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Family Friendly Highlands Quest Trail at Hudson Highlands Nature Museum
Directions to trailhead
Take the New York State Thruway north to Exit 16. Follow Route 32 north for seven miles to Mountainville, turn right onto Angola Road. Turn left at the first stop sign to continue on Angola Road. The Museum's entrance on Muser Drive is just over 1 mile ahead on the right, directly across from 174 Angola Road.
Going north or south on Route 9W take the Angola Rd. exit and turn left. The entrance on Muser Drive is about a tenth of a mile ahead on the left, directly across from 174 Angola Road, Cornwall.
The Highlands Quest is one of four Discovery Quests available at the HHNM. These self-guided hikes are complemented by an interactive guidebook, available for purchase at the Visitor's Center. Designed with elements for all age levels, the guides combine word games, hands-on experiences, and informative field notes. Well marked posts along the trail correspond to activities and information in the Quest guidebook covering topics such as native plants and animals, man-made evidence of the land's past, glacial erratics, and the history of maple sugaring in New York state.
To begin the Highlands loop, cross the field behind the Visitor's Center heading left towards the orange, yellow, and turquoise flags. From here the trail curves through a wild field into the tree line where a yellow flag a few feet in marks the Highlands Quest trailhead. The trail here follows an old carriage road that showcases various faunas from fern to some of the tallest deciduous trees in the area. When the trail splits, veer left and continue to follow the yellow trail markers.
The trail runs parallel to a stream bed, crossing over it three times before progressing away and to the right past a stand of Tulip trees. Lenape Native Americans used the Tulip tree to make the canoes that were their principal means of transportation. Here the trail curves again to the right, meeting up with another old carriage road that was used to transport mining ore and timber. Follow this to a stone fence made by early farmers of this property from rocks they unearthed while cultivating their fields.
Continue alongside the stone fence to the site of a collapsed iron ore mine on the left hand side that dates from the mid 1800s. You may find magnetite tailings, rust colored rocks containing small amounts of this magnetic mineral, on the ground in this area. The trail turns right after the mine. As you continue, look to your left to see a large boulder dropped here by the Lourentide Ice Sheet glacier some 18,000 years ago.
Stay on the trail as it winds through the forest until you reach post 7. Just off to the right the stone foundation of a house is visible amongst the trees. In the 1720s this property was owned by a prosperous farmer; the foundation here is likely the remnants of a house lived in by one of his tenants. Notice that part of the stone wall, used to keep livestock in and predators out, still stands here nearly 300 years later.
Beyond this point the trail curves right again. Continue through various woodland habitats until the trail turns out into an open field. A fenced-in area called an exclosure is straight ahead. Deer and other wildlife are prevented from foraging for food amongst the plant life growing inside the fence; the exclosure gives us an idea of what the area might look like if the deer's natural predators still hunted here.
Continue on the path until reaching Muskrat Pond off the trail on the left side. Look for Great Blue Herons and Wood Ducks; both species are often seen fishing this water. Water lilies and blue flag irises are abundant here during the late spring and summer. The building next to the pond is a sugar shack. In the late winter and early spring, museum educators make maple syrup in this evaporator. Double back and continue to the right until an intersection of three trails. This is the end of the Highlands Quest. Follow the red trail markers back to the Visitor's Center.