Like any recent New York transplant, I don’t have a car. Normally, this isn’t a problem: the subway is all I need for daily commutes, late night beer runs, and occasional forays to local sporting events. But on the weekends, the Washingtonian in me longs for clear skies, crisp air, and high peaks—a wish list I once thought impossible to find in the concrete jungle. But as summer came and humidity struck, I became dedicated to finding a way out of this city the only way I feasibly could—on that steely saint: public transportation.
Though I had to dig, I found quite a few challenging treks just a hop, skip, and a jump away. And so, my fellow city mice, I present to you three challenging hikes and camping spots you can reach just by hopping on a train in the city!
1. Breakneck Ridge
How do I get there? Known to locals as one of the more challenging hikes in the area, Breakneck Ridge is part of a network of many trails—which vary from easy to strenuous—in the Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve. Take the Metro North Hudson line to the Breakneck Ridge stop on weekends and holidays, or to the Cold Spring station any day and be prepared to walk about 30 minutes north on Route 9D to the trailhead.
What’s the trail like? Though the loop is short—only 2.8 miles—it’s a doozy. Your first 0.7 miles on the white-blazed path will be a terrifically steep scramble where you’ll gain nearly 800 feet in elevation. After four false summits, hikers will finally reach the top, about 1,500 feet of elevation gain later. The descent is a moderate cool down, though you’ll want to still be on the lookout for loose rocks and dry leaves trying to trip you up.
2. The Appalachian Trail
How do I get there? God bless the outdoor enthusiast who pushed for an Appalachian Trail stop off of the Metro North Harlem line in the early 1990s. The train only makes the stop at the Appalachian Trail on weekends and holidays, but if you’re up for an extra two-mile trek, you can get off at the always-serviced Pawling or Wingdale stops.
What’s the trail like? Once you’re off the train, there will be a trail map and sign pointing to various AT points of interest. If you’re headed northbound, cross the nearby highway and make your way across picturesque farmland and into the forest—a “Welcome to the AT!” setup will greet you. An easy 6-mile hike in will lead you to the tranquil Wiley Shelter, which has limited camping space, a working well, and a privy. For a more challenging backpacking trip, hike 12 miles in to the Ten Mile River Shelter in Connecticut. It’s next to a playful river, has ample room for camping, four privies, and a spring-fed well.
If you’re headed southbound, make your way across the footbridge next to the train tracks. A surprising path lined with reeds and benches surrounds you when you begin your trip. A relaxing 7.5-mile hike will deposit you at Nuclear Lake, a beautiful and peaceful place to set up camp. If you want a bit more of a challenge, make the 12.5-mile trek to the Morgan Stewart Shelter, a lean-to that has a lot of camping room, a working well, and privies.
3. Harriman and Bear Mountain State Parks
How do I get there? With over 235 miles of trails within the two parks—comprised of nearly 50 marked trails alongside numerous unmarked paths—the Harriman and Bear Mountain State Parks are very connected to public transport.
The Appalachian Trail can be most easily accessed at the Bear Mountain Inn trailhead or the Elk Pen Parking Area—both of which are serviced by the Short Line bus that departs from New York’s Penn Station Port Authority terminal or the Tuxedo stop off of the Metro North Hudson line, from which you can catch a $5 Harriman Shuttle to any of the eight stops inside the parks. The West Mountain Loop is accessed via the Anthony Wayne Recreation Area, which is also serviced by the Harriman Shuttle.
What are the trails like? Perhaps the most popular hike in the area is the 18-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail that snakes across the northern section of the parks. The trail is marked with white blazes and can be combined with 11 other connecting trails to create a convenient loop backpacking trip. A popular camping spot along the AT is the William Brian Memorial Shelter—a stone lean-to that can host up to eight campers and has a spring-fed well nearby.
Another stunner is the strenuous 6.2-mile West Mountain Loop. But the pain is well-worth it. From the Anthony Wayne Recreation Area, follow signs for “Far South Parking Area” to access the trailhead (for an extremely detailed trail route, visit the park’s website). The best part about this steep scramble of a hike is the sweeping vistas you get halfway through the hike: a clear panoramic view of New York City and dreamy looks at the Hudson River. There’s a White Mountain Shelter that often plays host to upwards of six camping groups, so keep in mind that this is not a hike to take for campers looking for a tranquil city getaway.
Other Notable and Accessible Hikes Near NYC:
Camp Smith Trail, rugged 4.3-mile hike—Metro North Hudson line, Peekskill stop.
Sugarloaf South, moderate 7-mile loop with access to Appalachian Trail—Metro North Hudson line, Garrison stop.
Washburn and Notch Trails, strenuous 5-mile loop—Metro North Hudson line, Cold Spring stop.
Fishkill Ridge Trail, difficult 11.5-miles of trails—Metro North Hudson line, Beacon stop.