It may be surprising, but there are many sites in close proximity to the Big Apple that offer exciting and challenging trails for all skill levels. The best hikes in the New York City area offer beautiful deciduous forests that can be enjoyed again and again with a seemingly new trail shaped by the changing seasons. These 10 hikes offer the ultimate wilderness escapes from Manhattan Island for enjoyable day hikes or overnight adventures.
1. Sourland Mountain Preserve Loop
Maintained by the Somerset County Park Commission, the Sourland Mountain Preserve features 3,000 acres to explore an hour-and-a-half drive from Manhattan via Interstate 78W and 287S. The trailhead is located at 415 East Mountain Road in Hillsborough, NJ. The 5.6-mile Sourland Mountain Preserve Loop offers an excellent morning or afternoon hike. Sourland Mountain features two boulder fields, known as Devil’s Half Acre and the Roaring Rocks, as well as multiple boardwalks. This main trail features white square blazes and numbered markers. The triangle blaze and connecting trails can be added for shorter routes or variation.
One of the better routes starts at the trailhead and follows the square blazes to the No. 1 marker and then continues to follow the white square blazes to the Devil’s Acre boulder field. This part of the trail has a rapid elevation climb. Follow the square trail through slight elevation gains and declines until reaching the No. 4 marker where a right at the intersection onto the red-blazed trail will lead to the Roaring Rocks boulder field. The red blaze will eventually meet again with the white square blaze. Bear right at this point to reach marker No. 7 where elevation declines to markers 8 and 9. This part of the trail experiences less traffic and allows time to admire the flora along the boardwalks. After spending some downtime, follow the white square blaze to marker 10, and then bear right to marker 13 to enjoy views of a large pond. Soon after, you’ll find yourself back at the trailhead.
2. Macri Trail Wells Mills County Park
Low-nutrient and acidic sandy soil led to the unique flora represented in the Pine Barrens, which you can explore at Macri Trail Wells Mills County Park. Located an hour and a half from Manhattan in Waretown, NJ, this park is full of pines, cedar, and ticks, and is supposedly the home of the Jersey Devil.
Start your hike from the parking lot (905 Wells Mills Road) and follow the white-blazed trail across hills and boardwalks as you cross over swamp ecosystems. The trails are well blazed and not difficult to follow. The joy of the experience is in the flora that surrounds you throughout the hike. The trail simply loops back to the visitor center after circling this county park gem.
3. Cushetunk Trail at Round Valley Recreation Area
Circling the deepest man-made lake in the state of New Jersey—sometimes referred to as the Bermuda Triangle of the state—the Cushetunk Trail at Round Valley Recreation Area is a 9-mile, in-and-out trail through both open and wooded areas. You’ll find elevation gains that at points can be very steep. Round Valley Recreation area is the only New Jersey state park to offer wilderness camping, with sites located on the lower trail running along the reservoir. Those of you lucky campers with kayaks or boats can reach the campsites via the reservoir. Round Valley is an hour ride from Manhattan via I-78 west to exit 20A. Continue on Route 22 west and follow signs to the park.
For a great hike from the south parking area, walk up the hill toward the trailhead on the left. The Cushetunk Trail is blazed with poles tipped with red paint. The trail begins easy with gorgeous views of the reservoir between wooded areas. As you venture in, you’ll come across various inclines and declines followed by an opening where the dam is located. The trail eventually splits, and if you bear left to the lower trail it declines toward the campgrounds that can be used to reach the shore line of the reservoir. Bearing right at the fork will keep you on the upper Cushetunk Trail until you reach the end of the 9-mile hike and head back toward the parking lot the way you came. Since the upper trail connects to the lower trail after a few miles, you can design a shorter hike as well. For instance, hike to the second intersection and take the camp trail back toward the first intersection and then follow the Cushetunk Trail back to the parking lot.
4. Osio Rock and Tourne Mountain’s Stone Living Room
This awesome place is located in West Milford, NJ, within the Norvin Green State Forest. You’ll find multiple trail routes, including one to the Stone Living Room, a group of stone chairs circling a large stone fire pit. Over the years it has been destroyed and rebuilt, but it remains a scenic point of interest. (You can read more about it in Weird NJ Magazine). This is the shortest hike on this list at just over two miles. The trail features mostly rocky terrain with wooded areas on the slope of Tourne Mountain and in the ravine before Osio Rock.
The parking entrance is located on Glenwild Avenue in Bloomingdale, NJ., which is approximately an hour from Manhattan. If you are heading west on Glenwild Avenue, park at the first parking area on the right. Follow the Hewitt Butler Trail (blue blaze) across the street and take the south trail up Tourne Mountain. The Stone Living Room is off the trail toward the left. Enjoy the different viewpoints from the ledges surrounding the stone structures before heading toward Osio Rock for full 360 views. Return via the blue path toward the trailhead.
5. Ramapo State Park Van Skyle Castle Ruins
Located in Mahwah, NJ, one hour from NYC, this four-mile, in-and-out hike in Ramapo State Park moves through heavily wooded terrain with steady elevation gains that provide gorgeous views of Ramapo Lake and lead to the Van Skyle Castle Ruins.
Start at the Skyline Drive trailhead on the blue-blazed McEvoy Trail toward Ramapo Lake. The Castle Point Trail—with a white blaze—will be on the right as it intersects the McEvoy Trail. The Castle Point Trail climbs up toward Van Skyle Castle, which was occupied by the family until it was burnt down in the 1950s. Take a rest and explore the ruins. This is a great spot for less experienced hikers because it offers a unique landmark and views of the lake. The trail can be retraced to the trailhead but, the state park offers other trails to explore that give hikers a glimpse of the skyline of the most wonderful city in the world.
6. Ramapo Reservation Overlook Loop
Located on the opposite side of Ramapo Mountain State Park, the Ramapo Reservation is another popular destination with a variety of trails. This loop is more difficult than you expect. Upon reaching the parking lot on Route 202 in Mahwah, NJ, proceed on the Silver path, which resemble a dirt road and features a slight increase in elevation. With Scarlet Oak Pond on the right, bear right toward the Halifax Trail marked with a green blaze. This path will then lead across a small bridge and immediately climb in elevation.
Take a rest at Hawk Rock and of course take in the view of the surrounding northern New Jersey landscape. Continue up the Halifax Trail. After a steep incline, and then a decline, the trail will level. Follow it until reaching the Havemeyer Trail on the left. Follow this blue and white blaze until heading left on the white trail. The white trail turns into a blue trail and a sign for the Overlook scenic view will be seen. On a clear day, the entire NYC skyline can be seen. It’s a really cool spot to watch the sunset and all the lights of the city turn on, just be aware, by the time you get back down to your car, you may have a ticket on it since the park closes at sunset. This one may be worth the extra dollars.
7. Cascade Mountain
This trail is located near Route 73 between Lake Placid and Keene, NY, five hours outside of NYC, and just over four miles in and out. Cascade is known as the runt of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks (46ers), but remains popular for its pleasant grades and multiple ledges as you climb up to the summit at 4,098 feet. Many refer to Cascade Mountain as a good introduction to the 46ers. Simply Gourmet, a Lake Placid deli that creates a unique sandwich for each of the 46 High Peaks, only suggests a PB&J sandwich for the completion of Cascade Mountain—which tells you a lot.
The trail to the summit has steep inclines in the beginning through densely wooded area, finally opening up at a ledge. Once over the ledge, an intersection to Porter Mountain is available, but your best bet is continuing on toward the summit. After a rock scramble to the summit, take a good look around at the beauty that surrounds you. If at all possible, catch the summit at sunrise—it’s a must-do experience that you won’t easily forget.
8. Twin Mountain
Twin Mountain is an excellent moderate hike in the Catskills. It’s one the the peaks along Devil’s Path, and the 4.6-mile trail can be either a day hike or an overnighter. The trailhead is located at Prediger Road in Elka Park, NY., about two and a half hours from NYC.
From the trailhead, follow the Jimmy Dolan Notch Trail through gradual rising gradients in evergreen forests and a wooded area until you reach a steep climb that has been referred to as “a vacuum pulling the air out of your lungs” by fellow hikers. This will bring you to the intersection with Devil’s Path. At the intersection a lean-to can be found straight ahead while a right onto Devil’s Path (marked with red blazes) will begin the ascent to Twin Mountain. The trail to the summit has various ledges that allow excellent scenic views while the summits show gorgeous panoramic views of the Catskills. Retracing steps down toward Prediger Road will lead to the parking lot.
9. Stairway to Heaven to Pista Vista
Located in Vernon, NJ, one hour from New York City, the 3.5-mile Stairway to Heaven to Pista Vista loop brings you through a dense wooded area and boardwalks through a marsh area—plus it features some great bouldering. It’s also a popular spot to meet thru hikers on the Appalachian Trail (AT). Park directly on McAfee Glenwood Road after Meadowlark Drive, and the trailhead will be on the northbound side of the road.
You can follow the AT through the Pochuck Boardwalk and the suspension bridge toward the intersection with route 94. Keep on the AT cross route 94 and begin the ascent up Wawayanda Mountain toward Pinwheel Vista. The trail to Pinwheel Vista will be noted with a blue trail that will open up to a scenic view of the surrounding valley and on a clear day, High Point Monument.
10. Whiteface Mountain
The best hike in the New York City area is also the most dangerous of this list, so please make sure you have a quality pair of boots such as La Sportiva's FC ECO 3.0 GTX (available at REI) before even looking at the trail maps for Whiteface Mountain. It is located four hours outside of New York city in Wilmington, NY—but is well worth the trip. The older and more popular sibling of Cascade Mountain, Whiteface is the fifth highest mountain in New York at 4,865 feet, and it gained its fame for hosting alpine skiing during the 1980 Winter Olympics.
This challenging 10-mile hike is usually done one-way using two vehicles—one at the summit and one at the trailhead. Resist the urge to drive up this classic Adirondack favorite. If you are not an experienced hiker, then skip this trail for the time being until you can make it on foot. Simply Gourmet will suggest a delicious cracked pepper turkey, provolone, avocado, sprouts, and mayo sandwich for this one.
From the trailhead, descend for the first few legs until you begin to gain elevation ascending Marble Mountain. The summit of Marble Mountain is actually an intersection, from here, take the right. Take in the ledges along the steep ascent straight through another trail intersection. Follow this path to the summit of Whiteface where you’ll find 360-degree views of New York State, Vermont, and the car you hopefully parked at the summit. Best of luck and enjoy the view.