Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Bear Mountain in New York is the perfect place to hike with kids

Kids pointing to the summit of Bear Mountain 

Bear Mountain is one of the best known peaks in New York because of its proximity to New York City and because of its many attractions.  The summit is accessible by paved road and offers several view points along the way.  The top of the summit has a picnic area and an observation tower called the Perkins Memorial Tower that you can climb up to the top and get amazing views of the New York Hudson highlands and the Bear Mountain bridge.  

google map of location of Bear Mountain Park

The hiking trail up to the summit can be an in and out trail on the oldest part of the Appalachian Trail or can be a loop trail by combining with the Welch Trail (3.6 miles for the loop).  According to Alltrails, it is rated as moderate with steep incline to the Bear Mountain summit with incredible views along the way.  

Northern Harriman Bear Mountain Trials: Trail Map 119
The elevation to the summit is 1,289 feet or 393 meters, and the climb up the cliff face of the mountain is an ascent of about 1000 feet with some scrambling, climbing rock faces and using some trees to help pull yourself up at times.  But other parts of the trail include rock stairs, which makes for easier ascending in parts and great for kids to experience the variety of trail conditions for reaching a summit, without any scary parts along the way.  The caveat here is that the rocks can be extremely slippery when it rains and so best to check the weather conditions before leaving for the trail.  The good thing about the rocks on the trail is that they are exposed so they will dry quickly on hot days soon after the rain stops.  

Example of rock staircase on the Welch Trail
Given that there are some challenging sections, proper hiking boots / shoes should be worn, as well as sufficient hydration for a two hour hike, as there is no place to refinish water supply once on the trail. This trail is ideal for using a camel backs to get the kids used to carrying a pack. It’s a good way to get them used to the feeling of a pack on a smaller hike and to make sure their packs fit properly before venturing to longer summits. 

This is also an ideal trail to allow the kids to venture a bit on their own to become more independent hikers and tests their skills. 

This is a great trip to pack fun snacks for a picnic at the top.  Rather than loading up on energy bars, this is a great hike to try different types of food that you may want to bring on longer hikes.  Consider bagels with peanut butter, breakfast wraps, meat and cheese, or even sandwiches.  For the parents, this is an ideal hike to bring a thermos with coffee and/or tea to enjoy at the top, especially if completing the hike in the morning.   

Eating snacks on top of Bear Mountain

Try a sunrise hike on this trail. The trail is very clearly marked and it only takes about an hour to climb to the top so you won't be ascending the entire trail in the dark and you don't need to get up too early to see the sun rise above the horizon. Its a perfect trail to try out your night hiking skills and the kids will find the experience of hiking in the dark as very different than during the day.  Just make sure you bring working head lamps (best to test them to make sure they are all in good working condition and make sure you bring extra batteries). Check the time of sunrise on that specific day because the actual time of sunrise changes throughout the year.  

Sunrise view on top of Bear Mountain 

For our sunrise hike, we stayed at the Bear Mountain Inn.  This allowed us to get the kids up with ease (well as best as can be expected for a 3:30am wake up call!) and we had all of their packs ready to go and their clothes out so they just needed to slip them on.  After our hike, we went to the restaurant within the Inn for breakfast and then enjoyed the outdoor pool, walking around the outdoor zoo and paddle boating around the lake.  Its amazing what can be done in a day when we get up so early! 

Book a room at the Bear Mountain Inn

The trailside museum and zoo (on the Appalachian Trail) is a great way for the kids to spend an afternoon after completing the hike.  The zoo is actually very small compared to most others, and all the animals are local to New York (brought into captivity because of injury or abandonment) so it is a great educational experience for the kids about the different types of animals they may encounter on the trails.  

Trailside Museum and Zoo at Bear Mountain 

There is no fee for accessing the Trailside Museum and Zoo but typically people leave a donation of a dollar a person (we leave a little more due to the Canadian exchange rate:-).

Kids looking at animals at Trailside Museum and Zoo at Bear Mountain
Sign for the indoor animals at the Trailside Museum and Zoo at Bear Mountain
Planning your visit
  • There are four museums open at Trailside from 10:00am to 4:30pm
  • The zoo is open from 10:00am to 5:30pm starting in mid-June.
  • Paddle and row boats can be rented from 11:00am to 5:00pm during weekdays and 11am to 6pm on weekends (weather permitting).
  •  It can be crowded during the weekends, so best to go during the week in the summer months.
  • Restrooms can be found in the zoo and near the Hiker's Cafe in the Bear Mountain Inn.
  • Parking costs $10 per car (unless you are staying at the Inn and there is dedicated parking to all Inn guests).

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