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Fantastic Harriman/Bear Mountain Park Winter Hikes 2021

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  • Fantastic Harriman/Bear Mountain Park Winter Hikes 2021

    I'm a passionate outdoorsman, and have regularly driven two hours to hike and camp all over the Catskills in search of my nature fix. I've lived in Westchester for almost 30 years, but I never realized how wild and remote the terrain gets in my own backyard - Harriman/Bear Mountain Park! This is for others who may not realize it's there. Please note on the following - I'm fortunate to have several weekdays free which may explain the lack of other hikers. Also, bring an accurate trail map. There are lots of trails that intersect, as well as bridle paths and woods roads. Even with a map it's easy to get turned around:

    THE TIMP-TORNE TRAIL: via 9W trailhead. The fascinating history carved into the craggy sides of Dunderberg Mountain drew me to the Timp trail before the snow hit. Due to lack of time my two dogs - Sting and Lucy - and I turned back at the big hairpin turn a mile and a half in where there's a stunning view south of the Hudson River. What an amazing trail - two tunnels (one unfinished), lots of century-old grading discernible beneath the undergrowth, stunning views, and a challenging path threading up and down, over and between the crags. Midweek from the trailhead on 9W we had it almost all to ourselves, except for a couple of older women with two big dogs.

    DOODLETOWN: more history - I love imagining how the land was lived on before I get there. Setting up a town in the late 1700's in this steep, remote valley between Bear, Bald, Dunderberg and West Mountains must have been a leap of faith. Its 300 or so inhabitants lived and died here for over two centuries before the Park bought them out to build a ski area that never materialized. My solitary 3 mile loop (with just Sting - a forty pound retriever) took in cellar holes and foundations, two cemeteries, a small reservoir, and further up in the hills, several different mine shafts filled with icy water.

    WEST MOUNTAIN SHELTER: I made two hikes in via the 2.4 mile AT route from the parking lot off Seven Lakes Drive. The first was a forty degree day in January. I'd forgotten my map and what seemed straightforward at home quickly proved confusing. Luckily passing hikers let me take a pic of their NY/NJ Trail Conference map (this is the one to have!) that has mileage notation as well. As long as my phone battery lasted I was good. Still, there are two or three junctions before getting on the AT heading south up the long ridge of West Mountain. Even then the trail marker is a 2" x 6" white blaze, not your typical AT blaze, so be warned.

    During this 5 mile loop I could hear traffic from the valley along much of this alternating steep and level trail until it veered eastward the last 3/4 mile to the shelter, but it opens up to great views along the way. This snug stone shelter with two fireplaces faces southeast, perched at 1240' on the edge of a deep rugged valley. Then, beyond the peaks of Bald Mountain and the Timp, past the park boundary stretches the busy Hudson all the way to the NYC skyline. There's a limit to this "wilderness", but the immediate landscape feels gnarly and satisfyingly remote. I returned through a sudden snow squall via the yellow blazed Suffern-Bear Mountain trail, which plunges down and up over surprisingly abrupt crags before descending past mine tailings and plunging streams into Doodletown valley. My phone battery lasted just long enough to steer me onto the 1777 W trail back to the parking lot.

    After two feet of powdery snow fell at the end of January I returned with a friend for an overnight. Snowshoes mandatory. Someone had broken trail all the way to the shelter or it would have been brutal. Even with snowshoes we couldn't venture off trail without sinking past our knees. Foraging for firewood was impossible so I cooked on my stove. We got snowed on some more as we slept, which was fine, although my buddy said the horns of the freight trains along the Hudson kept him up.

    BALD MOUNTAIN: 3.3 miles up and back. This is a straight shot from trailhead parking on 9W near the entrance to Iona Island. The Cornell Mine trail was well packed but the snow was softening up on this sunny 38 degree afternoon so I wore my MSR snowshoes. I passed several hikers without who said they wished they had them. Navigating their postholes, so did I. After a bit of a climb the trails rolls and rises easily through lovely open forest for 1.1 miles until you come to the mountain, which rises straight up like a children's drawing. A stiff .4 mile climb gets you to the junction with the Red marked Ramapo-Dunderberg trail. Hang a right for another .2 mile climb to the summit, which was indeed "bald" and windswept with fantastic 180 degree views north and west. I bushwacked straight down to find the Cornell Mine, but it was buried enough in snow for me to miss it.

    THE TIMP: 4 miles up and back, via the 1777 trail from the furthest south trailhead on 9 W. By March the snow has retreated enough for bare boots - it's a 50/50 mix between hard packed snow and sometimes soggy ground. This is the route half of General Clinton's British regulars took in a successful surprise attack on Forts Clinton and Montgomery by Bear Mountain Bridge during the American Revolution. I was imagining their flat, leather-soled boots trying to gain traction up the steep sections. It's mostly a gradual climb, strolling through open woods and streams, skirting a few houses near the park boundary before heading sharply uphill for the last 1/3 of a mile. This puts you in the col between Timp, Bald and Dunderburg with many trails choices. I went left on the red blazed Ramapo-Dunderberg trail, which continued .4 miles through a swampy area before winding it's way up to the breathtaking north/south/west views on the Timp, where stiff winds required digging an extra layer out of my pack.

    After these winter hikes, I can say with some authority this area of the park packs more history, novelty and craggy, rugged landscape into a strenuous five mile hike than anything I've hiked in the Catskills, except maybe the cloves. Granted, the peaks are taller there, and the wilderness more extensive and complete when a more thorough immersion is needed. But I'm grateful such dramatic landscape is available so close to home.

  • #2
    You can buy the map at the visitors' center off the Parkway. Some of these trails are not to be laughed at! A few years hiked the Timp-Torne trail from 9W all the way to it's other end, at the Torne. 4000 ft ele gain in 12 miles!

    ADK 46r #8003; 6W
    2nd round: 16
    SL6r #596
    Catskill 3500 21/39; 11W


    • #3
      The two obvious long trails in Harriman is the SBM, that spits you out on a sidewalk in Suffern and the Ramapo-Dunderberg.. Obviously you can create numerous long hikes including the LP and the AT that cut through Harriman but the two above and singly blazed and long trails that there are even patches for them being done as a dayhike..

      Nice photos and trip report allwhowander, BTW.


      Life is a short, warm moment
      And death is a long cold rest.
      You get your chance to try in the twinkling of an eye:
      Eighty years, with luck, or even less.
      -Pink Floyd