Hiking in Bear Mountain State Park

Hiking is good exercise. But when you live in New York City, to go hiking you have to walk to the subway – passing a perfectly adequate gym on the way – then take the subway to the bus station, then sit motionless and cramped on a bus for two hours, and then you have to decide on a hiking route that isn’t too short and therefore not worth the time coming but also won’t take so long that you’ll miss the only bus back.

We took a Short Line bus to Bear Mountain State Park, west of Bear Mountain Bridge, and more specifically to Bear Mountain Inn, where they sold Bear Mountain t-shirts and Bear Mountain socks and Bear Mountain fridge magnets and Bear Mountain key rings and Bear Mountain baseball caps and Bear Mountain calendars and Bear Mountain teddy bears and dear god please stop.

Bear Mountain gets it name from… No, on second thoughts you figure it out.

Close to the inn is a zoo (free admission!) that features exhibits of local wildlife: snakes, various amphibians, birds, wolves and even a few of these:

I think this is a tiger? I wish there was some way of knowing.

The zoo is on the trail from the inn and if you keep going you end up on the Appalachian Trail, which is the footpath that stretches from Georgia all the way up to Maine. We were only walking a few miles of it, obviously. It’s hard to get from New York to Maine and back again in one afternoon.

The woman in the inn had given us a sheet of paper with the various nearby trails. It was printed in black and white with various instructions to “follow the path marked here in red” and “don’t stray from the route in yellow”. If only they’d invested in a color printer.

We had decided on the route to Montgomery Fort across the river which was marked ambiguously as “challenging”. Challenging for whom? Challenging for two healthy twenty-somethings? Challenging for a child? Challenging for a person with only one leg? We were about to find out.

After we left the zoo and found a viewpoint looking out at Bear Mountain Bridge spanning the Hudson, we were directed to go through a gate and descend the “natural stone steps” which is real estate agent speak for “it’s untidy and you’re probably going to trip and break your neck but no one wants to make it safer because then it wouldn’t look authentic”. So we stumbled down the hill through the woods, taking care not to trip and die, with Bear Mountain Bridge above and behind us, a freight train track by the river to our right, and a pedestrian bridge ahead of us.

Natural Stone Steps Train Track.jpg

After squelching through some mud, we reached the William J. Moreau Popolopen Bridge. Over the bridge, we walked up the opposite of “natural stone steps” – an artificial tarmac slope, but which was almost as pretty, covered in leaves with dangling red and brown trees overhead.

Red Tree Trail.jpg

At the top (and then a bit more) is a place called Fort Montgomery, for which I propose a name change. Fort Montgomery, because of a distinct lack of anything fort-like, should be called No-Fort Montgomery, possibly with the subtitle “we could’ve just called it Montgomery But We Really Like Forts and Wanted That in the Name Somehow.” We wandered around various piles of rocks with plaques saying things like “big cannon fire big time at boats from here” and “this is where soldiers did private time hehehe.”

Then, umm, we walked back the same way we’d come. We could’ve walked over the bridge for cars but the sidewalk was closed and sharing the road with speeding vehicles didn’t sound better than walking back down the foliage-drenched paths, so we did that, frolicking in the leaves on the way, and then stopped at the zoo again and spent more time watching the tigers.

Before heading home, we looked around the gift shop – you know, the one selling Bear Mountain calendars and Bear Mountain hoodies and Bear Mountain books and don’t start this again. And in what might be the least thrilling climax to any story, we waited in line to buy Bear Mountain socks for my girlfriend’s baby niece while nervously glancing out the window making sure the bus hadn’t arrived yet. If we did miss it, there were no later buses so we’d have to spend an agonizing, painful night in a rustic cabin with views over the lake and free breakfast.

View from Bridge on Trail.jpg

Anyway, we made it. (Don’t pretend you couldn’t feel the suspense boiling in your veins.)

On the journey home, a gentleman at the back of the bus had a conversation with his aunt. I know this because I heard it. As did everyone else. When the guy got off the bus, I swear I even heard the driver tell him “You should try coconut oil. That always helps me.” The previous two hour conversation had been mundane, but here are the highlights, because if we had to hear them, so do you:

The man had been upstate visiting his family and was very apologetic about the fact he hadn’t seen them in so long. He wanted to start a Christian rock band, for reasons that remain unknown. He had various issues with his health, as did his mom, and he wished he could spend more time looking after her. He spoke about how the journey back to NYC was going to be twice as long as the trip up because it was Friday afternoon and there was always a lot of traffic heading into the city (so that’s why the journey was taking longer, not because we were trapped in some kind of time vortex where we’d have to listen to this guy forever).

None of that is interesting, I know. I didn’t say it was.

Finally we got back to New York City. Despite the bus ride back, the visit to Bear Mountain State Park had been time well spent. It was a beautiful hike and we can forgive Fort Montgomery for not being a fort because it was about the walk and the exercise and the beautiful views and the outdoors and the bears. And now, before heading home from the bus station, we’d treat ourselves by finding the greasiest, tastiest restaurant around and gorging ourselves until we could move no more.

Then the next day we woke up and went to the gym.

The end.

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