Sep 01, 2017

Bear Mountain

By Joanne Colella

Fall, winter, spring, summer. It’s not always easy to find a destination that makes a great day trip at any time of year. In fact, it can be a bear – or in this case, Bear Mountain State Park! Less than two hours away and nestled in the beautiful Hudson Highlands area of New York on the west bank of the Hudson River, it is considered the jewel of the Palisades Interstate Park System and includes the first segment of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. Its extensive facilities include picnic groves, playing fields, basketball courts, nature trails, a swimming pool and bathhouse in summer and an ice skating rink in winter, rowboat rentals and docks on picturesque Hessian Lake, a museum and zoo, a bird refuge, an historic tower, and even an iconic carousel ride. There’s plenty of parking, for $10 per car. And when hunger hits in the midst of what is sure to be a fun-filled day, there are refreshment stands and a restaurant.

Although primarily a daytime destination, the property is also home to Bear Mountain Inn, a rustic, historic building built in 1915 that underwent extensive renovations in recent years to return it to its original splendor. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the inn provides overnight accommodations, fine dining, banquet facilities, and a gift shop. Guests at any of the onsite lodges will have the chance to take in breathtaking views of the lake and Hudson River Valley. If you’re planning a Sunday visit, you may want to sample the Champagne Sunday Brunch at the Overlook Lodge for a delicious buffet meal in a gorgeous setting.

From May through early September, Bear Mountain hosts Wednesday Cruise Night car shows on the expansive grounds (weather permitting), featuring music, vendors, raffles, prizes, giveaways, and delicious food for the whole family. This month and next, thousands will come out for the annual Oktoberfest celebration, held at the nearby Anthony Wayne Recreation Area on weekends from 12:00 to 6:00 p.m., September 23 through October 29, plus Columbus Day on October 9. During the steamy days of summer, the busy public pool is open daily, with lockers available (bring your own lock), and entry is just $2 per person. During the winter months, glide across the ice at the outdoor Bear Mountain Skating Rink. Open from November through March, weather permitting, the rink offers various public and private skate sessions, plus special holiday schedules. Rink admission is $5 for adults, $4 for kids age 4-11, and free for age 3 and under. Non-skaters and seniors are $2 and skate rental is $4 per pair. Check online for dates and hours.

The Trailside Museum and Zoo, located on 40 acres on a bluff overlooking the Hudson River, is a home for rehabilitated wild animals, many of which have permanent injuries that limit their ability to survive in the wild, and some that were raised in captivity and never learned to fend for themselves. The animals are given excellent medical attention and daily care by dedicated zookeepers. These “animal ambassadors” include mammals such as bears, coyotes, opossums, porcupines, otters, beavers, and deer; birds such as eagles, owls, woodpeckers, hawks, turkeys, and vultures; amphibians like toads, frogs, newts, and salamanders; and reptiles like snakes and turtles. Animal lovers are invited to “adopt an animal” and donate to the museum and zoo, with funds used for food, medical care, supplies, and upkeep. The facilities are open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and admission is free, but they suggest a donation of $1 per visitor.

Want to go for a special spin? Then be sure to check out the Bear Mountain Merry-Go-Round, which features hand-painted scenes of the park and hand-carved seats of native animals. The carousel is open from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday, and rides cost just $1 per person. It sits in an inviting 8,000-square-foot pavilion with a viewing area, fireplace, snack stand, and cozy catering space.

And if you want to take your visit to new heights, make your way up the steep, winding Perkins Memorial Drive to the Tower, which stands 1,305 feet above the Hudson River. Inaugurated in 1934, it served as a weather station and fire lookout until the 1950s and offers amazing 360-degree panoramic views of the nearby Hudson River, the Bear Mountain Bridge, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Storm King, and Fort Montgomery.  Visitors can take in distant visas of four states – New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania – with several mountain ranges and the Manhattan skyline. Perkins Memorial Tower is considered one of the great highlights at Bear Mountain.

Of course, for many guests, the best way to immerse themselves in the spectacular surroundings of Bear Mountain State Park is to hike the vast network of trails. With picturesque views and varying levels of difficulty from moderate to strenuous, the area is a hiker’s paradise. Trail maps are available to help plan your journey.

At any time of year and whatever your interests, if you can barely wait to make this terrific day trip to Bear Mountain State Park, look for more information and a listing of events at www.visitbearmountain.com or http://nysparks.com/parks/13/details.aspx