Sunday, December 2, 2007
Hudson Highlands Hikes and Vistas
Some of the best Hudson River scenes are only a short train ride from New York City. Consider the view from the summit of Sugarloaf Hill: it looks down on the Hudson as it snakes through the Highlands in a montage of plunging hillsides, wind-whipped water and a vast sky.
New York's image as a place of subways and skyscrapers obscures one of its greatest charms: the city's proximity to great hiking via mass transit. Buses and trains can take you from Times Square to trailheads in 90 minutes or less, and Sugarloaf Hill is no exception.
I made the trip to Sugarloaf on the chilly Saturday of December 1, 2007. From Grand Central I took the 11:51 am Poughkeepsie train to the village of Garrison, arriving at 1:05 pm. I knew I was getting a late start, but that's the beauty of Sugarloaf: the hike and the vista are first rate, so you don't feel that you're being shortchanged if you haven't got the time for a full day's outing.
Like other hikes in this part of the Hudson Valley, where public and private properties are side by side, the route navigated a patchwork of lands. If that made for a few confusing moments on the trail, it also reminded me of the good work of preservationists who have saved the Highlands from development and opened trails to hikers.
The trail, marked with blue blazes, began from the southeast end of the parking lot at a sign marked Arden Point. It ran through the woods parallel to the Hudson River and railroad until it reached a bridge leading across the railroad to Arden Point. There I turned left, away from the river, onto a trail called "Marcia's Mile" in honor of the late Marcia Favrot, an artist and local environmental activist.
Marcia's Mile took me in a southerly direction, then turned east when it reached the Glenclyffe property. (I knew I had gone to far when I saw a sign that said private grounds, so I doubled back and found Marcia's trail, which took me east to Route 9 D.)
I crossed 9D, climbed over a low wall on a stile, followed a blue blaze to the south, and quickly came to Wing and Wing Road, which led me up a dirt road into the Castle Rock Unique Area. At a fork in the drive, I ignored a sign for parking and another trailhead. I turned right and soon came to a red blaze; I followed it to a trail that led uphill across a meadow, into the forest, and then toward Sugarloaf.
From this point, the route left behind accommodations to private property and climbed up through the forest toward Sugarloaf. Soon, the sound of traffic on Route 9D faded beneath the rustle of leaves beneath my feet.
At a high saddle on the side of Sugarloaf, my red trail met head-on with a blue trail. I turned right, following red blazes up the steep side of Sugarloaf to the ridgeline above.
After about ten minutes of climbing, I was atop Sugarloaf. I turned south, following red blazes along the ridgeline until it descended to an open, rocky spot that was my destination. The entire hike from Garrison had taken me about one hour and fifteen minutes. I ate lunch, gabbed with another party of hikers, and took some pictures.
From the south Sugarloaf looks like a cone---the shape in which sugar was once sold. When you hike it, you see that it is more a ridge that runs along the river. The lookout where I enjoyed lunch was below the summit of the ridge, and therefore protected from strong winds to the north. I comfortably ate and took pictures while a wintry wind roared around me.
Eventually I hiked back down, retracing my ascent. There was a skim of ice on a small pond that I passed, and the earth underneath my feet crunched as my steps broke the ice crystals forming in the soil. The sun cast long shadows as I crossed the meadow toward Marcia's Mile and the route home.
By 4:30 I was back in Garrison--with enough time for more photography and a pint of Guinness at Guinan's, a riverside pub at the back of a country grocery--before I caught the 5:04 train back to New York City.
When I got home I concluded that my photographs from Sugarloaf didn't do justice to the vista, so I posted a picture of the river and the Highlands taken from the dock in Garrison.
If you want to see the Hudson from Sugarloaf, you 'll have to hike there yourself. I hope make the trip: the view is worth it.