Giant Stairs/Long Path Loop from State Line Lookout

Overview

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.

Details
Time:
4 hours
Difficulty:
Strenuous
Length:
4.5 miles
Route Type:
Circuit
Dogs:
Allowed on leash
Features:
Views, Waterfall, Historic feature, Cliffs
Location
Park:
Region:
County:
Bergen
State:
NJ
Publication
First Published:
10/21/2005

Updated/Verified:
11/21/2012
Submitter:
Daniel Chazin

Photo

The Giant Stairs. Photo by Dan Balogh.

Parking


View State Line Lookout in a larger map

Trailhead GPS Coordinates
40.988702,-73.907154

Driving Directions

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).

Description

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.Jagged rock along Shore Trail. Photo by Daniel Chazin.

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.2012 Rockslide. Photo by Daniel Chazin.

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 Peanut Leap Falls. Photo by Daniel Chazin.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 South view from High Gutter Point. Photo by Daniel Chazin.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.

Comments

Awesome hike, and really

Awesome hike, and really accessible from NYC. Hiked it recently in the opposite direction, and had no difficulty navigating as a relative novice at hiking. The talus fields are difficult but manageable and a ton of fun, although yeah I really wouldn't try during rain or ice. Half-frozen Peanut Leap Cascade is really a sight this time of year! 5/5 stars.

Giant Stairs/Long Path Loop

Did this hike today!

 

Even with the overcast clouds and morning drizzle this was a fantastic hike!

This hike Rules!

I did it in the opposite direction and it was one of the most fascinating hikes I've ever been on.

Loved the Giant Stairs, wish I had gotten there a few hours earlier so I could have spent some more time there.

Incredible views of the Hudson at every boulder section and once you get to the area where the Rockslide was, you really don't want to leave!

Was definitely a great time and it I will be able to do this one a lot if I'm working in NYC!

The Trail was well marked and the directions easy to follow even going in the opposite direction.

 

Giant Stairs is open all year long

I don't know where you saw the comment that the Giant Stairs is open only from September to May.  That is simply incorrect.  The trail is open year-round, although it is not a wise choice when it is it wet, icy or covered with snow. The summer is a good time to experience this trail, provided it hasn't rained in the last day or so.  The trail was closed last summer due to the rockslide, but it reopened last fall. 

New to this hike

My husband and I are planning to do this hike - we will be travelling on our anniversary next week and thought this would be a great idea.  I've been reading reviews, tips and suggestions and came across a site that said the hike was only accessable from September through May.  Can anyone confirm or deny that is the case?  I don't want to plan for this, get all the way there and have it fall through.  Thanks for the help...really looking forward to this!!

I would like to submit a GPS location for this hike

It is hard to find with the directions given above, but I went a couple times and found the location on Google Maps that brings you to the spot where people normaly park. Putting this in your gps should bring you right to the overpass that puts you on the trail 426 New York State Bicycle Route 9, Alpine NJ.  https://maps.google.com/maps?q=426+New+York+State+Bicycle+Route+9,+Alpine+NJ&ie=UTF-8&ei=o8_mUar5Man64APOwoCQDQ&ved=0CAoQ_AUoAg

Condition of Giant Stairs hike

I did this hike yesterday, November 21st.  This was the first time that I've done the hike since the rockslide on May 12th that obliterated a portion of the trail.  I'm glad to report that, thanks to the work of Park staff and Trail Conference volunteers, the trail section across the rockslide has been stablized and blazed.  In fact, it doesn't look all that much different than the other two areas on the Giant Stairs section where the trail crosses open talus slopes.  There was some damage to the trail from Hurricane Sandy, and there are still a number of blowdowns, including two large trees that have fallen across the trail on the Giant Stairs section south of the rockslide.  But anyone who is agile enough to negotiate the trail across the jumbled rocks of the Giant Stairs should be able to climb over or under these blowdowns without much problem.  There are two other areas where a series of small blowdowns or debris have totally obscured the trail -- on the Shore Trail just north of the Forest View Trail and just south of Peanut Leap Falls.  In each case, it is possible to walk around these sections by going off trail.  There are also some blowdowns on the sections of the ski trails and Long Path used by this hike, although some gigantic blowdowns that obscured the trail have already been removed.  Finally, much debris, in all shapes and colors, has washed ashore along a section of the Shore Trail between the Giant Stairs and Peanut Leap Falls.  This trail section is passable without undue difficulty, though.  All in all, the route of the hike is in reasonably good condition, all things considered, and any hiker who is capable of traversing the rugged Giant Stairs can also get around the various blowdowns and obstacles that remain from Hurricane Sandy.

Thanks, Daniel

Thank you for your update.  I have been itching to scramble along the Giant Stairs and I'm pleased to see that it's passable (enough) for me.  I'll give this hike a shot next month...it has long been among my favorites.

Recent Rock Sliding

A new rock sliding just happened and use extra caution to cross it. The rock field is not stable at all. Allow more time to finish the Giant Stairs loop.

Perfect

This is just a fabulous hike. My husband and i did it yesterday  (May 11, 2012) for the first time and found it to be precisely as described. We got back to the parking lot in 4 hrs, 15 minutes, having taken the "side trip" to the Women's Federation monument. Among my favorite moments: Spying a written message on a rock: "Macedonia Sucks!" (i suppose a Yugoslav youth group had come through?); seeing a ring-necked snake, his scales glittering like a necklace in the sun; enjoying the Peanut Leap waterfall (in my camera, it came out looking like fireworks) and of course taking in the incomparable, dizzying views and realizing that, at last, we were standing atop those sheer cliffs we see every time we take the train from Beacon to New York City. 

The cafe itself sells NYNJTC maps and is a warm and welcoming place.

Hoorah for this hike!

What a great hike!

This hike really has it all - great rock scrambling, views, a picturesque ruin, varied terrain, a waterfall and more. And all so close to New York City. One tip for anyone who's interested: the State Line Cafe (located at the parking area) has a surprisingly tasty veggie burger. Enjoy!

Wonderful way to end a weekend

We took this hike on a Sunday afternoon, and were slightly worried that 3:30 PM might be too late to start this hike, but we got lucky and were able to finish the hike well before sunset; and its was a sunday afternoon very well spent. A superb hike, with each part of the hike well described here..Grazie Mille!

One of my favorites

I took my seven year-old son on this hike in December 2010 after he "earned his stripes" on a few other challenging hikes.  We enjoyed bounding - carefully, of course - across the boulders on the Giant Stairs and we spotted a small bat hibernating among the ruins of the Italian Garden at the base of Peanut Leap Falls.  We completed this hike in the opposite (clockwise) direction as described above, as I found it slightly easier than hiking it counter-clockwise.  In cooler weather, this may be a better morning hike so you aren't in the late-afternoon shadow of the Palisades when you are crossing the Giant Stairs.  This is one of my favorite hikes in New Jersey.

Giant Stairs Hike

Our group of 6, from ages 10 and up, completed the hike in 3 hours 40 minutes at the end of August, including a stop for lunch and a few other rest breaks. This hike has many features which make a hike special: great views, varied terrain, history, and a physically challenging route. I agree with the strenuous rating, at least for the climb down, climb up and the long rock scramble section, where every foot-step needs to be carefully placed.