With conditions still not ideal for North Point in the Catskills, I planned a visit to Fishkill Ridge near Cold Spring, NY. However, as I approached the halfway point on my drive to the trail, a major downpour ensued. This pouring rain, in addition to heavy cloud cover, convinced me to turn around and try again the following day.
The next morning, I woke up at 5:00AM to find it was 17 degrees and still a bit cloudy. I may enjoy the occasional drizzle or a brisk breeze, but I am fully aware that I likely wouldn't enjoy being immediately soaked or frozen while climbing a mountain to get a closer look at a cloud. So, with that, I scrapped my plans for a long ascent and decided on something entirely different.
Although one of my favorite things about a hike is the trip to the trail, I decided to find something closer to home so I could wait until the weather cleared up and start the hike a little later in the day without having to worry about losing daylight. Palisades Interstate Park, only 30 minutes from my home, seemed like the perfect place.
Despite its close proximity, I have often overlooked the Palisades in favor of hikes which were further away and more secluded. However, the fact that I had not yet properly explored this patch of wilderness, so close to home, heightened my curiosity. I decided to traverse the Huyler's Landing Trail. From there, I would follow the Shore Trail a bit before heading back.
Huyler's Landing has a long history dating back to the late-1700's. Huyler's Landing on the shore of the Hudson River was used by British General Cornwallis for attacks on Fort Lee. Later, other attacks were launched from this landing (which leads to a road that travels up the cliffs) by other English sympathizers as well. In fact, this whole area is haunted by Revolutionary War history and makes for an interesting atmosphere while hiking through the surrounding forests.
I didn't head out until about noon but I knew I had a good 4 hours or so before sunset. I was confident that I could enjoy a good 3 or 4 mile hike before starting back home. The day cleared up nicely; the sky was blue and the sun gleamed brightly now. It was still only 23 degrees when I parked the car, but I bundled up appropriately with an uncharacteristic hat and gloves.
Unlike most hikes where I find myself parking alongside a lush forest near a trailhead, parking in the Palisades is a totally different affair. Wide, expansive parking areas are located at scenic overlooks above the Hudson River providing anybody with an easy photo opportunity and a very promising start to any hike. The trail starts at the Alpine Lookout, one of the many overlooks featuring coin-operated binoculars, and follows the aqua-blazed Long Path Trail which straddles the crude metal fence along the edge of the cliff.
Within the first few minutes of the hike I came to an old cement walkway which leads over the edge of the cliff providing amazing views of the Hudson River, both North and South, and of the forest below. The leafless expanse of brown and beige trees running down the cliff and to the shore below was quite breathtaking.
Although I don't agree with defacing nature, the graffiti which adorned the rock formations below was impressive, especially the paint that topped the vertical stone directly below the walkway. I lack the courage it must take to pull one's self to the tip of this narrow tower and try to do much of anything.
I spent a good amount of time just leaning on the metal rail which surrounded the walkway staring at the clouds, the gentle waves, the line of ships making their way up the river, the number of helicopters going here or there, and the buildings across the water. Honestly, I likely would have been satisfied pulling out a chair and spending the rest of the afternoon there, but I knew I had to carry on. Physical activity, after all, was still a part of this endeavor.
So, I pulled myself from this easy view and followed the Long Path Trail into the forest. The woods in this area have unique character as opposed to those which are further upstate. The location, so close to NYC and the busy Palisades Parkway, and the Revolutionary War connection make these woods feel alive. It is truly a place where "if the trees could talk" they would have quite the story to tell.
I also noted some of the largest tree trunks I have seen across all of my hikes in this small patch of woods. I suppose this has to do with the historical prominence of the area and the proximity to lively communities, sparing these particular grounds from abusive deforestation. However, it goes without saying that a LOT of deforestation had to occur just to build the Parkway, the overlooks, and the office parks that pepper the side of the road. A number of old mansions and estates also used to grace this area before being acquired and demolished by the state.
Where I usually find myself looking for a way "up", this hike took me "down" the side of the cliffs and right to the shores of the Hudson River. At the top, my hands were freezing, but as I traveled down into the denser forest, the trees protected me from the wind and greatly improved the quality of the hike. I was able to remove my gloves and hat shortly thereafter. Any noise from the road disappeared as I descended and it was easy to forget just how close to home I actually was.
Exiting the woods onto Huyler's Landing Road, a simple asphalt road running through the patches of forest, I startled a family of white-tailed deer, 4 in total. Before I could reach for my camera, the animals darted through the trees. Of all places that I would expect to find wildlife, this was the last. I was amazed that such beautiful creatures would call a place like this home, but the forest is the forest, whether or not a busy road or busting metropolitan city is nearby. It is noteworthy that I had seen a total of 5 deer and 2 bears before this hike. Now my total deer count has almost doubled to 9.
At the bottom of the hill, a short walk led me right to Huyler's Landing, a jetty of stones leading about 40-50 feet into the water. There was a sign indicating Huyler's Beach was to the South and the Shore Trail headed North.
I walked out to the tip of the jetty and savored the view of the George Washington Bridge far out in the distance. Unfortunately, as might be expected, there was a good amount of trash stuck on the rocks and the surrounding shores, but not too much to where I would call it a real problem. It is the Hudson River after all.
A decent-sized rock nearby made for the perfect place to enjoy some beef jerky before I spent some time walking along the Shore Trail. I decided to jog for a bit along the rock pathway which, as its name would indicate, followed the shore of the Hudson.
There were many small beaches along the trail to my right and steep, crowded cliffs to my left. Large boulders and leafless trees were plentiful and the golden leaves that once clung to the trees carpeted the floor. A few sets of large stone stairways appeared on the trail as well, taking me up and then down, then up again and so on and so forth.
I had set a time limit, 2:30PM, to turn back around. Before I knew it, it was time to head back up the cliff. On my way back the wind turned up a bit and the taller, older trees in the forest above made many ominous creaking sounds as they swayed. I was actually surprised that I did not witness any of these trees collapse from the sounds I was hearing.
I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this hike. The ease in which I was able to travel to and from the trail was great and the views were satisfying throughout. On the ride home I felt more relaxed and clear-minded than I have in quite some time as bright sun rays led my way home. Ironically, I listened to "Dancing in the Moonlight" by King Harvest, which put me in a further soothed my mind.
The Hudson Palisades Trails, which I had largely written off as "too local" and "not wild enough", have certainly made an impression on me and I expect to return to hike the entire length of its offered trails. These trips can be completed either before or after another longer hike or even before or after a day at work. Even a lunch at one of the scenic overlooks would suffice for some midday relaxation.
The State Line Lookout Inn is not too far up the Palisades Parkway and makes for a great place to take in a view and grab a bite to eat. My father and I routinely traveled here when I was a child and once we took a hike for about 2 miles on its nearby trail. It is one of those blurry memories that I fondly recollect. That particular trail is certainly one that I intend to hike soon, if not for simply sentimental reasons.
Overall, this turned out to be a wonderful day. I got just the right amount of physical exertion along with interesting sights to stimulate my brain and calm my thoughts. Even the drive on the Palisades Parkway provides a number of beautiful sights as forests line the sides of the road. I would recommend the Huyler's Landing Trail/Shore Trail combination or lunch at the State Line Outlook Inn before a short hike to anybody looking for a simple, yet satisfying trip.