Bear Mountain Loop via Appalachian Trail and Major Welch Trail

Overview

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.

Details
Time:
3 hours
Difficulty:
Strenuous
Length:
4 miles
Route Type:
Circuit
Dogs:
Allowed on leash
Features:
Views, Fees
Location
Park:
Region:
County:
Orange, Rockland
State:
NY
Publication
First Published:
06/02/2010

Updated/Verified:
09/09/2013
Submitter:
Daniel Chazin

Photo

View of Hudson River and Iona Island on Bear Mountain. Photo by Daniel Chazin.

Parking


View Bear Mountain Inn parking in a larger map

Trail Conference volunteers maintain trails in this park.
Trailhead GPS Coordinates
41.312661, -73.988972
Driving Directions

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.

Description

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.AccessibleTrail Along Huge Boulder Just Before Major Welch Junction. Photo by Daniel Chazin.

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.

Comment: Please be relevant, civil, non-commercial.

Go in Reverse! Major Welch then AP back down....

Wow - no way would I descend down that rugged trail of the Major Welch.  I would recommend starting this hike in reverse!  From the main parking lot we walked toward the lake (Hessian), turned left and took the path running along the lakeside to the northwest end, where the rugged climb of the Major Welch begins.  You'll see the red circle on white blaze at the left.     The first time I did this hike, I saw that blaze and thought "Where? Up there??"  You'll see a sign that tells you that this portion of the climb is steep and rugged for 1.6 miles.  When you get to the top of the trail, you can veer right onto the blue trail which connects to the AP (extending the distance of your loop) - or you can veer slightly left and go towards the tower.  You can pick up the AP from Tower to go back down.   I also recommend that you either not bring the baby, or choose another more walk friendly trail.  I was having a fit when I saw this couple; the dad had the baby in a carrier on his back - and they were about to go down that rugged trail - it was scary sight.   Just use good judgment and be safe!

This hike is also written up on the website in reverse

You are indeed correct that it makes more sense (and is safer) to do this hike in the reverse direction -- up the Major Welch Trail and down the Appalachian Trail.  In fact, this hike has been written up and posted on the website described in this manner: http://nynjtc.org/hike/bear-mountain-state-park-0 This hike -- up the A.T. and down the Major Welch -- was written to commemorate the opening of the new A.T. (with about 1,000 rock steps) up the Lower East Face of Bear Mountain in 2010,  To recognize this achievement, I wrote up the hike to accentuate the A.T. part of it, by going up the A.T. and down the Major Welch.  But I agree that it makes more sense to do the hike in the reverse direction, as it is safer to go up the Major Welch Trail than it is to go down this very steep trail.

Major Welch (May '12)

This hike is great in the reverse order as previously suggested.  It is a very steep incline up mostly rock on the Major Welch trail.  Going down this way would be difficult.  The Appalachian Trail section makes for pretty much the easiest descent you can ask for.  If you are up for a challenge the Major Welch trail is as strenuous as any I've done.  Its not long but you definitely hike straight up the steepest part of the mountain.  The views as mentioned are amazing.  The views of the Hudson in both directions are stellar.  I wish there wasn't a road to the top though.  The bikers like to ride up there and the traffic noise is present through some of the hike.  I recommend this for anyone who is looking for a challenging hike that doesn't want to spend all day out on the mountain.  We completed it in right about the stated time including the time we wasted missing the turn onto the Major Welch trail.   We saw a lot of Black Vultures at the start by the lake as well as some chipmunks but not much other wildlife.

Very beautiful views

We did try this trail today. it was quite chilly and windy. We would suggest to do the trail other way around. Climb from Major Welch and get down on AT. As written by Daniel, the incline on Major Welch is quite heavy, and easier to climb up. The AT is relatively gradual and makes a good decent. The views are quite amazing. From the Major Welch trail, gives good view of the river and bridge over it. From the tower, we get good views of the New York City side. We saw the tall towers of Manhattan. Definitely recommended.

Taking hike in reverse direction

Your suggestion of taking the hike in the reverse direction is a very good one.  I agree with you that it is much easier to negotiate the steep grades on the Major Welch Trail going up, rather than going down.  I wrote the hike the way it appears above mainly because I was asked to highlight the new A.T. section that was opened in June 2010, but it does make sense to do the hike in the opposite direction. For a description of the hike in the opposite direction, go to http://www.nynjtc.org/hike/bear-mountain-state-park-0