Vanish: To Harriman State Park, Spring 2021

Welcome back to “Vanish: To…”, my film diaries of various escapes and attempts to vanish from the city for a few days in nature.

To kick off the start of the spring backpacking season, I returned with some friends to tried and true Harriman State Park.

As I mentioned in my first entry last year, Harriman is a classic camping and backpacking destination for residents of New York City and the Tri-State Area (NY, NJ, CT). It’s just over an hour drive from the city and several of the trail heads are a short walk from multiple public transportation options.

For newbies, Harriman has plenty of short and easy day hikes or overnights, but the trails can get as challenging as you want them to be. With everything from fields of lush ferns to some very rocky terrain and steep scrambles, lakes in abundance, and mountain top views of the Hudson Valley with NYC in the distance, this local favorite truly has a lot to offer.

I explored both easy and difficult options in my first two hikes there this season as I shook the ice off of my winter legs and tried to get back in shape.

First up: the Ramapo – Dunderberg Trail. Along with some friends who were training for the New Jersey – Massachusetts section of the Appalachian Trail, we did this popular ~23 mile trail in its entirety as an overnight.

Starting in Tuxedo, NY, which you can access by train, this trail essentially cuts across the entire park. It covers a lot of the most popular sites, Smith Rock, Tom Jones, Bald Rocks, and gives you the option to break off to Bear Mountain as well. We pushed 15 miles the first day to get to a less crowded shelter, and allow for a shorter day 2, to go at a more relaxed pace and to stop and smell the freshly budding flowers.

Pro tip: at the end of the trail (if you began in Tuxedo), take a short cab ride to Peekskill Brewery for some post trail grub and cold beer and take the Metro-North back to Grand Central from the nearby station.

The second trip was considerably more relaxed.

My fiancé suffers from bad hips, so despite her love of camping and the outdoors, she is physically limited in her capacity and is more comfortable at a pace of about 6 miles a day. Luckily, Harriman can more than accommodate this while still being interesting and varied in its topography.

We chose a short, 10 mile loop that starts on the Blue Disc Trail and crosses over to the Ramapo – Dunderberg, as well as intersecting with couple of others along the way. There are several trail options at the start of this loop, which is only accessible by car, and it rewards you with some fantastic views just a few minutes in. The trail brings you up, around and down past multiple lakes where you can choose to stealth camp or take a quick dip (at your own risk of incurring a fine for both).

Word to the wise: if you choose to camp out near one of the lakes or the very popular Tom Jones shelter, expect crowds and noise as these are particularly close to parking areas and are frequented by partiers and those less interested in the “serenity” of the outdoors.

As you can tell by the photos, these hikes were in early spring. There was still a lot of brown, but flowers were just starting to bloom and you could see the grass beginning to push through the floor of dead leaves. Now entering summer, the park is lush and full of green. So go check it out for yourself – for the day, the weekend, or longer! And check back in soon for the next “Vanish: To…”