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Appalachian Trail and Major Welch Trail on Bear Mountain
This loop hike climbs Bear Mountain on the Major Welch Trail and descends on the Appalachian Trail, passing a number of panoramic viewpoints.
Allowed on leash
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 west (towards the mountain) on a paved path that runs along the south side of the Bear Mountain Inn. About 400 feet beyond the Inn, you'll reach a junction of paved paths, marked by a trail sign. Turn right and follow the red-dot-on-white-blazed Major Welch Trail (named after the park's first General Manager, who was instrumental in creating the extensive hiking trail system in Harriman-Bear Mountain Parks). The Major Welch Trail proceeds north along a relatively level paved path, following the western shore of Hessian Lake.
After about half a mile, near the northern end of the lake, the trail bears left and begins to climb. Soon, the trail again levels off and continues through a thick stand of mountain laurel. You'll notice, below to the right, the flat-roofed Overlook Lodge, part of the Bear Mountain Inn complex. In another half a mile - with the Palisades Interstate Parkway visible through the trees just ahead - the trail bears left and resumes its climb of Bear Mountain. The ascent soon steepens, with the trail following a rocky footpath through mountain laurel and climbing a vertical distance of about 500 feet in little more than a quarter of a mile.
After a short level stretch, the trail bears left and begins to climb a long rock outcrop studded with pitch pines, with good views to the north. After climbing a little further, the trail emerges onto another rock outcrop with a panoramic north-facing view over the Hudson River. Brooks Lake is visible directly ahead, and the Bear Mountain Bridge is to the right, with Anthony's Nose behind it. This is a good place to take a break from the very strenuous climb.
The trail continues ahead, briefly leveling off but soon resuming its ascent. Soon, you'll climb a stone retaining wall and reach the paved Perkins Drive, which leads to the top of Bear Mountain. Follow the trail as it turns left along the road for about 50 feet, then turns right and continues to climb through mountain laurel.
Just above Perkins Drive, you'll notice in the laurels - about 100 feet to the left of the trail - a five-foot-high stone monument, with an iron stake protruding from the top. This is a surveyor's marker which was built to indicate the boundary between park property and a strip of land on Bear Mountain once owned by West Point (but subsequently acquired by the park).
The trail soon reaches the flat summit of Bear Mountain and levels off. After crossing a gravel service road and proceeding through thick laurels, the trail joins a paved road and follows it for a short distance to the Perkins Memorial Tower at the very top of Bear Mountain. Built to honor the memory of George W. Perkins, the first President of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, the tower contains informative exhibits and is open daily except Tuesday and Wednesday (unless the Perkins Memorial Drive is closed).
Continue on the Major Welch Trail past the tower to a broad viewpoint to the south, with Dunderberg Mountain jutting into the Hudson River to the left. After enjoying the view and taking a break, head back towards the tower, but bear right at a fork in the path. Directly ahead, on a rock, you'll notice a plaque placed to commemorate the service of Joseph Bartha as Trails Chairman of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference. Here, the Appalachian Trail, marked by a white vertical rectangle, joins.
Bear right and descend along the white-blazed Appalachian Trail. The trail soon levels off and begins to runs along an old, rusted water pipeline which rests on a rock embankment. A short distance beyond, the trail crosses the paved Scenic Drive - a dead-end extension of Perkins Drive, which once continued down the mountain but was cut off by the construction of the Parkway in the 1950s. Soon, the trail recrosses the Scenic Drive and continues to descend, with views directly below over the Hudson River and Iona Island.
About half a mile from the summit of Bear Mountain, the Appalachian Trail reaches the Scenic Drive for the third time. Here, it turns right and follows along the paved road, with excellent views of the Hudson River and Iona Island below. At the dead-end turnaround of the Scenic Drive, the trail continues ahead along the blocked-off paved road for 150 feet, then turns left into the woods and descends (the turn is marked by the letters "I-HR" painted on the pavement). After passing through a pine grove, the trail begins to descend more steeply, following a wide, rocky, but often eroded and poorly-defined route which has suffered from extensive use. (The Trail Conference is working to relocate this trail section to a more attractive and durable route within the next few years.)
In another half a mile, the trail turns left onto an eroded woods road. Here, the yellow-blazed Suffern-Bear Mountain Trail joins from the right, and both trails cross a stream and then turn sharply right. Follow the white and yellow blazes along the road, which passes the Bear Mountain ice-skating rink (below to the right) and an abandoned ski jump and descends to reach the trail junction in back of the Bear Mountain Inn, where the Major Welch Trail starts. Continue ahead past the Inn to the parking area where the hike began.