1) AT FROM LONGHOUSE DRIVE (NJ) TO ROUTE 17A – This is one long, knee-pounding hike which requires two cars and lots of time.
JUST DO IT: Park one car along Route 17A at the top of Bellvale Mountain and drive to Longhouse Drive/Brady Mountain Road about one mile south of the NY/NY state line. (N41.11.732 W74.22.290 – Elev. 1117) Head north on the AT following the white blazes.
In about a mile you will cross a wooden footbridge over Longhouse Creek. The trail will begin climbing towards the Bearfort ridgeline at this point. Several spots will require jumping across crevices and pulling yourself up onto rocks, but in another mile you will come to the New York / New Jersey border which is painted on the rocks.
This is a good place to snap some photos and have a snack.
You are standing on Schunnemunck Puddingstone conglomerate rocks which will soon form a roll-coaster of up-and-down climbs. These rocks originally formed at the bottom of an ancient seabed and are more than 400,000,000 years old. In another half mile you will see an American flag flapping in the breeze. Congratulations, you’ve reached the crest of Prospect Rock, at 1,433 feet the highest point on the AT in New York state.
Down below are great views of Greenwood Lake which will accompany you for most of your hike.
The AWOL’s AT Guidebook says this: “Despite its unimposing profile, rocks and abrupt ups-and-downs make this section challenging.”
And indeed it is.
In little more than a mile you will cross Furnace Brook and shortly after that you will come to a rebar ladder embedded into a steep cliff face. (There used to be an aluminum ladder here and before that a wooden ladder and before that a rope to pull yourself up.)
So be happy that the trail maintainers worked extra hard to put the rebar up there for you to climb.
Another mile and a half will bring you to Cascade Brook with a nice camping area on the other side. (And another good place to have a snack and water break.)
Note: Both Furnace Brook and Cascade Brook are wide and fast, but the waters have lots of tannins in them which makes the water brown. So if you want to drink from these streams, filtering the water first is highly recommended.
Filtering is always recommended because not only does the bear shit in the woods, he also shits in the streams.
About one mile later you will come to the intersection with the Village Vista trail and it’s great overlook of the Village of Greenwood Lake.
Good News! It’s only another two miles before you come back to Route 17A and your first car.
TIME: This is 8.1 miles between roads so 4-6 hours depending on how fast you are and how many stops you make.
TIPS: Bring plenty of food and water. Sturdy hiking shoes, hiking poles and a daypack will help a lot on this section. As previously mentioned, you will need two cars. In my opinion, this is not a hike for small children, but make your own decisions on that. Inclement weather should cancel this hike as even a small amount of rain makes these rocks very slippery – and you will be spending a lot of time on rocks. Lightning is always a danger on an exposed ridgeline.
2) STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN ON AT: This is about one mile south of the New York / New Jersey border on Route 94, so not within the borders of Warwick, N.Y. But the place is so popular, it bears mentioning.
JUST DO IT: Just past Heaven Hill Farm on the right, (driving south from Warwick) is the AT trailhead parking area on the left. There is only room for about 6-8 cars here in the official parking lot but folks have been parking in the sandy areas along Route 94 for years. (N41.13.160 W74.27.306 – Elev. 450)
Disclaimer: On weekends, there can be upwards of 40 cars parked along the road. I am not sure how legal it is, so park here at your own risk.
Find the AT trailhead kiosk and head north – towards the mountain – on the AT following the white blazes. At first it follows an erosion gully, then deposits you a small flatlands which leads to a forest and leaves you staring at the huge boulders that form the base of Wawayanda Mountain. After gulping hard, turn right, still following the white blazes.
Here’s where it gets fun.
For the next mile you will go back and forth, hairpin turn after hairpin turn, as you climb up the side of Wawayanda Mountain. You will pass people huffing their way upwards and people laughing their way down. This is a VERY popular section of the trail!
It’s not far in distance – only about a mile-and-a-half from the car – but the elevation gain is significant. (Watch your step because this is ankle-turning territory.)
You will go over and under fallen trees, you will pass areas right in the middle of the trail and relatively flat areas. You will continue upwards on steep sections and really steep sections.
As you near the top, there is a pile of rocks and a blue blazed trail off to the left. You will go less than 50 yards before stepping out onto a ledge with spectacular views of the Vernon Valley to the west. That’s New Jersey’s High Point monument way off in the distance and the Village of Warwick N.Y. is off to your right and Vernon N.J. is off to your left.
Down below, those little ant-like things are actually people coming up to join you.
Congratulations! You have arrived at what is known locally as “Pinwheel’s Vista” – named after the man who first blazed this trail.
The vista is 1,340 feet of elevation, so you’ve climbed almost 900 vertical feet in about a mile. Pat yourself on the back – that’s pretty impressive.
Now you have to get down!
TIME: This is about one hour up and one hour back hike. (But I’ve known some runners to do it in around 20 minutes one-way. Show-offs!) Budget at least another 30 minutes at the top.
TIPS: Strong-soled shoes are important and carry your own water because you WILL get thirsty. It’s not uncommon to come across rattlesnakes or black rat snakes on this hike so keep your eyes peeled. And listen to the hikers coming down: If someone tells you there are a couple of bears on the trail up ahead, they are probably not kidding. This is the heart of bear territory.
Children love this hike because they get to embarrass their parents with their natural climbing prowess – but warn them in advance about the wildlife and keep them away from the edge at the top.
3) DORIS DUKE TRAIL – This is a nice loop which is easy to access with good elevation gains and plenty of beautiful scenery. (Note, this particular hike is NOT on the Appalachian Trail.)
JUST DO IT: While driving on Route 17A turn onto Benjamin Meadow Road (a left if coming from Greenwood Lake, a right if coming from Tuxedo). Hint: It is very near the New York Renaissance Faire parking lot.
Travel about a quarter-mile and make a left at the brand-new signpost that reads: “Doris Duke Trailhead.” Yes, this is one of the newest trails in the region.
Doris Duke, for those who are interested, was a wealthy socialite who lived in Hillsborough, N.J. and died in 1993. Her father was James “Buck” Duke who became rich through tobacco farming in the Carolinas. In December, 1924 he donated $40 million of his fortune to tiny Trinity College in Durham, N.C.
They immediately re-named the school Duke University in his honor. (Yeah, THAT Duke University.)
When James died in 1925, half of his fortune – or $100 million – went to 12-year old Doris who immediately became known as “The Richest Little Girl in the World.” There is no evidence that Doris ever saw this section of the world, but she was interested in wildlife and land preservation. When she passed away, she was worth $1.3 billion and left most of her fortune to the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation which helps fund such things.
So this section of land, which was initially supposed to be bulldozed and turned into McMansions, was bought by the New York / New Jersey Trail Conference – with money provided by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation – and apended onto Sterling Forest State Park.
The stipulation was that it be termed a “wildlife sanctuary” so no hunting was to be allowed at any time of year.
In giving thanks, the NY/NJTC named the new trail after Doris Duke, which you are about to discover today.
Back to our story.
Park at the trailhead and take a look at the newly-installed informational kiosk. Even though this is a wildlife sanctuary, it helps to wear brightly-colored clothing just in case.
(Hunters, it seems, sometimes have a difficult time understanding the signs.)
Go up the trail and over the bridge and make a right where the sign says “DD Loop” with a little arrow. This trail is a little tough to follow at times because it’s THAT new. But you are looking for the little “DD” markers nailed very lightly to the trees.
In short time you will be gaping at the beautiful Benjamin Meadow. In wet weather it looks more like a lake than a meadow, in dry times it is just a little stream coursing through the center. Notice the beaver lodges?
Then it’s time to head to the left as the trail leaves the meadow. The trail climbs gradually at first passing some spectacular cliffs on the left. Eventually it joins an old woods road and heads up more dramatically.
Did you notice the rock balanced on three smaller rocks?
Continue ahead and when the trail bends to the left, you start heading uphill onto the ridge. It’s a tough climb but well worth the effort. (And also why this hike is listed in the TOUGH HIKES section and not the MODERATE HIKES section.)
Now you can climb from one outcropping to another, always headed up, always with nicer views the the previous. See that lake out in the distance? That’s Mombasha Lake in the Town of Monroe.
Pick a spot to sit on a rock, rest, have a snack and take in the views.
Finished? Now you can climb even higher until the trail meets the top of Sterling Mountain. You’ll know it because it’s a big, bare rock and everything is lower than you are. Here the path levels out as you traverse the ridgeline for about a half-mile.
Several hundred yards past a series of stone steps which cross a marshy area, you will make a left to stay on the “DD” trail. Keep an eye peeled because it’s an easy turn to miss. (If you get to the power lines, you’ve gone too far.)
You will come to a few more rock outcrops with great views to the east. That tiny ribbon of dual-lane highway is Route 17A just past the Renaissance Faire as it heads towards Tuxedo.
Eventually, you will start descending, slowly at first and then more quickly. A series of switchbacks takes you downhill from here, past small waterfalls and stream crossings.
In minutes you will be back where the “DD” loop started. Make a right and head back to your car.
TIME: At least two hours from start to finish – maybe longer, since this is a 4-mile loop. As usual, it depends on how long you rest at the top.
TIPS: Pack plenty of water on warmer days, since the climb to the top is significant. It wouldn’t hurt to bring a snack or a lunch to enjoy along the way. Children will be mostly okay as there are only a few places to tumble off of. They say that this area is a “wildlife sanctuary” and, as such, has plenty of bears and snakes. (But I’ve never seen anything.)
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