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.
1. Elk Pen Loop Trail
is a 7.1 mile heavily trafficked loop trail located near Arden, New York that features a lake and is rated as difficult. The trail is primarily used for hiking, running, and nature trips and is best used from April until November. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.
2.Reeves Brook Loop Trail
is a 3.8 mile heavily trafficked loop trail located near Sloatsburg, New York that features a lake and is rated as moderate. The trail is primarily used for hiking and is best used from April until November. Dogs are also able to use this trail.
3.Franny Reese State Park
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.
4.Breakneck Ridge – Philipstown/ Fishkill, NY
Breakneck Ridge is possibly the most popular hike in the New York area, at least based on how much of your Metro-North car will empty out at its titular stop on Saturdays and Sundays (note that those are the only days Metro-North stops here). The hike, located up a mountain situated alongside the Hudson River between Beacon and Cold Spring, is about 4 miles long. Much of that consists of a steep, rocky incline (the mountain’s highest point is 1,260 feet) so note that this is not for the unprepared hiker—you need good shoes, water, snacks, and some leg strength to make this one work. Once you get to the overlooks, though, you’ll be afforded spectacular views of the Hudson River and Highlands, including a shot of Storm King Mountain and the famed Bannerman Castle. Expect the hike to take around 4 hours roundtrip, and do bring a trail map here.
5. Malouf’s Mountain Sunset Camp
Just an 80-minute train ride on Metro North from Grand Central to Beacon, and you’ll be in one of the most unique hiking destinations near the city. After hopping off the train, you can head into the forest, where a campground awaits you. The best part? You don’t need any equipment as you can rent everything on the spot. They’ll even provide meals if you aren’t up for cooking. From the base camp, you can choose multiple trails, which have things to explore like old railway tracks and casino ruins.
Time: 30 minutes to five hours
6. Stairway to Heaven Trail
It might take a little while to get to this spot located about 50 miles outside the city, but you’ll get everything you ever wanted in a hike. There’s a suspension bridge, wildflowers and cow pastures. Not to mention, you’ll get a fantastic butt and thigh workout if you opt to do the steep 7.3-mile “Stairway to Heaven” section (there’s also the shorter 2.5-mile version, which starts at the lot on Route 94). Take NJ Transit bus route 196 or 197 to Warwick, New York, and it’s just a 10-minute cab or Uber ride to the trailhead.
Level: Easy to hard
7. Sugarloaf Hill & Osborn Loop- Garrison, NY
Another Metro-North hike, this one is accessible via the Garrison stop on the Hudson line, right before the popular village of Cold Spring. From the train station, you’ll follow a trail from the southern end of the parking lot down to something called Martha’s Mile, then walk past the Garrison Institute, across Route 9D, and up a big hill, where you’ll hit a collection of trailheads. Stick to the blue (Osborn Loop) and red (Sugarloaf Hill) (blazes, and skip the white ones, which denote the Appalachian Trail (it’s best to stay off in this case, lest you never find your way back) and prepare for a fairly gentle, if lengthy walk that eventually gifts the hiker with views of West Point, Storm King Mountain, and the East Hudson Highlands. Though there’s not a lot of upward rock scaling here, the loop is about seven miles long and takes around five hours, so do be prepared for a full day’s worth of outdoor exercise.
8. Pine Meadow Lake
10-mile loop, Harriman State Park (38 miles from NYC)
Miles of tranquil forest, interrupted only by an equally calm lake, make this hike optimal for forest bathing. If you prefer a shorter 5-mile version, follow the trail until you reach the lake, then turn around and go back the way you came.
9.Bull Hill Cold Spring
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.