If you’re wondering about the best things to do at Bear Mountain State Park, the truth is, there’s a lot, but in this post, I want to share with you 5 specific activities to make your trip here worthwhile, whether you plan on going yourself or with family and friends (as this place has activities for everyone).
I’ve been to Bear Mountain State Park twice and the truth is depending on who you ask about it, some will say it’s one of the most overrated parks to visit and there’s better spots nearby, or others will just give you general stuff about having a picnic or hiking. So here it is:
- 1 The 5 best things to do in Bear Mountain State Park:
- 2 What you need to know before you visit Bear Mountain State Park:
- 3 1) Pedal board around Hessian Lake (or walk around it):
- 4 2) Here are the most popular hiking trails in Bear Mountain State Park:
- 5 3) Do the scenic drive up to Perkins Memorial Tower:
- 6 4) Explore the many amenities at Bear Mountain State Park (here’s 9):
- 7 5) Check out the Bear Mountain Dock (great views):
- 8 Things to do near Bear Mountain State Park (outside of it):
The 5 best things to do in Bear Mountain State Park:
- Pedal Board around Hessian Lake (or take a walk around it).
- Try one of the 4 major hiking trails in Bear Mountain State Park.
- Do the scenic drive up to Perkins Memorial Tower.
- Explore the many amenities (zoo, ice rink, carousel, ect…).
- Check out the Bear Mountain Dock (great views).
These 5 activities really encompass pretty much everything you can do in Bear Mountain State Park.
But before I get to the details (especially the hiking trails you need to know about), let me cover some important stuff about this place you should know before going:
What you need to know before you visit Bear Mountain State Park:
1) Is it open 24-7?
No, Bear Mountain State Park opens 8 a.m every day and closes at sunset.
2) Is it free to get into the park?
No, there is a $10 car fee.
3) Are there actually bears in Bear Mountain State Park?
Yes, but it’s usually uncommon to see them, especially during the day and in the areas where you have a lot of people packed together.
4) Are there other cool things to do outside of Bear Mountain?
Yes, and I will cover that below.
5) Is Bear Mountain State Park family friendly?
Yes, there are many family friendly activities inside there.
6) Is it true that the Appalachian trail is in Bear Mountain State Park?
Yes and you can actually walk part of it within this park to the top of it (details coming up).
7) How far is Bear Mountain State Park from NYC?
Only about 1 hour.
Now onto the specific activities:
1) Pedal board around Hessian Lake (or walk around it):
One of the most popular things to do in Bear Mountain State Park is to check out the main lake (Hessian Lake).
There is a boating dock called Hessian dock which rents out pedal boards. If you enjoy water sports or just lake exploring, this is something you’re going to want to do.
One thing I would suggest is that if you come here, to do so on in the early hours as this park is very popular and you may need to wait in line for pedal boards to free up.
Another option you can do is to just walk around the lake (as you can see from the picture to the right).
There is a path that goes around the entire lake which you can take if you just want to do a nice stroll around the park and get great views of Bear Mountain.
This is especially a great activity to check out during autumn season as the colors in this park are spectacular to see, whether from the lake (or the top of the mountain).
2) Here are the most popular hiking trails in Bear Mountain State Park:
There’s said to be dozens, but in most cases, there are about 4 major trails around the park for most people to take. They are divided into 2 categories:
Trails that take you up to Perkins Tower (top of Bear Mountain) and trails that go to other parts of the park. If you choose to do the trails to the top of the park, you can get great views of Purple Hear Memorial Bridge, the Hudson River Valley and other cool spots around it.
1) Bear Mountain hike trail (1-2 mile hike): It’s on the southern side of the park (right by the ice rink) and you can follow the signs to Perkins Tower from there. You will have to make a right turn around 1 mile in and continue to the top of the mountain (to reach Perkins Memorial Tower). You will cross about a mile of the Appalachian trail when you take this path.
This is the most popular hike in the entire park.
2) Major Welch Trail (1-2 miles): This is another popular trail in Bear Mountain State Park that starts on the north west side of Hessian Lake. You will pass the popular Bear Mountain Inn on your way. The hike will also take you to Perkins Tower.
Note: These 2 trails are basically taking you around different sides of Bear Mountain, but all end up at the same point: Perkins Tower.
3) Appalachian National Scenic trail (1 mile): This trail is found off the scenic drive (Perkins Memorial Drive). This is the same scenic drive that takes you to the top of the park, and this particular trail cuts through that road and also takes you to the top. You will need to have someone drive you to one entrance/exit points of the trail on the road and then pick you up there, or you can elect to walk up the road until you see signs for Appalachian National Scenic trail.
Note: This is not the same hike as the Appalachian Trail.
4) Suffern Bear Mountain Trail (1 mile long): This last hike begins on the south side of the ice rink (very close to the 1st trail on this list) and takes you south east, out of Bear Mountain State Park to a scenic road called Seven Lakes Scenic drive.
In short, this hike will take you outside Bear Mountain State Park and into Harriman State Park, it’s neighbor park.
All of these are great day hikes to explore outside NYC (if you live there that is).
3) Do the scenic drive up to Perkins Memorial Tower:
If hiking isn’t your thing or you’re under tight time constraints, then you may want to just do the scenic drive up to Perkins Memorial Tower.
It’s a short, but very nice drive to the top of Bear Mountain (in addition to other awesome things).
Keep in mind that this is also the same drive that takes you past the Appalachian National Scenic trail.
But when you reach the top, you can park your car and walk to the same overlooks of the Hudson River Valley (known as Bear Mountain Lookout).
One thing I would recommend you do is that if you come to this park before dusk hits (in other words before the park closes) and it’s around sunset, you can do the drive to get great sunset photos at the top of Bear Mountain here (or you can elect to hike up to the top and wait for that to happen).
While Perkins Tower is a famous monument at this park, the real jewel in my opinion is the views you get and there are plenty of opportunities for that here.
4) Explore the many amenities at Bear Mountain State Park (here’s 9):
Bear Mountain has a WIDE range of activities and amenities available which separate it from other parks nearby and rather than break them down into a long list, here is a summary of what’s available:
1) Ice rink: Only open during winter time, but if you enjoy ice skating, you can do that in this park.
2) Zoo (Trailside Museums and Zoo): There is a zoo in Bear Mountain State Park which aside from showcasing awesome animals also is right by the Appalachian trail.
3) Bear Mountain Pool: While swimming in the Hessian Lake isn’t allowed, there is a nearby pool in this park where you can (great for kids).
4) Bear Mountain Picnic area: This speaks for itself!
5) Sledding: When it snows, there is a hill right by Hessian Lake where you can sled down it.
6) Halloween and other popular festivals: The last time I went to Bear Mountain, they had this available including things like dunking your head in water to pick up apples.
7) Bear Mountain Carousel: Another activity great for kids (southern end of the park)!
8) Playground: Also on the southern side of the park.
9) 3 different Bear Mountain Inns: You can actually stay overnight (or just eat at) 3 different spots in Bear Mountain.
5) Check out the Bear Mountain Dock (great views):
One other thing I recommend people do is check out the docking area on the eastern end of the park.
To reach it, you have to take the main road around the park (road 202) south and look for signs for the dock, then turn on it (it will take you north up the park) and to a dead end road which will be the parking for the dock.
From the docking area, you can also get awesome views of the Hudson River, Purple Heart Memorial Bridge and even do some fishing around the area. It may also be a lot less crowded in this part of the park than the other spots.
And that encompasses the main things to do in Bear Mountain State Park! Be sure to check the weather or possible closings if you decide to go, but if you should find yourself in a situation where the park is closed or something else comes up, fear not as there are many other things to see and do around it (that are actually way better).
That is why the last part of this post focuses on an important topic and that is:
Things to do near Bear Mountain State Park (outside of it):
Most tourists and even NYC locals don’t know this, but Bear Mountain State Park is one of many state parks in the Hudson River area which is why if you ask them what parks there are to see, you’ll rarely hear anyone ever say anything other than Bear Mountain.
Yet, in my honest opinion, most of those parks are better to check out, especially if you’re into hiking and avoiding the crowds. Here are just some places I recommend you explore:
1) Hudson Highlands State Park. This is 30 minutes north of Bear Mountain State Park and across the Hudson River. It has amazing iking trails available. Here are just some:
2) Harriman State Park: I mentioned it earlier, but this park is literally next door to Bear Mountain. It’s larger and I dare say way more scenic. There’s certainly a lot more hiking trails here and FAR LESS CROWDS too. You also don’t need to pay to enter this park. Here are just some things to do here:
- Check out the popular scenic drive called Seven Lakes.
- There are abandoned mines around the area.
- There are nice hiking trails including Reeves Brook Loop trail to check out.
- I’ve include a link to check out my post on Harriman State Park so you can see a large list of things to do there.
This park has a lot of picnic areas available, boating around a few lakes (vs one in Bear Mountain) and some spots are also family friendly (some hikes are better for experienced hikers).
3) Storm King State Park: It’s 30 minutes north of the park (like Hudson Highlands) but it’s on the western end of it. There are also nice views, things to see and do there.
4) Sterling Forest State Park: If you’re into more wild hikes, this is a great state park for that. And just as well, there are also other cool activities like horseback riding, skiing, mountain biking and much more.
5) Fort Lee Historic Park. This park is located south of Bear Mountain and is literally the first major park NYC locals will cross to get to Bear Mountain. This park is small, but has a lot of cool things to see including the popular Giant Stairs Palisades hike that I’ve done before (highly recommended). But the views in this park are awesome, including a beautiful scenic drive called Henry Hudson scenic drive that takes you close to the Hudson River (next to the Palisades Parkway).