Bear mountains is a gem of a park with three mountains located on the west bank of the Hudson. It spans over five thousand acres of the Catskill Forest Preserve and hosts over two million visitors annually. With its own tower, zoo, observatory, pool, and merry-go-round, there’s no shortage of fun there. You might even see a black bear. Let’s find out all about it!
The area that would become the park in the future saw many battles during the American Revolution. The British wanted control of the Hudson River, and that’s why the forts and mountains came in handy during battle.
After the war, The State of New York desired to move Sing Sing prison to the mountain now called bear mountain.
In January 1909, the state bought over seven hundred acres for the same purpose. The construction of the prison was stopped in favor of conserving the land.
Several philanthropists, the State of New York and the State of New Jersey, all collaborated to fund the park and build Henry Hudson Drive. Henry Hudson drive was replaced by Palisades Interstate Parkway in 1947.
During the next couple of years, the prison was demolished, and a dock was built for steamboats. In 1913 the park opened to the public. Steamboat was the most popular way to go there.
During the Depression-era public works program of the 30s, the park gained several amenities such as an administration building, bathrooms, staff homes, reservoirs, and sewage systems.
Bear Mountain is part of the Highlands. The highlands are a landform part of the outcropping known as the Reading Prong. The Reading Prong passes through four states, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. The Highlands formed about 1.3 billion years ago, while nearby Appalachian Mountains were formed barely 480 million years ago. Being older and more erosion-resistant makes them much taller than the Appalachian Mountains.
The bedrock of bear mountain is mostly granite gneiss and schist.
Things to Do
Is it worth it to drive out to Bear Mountain State Park? With so many incredible attractions, of course, it is. Here are a few ways you can pass the time there:
No angler can resist fishing at Bear Mountain State Park with bright blue waters and sandy beaches. Hessian Lake in Bear Mountain State park is one of the best fishing spots around, and it’s only an hour away from New York City.
If you enjoy facts about American history, you’d be interested to know that the lake got its name from the dead Hessian mercenaries dumped into it during the American revolution. It is a fun true story to scare the young as you help them catch and release their first fish from the shoreline.
You can bring your own camping gear to the park. Alternatively, you could camp at one of the many nearby available camping grounds. If you love nature but don’t want to brave the elements, you can rent an RV or Cabin nearby.
You can swim in the public pool at Bear Mountain State Park. The pool is fully equipped with lifeguards and safety measures. You cannot, however, swim in the lake. There are no lifeguards stationed at the lake.
There’s a kiddy area for the kids and a diving board at the deep end. The pool is large enough that you’ll have enough room to swim as much as you want, even when the pool is crowded.
Trailside Museums and Zoo
Unlike most state parks this one also features a zoo.
The zoo was originally a bear den that is where the park and the mountain get its name from. There are animal habitats along the Appalachian trail along the Hudson river. The zoo is a sanctuary area for animals who can’t survive in the wild anymore. The impressive list of wildlife includes black bears, bald eagles, coyotes, porcupines, and more!
There are also reptile and amphibian houses along the way featuring interesting fish, snakes, lizards, frogs, and such. The trail also features four interesting stone museums. This is a nice place to stop on your hike, observe the animals or learn something new.
Can you imagine visiting a mountain or some beautiful natural setting without hiking some distance? Well, you’ll have more than enough options while at Bear Mountain State Park. There are over thirty different trails of different difficulties for the beginner or experienced hiker.
Part of the Appalachian Trail that runs along the park was paved with stones to manage the footfall it gets.
If you can hike, you can bike. You can take your bike or rent one from nearby. The park is very biker friendly, and you’ll have a blast.
The park is open all year round with many activities you can enjoy exclusively during the winter including:
- Cross country Skiing
- Ice Skating
You’re going to get hungry in the park. Exploring nature activates the long-lost caveman inside us, and nothing appeases as appetite better than a picnic. There are picnic tables available in the park.
The Perkins Memorial Tower
The Civilian Conservation Core built the Perkins Memorial Tower and drive by 1934. The Perkins Memorial Drive is a road leading to the summit of Mount Bear. You can view four states, rivers, lakes, and natural scenery from the top of the tower. You’ll feel like you’re at the top of the world.
Merry Go Round
Sure, you must have ridden a merry-go-round before. However, was it a forty-two-seater with the local fauna hand-carved and painted on wood? The merry-go-round is a piece of functional art you can enjoy during your time at the park.
Some of the Best Things to Do at Bear Mountain Park
Bear Mountain Park is a state park on the west bank of the Hudson River in New York State. You can find Bear Mountain, Dunderberg Mountain, and West Mountain in the same area. Bear Mountain Inn is a famous place to stay, which originated in 1915 and has been around ever since.
Bear Mountain Park is known for its beautiful scenery, hikes, and views. Many activities are offered here, such as cross-country running, ice skating, hiking, swimming, and picnicking. It is a family-friendly park, perfect for children.
Best Things to Do at Bear Mountain Park
1. Explore Hessian Lake
One of the best things to do at Bear Mountain Park is to go out and explore Hessian Lake. You can rent some pedal boards from Hessian Dock, especially if you want to get into the water and participate in the water sports offered here.
We recommend coming to this lake early in the day so that you do not get stuck in lines as the pedal boards remain occupied by thousands of visitors. You can also walk around the lake if you do not want to get into the water. A pathway serves well for strolling and is a great way to view the beauty surrounding Bear Mountain.
During the autumn season, exploring Hessian Lake is a wonderful way to spend your time. The colors in the park are magical, especially as their reflections dance around the lake water.
2. Hiking Trails
One of the main things that Bear Mountain Park is known for is its hiking trails. Even though there are a dozen, four of them are the most popular. These trails are divided into two groups:
One part of the hiking trails takes visitors up to the Perkins Tower, which is on top of Bear Mountain, while other trails help you explore other parts of the park. If you take the former trails, you can enjoy fabulous views of the Hudson River Valley, Purple Heart Memorial Bridge, and other incredibly cool areas.
Here are some of the most popular hiking trails in Bear Mountain Park:
Bear Mountain Hike Trail
This trail is located towards the southern corner of the park, close to the ice rink and is a one-to-two-mile hike. All you have to do is pay attention to the signs that will lead you to Perkins Tower.
After a mile, turn right and continue hiking on the mountain top till you get to Perkins Memorial Tower. Taking this trail will also lead you towards some part of the Appalachian Trail. It is a great hike for families and children, and there is lots to see in the area.
Major Welch Trail
This is a famous trail that begins towards the north part of Hessian Lake. When you take this route, you will get to explore Bear Mountain Inn and all the surrounding areas.
Just like Bear Mountain Hike Trail, this trail will lead you towards Perkins Tower but from another side of the mountain.
Appalachian National Scenic Trail
You can find this trail off Perkins Memorial Drive. This beautiful hike takes visitors all the way up to the park from a pathway cut through the road.
We recommend renting a car so that you can drive to the entrance and exit points that will connect you to the trail. Continue walking till you see the sign for the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.
Suffern Bear Mountain Trail
This is the last popular hike that starts on the southern end of the ice rink. It will take you out of Bear Mountain Park, towards the southeast side, and onto a beautiful road named Seven Lakes Scenic drive.
Through this little trail, you can make your way into the neighborhood park, Harriman State Park.
3. Visit Perkins Memorial Tower
If you don’t like hiking or do not have the time for it, you can also drive up towards Perkins Memorial Tower. This drive will lead you to the topmost part of the park and allow you to really explore the area and notice how beautiful it is.
When you get to the top of Bear Mountain Park, get out of your vehicle and take a long walk towards the Hudson River Valley. This is a great spot to take pictures and make memories with your loved ones.
We recommend visiting this side of the park before it gets dark, as watching the sunset from Bear Mountain is an exceptional experience. Even though Perkins Tower is the most popular monument in Bear Mountain Park, we believe the views that lead you to this tower are equally awe-inspiring.
Amenities to Enjoy at Bear Mountain Park
There are lots of activities you can enjoy at Bear Mountain Park, especially if you come with children and loved ones:
- Ice rink: If you are planning a trip to Bear Mountain Park in the winter, you should definitely make time to go ice skating.
- Zoo: The zoo at Bear Mountain Park is a wonderful place to take children as they can enjoy looking at the large variety of animals there.
- Bear Mountain Pool: Some might be surprised to know that you cannot swim in Hessian Lake. However, this does not make much of a difference since there is a pool you can take a quick dip in close by!
- Sledding: During the winter season, snow builds up by Hessian Lake, creating a great opportunity for sledding.
Bear Mountain State park is one of the best New York state parks. There is so much to do that you’ll never be bored. It’s worth not one but many trips to enjoy it fully.
You might see a black bear from far away. Don’t worry. The park officials close the park if there are too many sightings to be safe. They actively track black bear activity in the region.