The Hudson Valley offers plenty of lush scenery and greenery for city-dwellers who want the great outdoors. A drive along New York’s Palisades Interstate Parkway brings you to the Bear Mountain State Park, and all that it has to offer families—including hiking, fishing, boating, water sports, a zoo and even a merry-go-round.
Upon entering the park, the park police/ranger’s office has plenty of literature for various itineraries, age ranges and physical levels.
Hikes range from “easy” such as a stroll around the 1.5 mile paved path of the Hessian Lake Loop, to “challenging,” on the 6.5 mile loop of the Popolopen Gorge/Queensboro Lake to “difficult,” as you hike the 3.8 mile loop to the hamlet of Doodletown. Other hikes include Bald Mountain, Fort Montgomery, Bear Mountain Dock, the Popolopen Torne, and the Perkins Memorial Tower, which is what we chose for the day trip. Listed as “challenging” itself, we managed to get our two 8-year-olds to head straight up the 900 feet climb to 1305 foot summit of Bear Mountain. There were plenty of views of the Hudson River along the route, we spent time crossing the Appalachian Trail, and, once at the tower, we were treated to more cool history. (Just keep reminding the kids that it is all downhill on the way back!)
The Perkins Memorial Tower and Drive were built in 1934, in memory of George W. Perkins, who founded the Palisades Interstate Park Commission. Old photos posted throughout the tower show the history of the park, the millions of people it has served, and some of the great activities hosted there through the years, including swimming, archery, a ski jumping tournament, tobogganing, and more. Border tiles around the rooms are illustrated with plants and animals found in the park, as well as trivia questions you can answer if you look at the various photos. (Example: How many lakes does Bear Mountain State Park have?) There are also some fun “historical reminders.” For instance, in 1920, a “good meal” could be purchased at the Inn for as little as 50 cents. “Providing a nutritious meal at an affordable price” was part of Perkin’s philosophy—making a park to serve the public.
Trailside Museums and Zoo
The zoo and museums opened in 1927, with the hopes of introducing visitors to the concepts of “conservation and ecology,” and they’re still open today. Animals at the zoo include beavers, snakes, hawks and bears—all native to the area. The museums offer geology, nature study, reptiles, amphibians, fish and history. The kids may want to watch zookeepers as they feed the porcupine lunch or give the bears a snack. (Come at noon to join in.)
If you’re looking to stay overnight, there are a number of options within the park you may choose from. Book early and know that fall is the busiest time of year. The Bear Mountain Inn has maintained its historic architecture and rustic décor (think Sundance catalogue) while still offering modern comforts in the rooms. The Overlook Lodge allows you to take in the beauty of the countryside, and Stone Cottages are available for groups, offering six guest rooms connected to a common living area. The cottages have front porches and wood burning fireplaces for when you want to sit outside, or stay in.
Luxury After the Hike
And for something a bit unexpected (sorry parents only), the “Spa at Bear Mountain” offers a new “Biker’s and Hiker’s Massage Special,” as part of their full service salon and spa. If you’re looking for a bit of a European touch in the midst of Americana, perhaps the European facial or Swedish massage may be a luxurious way to end your day.