Schunemunk Mountain Loop from Otterkill Road via Dark Hollow, Jessup and Western Ridge Trails
Directions to trailhead
Take the New York State Thruway to Exit 16 (Harriman). Proceed west on N.Y. Route 17 to Exit 130, and continue north on N.Y. Route 208 for 2.7 miles. Just past the Blooming Grove Plaza shopping center, bear right at the fork onto Clove Road (County Route 27). In 4.4 miles, turn right onto Otterkill Road and proceed for 0.7 mile to a trailhead parking area on the left side of the road.
From the parking area, proceed ahead (east) on Otterkill Road for 0.2 mile. About 150 feet before reaching the massive Moodna Viaduct (which spans the valley to the left), turn right onto a footpath, following the white-blazed Trestle Trail, which proceeds uphill rather steeply on a woods road, with the Moodna Viaduct to the left.
In about 500 feet – just before reaching the level of the viaduct – you'll arrive at a fork in the trail. Here, the red-diamond-blazed Otterkill Trail begins on the left. Bear left and follow the Otterkill Trail. A short distance ahead, you'll reach a sweeping east-facing view, with the railroad tracks visible in a rock cut below. The trail continues parallel to the railroad over undulating terrain.
In about a mile, the Otterkill Trail turns left onto an intersecting woods road and descends to cross the cascading Baby Brook on a wooden footbridge. On the south side of the brook, you'll reach a junction with the yellow-blazed Jessup Trail. Turn left and follow the joint Otterkill/Jessup Trail. In a short distance, the two trails diverge, and you should continue ahead on the red-diamond-blazed Otterkill Trail.
In another mile, the white-blazed Sweet Clover Trail crosses. Continue ahead on the Otterkill Trail, which curves right and descends to cross Dark Hollow Brook below an attractive waterfall. Just past the brook crossing, the Otterkill Trail ends, and you should turn right onto the Dark Hollow Trail, marked by black-on-white blazes. .
The next mile and a half, during which you will climb over 1,000 vertical feet, is the most strenuous part of the hike. The Dark Hollow Trail begins by following a woods road up the mountain, first quite steeply, then more moderately on switchbacks. The trail then turns sharply right and ascends steeply to an east-facing viewpoint – the first of many that you’ll encounter on the hike. Just beyond, the trail rejoins the woods road and continues to climb steadily through a mountain laurel thicket. It then turns left, leaving the road, descends to cross a small stream, and climbs steeply to an expansive viewpoint. The Newburgh-Beacon Bridge is visible to the northeast, and the fire tower atop South Beacon Mountain can be seen across the Hudson River.
After descending slightly to cross another stream and an unmarked trail, the Dark Hollow Trail continues to climb, passing a narrow cave to the left. About two and one-half miles from the start of the hike, the Dark Hollow Trail ends at a junction with the yellow-blazed Jessup Trail and the teal-diamond-blazed Highlands Trail. Turn left and proceed south on the joint Jessup/Highlands Trail.
You’ve now reached the ridge of Schunemunk Mountain, which is composed of a conglomerate rock, studded with pebbles of white quartz and pink sandstone. This unusual rock has been smoothed by glacial action, sometimes resembling a level sidewalk. After 0.3 mile of this ridge-walking, you will come to a large open area studded with pitch pines. You’ll notice a line of cairns (rock piles) which lead to the right; follow them into a wooded area, and you will soon arrive at the Megaliths – a group of huge blocks that have split off from the bedrock. This is a good place for a break, as the interesting geologic features are complemented by a fine viewpoint to the west.
When you feel rested, return to the main trail and turn right. Soon, you will arrive at the summit of the mountain. The elevation (1,664 feet) is painted on the bedrock, and there are good views from this spot. You can see the Perkins Tower atop Bear Mountain to the southeast, with the Shawangunk Ridge visible to the northwest, and the Catskills beyond. In another 500 feet, you’ll pass the terminus of the Ridge-to-Ridge Trail (blue on white) to the right.
Continue ahead along the ridge, following the yellow and teal blazes for another mile, with open expanses of rock alternating with mountain laurel thickets. When the trail begins to descend, look for a junction with the orange-blazed Western Ridge Trail. This intersection is just below a descent from a rock ledge. Turn right onto the Western Ridge Trail and follow it as it steeply descends the ridge into the Barton Swamp, where it crosses a woods road and a brook, briefly joins a woods road, then turns right and gently ascends the western ridge of the mountain.
Follow the Western Ridge Trail for three relatively level miles along the western ridge, with wooded stretches punctuated with open rock ledges offering broad views to the west. To the right, you can see the higher eastern ridge, which you followed earlier in the hike. After about a mile and a half, you’ll pass (to the right) the southern end of the Barton Swamp Trail (red dot on white) and then the western end of the Ridge-to-Ridge Trail (blue dot on white), and a mile later you’ll reach the western end of the Sweet Clover Trail (white), followed by an exceptionally fine viewpoint to the west. Continue along the Western Ridge Trail until you come to the northern end of the Barton Swamp Trail (red dot on white). Turn right onto the Barton Swamp Trail, which descends from the ridge rather steeply, passing the northern end of the Trestle Trail (white) on the way.
After crossing Baby Brook, the Barton Swamp Trail reaches a junction with the yellow-blazed Jessup Trail. Turn left, and follow the Jessup Trail downhill, parallel to the brook, on an eroded woods road. Pay careful attention to the yellow blazes, which detour in places to the left to pass an interesting waterfall and to avoid a particularly bad section of the road. At the base of the descent, turn left onto the red-diamond-blazed Otterkill Trail, which crosses the brook on a wooden footbridge. You’re now retracing the route you followed at the start of the hike. When the Otterkill Trail ends at a junction with the white-blazed Trestle Trail, turn right onto the Trestle Trail, follow it down to Otterkill Road, then turn left onto Otterkill Road and continue to the parking area where the hike began.