Hiking Harriman State Park

I’ve had more than my share of New York State adventures lately, and with the green light to take a midweek day off, I decided to revisit Harriman State Park.

top of the ridge at Harriman State Park

Harriman is big and beautiful. The park needs to be experienced to appreciate its scale — and it provides a great opportunity to earn views and escape the masses.

One caveat: close to the trailhead, it’s easy to get depressed about the number of visitors in the park and the amount of garbage they leave behind. My hiking partner Stetson is a professional guide with a strong ethic of environmental responsibility, and he and I returned home with a staggering load of trash in our packs.

Harriman State Park waterfalls

On this day, there were surprises at every turn. We began a gentle climb over some really enjoyable terrain. There was little to no understory, and we took advantage by bushwhacking to some remarkable waterfalls.

There were birds and baby deer; we nearly got close enough to pet them on a few occasions. We saw animal skins and fur piles and found blue jay and rabbit carcasses on the trail. We spent some time trying to figure out what was going on with predators, when we weren’t busy scrambing up steep ascents or stuffing ourselves with blueberries.

Harriman State Park cairns

Once we were up on the ridge, we were rewarded and surprised again. Nothing beats escaping the city on a 90-degree day to catch a cool and steady breeze while taking in the views of the Hudson River. Endless parades of turkey vultures carved arcs across the wide open sky, like skiers savoring a midweek powder day.

We wandered up and over the Timp and West Hill and found blackberries, more views, and intricate cairns. Mushrooms of every variety were in abundance. I dreamed about living off the food in the woods. When we passed through the ruins of Doodletown — which was bought by New York to make the park — I pictured myself living there, centuries ago, enjoying the quiet life, without any concern that the British would burn down my house.

Doodletown New York

As we neared the end of our hike, Stetson and I were startled by a rattle very clearly warning us away — followed by a sudden scramble in the brush just off the side of the trail. After a pause, we peered into the vegetation and noticed a five-foot timber rattlesnake devouring a gray squirrel. He looked at us, deciding if we were a threat, and then went back to work trying on what, we hoped, wasn’t just an appetizer.

While the snake was preoccupied with his meal, we edged closer. Still, our approach wasn’t casual — for me it was like seeing a moose or a black bear — my curiosity grappling with my sense of prudence. The snake was beautiful, with a very discernible pattern just like the Gadsden FlagDon’t Tread On Me.

Vultures circling at Harriman State Park

We left the rattler to his meal, bushwhacked our way downstream and found a nice swimming hole. It’s hard to top the excitement of a dining, endangered snake, but the cool refreshing water sealed a perfect day.

We collected more trash on our way down, and complained a little less about it, as it seemed like a fair price of admission for the day. Even in summer, you just don’t know until you go.

6 comments on “Hiking Harriman State Park

  1. >Hard to believe Harriman is only 15mins from my house and I don't visit more often.I have never seen a Rattler, have seen many Copperheads..

  2. Great report. Even though, as you mention, it’s a heavily trafficked park, Harriman doesn’t get mentioned very much online as a destination. I’m like you — I always fill my pack with rubbish from my rides/hikes. Incredible that people actively leave crap on trails.

    Doodletown! I’ve been through there a few times. Always interesting to find a formerly inhabited spot that has grown in.

    BTW, those were probably black raspberries. Blackberries usually show up in August.

  3. I’ve done some interesting hikes there. One in particular is the Dunderberg Mountain trail, which features ruins of the unfinished 120-year old Dunderberg Spiral Railway. Also you have unsurpassed views of the nuke plant across the river, Indian Point.

    Bloggers note, a fellow named Heshy Friedman has a blog about hiking Harriman and environs. http://www.harrimanhiker.com/

  4. Never been to Harriman, but have driven the Palisades in search of alternative routes to the mountains. It’s really a beautiful part of the state. Great report and nice pics. I especially like the snake triptych and the shot of the vultures at the end.

  5. Great write up Matt! I could not have described the day better myself. This was the first time I had done this loop. Some of the challenging parts were very surprising! I couldn’t help to imagine a winter scene on some of the wide open, steeper sections of the trail. Can’t wait to find out! That rattle snake was legendary!!

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