I recently completed one of the most popular hikes in Fort Lee Historic Park and that would be the Giant Stairs Palisades trail.
If you’re planning on hiking it for the first time, this post will help you do that and while it is a pretty easy hike in the navigating sense (a bit more moderate on the hiking difficulty though), there are certain things you’ll want to know before you go as to ensure you complete it on time and not get lost.
Quick info on the Giant Stairs Palisades hike:
- Name: Giant Stairs Palisades.
- Location: Fort Lee Historic Park (New Jersey).
- Distance: 4-5 miles loop.
- Difficulty: Moderate and difficult sometimes.
- Rating: 3.4 out of 5 stars.
- Recommended hike? If you’re in NYC or just visiting this park outside of it for the day and you enjoy hikes, definitely explore this one. It has nice mixes of elevation change, boulder hopping and even crosses with other thru hikes like the Long Path (lots to see).
There is only 1 real way to access the trail here and I’ll be showing your the directions to reach it in a moment.
Here’s 5 things to know about the Giant Stairs Palisades hike:
- This hike is a 4.5 mile loop hike and involves crossing 3 trails (aqua, white, then a mix of aqua/white).
- Most people start this hike by parking at State Line Lookout Palisades (and finishing there).
- It is moderate to difficult depending on your physical shape.
- Make sure to do this hike with at least 5 hours of daylight to spare.
- You can do this hike clockwise or counter clock wise (I prefer the clockwise trail).
Those are the most immediate things I wanted to share with you about the Giant Stairs Palisades hike because I did come across several people along the trail who weren’t properly prepared for it and thus had to turn back (in my experience, this happens a lot with hikers).
Here’s a short summary of how to hike the Giant Stairs Palisades:
This is based on the clockwise approach I did:
- You start at the aqua colored trail.
- You follow it for about 1 mile (it’ll take you down to the Hudson River).
- You then switch to the white trail (known as the Shoreline Trail).
- The Shoreline trail will take you through the Giant Stairs area (2 miles or so).
- After the Giant Stairs, about 300 feet after, the white trail turns right and mixes with the aqua colored trail.
- You’ll follow the white/aqua trail back up.
- This will take you back to the aqua trail only. Take that to the road.
- The road is the same one that leads you to the State Line Lookout.
- Follow that road back to the parking area and you’re done (indicated as orange on the map).
See the map on the right for reference.
And with that said, let me walk you through the main parts of this hike so you know what to expect.
1) First you’ll start at the State Line Lookout off the Palisades highway:
This is a very popular parking area overlooking the Hudson River and there’s also a cafe there to eat at. In addition, there’s viewing areas and picnic areas.
2) Then what you’re going to want to do here is find the aqua colored trail:
It’s located close to the lookout area (it’s marked on trees). Basically what you’ll do is park at State Line Lookout, walk towards the viewing areas, which will have you stepping on broken roads. From there, it’s easy to find the aqua colored trail marker.
It’s also known as the Long Path hike which is actually 100’s of miles long. You’re not going to be following the Long Path trail in it’s entirety, but you will cross a small section of it.
But once you find it, you have 2 choices:
- You can do the hike clockwise in which case you find the aqua colored trail and follow it north.
- Or you can do the counter clockwise approach to this trail, in which case you still find the aqua colored trail, but follow it south.
It doesn’t matter which option you choose, because you’ll still come out the other way since this is a loop hike. I personally did the clockwise route which is how I’m going to be describing this hike to you.
3) Follow the Aqua trail for about 0.7 miles:
As you walk on the broken down road, the trail will take you into the woods and away from the road. Keep following it.
You’ll pass a gate that takes you through beautiful viewing areas of the Hudson River.
That path will continue down and you will reach a section of the aqua trail which takes you left. Follow that.
You’ll pass a small “bridge”.
From there, you’ll find the white trail intersection.
4) Follow the white trail for the next 2-3 miles (that takes you to the Giant Stairs Palisades hike):
The white trail is known as the Shoreline trail. Follow it.
It’ll take you down to the base of the Hudson River, through a pretty small waterfall, known as Peanut Leap Falls, and this will lead you to the giant steps.
On the way down, you will cross a “warning sign” telling you to turn back if you can’t devote enough time to this hike as people sometimes start this hike late in the day and risk getting lost because it gets dark.
That’s why I said you should start this hike with at least 5 hours to spare.
For me, it took me about 2 hours to finish this hike, but I like going fast.
If you’re not like me, start a lot earlier. And even if you are, still start early as this area is in a spot where traffic issues happen often.
For any hike you do, it’s always a safer bet to begin early because even if you finish with time to spare, it leaves room open to explore even more stuff (instead of rushing).
But anyway, the Shoreline trail (white), will take you through some muddy areas and eventually:
5) You’ll hit the Giant Stairs Palisades section of the hike:
There’s a gate you’ll cross beforehand and a sign that says it’s about to start. From there, you’ll be crossing giant boulders for the next 1.5 miles.
The 1.5 miles you do will not be entirely filled with boulders and there will be sections of regular trails to cross in between, but you will have to cross 3-4 sections of rocks, boulders which are all part of the Giant Stairs region.
Definitely take your time here, enjoy the scenery and the hike itself. Make sure to keep following the white markers along the way (they are easy to spot).
Eventually, you will finish the Giant Stairs area and will cross another sign that people who start the trail on the other end will see that says the Giant Stairs begin. That’s YOUR sign that you finished that section of the hike.
6) From there, walk a few 100 feet and find a rock with aqua/white colors on it:
This rock is huge and will be to your right (if you follow the trail clockwise from the start like I did).
Once you see it, turn right and you’ll now be on the white/aqua trail.
This will take you up the mountain wall area in a zig zag which is about half a mile long.
It is pretty strenuous so keep that in mind.
I suggest trekking poles like these for this area if you’re not a fan of uphill hiking.
What’s going to happen is that once you reach the top, you’ll see a sign that basically gets you back on the aqua trail only (the shoreline trail goes in the other direction).
Basically the 2 trails separate and from that moment, you’ll cross a bridge at the top, and continue back to the parking area on the full aqua trail (The Long Path).
There’s a few more steps to climb after, but it’s not long until that ends.
7) Follow the aqua trail back to the road and then the road to the parking lot:
Once you reach the road, the aqua trail continues into the woods, but you’ll want to turn right and follow the road back to the parking lot from there. It’s about a 5-10 minute walk from there.
8) And once you reach the parking lot, you have officially completed the Giant Stairs Palisades hike!
From that point, you can choose to explore more of Fort Lee Historic Park. There’s also other options available nearby such as:
- Exploring Bear Mountain State Park.
- Exploring Harriman State Park.
- Exploring Hudson Highlands State Park.
- Doing other hikes in the Hudson River Valley region.
- Or if you live across the Hudson, read this post on day hikes near NYC to explore (this is one of many).
- See a list of the best hiking trails in NJ here (Giant Stairs is on them).
All of these hikes are all north of Giant Stairs Palisades and about 30 minutes away. Either way, I hope this post on hiking the Giant Stairs Palisades was clear enough and that it helps you enjoy this hike as much as I did.
Other questions you may have about Giant Stairs Palisades before you go:
How long does the giant stairs hike take?
It typically takes people 2-3 hours to hike the entire Giant Stairs hike.
How long is the giant stairs palisades?
The loop hike is about 4 miles while the giant stairs themselves (part of the hike) is about 1.5 miles.
How hard is giant stairs?
Giant Stairs is a moderate and above level hike. If you are pretty fit, you should be able to do this hike without issues.
If you have any other questions you’d like to get answered about hiking the Giant Stairs Palisades, let me know!
2 thoughts on “The Giant Stairs Palisades Hike: Everything You Need to Know”
Where is this hike? Which state?
New Jersey and you can find it off the Palisades Parkway.