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Southeast Loop at Ward Pound Ridge to Highest Point in the Park
This loop hike follows pleasant woods roads and rocky trails to the highest point in the reservation.
Allowed on leash
Trail Conference volunteers maintain trails in this park.
From the George Washington Bridge, proceed north on the Henry Hudson Parkway, which becomes the Saw Mill River Parkway. Take Exit 4 and proceed east on the Cross County Parkway. In about three miles, bear left to continue on the Hutchinson River Parkway north. After about eight miles, bear left to continue on Interstate Route 684. Take Exit 6 (Cross River), which briefly joins the Saw Mill River Parkway, then exits to N.Y. Route 35. Turn right and follow Route 35 east for 3.7 miles to N.Y. Route 121. Turn right onto Route 121, cross a bridge over the Cross River, then immediately turn left and enter Ward Pound Ridge Reservation. Continue for 0.7 mile to the tollbooth (a parking fee is charged on weekends, daily in the summer). Proceed for 1.3 miles beyond the tollbooth and turn left into the Kimberly Bridge parking area.
Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, the largest park in Westchester County, was opened in 1938. Over thirty farms were acquired for the park, and old stone walls, which once marked the boundaries between the various farms, criss-cross the reservation. The trails - most of which are woods roads - are open to hikers and equestrians, but bicycles are not permitted. Many intersections are marked by numbered signs posted on trees. These numbers are shown on the park map and referred to in the description below.
The hike described below, in the southeastern portion of the reservation, follows the blue-blazed Laurel Trail. The trail is on woods roads for most of the way, but it also includes an 0.7-mile section where it climbs 350 vertical feet on rocky footpaths to reach the highest point in the reservation.
From the parking area, return to the main park road and turn right, crossing a bridge over the Cross River. About 100 feet beyond the bridge, turn left into a grassy clearing, with two picnic tables and a metal grill. The trailhead for the blue-blazed Laurel Trail is at the far edge of the clearing (you will note a sign for the trail on a tree). The branch of the trail to the right will be your return route, but to begin the hike, you should take the left fork onto a grassy woods road, following this loop trail in a clockwise direction.
The first half of the hike is along this road, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s. It is mostly level, with some gentle ups and downs, and parallels a rocky escarpment on the right for much of the way.
You'll soon cross a stone drain - one of many along the road, built by the CCC to prevent erosion. To the left, there is an interesting rock outcrop, with the Cross River just beyond. After passing through an area with a thick understory of ferns, the road heads gently uphill through mountain laurel thickets, then descends slightly.
About half a mile from the start, the road bears right and begins a steady but gradual climb. As it reaches the crest of the rise, massive rock outcrops are visible through the trees on the steep hillside to the right. The road now begins a gentle descent, passing an overhanging rock just to the right of the trail in about a quarter of a mile.
A short distance beyond, the road levels off, with a wetland to the left and a large boulder field to the right. The road now begins to run close to the park boundary, and several private homes are visible through the trees to the left. The boulder-littered hillside to the right gradually steepens.
About two miles from the start, with Gilmore Pond visible through the trees to the left, the blue-blazed Laurel Trail turns right, leaving the road, and proceeds uphill on a footpath. In a short distance, it reaches intersection #17, where an unmarked trail goes off to the left. You should bear right to continue on the blue-blazed trail, which levels off.
After curving around a rock outcrop and passing through a seasonally wet area, the trail climbs steeply on a rocky footpath. At the top of the climb, it reaches an area with huge rock outcrops on all sides. Soon, the trail resumes its climb through mountain laurel groves, passes through another seasonally wet area, and traverses a hemlock grove, with many of the hemlocks dying from the ravages of the woolly adelgid.
The trail continues on a rocky footpath, with huge rock outcrops to the left. Just beyond, it turns sharply right and climbs very steeply over rocks to reach the top of the hill. You may need to use both your hands and your feet to negotiate sections of this climb! At the top, the trail levels off and proceeds through scrub oak and blueberry bushes to reach intersection #16, where a white-blazed trail begins to the left.
Just beyond, you'll come to a clearing at the summit (elevation 860 feet), the site of a former fire tower. All that remains is a water pump (which is no longer functional) and the ruins of the observer's stone cabin. Although there is no view from this spot, a bench has been placed on the west side of the clearing, and this is good place to take a break and rest from the steep climb.
When you're ready to continue, proceed ahead on the blue-blazed trail, which once again follows a woods road (which formerly provided vehicular access to the fire tower). The road descends gradually through thickets of laurel. After going down more steeply on a gravel-covered section of the road, you'll reach a fork at intersection #15, where you should bear right to continue on the blue-blazed trail.
The road now levels off and passes through an area with a thick understory of blueberries. After resuming its descent, it reaches intersection #14. Here, the road ahead is the route of a white-blazed secondary trail, but you should turn right onto a footpath, continuing to follow the blue blazes.
The trail soon begins a steady descent, rather steep in places, following a winding footpath through laurels that has been eroded by the flow of water during storms. After crossing a seasonal stream, the trail briefly levels off, reaching an unnumbered intersection where a white-blazed trail begins to the left. The descent now steepens, and the trail widens to a woods road. It finally emerges at the clearing where the hike began, returning to the start of the loop.