Hiking Bear Mountain and West Mountain in New York
Bear Mountain State Park is a highlight of hiking in New York. Seriously, if you want to experience an immersion into nature then Bear Mountain is the closest you will get if you’re near the City and Southern coastline. It’s beautiful and challenging while offering accessible options for all.
There are several mountains/peaks and other lookouts throughout the parks (I highlighted some other peaks in another post) but the crown jewel is the Bear Mountain peak itself.
The hike I’m highlighting here covers Bear Mountain and West Mountain over a nearly 11 mile journey. But if you’re looking for a shorter hike to either peak or Doodletown then I describe those below as well.
Overview of the Bear Mountain and West Mountain Trail
Location: Rockland County, NY
Distance: 11.3 mile loop
Time: 5-7 hours
Cell-Phone Service: Decent. Some places with weaker service, but had service for most of the trail
Features: Bear Mountain, West Mountain, and Doodletown
Hours: Sunrise to Sunset
Cost: $10 parking
Parking: Massive concrete parking lots
Bathrooms: Yes, indoor
Dog Friendly: On-leash only
Location, Bathrooms, and Parking for
Bear Mountain State Park
This hike starts out from the main Bear Mountain entrance at the Bear Mountain Inn. There is a $10 fee to enter, but the parking area is very large and there are a lot of amenities here, including indoor bathrooms.
Large fields, a basketball court, paddle boats, a carousel, and in winter a large ice skating rink are spread through this entrance making it more of a destination that a hiking trail start point. I personally didn’t explore any of these other attractions as I was there to only hike, but I can imagine it being a great place for families or large groups.
Starting the trail at Bear Mountain State Park
After you bypass all the other attractions at the entrance you’ll want to head towards the small Hessian Lake. From there you’ll start a very mild walk near the water before heading off uphill to start the Major Welch Trail.
Overview of Major Welch to Bear Mountain and West Mountain Trails
The Major Welch trail starts the first of two large inclines in this hike. This is a major incline and it’s very steep covering about 1250 ft of elevation over about a mile of trail. There are some rock scramble parts here and I wouldn’t recommend them unless you’re a moderately experienced hiker and have a decent level of fitness.
But once your at the top you’ve reached Bear Mountain and the Perkins Memorial Tower. The views of this spot are the best in the entire park (in my opinion).
Leaving Bear Mountain is fairly mild with mostly downhill trails until reaching the climb to West Mountain. This is another steep climb (steeper than the first) with nearly 600 ft of elevation gain in a brutal 0.5 mile.
After West Mountain you’ll hike a steep downhill first, followed by a meandering downhill stroll through Doodletown. Doodletown is a 1900s Small Hamlet town to explore with older cemetery’s and landmarks where the residents once lived. A fantastic place to visit for History Buffs.
The trail is a loop- so when you finish it you’ll end up right back where you started!
Top of Bear Mountain and Perkins Memorial Tower
The first landmark you reach on this hike is the Bear Mountain overlook and Perkins Memorial Tower. There is a steep climb to reach this overlook, but it wasn’t a complete straight uphill shot. There were multiple flat areas or small downhill parts in between the climbs that made it easier to navigate. Plus, the stone steps also help on particularly steep areas and there were really great views on the way up to enjoy.
If you don’t want to hike to the top of Bear Mountain, you can drive via Perkins Memorial Drive. Once at the top there are portable toilets, vending machines, and plenty of benches and places to enjoy lunch or the view.
The main feature of this peak is it’s incredible view. It’s nearly a 360 view of the entire Hudson Valley with rolling mountains extending for miles. Even though this peak is crowded and there are a lot of people visiting the overlooks are so large that everyone has plenty of space to enjoy the view.
Perkins Memorial Tower may also be open (although it closed for COVID), and allow you to get an even higher view of the area from inside the tower. It was closed the day I went, but would be really enjoyable to explore if it opens again soon.
Hiking to the Top of West Mountain
After bear mountain it’ll be a few miles before you hit West Mountain. Most of these miles are downhill or flat and are generally easy to traverse. However, the last 0.5-0.7 miles is a straight uphill, unrelenting, rock scramble to the top.
This scramble was harder than the first, as it felt never ending and there really was no clear breaking point – it just went straight up. I also saw a 5ft-6ft black snake on the trail as well, which was super awesome for me but not everyone in my hiking party enjoyed it.
The top of West Mountain was unique in that when you were almost at the top you felt like you were in a meadow. Yes, a meadow at the literal top of the mountain. It was so unique and truly beautiful.
But there was still a bit to climb, and when you got to the top you were out of the meadows and had another view to enjoy. This will be the last overlook of the trek, although there is still Doodletown to explore.
Exploring Doodletown in Bear Mountain State Park
Doodletown is probably the most unique feature of Bear Mountain State Park that everyone should visit at least once. I mean, most parks have peaks or other viewpoints to enjoy – but not every park has a complete historical town to explore.
If you haven’t heard of Doodletown before it was a small New York Hamlet where people lived for over 200 years beginning in the 1760s. At it’s peak it had several families, a church, small businesses, a school, and cemeteries. Remnants of these structures and these peoples lives still exist around the area and can be viewed by hikers in the area.
When you enter Doodletown (and at important crossroads) there are maps that highlight important houses and cemeteries in the area. At each of these locations are placards to provide a little insight into what stood there at one time. Some places have remnants of the structure remaining, and others just mark where the house once stood. Either way, if you’re into local New York history Doodletown is absolutely worth a visit.
If you don’t want to do the entire 11 mile hike to get to Doodletown, the Doodletown Bridle Path will take you on a paved trail straight from the parking lot to Doodletown.
Ending the Bear Mountain and West Mountain Hiking Trail
The trail is a loop, so it ends the way it begins – back at the parking lot. After Doodletown you’ll walk down a paved portion of the trail for quite some time. This can be hard on your feet after a long hiking day so be prepared for that.
You’ll know you’re back at the parking lot when you do two road crossings. But, these road crossings don’t cross over the road – they cross under. You’ll hike under two bridges and after the second bridge you’ll exit straight into the parking area (and right next to the bathrooms for convienance!)
Other Tips to Remember if Hiking at Bear Mountain
Be prepared for the two steep elevations that exist on this trail. They are no joke and you should have some experience with rock scrambles and a decent level of fitness before undertaking this trail. Oh, and wear proper shoes for the trek.
There are several small water crossings spread throughout the trip and so you’ll also want to be prepared for mud. Proper shoes will also help with that.
Otherwise, it’s a great trail with incredible views and some opportunities to explore the history of the area through Doodletown. I highly recommend this hike to anyone local or visiting the area to explore the beautiful nature Hudson Valley has to offer.
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