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Bear Mountain Loop via Appalachian Trail and Major Welch Trail
This loop hike climbs Bear Mountain on a newly-built section of the Appalachian Trail and descends on the Major Welch Trail, passing a number of panoramic viewpoints.
Allowed on leash
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Trail Conference volunteers maintain trails in this park.
Take the Palisades Interstate Parkway to its northern terminus at the Bear Mountain Circle. Proceed south on US 9W for 0.4 mile, then bear right at the traffic light and follow the ramp to the Bear Mountain Inn. Park in the large parking lot adjacent to the Inn. A parking fee is charged on weekends year-round, and daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
From the parking area, proceed across the lawn to the southwest corner of the Bear Mountain Inn and continue west (toward the mountain) on a paved path. About 400 feet beyond the Inn, you'll reach a junction of paved paths, marked by a trail sign. Bear right, following the white blazes of the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) as it leaves the paved path toward a stone building known as the Spider Hill House.
The A.T. climbs through an interesting section of large boulders before reaching a junction with a blue-blazed trail, which begins on the left. This blue-blazed trail heads back towards the Bear Mountain Inn, but you should bear right to continue along A.T. This portion of the A.T., opened on National Trails Day in 2010, was built over a five-year period by Trail Conference volunteers along with skilled and experienced professional trail builders. It was constructed to sustain the impact of the many thousands of feet that annually make their way up this popular route. More than 1,000 individuals volunteered over 33,000 hours of their time to construct this spectacular trail section.
The trail climbs on a series of 800 hand-hewn granite steps, supported in places by stone crib walls. After a steep, steady climb, the A.T. crosses a 28-foot-long wooden bridge and climbs to reach a beautiful viewpoint over Iona Island and the Hudson River.
The A.T. passes a seasonal waterfall (above to the right) and continues to climb more gradually to an area known as the "pine flats." Here, the trail turns right, rejoining the previous A.T. route, and climbs to the Scenic Drive. It turns right and reaches, in 150 feet, the dead-end turnaround of the driveable section of this road. The A.T. continues along the Scenic Drive for 0.3 mile, with views over the Hudson River through the trees to the right.
Watch carefully for a double blaze and sign for the "tower." Here, the A.T. turns left, leaving the road, and climbs rather steeply. After crossing the Scenic Drive, the grade moderates, and the trail soon levels off, passing through blueberry bushes and mountain laurel.
The A.T. recrosses the Scenic Drive, briefly parallels an old, rusty water pipe on a stone embankment, and climbs to the 1,305-foot summit of Bear Mountain. At the summit, bear left to reach a panoramic viewpoint to the south and west over Dunderberg and West Mountains. After taking in the view, head to the stone tower – a memorial to George W. Perkins, Sr., first president of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission. If it is open, you can climb the tower, which offers historic exhibits and more views from the top.
Upon leaving the tower, head north on the joint A.T. and Major Welch Trail, marked with both the 2"x6" white blazes of the A.T. and the red-circle-on-white blazes of the Major Welch Trail. The next trail section has been designed to be handicapped-accessible, thus permitting all users to enjoy a beautiful section of the A.T. Even this trail section has been skillfully designed to blend in with the surroundings.
In 500 feet, you’ll cross a gravel service road. To the right, atop a massive boulder, are the concrete foundations of a former fire tower (replaced in 1934 by the Perkins Memorial Tower). Then, after crossing another service road, you’ll come to another huge boulder on the left side of the trail.
At the end of this boulder, the Major Welch Trail departs to the right at a fork. You will be following the Major Welch Trail down the mountain, but first you should bear left and continue to follow the white-blazed A.T.
After passing the end of a blue-blazed trail on the right, you’ll reach a spectacular north-facing viewpoint over the Hudson River and the hills of the West Point Military Reservation, with Brooks Lake visible directly below. This is a good place to take a break and enjoy the panoramic view. Just below, you’ll notice a five-foot-high stone monument, with an iron stake protruding from the top. This is a surveyor's marker which once marked the boundary between Bear Mountain State Park and the United States Military Academy at West Point.
When you're ready to continue, retrace your steps to the junction with the blue-blazed trail. Turn left and follow the blue blazes for a short distance to the red-circle-on-white-blazed Major Welch Trail, then turn left again and follow the Major Welch Trail, which soon begins a steep descent. The trail crosses the paved Perkins Drive diagonally to the left and goes down to reach another panoramic north-facing viewpoint from a rock ledge. The view from here is even broader than the one from the summit, with the Bear Mountain Bridge on the right and Anthony’s Nose behind it.
The trail continues to descend rather steeply over a series of rock outcrops, then turns right onto a well-graded footpath, with stone steps. This beautiful new trail section was constructed in the spring of 2013 by the Jolly Rovers volunteer trail crew of the Trail Conference, together with AmeriCorps interns. In about 600 feet, the trail turns left at a large boulder and descends a long flight of narrow stone steps wedged between large rocks, then bears left and switches back towards the east.
At the end of the new trail section, the trail turns right and descends more steeply. At the base of the descent, it bears left and follows a relatively level but very rocky footpath. Soon, it turns right onto a dirt road, then (with a water tank visible ahead) immediately turns left into the woods and descends to a paved path along the shore of Hessian Lake. Turn right onto this path and follow it back to the A.T. at the southwest corner of the lake, then proceed across the lawn to the parking area where the hike began.
To view a photo collection for this hike, click here.