refreshed and ready to log more miles. Dive off the diving board, swim a few laps, or just relax by the side of the pool and jump in when it gets too hot.
Take a stroll through the zoo: Like I mentioned above, there is an actual zoo right in Bear Mountain State Park, along the Appalachian Trail. See coyotes, black bears, several different species of raptors, and reptiles in the Herpetology House. Pack a picnic lunch and stop by the playing fields or a grill area for lunch in the great outdoors.
Trailside Museums: Four different museums cover a variety of subjects about ecology and regional history — both natural and human-centered. Discover the history of human occupation in the Hudson Valley in the History Museum, then learn about the ecology of local reptiles in the Herpetology House. Visitors to the Nature Study Museum will get a close look at natural specimens to learn about regional animal identification. Lastly, the Geology Museum rounds out the educational experience with fascinating information about the formation of the mountains you can explore right out the back door. All four museums were built in the 1920s from local granite, making the buildings a local wonder in their own right.
Spend the afternoon fishing and boating: Fishing is available along the banks of the Hudson, but remember that a current New York fishing license is required. Want a break from fishing? Rent a paddleboat or a row boat throughout the summer for just a few dollars an hour.
Visit in winter for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing: Groomed and well-marked trails crisscross the park for accessible year-round recreation.