An ideal first stage of a Bear Mountain Loop
, the Major Welch Trail
is "spicier" than the Appalachian Trail approach, as well as more scenic and more challenging. Stroll past scenic Hessian Lake on a flat grade, then ascend through woodland, breaking out on to a series of rock slabs that will give you an ever-improving view of the Hudson River valley.
While not technically rock climbing, you'll get more exposure than a typical hike and the use of hands will be required in some spots. The top flattens out as you join the Appalachian Trail and finish at the Perkins Memorial Tower on top of Bear Mountain, where the view opens up to the south towards New York City.
To access this loop, start at the Carousel in the main Bear Mountain parking lot and hike north along the asphalt start of the Major Welch Trail
around the west shore of Hessian Lake. Pass the lake on the right, and go to almost the other end of the lake, where you'll find a trail leaving the pavement up to the left.
Follow this singletrack section of the Major Welch Trail
as it gently curves to the left and suddenly begins to ascend more directly.
After passing through some rough trail and some newly installed steps, you'll emerge at the first of a series of exposed rock faces. Your shoes should just barely allow you to climb up these faces without the use of hands in dry weather, but maintain three points of contact to be safe!
Each ledge offers a better and better view, first of Popolopen Torne across Popolopen Gorge and Route 6, then the town of Fort Montgomery, then the Bear Mountain Bridge, and north to West Point.
Finally, you'll cross Perkins Memorial Drive (watch out for cyclists and motor vehicles!) and reach the summit plateau, where the trail turns right to contour around under the summit through a mythical-looking pine forest strewn with house-sized boulders, eventually ending at the summit parking lot. Take pictures of the skyscrapers of Manhattan a world away, and descend back to the car via the Appalachian Trail.