Things to be Aware of When Hiking the Wallkill Valley Loop

Following Blazes

Trails are marked by painted shapes called blazes that are usually painted on a tree or rock alongside the trail.  These blazes will usually be different shapes and/or colors for different trails.  The Wallkill Valley Loop is made up of four different trails and, because it is a virtual route, doesn’t have a specific blaze of it’s own for the duration of the trail.  The Appalachian Trail (AT) is blazed with white rectangles.  The Shawangunk Ridge Trail (SRT) is blazed with aqua rectangles (except the first 1.5 miles of it which is blazed in red and green).  The Long Path (LP) is also blazed with aqua rectangles.  The Highlands Trail (HT) is blazed with teal diamond shapes, and the Jessup Trail (a small part of the HT) is blazed with yellow rectangles.

Once you know the colors of the trail blazes you will also need to know what the meaning of certain blaze placements mean.  The beginning of a specific trail is shown with a triangle of blazes with the point facing up like this:  ▄▀▄.  A single blaze:   ▄   means to continue straight on the trail.  Two blazes with one off-set from the other means there is a turn in the trail with the top blaze showing the direction of the turn, for example:    ▄▀   would indicate a right hand turn,   ▀▄   would indicate a left hand turn.  The end of a specific trail is shown with a triangle of blazes, this time with the point facing downward like this:  ▀▄▀.  Finally, two vertical blazes with a third blaze on the left or right indicates a spur trail leaving from the main trail.  Happy Trails!

Leave No Trace!

You can help preserve the natural beauty of the valley by following these seven simple steps:

  1. Plan ahead and be prepared: Know where you are going and be prepared for extreme weather and emergencies.
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces: Camp at least 200 feet from water bodies, and keep your campsite small and natural.
  3. Dispose of waste properly: If you packed it in, pack it out!  For solid human waste, dig a cat hole 6-8 inches in depth and at least 200 feet from the trail, water bodies, and camp.  Cover it when finished.
  4. Leave what you find: Take only pictures, leave only footprints.
  5. Minimize campfire impacts: Use a camping stove if possible instead.
  6. Respect wildlife: View wildlife from a distance, keep pets under control, and store food securely to keep animals out of your camp.
  7. Be considerate of other visitors: Help keep the experience fun for everyone! 

For more details on Leave No Trace (LNT) hiking and backpacking, visit

Proper Food Storage in the Woods

The woods are home to more than just hikers.  Critters like chipmunks, skunks, raccoons, and bears all have good senses of smell and will take advantage of an easy meal if they can.  Therefore, use caution with food, both in cooking and storage.  With proper precautions you can keep the animals wild and your camp safe.

When cooking food, do so well away from camp and downwind of it as well, so that the smells drift away from camp instead of towards it.  If possible, minimize food scent on oneself by not wearing the clothes you cooked in to bed.  Finally, wash all dishes before going to bed and disposing of the gray water well away from your camp site.

Backpackers should also store food and anything with a food odor – such as toothpaste, lip balm, dishes, and a shirt you might have spilled food on – well away from camp and where you cooked.  The best method is to purchase a food sack or a bear-proof container.  Tie your storage sack or container to one end of a rope or cord and hang on a tree limb so that it is at least 10 feet above the ground (bears have good reach) and 3 feet away from any branches or the tree trunk.  Tie the other end to the tree to hold it in place.

Water Sources in the Wild

Staying hydrated is the most important means of protecting yourself when on a hiking or camping trip.  Whenever you’re planning a trip, familiarize yourself with the water sources that will be available to you.  If you do not know of any sources be prepared to carry a sufficient amount of water for yourself and others.

Water sources in the wild should all be considered to be potentially contaminated.  There are two types of contaminated water: biologically contaminated water and toxic water.  Biologically contaminated water contains bacteria, viruses or microorganisms and is potable when treated.  Toxic water has been chemically contaminated and treatment will not remove the toxins.  To avoid toxic water, only use water where you are confident that there are no human uses upstream and avoid any water that may have drained off of roads, yards, agricultural fields, and industrial areas.

Three methods exist to treat biologically contaminated water: boiling, chemical purification and filtering.  Regardless of what method is being used, opt for water containing the fewest particles, and strain the water using a bandana or cloth to remove larger particles.

Boiling water is the most reliable method of killing all microorganisms.  To be safe, boil water for at least one minute.  When treated chemically, the water temperature should be at least 60˚F.  If it is lower, either warm the water in the sun before treating or double treatment time.  There are two types of chemical purification; iodine and chlorine.  Follow the directions on the label carefully to ensure water has been treated properly.  Note that some people are allergic to iodine.  After adding the chemical, swish the water around to assist in dissolving and be sure to get water on the lid and threads of the bottle to treat all areas.  Two basic types of water filters exist; membrane filters and depth filters.  Follow the directions on the label carefully depending on which one you choose.  Remember, filters do not filter out viruses so the water must also be purified.

By treating your water when out on the trail, you will be taking the most important step in protecting yourself from disease.  Always be prepared to purify water and carry a backup method to treat water in case of emergency.  Remember, clear water doesn’t necessarily mean clean water.

Avoiding Poison Ivy

When it comes to identifying poison ivy remember the phrase “leaves of three, let it be.”  Poison ivy often is found on edges and boundaries, such as edges of trails, roads, forests, streams or lakes.  The poison ivy plant can grow as a woody, ropelike vine, a bush, or creep along the ground growing new roots as it spreads.  The leaves however, always grow in clusters of three and are elliptical.  Leaves can be dull or glossy, smooth-edged or notched and are dark and waxy on top and light and fuzzier underneath.  Their color varies with the seasons.  In the spring leaves are shiny and red, green in the summer, and change to yellow, orange and red in the fall before falling off.  Flowers are in clusters and grow up to 3 inches in length.  They can either be a yellowish-white or greenish-white color and bloom from May to July.  Flowers then become a whitish-gray color with berry-like fruits. 

The rash we experience is a result of our skin coming in contact with the sap that contains the oil urushoil.  Urushoil only comes out of the plant when damaged, however the poison ivy plant is very delicate and damages easily.  Urushoil can be contracted from dried or dead plants, so it is possible to react to the oil all year round. 

You can prevent getting that itchy rash by knowing how to identify poison ivy and by wearing long sleeves and pants when you know you will be exposed to it.  If you have come in contact with poison ivy wash the affected area with cold water as soon as possible.  Do not use hot water as it will cause your pores to open and allow the sap to absorb into your skin easier.  If in the outdoors, crush the leaves and stems of jewelweed and smear them directly on your skin where it came in contact with poison ivy.  Over-the-counter treatments are also available to aid in removing the oil from your skin, such as Tecnu.  If you do break out in a rash, apply Caladryl (a combination of Calamine Lotion and Benadryl) to relieve the itching.  Depending on the severity of your reaction, you may need to seek medical attention.  A poison ivy rash will not spread as a result from scratching it.  It is very important to wash your skin, clothes and anything else that may have come in contact with poison ivy to remove the oils and prevent further contact! 

Avoiding Ticks

Ticks can carry human diseases such as Lyme disease and tularemia, so the best way to protect yourself against possible infection is to prevent the tick from getting on you in the first place.  Ticks attach themselves on people by climbing onto the end of tall grasses or shrubby plants and “grabbing on” to hikers that brush against them.  They generally will then climb the person to find a favorable location to imbed themselves on and begin sucking blood. 

Your choice of clothing can help you spot ticks and keep them off your skin.  Wearing light colored clothing will aid in spotting ticks.  To keep ticks off your skin, opt for long pants and tuck them into your socks or wear gaiters.  You can also wear a long sleeve shirt, which can be tucked into your pants for further protection.  Finally, you can apply tick repellent to your clothing or skin, especially above the ankle and below the knee.  Frequent tick checks throughout the day can help them from anchoring themselves to you as well.  At the end of the day, do a thorough check for ticks in places they like to hide, such as behind the knees, in the groin area, under the armpits, and the back of the neck.

If you do find a tick that has imbedded itself into your skin, don’t panic.  Carefully remove it with tweezers, using steady pressure to gently pull it out.  Contrary to folklore, burning, crushing, or using alcohol on the tick is a bad idea as it will cause the tick to empty fluids into your body and thus increasing the likelihood that diseases could enter your body.  Save the tick to show to your doctor and clean the bite site.  Be on the lookout for a rash, often in the shape of a “bullseye”, on the site of the bite location for the next couple weeks.  Call your doctor and ask for advice and if a rash develops, seek medical attention immediately.

Material developed by Michael Knutson, an SCA intern at Scenic Hudson, summer 2006