Southeast Loop at Ward Pound Ridge to Highest Point in the Park
Directions to trailhead
From I-684, take Exit 6 (Route 35, Cross River). Turn right and follow Route 35 for 3.7 miles to NY Route 121. Turn right onto Route 121, cross a bridge over the Cross River, then immediately turn left to 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 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 a picnic table and a metal grill. The trailhead for the Blue Trail is at the southeast corner of the clearing, near the grill. The branch of the trail that goes straight ahead (uphill) will be your return route, but to follow the loop in the clockwise direction, you should bear left onto a level, grassy woods road.
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 it 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. On 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 a quarter mile.
A short distance beyond, the road levels off, with a wetland on the left and a large boulder field on 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. After passing a small pond on the left, the boulder-littered hillside on the right gradually steepens.
About two miles from the start, with Gilmore Pond visible through the trees on the left, the Blue Trail turns right, leaving the road, and proceeds uphill on a footpath. In a short distance, it reaches junction 17, where a white-blazed trail goes off to the left. You should bear right to continue on the Blue Trail, which levels off.
After curving around a rock outcrop and crossing a wet area on a boardwalk, the trail climbs steeply on a rocky footpath (a section of the trail has been rerouted onto a more gradual route). At the top of the climb, it reaches an area with huge rock outcrops on all sides and levels off. Soon, the trail resumes its climb. It passes through mountain laurel groves, crosses another wet area, and traverses an area with hemlocks (many of the hemlocks have died from the ravages of the woolly adelgid).
The trail continues through a relatively level area, with huge rock outcrops on the left. After steeply climbing a rocky slope (you may need to use both your hands and your feet to negotiate this climb), the trail levels off and proceeds through scrub oak and blueberry bushes to reach junction 16, where a white-blazed trail begins on 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 non-functional water pump 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.
When you’re ready to continue, proceed ahead on the Blue 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 junction 15, where you should bear right to continue on the Blue Trail.
The road now levels off and passes through an area with a thick understory of blueberries. After resuming its descent, it reaches junction 14. Here, a white-blazed trail begins on the left, 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 and badly eroded footpath through laurels. After crossing a seasonal stream, the trail briefly levels off, reaching junction 56, where a white-blazed trail begins on 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.