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-circle-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 and passing views of Anthony’s Nose (across the river) and a tower of the Bear Mountain Bridge.
In about half a mile, near the northern end of the lake, the trail bears left (at a sign for the New York State Environmental Protection Fund) and climbs stone steps. Soon the trail levels off, then climbs more gradually on a rocky footpath. After passing a water tank, above on the left, the trail descends slightly on a dirt road, then bears left and continues on a relatively level (but very rocky) footpath through dense mountain laurel. If there are no leaves on the trees, you may notice, below to the right, the flat-roofed Overlook Lodge, part of the Bear Mountain Inn complex.
In another 0.3 mile, 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. In a short distance, the trail turns left onto a well-graded footpath, with stone steps. This beautiful new trail section was constructed in the spring of 2013 by the Jolly Rovers volunteer trail crew of the Trail Conference, together with AmeriCorps interns and professional trail builders. In about 600 feet, the trail climbs a long flight of narrow stone steps wedged between large rocks and turns right at a large boulder, switching back towards the west.
At the end of the relocated trail section, the Major Welch Trail turns left and begins to climb several rock outcrops surrounded by mountain laurel. It then climbs a long rock outcrop studded with pitch pines, which affords a panoramic north-facing view. After climbing a little further, the trail emerges onto another rock outcrop with an even broader view, including the Hudson River. Brooks Lake is visible directly ahead, and the Bear Mountain Bridge is on the right, with Anthony’s Nose behind it. This is a good place to take a break from the strenuous climb.
The trail continues ahead, briefly leveling off but soon resuming its ascent. Soon, you’ll climb stone steps and reach the paved Perkins Drive – an auto route to the top of Bear Mountain. Follow the trail as it crosses the road diagonally to the left, climbs stone steps, and continues to climb over more rock outcrops through mountain laurel.
After climbing another 150 vertical feet, you’ll reach a T-intersection with a well-graded gravel path. A blue-blazed trail begins on the right, but you should turn left to continue on the Major Welch Trail. This handicapped-accessible trail section, opened in 2011, was skillfully constructed by a team of experienced professional trail builders to blend into the environment while making it possible for all users to enjoy a hiking experience.
At the next intersection, turn left again, now joining the white-blazed Appalachian Trail, which runs concurrently with the Major Welch Trail, following a level path across the summit ridge of Bear Mountain. In 0.2 mile, you’ll pass a massive boulder on the left. Atop the boulder are the concrete foundations of a former fire tower (replaced in 1934 by the Perkins Memorial Tower).
Just beyond, the trail crosses the paved loop road around the summit and reaches the Perkins Memorial Tower (the Major Welch Trail ends here). Built to honor the memory of George W. Perkins, the first President of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, the tower contains informative exhibits. Continue past the tower, recrossing the paved loop road, and proceed ahead to a broad south-facing viewpoint, with Dunderberg Mountain jutting into the Hudson River to the left. Several rustic benches have been placed in this area for hikers to rest. 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 from 1940 to 1955.
Bear right at the plaque and descend along the white-blazed Appalachian Trail, which soon levels off and begins to run along an old, rusted water pipeline atop 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 an arrow pointing to the "inn").
You now are following a spectacular trail section, opened in 2010, that was built over a five-year period by professional trail builders along with Trail Conference volunteers. You’ll traverse over 800 hand-hewn stone steps, supported in places by stone crib walls.
In three-quarters of a mile, after passing a seasonal waterfall on the left, the trail curves to the left and reaches a panoramic viewpoint over Iona Island and the Hudson River. After descending a little further, it crosses a 28-foot-long wooden bridge and begins to descend more steeply on stone steps.
Towards the base of the descent, you’ll come to a junction where a blue-blazed side trail begins on the right. Bear left (following an arrow pointing to the "inn") and continue to follow the Appalachian Trail, which descends more gradually. After passing a stone building known as the Spider Hill House on the right, the Appalachian Trail reaches the trail junction behind the Bear Mountain Inn. Continue ahead past the Inn and retrace your steps to the parking area where the hike began.Publication: Submitted by Daniel Chazin on 12/01/2003 updated/verified on 09/09/2013
This loop hike climbs Bear Mountain on the Major Welch Trail and descends on the Appalachian Trail, passing a number of panoramic viewpoints.
Whether you are going for a day hike or backpacking overnight, it is good practice to carry what we call The Hiking Essentials. These essentials will help you enjoy your outing more and will provide basic safety gear if needed. There may also be more essentials, depending on the season and your needs.
Hiking Shoes or Boots
Water - Two quarts per person is recommended in every season. Keep in mind that fluid loss is heightened in winter as well as summer. Don't put yourself in the position of having to end your hike early because you have run out of water.
Map - Know where you are and where you are going. Many of our hiking areas feature interconnecting network of trails. Use a waterproof/tear-resistant Tyvek Trail Conference map if available or enclose your map in a Ziplock plastic bag. If you have a mobile device, download Avenza’s free PDF Maps app and grab some GPS-enhanced Trail Conference maps (a backup Tyvek or paper version of the map is good to have just in case your batteries die or you don't have service). Check out some map-reading basics here.
Food - Snacks/lunch will keep you going as you burn energy walking or climbing. Nuts, seeds, and chocolate are favorites on the trail.
Sunscreen and insect repellent
Rain Gear and Extra Clothing - Rain happens. So does cold. Be prepared for changing weather. Avoid cotton--it traps water against your skin and is slow to dry. If you are wearing wet cotton and must return to your starting point, you risk getting chills that may lead to a dangerous hypothermia. Choose synthetic shirts, sweaters and/or vests and dress in layers for easy on and off.
Compass - A simple compass is all you need to orient you and your map to magnetic north.
Light - A flashlight or small, lightweight headlamp will be welcome gear if you find yourself still on the trail when darkness falls. Check the batteries before you start out and have extras in your pack.
First Aid Kit - Keep it simple, compact, and weatherproof. Know how to use the basic components.
Firestarter and Matches - In an emergency, you may need to keep yourself or someone else warm until help arrives. A firestarter (this could be as simple as leftover birthday candles that are kept inside a waterproof container) and matches (again, make sure to keep them in a waterproof container) could save a life.
Knife or Multi-tool - You may need to cut a piece of moleskin to put over a blister, repair a piece of broken equipment, or solve some other unexpected problem.
Emergency Numbers - Know the emergency numbers for the area you're going to and realize that in many locations--especially mountainous ones, your phone will not get reception.
Common Sense - Pay attention to your environment, your energy, and the condition of your companions. Has the weather turned rainy? Is daylight fading? Did you drink all your water? Did your companion fail to bring rain gear? Are you getting tired? Keep in mind that until you turn around you are (typically) only half-way to completing your hike--you must still get back to where you started from! (Exceptions are loop hikes.)
Check the weather forecast before you head out. Know the rules and regulations of the area.
The Leave No Trace Seven Principles
- Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you'll visit.
- Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
- Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
- Visit in small groups when possible. Consider splitting larger groups into smaller groups.
- Repackage food to minimize waste.
- Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.
- Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.
- Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
- Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary.
- In popular areas:
- Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
- Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
- Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.
- In pristine areas:
- Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
- Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.
- Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter.
- Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
- Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
- To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.
- Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
- Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
- Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
- Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.
- Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
- Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
- Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
- Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.
- Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
- Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
- Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
- Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
- Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.
- Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
- Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
- Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
- Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
- Let nature's sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.
The Trail Conference is a 2015 Leave No Trace partner.
(c) Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org.