Read an Excerpt
Best Hikes Near New York City
By Ben Keene
Morris Book Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2011 Morris Book Publishing, LLC
All rights reserved.
Alley Pond Park
Home to the Alley Pond Giant, the oldest known tree in New York City, this park is the second largest in the borough but considerably less well known. Visit the site of New York's first nature trail and explore the meadows in the northern part of this undeveloped terminal moraine alongside Little Neck Bay.
Start: The parking lot of Alley Pond Environmental Center
Nearest town: Douglaston, NY
Distance: 3.2 miles out and back
Approximate hiking time: 1.5 to 2 hours
Trail surface: Mulch, grass, and plank tracks
Other users: School groups, birders
Wheelchair accessibility: The 1-mile nature trail offers limited access for disabled visitors.
Canine compatibility: Dogs permitted if on a leash 10 feet or less
Land status: City park
Fees and permits: None
Schedule: Daily from sunrise to sunset
Facilities: Restrooms, water fountain, gift shop, classrooms, natural history exhibit with live animal specimens
Maps: USGS Flushing and Sea Cliff, NY. A black-and-white interpretive map is available at the environmental center, and a smaller-scale printable PDF of trails in the Alley Wetlands and the Alley Woodlands can be found at www.runyourcity.com/state/ny/ new-york-city/running-map-of- new-york-city/queens/running- map-alley-pond-park.
Trail contacts: New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, The Arsenal, Central Park, 830 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10065; (212) NEW-YORK; www.nycgovparks.org Alley Pond Environmental Center, 228-06 Northern Blvd., Douglaston, NY 11362; (718) 229-4000; www.alleypond.com
Finding the trailhead: From the city, take the Long Island Expressway/495 west. Take exit 32 onto Little Neck Parkway and drive north for 1.1 miles to reach Northern Boulevard/Route 25A. Turn left and drive an additional 1.1 miles. The Alley Pond Environmental Center will be on the left. By public transportation: Ride the Long Island Railroad to the Douglaston stop, which is walking distance from the northern park entrance. Head south from the station on 235th Street/Douglaston Parkway and make a right (west) turn on Northern Boulevard. Look for the environmental center on the left after walking about 0.5 mile. GPS: N40 45.756' / W73 45.221'
In a city as populous and built-up as New York, the idea that something resembling wilderness might exist anywhere within its boundaries seems counterintuitive. And yet at the fringes of the five boroughs, wild places such as Alley Pond Park do exist, wedged between expressways and shopping plazas, quietly providing habitats for plants and animals that manage to carve out niches for themselves in a much larger urban environment.
Like many of the waterways around New York, Alley Creek powered mills that processed locally grown grain in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In 1788 the first post office in Flushing appeared in Bayside, not far from the present site of the environmental center. As the city expanded east into Queens from the island of Manhattan in the early twentieth century, officials began to set aside property for public use, and in 1935 opened the then smaller Alley Pond Park.
Setting out from the parking area just off Northern Boulevard, it's possible to circumnavigate "The Alley," a marshy strip of land bordering the tidal creek in the northern section of the park. Representing a fraction of the wetlands that were here before concerns about mosquitoes provoked a short campaign to fill them in during the early 1960s, the marshes nonetheless support a diverse if somewhat smaller range of flora and fauna today. The boardwalk that charts a southward course through the cordgrass and cattails is easy to find from the parking lot, and soon widens into a path thickly layered with mulch. Keep your eyes open for a diamondback terrapin, an eastern bluebird, or an eastern box turtle.
Weeping willow, black locust, and red oak grow near the low-lying trail, which must complete the difficult task of finding a narrow passageway of dry soil between the Cross Island Parkway and the edge of the marsh. Approaching the road, vehicular noise can drown out the melodic sounds of songbirds, and roadside trash creeping under the guardrail at the top of the embankment on your right (south) mars the effect of venturing farther away from civilization, but after about 0.5 mile the trail curves east and then north on the other side of the swiftly flowing creek that gives the park its name.
Square white markers that lie flush with the ground guide hikers through a healthy meadow where curlycup gumweed, bright yellow goldenrod, and sweet-smelling honeysuckle thrive. Climbing over almost everything it can get its tendrils on, the fast-growing, invasive woody vine called porcelain berry is another plant that dominates the sunny areas on the banks of the stream. Amidst the tall grasses just after mile 1, a collection of birdhouses on slender wooden poles appears suddenly, standing in a cluster like a tiny, elevated subdevelopment. Red-winged blackbirds and tree swallows are two of the many types of bird that make their homes on the margins of the ponds in the park.
Beyond the birdhouses, the trail heads up and over an incline before dipping down into a thick stand of tall phragmites, otherwise known as the common reed. Another invasive species, the phragmites often outcompete native plants for territory and are less nutritious for herbivores. But they actually remove more contaminants from polluted wetlands and as such can be a beneficial presence in polluted habitats. The tan and green stalks of these reeds end at a chain-link fence at the rear of an auto dealership. Turn around here and walk back the way you came in order to return to your car.
MILES AND DIRECTIONS
0.0 Start behind the Alley Pond Environmental Center, where a green sign indicates the entrance to a wetland garden. Pass alongside Windmill Pond (and its operational replica of a windmill dating to 1870), where wading birds such as herons fish for their lunch.
0.25 The mulch trail angles left into a marshy area. Look for a small sign at ground level reading 6 Reuse. Continue straight ahead (south) on the dirt track at the fork.
0.4 Use a small arched wooden bridge to cross a murky stream. Follow the white markers of the Douglas S. Mackay Wetland NatureTrail as it curves to the east alongside the Cross Island Parkway.
0.7 Walk over a culvert that carries Alley Creek under the multilane road. You may be lucky enough to spot a family of mallards swimming with the current in the spring.
0.9 Take the left fork (to the north) where the trail forks again and proceed toward the open meadows that border Alley Creek. Turn right after a short distance to stay on the now grassy corridor leading to Northern Boulevard.
1.4 Traverse a particularly open section of meadow where a number of birdhouses have been erected. Duck under low branches and thorny vines here and there as you cross another mowed clearing in the otherwise overgrown tall grasses and shrubs.
1.6 After getting over a miniature hill and passing between two thick walls of purple-topped phragmites, arrive at a chain-link fence and the halfway point of your hike. Retrace your steps around Alley Creek to the environmental center.
3.2 Arrive back at the parking lot and trailhead on Northern Boulevard.
Local information: Queens Tourism Council, Queens Borough Hall, 120-55 Queens Blvd., Room 309, Kew Gardens, NY 11424; (718) 263-0546; www.discover queens.info
Local events/attractions: Queens County Farm Museum, 7350 Little Neck Parkway, Glen Oaks, NY 11004; (718) 347-3276; www.queensfarm.org. New York's only working historical farm and the longest continuously farmed site in the state. National Art League, 44-21 Douglaston Parkway, Douglaston, NY 11363; (718) 224-3957; www.nationalartleague.org
Good eats: Grimaldi's, 242-02 61st Ave., Douglaston, NY 11362; (718) 819-2133; www.grimaldis.com. Coal-fired, brick oven pizza at its best. Press 195, 40-11 Bell Blvd., Flushing, NY 11361-2062; (718) 281-1950; www.press195 .com. Soups, sandwiches, wine, and beer — try them in the backyard garden.
Organizations: Queens County Bird Club, c/o Alley Pond Environmental Center, 228-06 Northern Blvd., Douglaston, NY 11363; http://qcbirdclub.orgCHAPTER 2
Trade the concrete canyons of Manhattan for the lush slopes around Greenwood Lake. As one of the most spectacular and challenging treks in the greater New York area, this short but demanding piece of the Appalachian Trail is ideally suited for seasoned hikers who crave views.
Start: At the trailhead in the Village of Greenwood Lake Recreation Park
Nearest town: Greenwood Lake, NY
Distance: 10.0 miles out and back
Approximate hiking time: 6 to 7 hours
Trail surface: Steep forest paths and lots of exposed rock
Seasons: May through Oct
Other users: None
Wheelchair accessibility: None
Canine compatibility: Leashed dogs permitted
Land status: National scenic trail
Fees and permits: None
Schedule: Daily from sunrise to sunset
Maps: USGS Greenwood Lake, NY; New York-New Jersey Trail Conference Sterling Forest Trails Map 100
Special considerations: Overnight stays must be limited to shelters and established tenting areas.
Trail contacts: Appalachian Trail Conservancy, 799 Washington St./P.O. Box 807, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425; (304) 535-6331; www .appalachiantrail.org. National Park Service, Appalachian Trail Park Office, P.O. Box 50, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425; (304) 535-6278; www.nps.gov/appa Abram S. Hewitt State Forest, c/o Wawayanda State Forest, 885 Warwick Turnpike, Hewitt, NJ 07421; (973) 853-4462; www.state .nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/ abram.html
Finding the trailhead: By car, take I-87 north to the Tappan Zee and then drive west on I-87/I-287, over the bridge, to exit 15A. Continue north on Route 17/Orange Turnpike, turning left (west) on Route 17A, toward Warwick. Drive 7.5 miles and then turn left (south) on Windermere Avenue/Route 210. Make the fifth right (west) onto Elm Street to reach the park and the trailhead.
By public transportation: Coach USA's Short Line buses stop at Greenwood Lake several times a day (about two hours from Port Authority). From the bus stop at the Park-n-Ride on Jersey Avenue, walk west 0.1 mile to Vine Street and turn right. Cover two short blocks and then turn left (west) on Elm Street. Enter the village park at the end of the road and look for the trailhead in the northwest corner, behind the picnic pavilion. GPS: N41 13.580' / W74 17.828'
Plenty of hikes in the highland region of New York and New Jersey culminate in breathtaking vistas of the natural landscape, a distant town or city, or both. To find one that offers views from at least a half dozen spots in just 5 miles, then, would make it an especially attractive destination. Yet, to describe the part of the Appalachian Trail (AT) that runs atop Bearfort Mountain and Bellvale Mountain as essentially one long ridge stretching from Passaic County, New Jersey, into Orange County, New York, would be fair and accurate. On a bright, clear day in the early summer, or better yet, in the colorful early autumn, the sight of Greenwood Lake against the backdrop of Sterling Ridge is a simply stunning image.
The drawback of this hike — if it can be called a drawback at all — is that its terrain will challenge you over and over, from the bookend climbs at the start and the midway point, to the repeated ups and downs over knobs, ledges, and ragged stone. In short, the AT as it approaches the New Jersey state line is a lot of fun, but count on getting a workout.
The exercise begins at the bottom of the blue-blazed Village Vista Trail in Greenwood Lake. Climbing through mixed hardwood forest, you'll gain approximately 600 feet in 0.7 mile. Charging up this slope will leave both experienced and novice hikers out of breath by the time they reach the first overlook.
The scenery from 1,250 feet up, however, is worth the effort. Look down on the rooftops of the town, marvel at the tininess of the baseball field from this vantage point, and admire the deep blue-green hue of the 7-mile-long body of water originally called Long Pond by early European arrivals to the area. Continue northwest from this vista and meet the AT just before mile 1. Turn left, and let the bright white blazes guide you 4 miles southwest into Abram S. Hewitt State Forest. To get there, you'll scramble over rugged outcroppings of lichen-covered rock and pass through groups of rhododendron and stands of pitch pine that seem to spring directly from the rock they've rooted themselves to.
Another outstanding view, after the 2.5-mile mark, enables you to look back on Bellvale Mountain and Dutch Hollow beyond. On the other side of Greenwood Lake, Big Beech Mountain stands out at the southern end of Sterling Ridge. Partially descend the west side of the ridge (with the help of a ladder at one point), cross a stream that plunges over the side of the mountain, and enter a little ravine that feels something like a tunnel. Emerge from the vegetation and pick your way to the top of another bald knob of granite for a view of Warwick Mountain to the northwest. From here it's only a few steps until you pass a blue-blazed trail on the right that leads into Cascade Lake Park and then a blunt peak labeled on maps as Prospect Rock.
At mile 4.4 the abbreviations NJ/NY are painted on the rock in white paint, and the AT logo is painted on a box hanging from a nearby tree. Walk through this invisible boundary and enter Abram S. Hewitt State Forest. You'll be standing in New Jersey when you turn left (southeast) on the blue State Line Trail and walk across Bearfort Mountain, a ridge formed during the last glacial retreat. This trail slopes downhill for about 1 mile (ending at a parking area on Route 511), and can pose difficulties for tired legs. Turn right (south) on the yellow Ernest Walker Trail and climb close to 200 feet to your final view. The treetops rustle in the wind, recalling the sound of waves crashing on a distant beach. Slender Fox Island is visible at the southern end of the lake. Tiny white boats etch faint lines on its glassy surface with their wakes. Savor this, then retrace your steps to the trailhead.
MILES AND DIRECTIONS
0.0 Start at the trailhead in the Village of Greenwood Lake Recreation Park. Begin climbing the eastern face of Bellvale Mountain, moving in the direction of the light blue blazes on the Village Vista Trail.
0.3 After crossing a maintenance road, make a sharp right on the trail to continue your ascent up the steep slope. A lesser trail crosses the main path a few hundred feet later; ignore it and keep heading west.
0.7 Arrive at 1,250 feet and the village vista. Look down on the baseball field where you started, across the north end of the lake, and to Sterling Ridge on the other side.
0.8 Meet the Appalachian Trail and veer left, to the southwest. Look for white rectangles and cairns to guide you hereafter.
1.1 Use care descending a short but treacherous 50-foot drop.
Excerpted from Best Hikes Near New York City by Ben Keene. Copyright © 2011 Morris Book Publishing, LLC. Excerpted by permission of Morris Book Publishing, LLC.
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