If you’re more into seeking solitude than dodging selfie sticks while hiking, we’ve got you covered with our favorite trails.
The most popular trails and outdoor destinations in our region all have alternatives that are equally spectacular—and we’re sharing the details on these hidden gems. Bonus: When you opt for an alternative hike, you’re part of the solution to help alleviate the overuse of popular trails.
Breakneck Ridge, just north of Cold Spring, N.Y., is often called the most popular day hike in the country, and for good reason—the much-used trailhead is accessible via rail from Manhattan, allowing millions access to an outdoor adventure in just over an hour. Sometimes, particularly on good-weather weekends, the crowded trains, jam-packed parking lots, and lines of people waiting to access the trail actually make it feel like half the population of the city has descended on the mountain.
To help provide a safe and enjoyable experience for all visitors, the Trail Conference’s Trail Stewards are stationed at Breakneck Ridge every Saturday, Sunday, and holiday Monday from Memorial Day Weekend through Columbus Day. They assist visitors with maps, water, trail condition updates, and other tips—like alternative hikes.
Here are a few of our Stewards’ favorite hikes to avoid the hustle and bustle at Breakneck:
- Fishkill Ridge Conservation Area from Pocket Road A pleasant, yet sometimes steep trail along a pretty creek to multi-tiered waterfalls leads to Fishkill Ridge as it offers multiple dramatic views of the Hudson Valley and beyond.
- Catfish Loop Trail This loop hike traverses a remote area of the park, reaching an interesting rock formation with broad, west-facing views, and passing many old stone walls.
- Charcoal Burners/Cabot/Perkins/Fahnestock Trail Loop This loop hike traverses the northern section of the park, passing by three scenic ponds, following an attractive stream, and skirting several open fields.
Google “Blue Hole” and you’ll find seemingly endless websites deeming this Catskills hotspot one of the top swimming holes in the country. In reality, this swimming area located in the Sundown Wild Forest has suffered from misuse over the last few years by an ever-increasing number of visitors. In order to protect this beloved outdoor destination, in 2018 the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) enacted a no-cost, day use permitting system that requires visitors to obtain a permit to access the Blue Hole on weekends and holidays between May 15 and October 15.
Our in-the-know Catskills volunteers suggest these spots for a dip instead.
- North Lake Beach Located in the North and South Lake State Campground, the North Lake Beach offers a beautiful swimming area surrounded by the mountains of the Catskills.
- Colgate Lake Colgate offers swimming and picnicking areas, along with the opportunity to paddle if you’ve brought a boat.
Kaaterskill Falls is one of the most popular destinations in the Catskills. It’s also one of the most dangerous, due to visitors ignoring posted warnings to hike only on marked trails. It’s understandably tempting to get a closer look at this magnificent, two-tiered waterfall. But the unmarked footpath that weaves to its top isn’t just hazardously steep and eroded–it’s deadly. In 2014, two women lost their lives in separate incidents when they slipped and fell from areas of the falls in which they never should have been.
These accidents prompted the DEC, which oversees public lands for recreation in the Catskills, to take action to prevent further incidents, including the construction of a new trail and other safety improvements.
If you prefer your waterfall views sans the huge crowds, we like this impressive alternative:
Platte Clove Preserve Located at the head of Platte Clove, there is plenty of parking at the parking lot on Steenburgh Road. There’s a short road walk and then a short, easy hike down to a Plattekill Falls, a beautiful 70-foot waterfall.
Hiking this 1.5-mile boardwalk section of the Appalachian Trail feels more like a community park experience than one you’d find on a rugged trail—dog walkers, joggers, and families enjoying a stroll are all out in force on the weekends. Parking at the Pochuck Boardwalk is very limited and fills up early; police will ticket vehicles parked illegally.
Avoid the hassle and try these easy trails instead:
- Duck Pond Multi-Use Trail This 0.6-mile, paved path provides a level surface for walking, biking, roller blading, and skateboarding, and is accessible for persons with disabilities. This trail in Swartswood State Park meanders through a forested area along Duck Pond. Wayside exhibits along the trail provide information on the unique natural features found in the area. A bird blind has been constructed to allow visitors to view birdlife in the area with little disturbance to their habitat. If you're looking for a longer hike, try this 3-mile loop through Swartswood.
- Laurel Pond and Wawayanda Furnace from Cherry Ridge Road This relatively level loop hike passes through unusually beautiful foliage, including groves of rhododendron and hemlock, and goes by two scenic lakes. The Laurel Pond/Wawayanda Furnace hike is much longer than a walk along Pochuck Boardwalk—this route is a 6.7-mile circuit—but it includes a nice hike over an 800-foot-long boardwalk that crosses Cedar Swamp. It's well worth the exercise.
Ramapo Valley County Reservation
This lovely—and very heavily used—park is the go-to spot for Bergen County residents to walk, hike, and run. Isn’t it time to claim a new favorite trail?
- Norvin Green State Forest With more than 5,000 acres, Norvin Green has one of the largest concentrations of trails in New Jersey. The northern end of the park is your best bet to avoid crowds; park off Crescent Drive or Burnt Meadow Road for a beautiful walk. (Note that Burnt Meadow Road is impassable in the middle, so be sure to approach from West Brook Road to the south for Crescent Drive or Greenwood Lake Turnpike to the north for the Burnt Meadow trailhead.)
- Sterling Forest State Park If you enjoy walking around Scarlet Oak Pond in the Reservation, try the Sterling Lake Loop Trail (4.2 miles, blue) circling Sterling Lake in Sterling Forest. It follows woods roads for most of its route.
Reeves Meadow, Harriman State Park
The allure is obvious—from the Reeves Meadow Visitor Center, you can access some of the most popular trails in the park, which provide seemingly endless connections to explore Harriman-Bear Mountain’s nearly 52,000 acres of forest. But on nice days, particularly on the weekend, you won’t find a legal parking spot here after 9 a.m. Despite all of those other cars you see along Seven Lakes Drive, parking on the road is illegal.
If you’d rather spend more time on the trails than figuring out where you’re going to park the car, head a little farther north and explore these options:
- Silvermine Lake Loop From Silvermine Lake to the William Brien Memorial Shelter, this hike originating from the lesser-used Silvermine Picnic Area has some of the best features of exploring Harriman State Park.
- Doris Duke Trail Loop The new, 4-mile Doris Duke Trail Loop at Sterling Forest State Park encompasses flats and hills, ridgetop views, enormous erratics and plentiful wildlife viewing opportunities through the Doris Duke Wildlife Sanctuary. It’s perfect for a scenic hike or run.
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