Getting Back to Nature: The Best Day Trip Hikes from New York City

By: Erin Lehr

Like many others, before I lived in New York City, I pictured the city itself and its surrounding area as a mass of concrete – an urban jungle with nary a leaf in sight. And while that vision could become a reality in some areas, I was ecstatic when I discovered that New York can be a nature lover’s delight. Bird watching in Central Park, watching the sunset in Riverside Park, or biking the dramatic views of Manhattan’s last natural forest in Inwood Hill Park are just a few ways to keep in touch with Mother Nature in the city.

Of course, many New Yorkers – especially in the summer and fall – seek to escape the city completely, heading outside of its borders to find acreage of forests and mountains to climb. An easy day trip from Grand Central, the lower Hudson Valley region offers long, varied hikes with incredible panoramic views of the Hudson River, miles of preserved and protected state parks, and the charming, small-town culture of the Hudson Rivertowns; a string of historic, picturesque towns along the river which in recent years have seen an economic and cultural revival.

Ranging in length and difficulty, the hikes below offer some of the best scenery and natural escapes close to NYC, with all of them easily accessible from the city via the Metro-North train system. And after you’re done, be sure to stop in at one of the local coffee shops or restaurants for a pick-me-up before heading back.

Anthony’s Nose

Anthony's Nose

View from atop Anthony’s Nose (Credit: Erin Lehr)

Part of the Appalachian Trail network, Anthony’s Nose is best described as a rocky, vertical staircase to the sky. Once you reach the top, you’re rewarded with some of the most fantastic and sprawling aerial views of the Hudson River and the Bear Mountain Bridge. For the first half mile or so, the trail challenges you with a steep ascent (with a few nice glimpses of the river on the way up), but after that, it’s fairly flat walk to the viewpoint. And what a viewpoint it is.

To get to the trailhead from the city, take the Metro North’s Hudson line to the Manitou stop (the trains stop here frequently on weekends for hikers), and then take a quick, 5-minute cab to the trailhead. After you’re done, head to the nearby river town of Peekskill (also connected to the Metro North system), stroll around the historic downtown, and relax with a latte at the welcoming, quaint Peekskill Coffee House, housed in a landmark building.

Breakneck Ridge

This mountain, which offers a 7-mile, challenging trail with unparalleled views of the Hudson Valley, is a wildly popular favorite among NYC hikers. The Breakneck Ridge Metro North stop (frequent stops on weekends) deposits you right at the start of the trailhead and, once you’re at the top, you can take in the splendid views of the mighty Hudson, rolling hills and lush foliage. It is an advanced-level hike, so expect areas of rock scrambling and steep ascents.

Breakneck Ridge

The breathtaking view atop Breakneck Ridge (Credit: Wikipedia, Breakneck Ridge)

When you’re done, hop back on the train one stop south to Cold Spring – one of the area’s most charming towns filled with antique shops, farm-to-table restaurants, homemade ice cream and delicious coffee shops and cafes – such as Foundry Cafe, a favorite among visitors and locals alike.

Cold Spring

The view from Cold Spring’s scenic waterfront (Credit: Erin Lehr)

Rockefeller State Park

Donated by the Rockefeller family, this 1,200+ acre state park features a labyrinth of old carriage roads, scenic trails and arch stone bridges, including the 13 Bridges Loop Trail. One of the best parts of this park – aside from the fact it offers dozens of hikes ranging from 2 miles or less to 6 miles or more – is that it also connects directly into the grounds of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, a beautiful, working farm and center that is revolutionizing sustainable agriculture.

After your hike and/our touring the fields and animals of Stone Barns, hop in a cab to the main street of charming, bustling Tarrytown and relax at Coffee Labs (where your pooch can join you inside as well) or Muddy Water Cafe. The Tarrytown Metro North station is located adjacent to downtown Tarrytown, and offers taxi service to the state park.

Old Croton Aqueduct State Historic Park

The Old Croton Aqueduct Trail is one of the most well-connected and historic trails in the lower Hudson Valley. This linear park is actually part of the path of an original, 41-mile aqueduct network, opened in 1842, that was the primary source of water for New York City, and carried fresh water into the city as late as 1965.

After a new aqueduct was opened in the 1960’s to meet the rising demands of the City’s water supply, the State of New York purchased the old network and turned the scenic path into a state park, which winds through historic sites, homes and the urban centers of several river towns.

The trail runs conveniently close to the Metro North Hudson line, and you can do several segments which start and end within walking distance of the train stations that connect the Rivertowns to the city – such as the walk from Ossining to Tarrytown, or through the closely connected, charming towns of Irvington to Hastings-on-Hudson down to Yonkers. The entire trail extends from the Croton Dam in Croton-on-Hudson down to Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx.

If you decide to do the Northern segment of the trail, make sure to take in the breathtaking views of the Croton Dam at Croton Gorge Park – the majestic start (or end, depending from which direction you’re coming) of the network and a part of New York City’s current water supply system.

Croton Dam

Sunset at the Croton Dam (Credit: Erin Lehr)

If you find yourself looking for a coffee in Croton, stop by the bookish Black Cow Coffee shop and breath in the smell of paper books and fresh ground coffee. After, dip into the Blue Pig ice cream shop for homemade, ever-changing flavors made with fresh, local ingredients – such as fresh ginger, homemade vanilla with lavender, garden mint chip or local peach.

Lyndhurst Mansion

Going up the circular driveway of the sprawling Lyndhurst Mansion estate (Credit: Erin Lehr)

The southern segment of the trail takes you through the gorgeous, charming centers of Tarrytown, Irvington (including a pass through Lyndhurst Mansion, a Gothic Revival country house that sits on its own 67 acre park), Dobbs Ferry and Hastings-on-Hudson.

Stop for a cup of joe at the Italian-inspired Caffelatte in Dobbs Ferry or Antoinette’s Patisserie in Hastings, or a cocktail along the river at the Red Hat in Irvington or at the Hudson Social in Dobbs Ferry.

Whichever hike you chose, be prepared to be inspired with awe-inspiring views and a strong connection to the magnificence of our natural world. Not to mention delicious coffee, food and drinks to reward your hard work afterwards.

About The Author

Featured Author

When not at her day job of tech PR, Erin Lehr is a writer and daydreams of becoming a chef and farmer. She resides in the Hudson Valley, 20 miles north of NYC, and splits her time discovering the best food, culture, hikes, coffee and ice cream in both. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @elehr, or on Snapchat (erlehr).