1) EASTERN PINNACLES – A great first hike for families is a one-mile walk out to the Eastern Pinnacles and back.
JUST DO IT: Start at any of the gravel parking lots where Route 17A crests Bellvale Mountain and locate the AT trailhead. (Hint: It’s near the very first parking lot on the left, if you are coming from Greenwood Lake or the very last parking lot on the right, if you are coming from Warwick.) (N41.14.658 W74.17.216 – Elev. 1180)
Alternatively, you could park near Bellvale Creamery and take the blue-blazed trail from Hawk’s Nest downhill to the intersection with the AT.
Cross Route 17A (CAREFULLY!) and head north on the Appalachian Trail following the white blazes. The trail is gentle and wide here with an easy climb before it curves to the left and away from the rushing cars below. Soon you are in a quiet forest with gentle hills and dramatic rock outcrops on the left.
The trail crosses a pipeline cut and plunges ahead along the Bellvale Ridge. After more short, rolling climbs, the trail heads downhill toward a small marshy stream (seasonal). Straight ahead is the short climb to the Eastern Pinnacles.
You can choose to climb to the steepest part, but an immediate left onto a blue-blazed trail bypasses that portion if you prefer. After rounding the bend, you are met with dramatic views.
That’s Lakes Road down there in the valley, winding its way between Monroe (far off to the left) and Greenwood Lake (to the right). The clearing below is Greenwood Lake Middle School with its soccer fields. Far off in the distance is Schunnemunck Mountain with the Village of Kiryas Joel clinging to its side.
And far, far off to the north you can see – on a clear day – the first of the Catskill Range.
Oh, and that squarish-looking rock sticking out of the forest is Cat Rocks about a half-mile further along on the AT. It looks square from here but it is actually very rectangular – and steep – up close.
You are standing on Puddingstone Conglomerate rock, which is only about 400,000,000 years old and is embedded with small stones. This rock only appears in three places in the U.S. and – lucky you – you are standing on one of those places. The surface is very grippy when dry and very slippery when wet.
This is a great place to have a snack and drink some water before heading back the way you came.
TIME: Count on spending 30 minutes walking out and 30 minutes walking back and add on whatever time you spend taking in the view. So maybe 90 minutes total.
TIPS: About two miles in all. Sneakers are fine for this walk. Dogs should remain leashed as the area is very popular with day hikers. Keep the kiddies close by, because the drop-offs in both directions are very steep once you get to the rocks.
2) FITZGERALD FALLS – Another great first hike which could be combined with the above hike on the same day.
JUST DO IT: Start at the small parking area alongside Lakes Road just north of the Greenwood Lake Middle School (If you are driving north from Greenwood Lake.) There is not much room here, maybe three cars on either side of the road and it’s becoming more popular all the time. (Careful getting out!)
Locate the trailhead kiosk on the north side of the road and head north following the white blazes. Within a minute you will pass under powerlines and in two minutes you will cross over the Trout Brook stream.
Continue following the white blazes for about a quarter mile as you approach the double-streamed Fitzgerald Falls. These falls are stronger in the spring than in the summer – for obvious reasons – but provide an interesting place to visit at any time of the year.
Walk carefully on the slippery stones and cross over the stream bed to the other side. You are now facing the lower level of Fitzgerald Falls.
Those rock stairs on the right side were dragged into place by the “Jolly Rovers” trail maintaining group, the same team which constructed the thousands of steps that lead to the summit at Bear Mountain State Park.
Watch your step as you climb those stairs! There is a nice pool and another small set of waterfalls at the top but leaves or moisture can make them slippery at all times of the year.
TIME: This is a very short hike – it only takes 10 minutes from your car to the falls. You’ll want to spend some time snapping pictures and taking it all in, so budget one hour for the whole thing.
TIPS: Sneakers are fine. This is an easy out and back – just be careful on the slippery stones. Kids will absolutely love this hike and so will you. (Even if they get wet, it’s only a short walk back to the car.)
3) VERNON BOARDWALK – This one is in New Jersey as well and no, it’s not a traditional boardwalk with expensive rides and expensive games and expensive cotton candy.
Nope, this is the Appalachian Trail and it zig-zags it’s way across a beautiful and environmentally fragile marshland near the Pochuck Creek.
JUST DO IT: Drive west on County Route 1 and make a left onto Glenwood Road at the center of Pine Island. (Hint: It’s the only traffic light in town.) Head south and cross over into New Jersey and the road becomes Sussex County Route 517. Just past Carol Drive (on the left) the road widens and there is parking for about 20 cars on the other (east) side of the road. (Important: Park only in the designated areas – look at the signs – because you will get ticketed if you park in the wrong place.)
Find the AT Kiosk and start walking east on the boardwalk. It zigs here and zags there and eventually deposits you into a small woodlands. It’s easy to stay on the trail on the elevated boardwalk but hikers are reminded to stay on the trail here in the woods and keep their pets leashed. (Respect the rights of the property owners.)
Shortly, the trail will make a right and cross a small creek. Keep a sharp eye out for turtles in the water – in season, they are everywhere!
Then it’s back up on the elevated boardwalk as it winds it’s way through the marshland headed for a large wooden bridge over the Pochuck Creek. Cross over the bridge, which sways gently as you cross. The creek below is headed due north at this point, on it’s way to joining the Wallkill River which flows even further north.
In a couple of hundred yards the boardwalk will end at another woodlands. Most people turn around here and head back to their cars. But you can continue on the AT (follow the white blazes) over the hill and through the woodlands to Canal Road about a half-mile further along. Here a bridge – and the trail -crosses over the Wawayanda Creek as it flows south to join the Pochuck.
Again, you can turn around here or continue on the AT – sharp left turn after the bridge – as it cuts through flatlands and grazing property and eventually makes its way toward Route 94 at the base of Wawayanda Mountain.
TIME: Depends on where you turn around, really. If you just do the boardwalk and bridge, budget about an hour. If you go further to Canal Road, about 90 minutes. If you go all the way to Route 94 and Heaven Hill Farm, it would be about two hours or more.
TIPS: No climbing involved here. Sneakers are fine. Kids will enjoy this hike. It could be muddy in the woods, but that depends on whether or not it has rained recently. No dangerous spots but keep your dogs leashed as this is a very popular hike, especially on weekends.
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