May 21, 2010

Trail - Rockland Lake to Haverstraw

The Palisades are a line of cliffs that run along the western edge of the Hudson River for a few dozen miles from south of the George Washington Bridge almost to Bear Mountain. They're particularly prominent south of the State Line to the George, and their visibility from New York City makes them a famous geologic landmark.

300-foot columns of 200-million year old rock

The geology of the Palisades is fascinating, but outside of the scope of this article, and of my expertise. But, if you're so moved, it is worth reading about.

Ten miles north of the state line, west of the cliffs, a natural lake exists. Called Rockland Lake, you can reliably find many, many people running, walking, biking, and enjoying the state park there. The flat 3-mile loop around the lake is one of my favorite places to run, and I have probably been around the lake several hundred times.

Like I said, most of the time when you visit the lake for an idle lap, you can count on having company. In fact, on a spring weekend in nice weather, there will be many hundreds of people there. When I see them, I marvel at the likely fact that most of them are blissfully unaware of the easy access they have to the Palisades.

Crappy photo of view you can't see from the lake

If they went through the notch immediately above the lake, they would descend down the steep paved road all the way to the river. From there, if they opt to go south, they can take a smooth dirt road 1.5 completely flat miles to the parking lot of Nyack Beach State Park, locally known as Hook Mountain Park. I have gone out-and-back on this road a couple dozen times. I usually see a couple dozen people there. Most of them did not come from Rockland Lake.

However, the path along the Hudson River also turns north from the notch. I knew that it would lead all the way to Haverstraw; a sign indicated that it's 3.5 miles north - yet I have never seen anyone go this way. The vast majority of people apparently go south to Nyack.

Intrigued, I dug out my maps and looked for a loop where I could connect the bike path on the river to the ribbon of single-track that ran the length of the ridge 300 feet above the river (a portion of the Long Path, a hiking trail that, in theory, goes from the George Washington Bridge all the way to the Adirondacks.)

There did turn out to be a connector, so I went out and ran it. This is the result:

Green marks my route

The path is not flat like the shorter option south, but it is not extremely hilly either. Lots of gentle rollers which kept it interesting. Meadows and ruins decorate the path. There is a monument that marks the location where the British spy John AndrĂ© was captured. I realized I must have missed the connector trail from the bike path to the single track when I got to the small parking area that marked the northern terminus. There was a gravel road, littered with blown-over trees, that was also on the map, and which was close to the parking lot - so I took that up. The gravel road ended shortly after going underneath railroad tracks where a faint overgrown single track path lead up to the tracks and eventually to the continuation of the road. I took that to another parking area on 9W, turned around, found the Long Path, and started running south.

After 1/2 mile, I came to a clearing for power lines, underneath which the railroad tracks tunnel underneath the palisades. I realized that was off the trail, so I went straight up the clearing until I found the path crossing again. Then I continued running south.

The trail is typical of ridge-line hiking trails in our little region - a dirt path with occasional roots, lots of small hills, and many mostly-buried rocks sticking out. Lots of short ups and downs. There are few clearings but only a couple of river views from this trail. It meanders uninterrupted all the way back to the notch above Rockland Lake, passing an old cemetery before reaching the road.

Fallen tree in the tiny cemetery after our March storms. They have since removed the tree.

I finished off my 12-mile run with an easy lap of the lake.

I have never taken it, but there is also a connector in Nyack on the southern end of this path. I will be scouting that out within a few weeks - and hopefully, this summer, I'll get to at least one loop of the entire path and the entire ridge.


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