7 Secret Hiking Trails to Explore Just Outside NYC
Social distance and keep your mask handy on these hikes and trails.
If social distancing in city parks during COVID has started to feel like a dreaded game of dodgeball, grab your mask and hiking shoes and get out of the city for a day or two to escape the crowds.
State parks have remained open during the shutdown luckily, so there are still plenty of options for nature lovers to explore. If you’re concerned about the idea of having to share a beautiful trail with other people, the good news is that there are a handful of less-trodden trails under two hours from NYC that supply all the stunning waterfalls and ‘gram-worthy moments without the apocalyptic vibes.
But before you set out, just be sure to go through the checklist of how to nature in COVID-19 times. This includes staying at least six feet away, keeping that mask handy and alerting oncoming hikers (in the unlikely event you actually see anyone).
From a National Seashore to the Appalachian Trail, these are the best semi-secret hiking destinations to hit on your next much-needed escape from your apartment.
Distance from NYC: 64.7 miles; ~ 1.5 hours driving
Hike distance: 5.8 miles
Bull Hill’s Breakneck Ridge neighbor might get more attention, but having to go at someone else’s pace on a congested trail isn’t why we’re driving hours away from the city. Besides, this hike has just as many kick-(your)-ass sections and gorgeous views of the Hudson Valley. And it’s a breeze to get to from Cold Spring, where Hudson Hil’s all-day breakfast menu (available for “porch side” pick-up) has everything from burritos to bagels for a pre-trail or summit snack.
Distance from NYC: 62.2 miles; ~ 1.25 hours driving
Hike distance: 12 miles
The Briarcliff-Peekskill Trail begins on a path near an active shooting range, so don’t be alarmed by the gunfire slicing through the silence -- which you’ll soon have again (the silence, not the echoing bullets) as you make your way north through a peaceful landscape offering some of Westchester’s most spectacular views. Follow the green diamond trail blazes until you ultimately reach Peekskill, where you can take the train home if you want to revel in the serenity from your hike for as long as possible. But be sure to indulge in a refreshing to-go can of Skills Pils at Peekskill Brewery before doing so because you’ve earned it.
Distance from NYC: 62.6 miles; ~ 1.5 hours driving
Hike distance: 3.5 miles
A stone’s throw from the open-air museum Storm King Art Center, the Butter Hill/Stillman/Bluebird Trail Loop in Storm King State Park offers an adrenaline rush as you scramble up steep slabs of billion-years-old granite and maneuver along well-marked switchbacks. Creepy caves, thrilling climbs, and panoramic views of mountains and the Hudson River are among the highlights of this three-hour hike.
Distance from NYC: 79 miles; ~ 2 hours driving
Hike distance: 2.5 miles
Though you could do all three of Franny Reese State Park’s easy trails in one morning, you’ll find no reason to rush through the 251 acres of verdant woodlands. Walk the shaded paths that wind around ruins of an 1860s estate and down to a bluff overlooking the river, the Mid-Hudson Bridge, the town of Poughkeepsie, and the Walkway Over the Hudson -- the world’s longest pedestrian walkway. The park may only be an hour and a half from Manhattan, but if you need a break from your three roommates and microwave dinners, consider spending a night on a nearby 80-acre fruit farm, where the homemade berry muffins and roaming chickens make for an idyllic start to a day of outdoor adventure.
Distance from NYC: 51 miles; ~ 1 hour 24 minutes driving
Hike distance: 7 miles
Climb up a rocky ridge along this challenging stretch of the Appalachian Trail on Bellvale Mountain at Harriman State Park, where breathtaking views of Greenwood Lake and Sterling Forest await at Prospect Rock, the highest point of the AT in New York. When you descend and reach the New York-New Jersey state line, write your name in the trail register (remember to sanitize your hands after!). Post-hike, make sure to grab a scoop of homemade ice cream at nearby Bellvale Farms Creamery or a bottle of Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery's Warwick Rustic Gin to elevate your quarantine cocktail hour.
Distance from NYC: 59.6 miles; ~ 2 hours driving, plus the ferry
Hike distance: 10 miles
Far from the underwear parties at the Ice Palace in Cherry Grove, Fire Island National Seashore offers a different kind of wild. No cars are allowed past the ferry dock, so you can either drag a cooler for a few minutes to the family campground (nestled beside the high dunes, New York’s only federally preserved wilderness) or trek along the beach for a sandy-toed 5 miles. At the tip of the eastern zone you’ll find a seemingly private camping adventure -- even in summer -- in Long Island’s coolest backcountry. Just be sure to make a reservation and steer clear of Long Island’s precious dunes.
Distance from NYC: 90 miles; ~ 1 hour 40 minutes driving
Hike distance: 4.6 miles
If you don’t mind constantly looking over your shoulder for black bears, the Denton and Mullet Brook Falls trail is a hike worth undertaking. Inside 4,881-acre Neversink Unique Recreation Area, where the 60-mile Neversink River is considered to be the birthplace of American dry fly fishing, this relaxing trail promises not one but two waterfalls, plus bobcat footprints, spotted salamanders, bald eagles, and zero humans. Whether you choose to go whitewater-paddling through the Neversink Gorge or simply soak in the silence of the lush floodplain forest, be sure to grab an après-hike beer curbside at the Rushing Duck Brewing Company -- which wins extra points for collecting food pantry donations.
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