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Giant Stairs/Long Path Loop from State Line Lookout
This loop hike descends the Palisades cliffs, follows a challenging, rocky path along the Hudson River, passes a scenic waterfall, and climbs to reach a panoramic viewpoint over the river.
Allowed on leash
Views, Waterfall, Historic feature, Cliffs
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Take the Palisades Interstate Park north from the George Washington Bridge. Continue for 1.7 miles beyond Exit 2, and turn right at a sign for the State Line Lookout. Follow the access road for about half a mile until it ends at a large parking lot near the lookout. (If you are coming from the north on the Parkway, bear left just beyond Exit 3 and follow the signs for the lookout).
This hike explores the northern end of the New Jersey Section of the Palisades Interstate Park. It is, perhaps, the most rewarding loop hike in the park, as it incorporates a number of scenic features and, for nearly the entire distance, you are far away from the noise of the Parkway. But it is also the most difficult hike in the park, as it involves not only steep climbs and descents on uneven rock steps, but also nearly a mile of walking near the shore of the river on jumbled rocks. Make sure you allow enough time to complete the hike before dark, and wear sturdy footwear with rubber soles. Don't attempt the hike if is wet or icy outside.
The hike begins at the rear of the parking area at the State Line Lookout, at a sign for the "Ski Trails." Follow the wide path, marked with the aqua blazes of the Long Path, into the woods. You'll soon reach a junction where the Long Path turns left and Trail A comes in from the left and proceeds ahead. Continue ahead on the wide path. Just beyond, you'll come to another junction. Here, Trail C begins to the right, but you should continue ahead on Trail A. About five minutes into the hike, you'll reach another junction, marked by an old rock monument to the left (the faded words "Shore Path" may be visible). Trail B proceeds ahead, but you should turn left to continue on Trail A.
After continuing straight ahead at the next intersection, you'll come to the lookout access road. Cross the road and continue ahead on the aqua-blazed Long Path, which heads south, parallel to the cliffs. There is a good viewpoint over the river just to the left of the trail (use caution here, as there is a steep dropoff). Just beyond, the trail starts a steep descent on rock steps, built by the park in the early years of the twentieth century. Use extreme caution when descending these steps, as they are somewhat uneven. The steps can be particularly hazardous when wet or covered with leaves.
After crossing a small stream on a wooden footbridge, you'll reach a trail junction. The Long Path turns right, but you should bear left, now following the blue/white-blazed Forest View Trail. A sign indicates that it is 0.3 mile from this point to the Shore Trail, but the distance will probably seem much longer. The steep descent continues, first on more rock steps, then on switchbacks, some of which are well graded, but others are rocky and uneven.
You'll finally reach the bottom of the descent, marked by a large boulder. Here you should turn left and head north on the white-blazed Shore Trail. Soon, you'll emerge onto an open area covered with vines. Take a moment to contemplate this magnificent "sea of green."
A short distance beyond, you'll reach a field of jumbled boulders. This is the beginning of the Giant Stairs, the most challenging section of the hike. After taking in the panoramic view to the north along the river and over the striking Palisades cliffs, bear left and follow the white blazes as they begin to climb over the rocks. Pay careful attention to the white paint blazes, some of which are in the shape of a half-moon.
For the next half mile, the trail follows a rocky path about 100 vertical feet above the river. You’ll have to use care in deciding where to take each step. In about half an hour, the trail emerges onto a huge talus field, made up of large boulders that have fallen down from the cliffs above. This is the site of the massive rockslide that took place at 7:28 p.m. on Saturday, May 12, 2012, in which a large section of the cliff face broke off and tumbled down to the river. There are panoramic views across the river, and the lighter-faced rock column on the cliff indicates where the rock fell from.
At the end of the talus field, the trail reenters the woods. In about ten minutes, it comes out on another talus slope and then, after briefly passing through a wooded section, it emerges onto a third talus slope, marked by a huge tree stump. Again, you’re afforded a panoramic view over the river, and you’ll want to stop to rest from this difficult section of the hike and enjoy the view.
The trail now descends and eventually comes out close to the river level. You'll encounter one more rocky section, but this one is much easier to negotiate. After about a mile of walking on a relatively smooth footpath along the river, you'll go through a gate in a rusted chain-link fence. A short distance beyond, you'll reach the Peanut Leap Cascade. Adjacent to this waterfall, which is truly spectacular after heavy rains, are the ruins of the Italian Garden, built about 1900 by the sculptress Mary Lawrence-Tonetti, whose family owned an estate at nearby Sneden's Landing.
After spending some time at this interesting and beautiful spot, follow the white-blazed Shore Trail as it turns left, away from the river, and climbs on wooden steps and switchbacks. It parallels the stream leading to the waterfall for a short distance and soon ends at a junction with the aqua-blazed Long Path. Turn left onto the Long Path, which you will follow all the way back to the State Line Lookout.
The Long Path crosses the stream on two wooden bridges. A short distance ahead, it turns sharply right and begins a steep climb on stone steps. At the top of the climb is High Gutter Point, a panoramic viewpoint up and down the river. To the north, you can see the Tappan Zee Bridge and Hook Mountain, the northernmost point on the Palisades along the Hudson. You'll want to take a break here to rest from the steep climb and enjoy the view, but use caution, as the drop-off is very steep.
The trail continues ahead, passing several more viewpoints, then bears left, goes through a gate in a chain-link fence that marks the boundary between New York and New Jersey, and briefly parallels the fence. When the trail bears left, away from the fence, continue ahead for about 50 feet to see a stone monument, placed in 1882 to mark the state line.
Return to the aqua-blazed Long Path, which turns left just beyond the monument, then takes the left fork at the next intersection (along with Ski Trail E). It follows an old woods road for about half a mile to reach the Old Route 9W (a wide concrete road), then turns left along the road and follows it for a short distance back to the State Line Lookout, where the hike began.