From the parking area, walk north along the grassy shoulder of the road. Soon, you will see a triple-orange blaze, which marks the start of the Butter Hill Trail. Follow the orange blazes as they bear right, away from the road, and begin to ascend steeply. Soon, views over the Hudson River begin to appear to the right. The mountain across the river is Bull Hill (Mt. Taurus), and the point of...
From the parking area, walk north along the grassy shoulder of the road. Soon, you will see a triple-orange blaze, which marks the start of the Butter Hill Trail. Follow the orange blazes as they bear right, away from the road, and begin to ascend steeply. Soon, views over the Hudson River begin to appear to the right. The mountain across the river is Bull Hill (Mt. Taurus), and the point of land jutting into the river is Little Stony Point.
In 0.2 mile, you’ll reach three stone pillars, with a stone foundation behind the pillars. These are the remains of Spy Rock House, the summer cottage of Dr. Edward L. Partridge, who served on the Palisades Interstate Park Commission from 1913 to 1930. The trail now descends slightly, then continues to climb Butter Hill, first gradually, then more steeply. At the top of the steep climb, you’ll reach open rock ledges that afford a wide panorama to the east, south and west. Route 9W is visible straight ahead to the south, with the North Ridge of Crows Nest Mountain to its left. The Hudson River is to the east. You’ll want to pause here for a little while to enjoy this expansive view, but the best is yet to come.
After a short level stretch, the Butter Hill Trail ends at a junction with the yellow-blazed Stillman Trail, also the route of the teal diamond-blazed Highlands Trail. Turn right and follow the Stillman Trail up to the summit of Butter Hill, where a rock outcrop just to the left of the trail provides a 360° view. The East Hudson Highlands are visible across the river, with towers marking the summits of Beacon Mountain to the north. Bull Hill is directly to the east. On the west side of the river, the North Ridge of Crows Nest Mountain is directly to the south, with Black Rock Forest visible to the southeast. Schunemunk Mountain may be seen to the west, with the Moodna Viaduct (on the Metro-North rail line to Port Jervis) towering over the valley just north of the mountain. In the distance to the northwest are the Shawangunks and, behind them, the Catskills. To the north, the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge spans the Hudson River.
After enjoying this spectacular view, continue ahead on the yellow-blazed Stillman Trail, which descends slightly. Soon, you’ll reach a junction with the blue-and-red-blazed Bluebird Trail, marked by a large cairn. Turn right, uphill, and continue on the Stillman Trail. A short distance ahead, you’ll reach the northern end of the blue-blazed Howell Trail, which begins on the right. Bear left here, continuing along the yellow-blazed trail, which follows a relatively level route for the next 0.7 mile. After a short, steep climb, you’ll reach a limited view to the north. About five minutes ahead, though, you’ll come to a much better viewpoint looking north over the Hudson River. Pollopel Island is directly below, with the ruins of Bannerman’s Castle on its high point. The rail line running along the east shore of the Hudson is Metro-North’s Hudson Line (also the route of Amtrak trains to Albany).
Continue ahead, past the summit of Storm King Mountain, with some more views from rock ledges to the left. After a short descent, you’ll reach an unobstructed panoramic north-facing viewpoint, with superb views. To the east, Breakneck Ridge (marked by the rail tunnel) is visible across the river. The stone building at the foot of Breakneck Ridge (partially obscured by the vegetation) caps a shaft of the Catskill Aqueduct, which tunnels over 1,100 feet below the river. North Beacon Mountain (with communications towers) and South Beacon Mountain (with a fire tower) are to the northeast. To the northwest, the village of Cornwall can be seen along the west bank of the river.
The Stillman Trail now continues to descend and soon reaches a junction with the white-blazed By-Pass Trail. Continue along the yellow-blazed Stillman Trail, which turns sharply left, soon reaching another outstanding viewpoint from a rock ledge on the right. This viewpoint faces south, with the village of Cold Spring visible across the river to the southeast, and Constitution Island jutting into the river just beyond.
The Stillman Trail again turns left and descends on a beautiful stretch of sidehill trail, through hemlocks and laurel. This is a north-facing trail section, and it is often icy in the winter. After passing a viewpoint to the north, the trail makes a switchback turn. Then, in another half mile, it descends a second switchback, crosses a wooden bridge over a ravine, bears left, and descends more steeply.
As the Stillman Trail curves to the right, you’ll come to a junction with the blue-and-red-blazed Bluebird Trail. Turn left and follow the Bluebird Trail, which begins a steady ascent. After turning left onto a woods road, the trail continues up the mountain on switchbacks, with limited views to the right through the trees. In 0.6 mile, the Bluebird Trail ends at a junction with the Stillman Trail (marked by a cairn).
Bear right and continue ahead on the yellow-blazed Stillman Trail, now retracing your steps. The return trip crosses Butter Hill, giving you another opportunity to take in the magnificent 360° views from its summit. After descending from Butter Hill, turn left onto the orange-blazed Butter Hill Trail and follow it back to the parking area where the hike began.Publication: Submitted by Daniel Chazin on 10/31/2002 updated/verified on 12/14/2014
This loop climbs to the summits of Butter Hill and Storm King Mountain, with many spectacular viewpoints over the Hudson River and the Highlands.
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.