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AT Section: Bear Mountain and Harriman

Updated: Jul 18, 2020

Jdub came into New York City for this section hike. While coming to the country’s largest city to get out into the wilderness sounds counter-intuitive, there are actually a couple of ways to access the Appalachian Trail right from New York City. We planned a 23.1 mile hike, starting at Manitou Rd and ending on Harriman State Park’s Sapphire Trail* which leads down to the Harriman train station.

Babysteps, a young white man with full backpacking bag on, hikes up the steep rock scramble called Agony Grind in New York's Harriman State Park on the Appalachian Trail.
Agony Grind in Harriman

We set out on a Saturday morning, taking the Metro-North from Harlem to Manitou. While the weather report had said it would be a clear weekend, a light mist started in the morning and held up all day. After a fairly short, but very uphill, road walk to the trail head at Manitou Road we started on the trail.

We passed popular day hiking spots: Anthony’s Nose, Bear Mountain Bridge, Hessian Lake, Bear Mountain, and had a lot of foot traffic out with us. In fact, much of this first piece of the hike felt like an urban hike. It wasn’t really until Bear Mountain that we stayed consistently on park land. A lot of people also came out unprepared for the weather and the terrain and there was a good amount of stop and go as people asked us for advice or to double check that they were on the right trail.

Bear Mountain was a great climb! The new stairs and trail work that the New York New Jersey Trail Council finished were wonderful and we made our way up without a stop. Since the views were all clouded in on this hike, I fully intend on returning for a day hike up the peak to try and catch some of these clouded in vistas.

Though there weren’t views at the summit, there were vending machines (that took credit card!) and for our first long break of the day that felt pretty good!

From Bear Mountain we pushed on all the way to the Brian Williams Memorial shelter, getting in close to sunset. This made our first trail day a 12.6 mile day, not including the close to mile of road walking off the train.

Misty section of the Appalachian trail in New York's Harriman State Park. The rocky trail looks slick, fogged in and with wet grass on either side. Between the fog, trees and branches poke through with autumn color.
Misty trail in Harriman

The shelter had a yellow blazed trail that apparently led “45 minutes” down to a parking lot. That ease of access made the shelter pretty crowded with over night campers, some of whom didn’t have the best trail manners.

They also didn’t know where the water source for the shelter was, which was something J-Dub and I needed when we first arrived. We eventually found it with the help of some campers who were hammocking near the source.

An Autumn brook with a small water pools flowing full of orange and yellow autumn leaves. The brook is full of slick mossy rocks and situated in the middle of a forest in New York's Harriman State Park along the Appalachian Trail.
Autumn book in Harriman

This would prove a kind of perennial problem through our hike. There were a lot of great streams and sources throughout on trail in Harriman, but at the shelter sites them selves water seemed questionable or, at least, hard to access.

Got a fairly early start and made our way to Fingerboard shelter for a mid-morning rest. With the sky starting clear a bit we decided to layout our gear and try to dry it while we ate lunch.

Babysteps drying out his gear at Fingerboard Shelter. He is situated on a rock with his hiking gear in bright colors around him. Fingerboard Shelter itself is an enclosed stone building on a level part of the rock face.
Drying out at Fingerboard Shelter

Pressing on from Fingerboard, we encountered the famous Lemon Squeezer. The access to it coming Southbound proved treacherous from the wet weather. We had a 4-5 foot drop, which wouldn’t have been bad if it wasn’t a drop from slick rock onto more slick rock with a rolling hillside we’d go down we you took a misstep.

Babysteps straddles his way through the Lemon Squeezer. The space is a narrow crevice between to rocks and Babysteps moves sideways to fit his body through it. This is an iconic passage of the Appalachian Trail in New York's Harriman State Park
In the Lemon Squeezer

It took us a few slow tries but we made it down and then through the Squeezer! This is another popular day hike section with shuttles and buses that’ll take you to the trail head close to it so we once again encountered some foot traffic and a lot of day hikers out and about.

We pressed on and went up  the aptly named Agony Grind right around sunset. While the Lemon Squeezer stayed pretty slick, the clearing weather dried up much of the scramble on Agony Grind, which was a good thing because wet that climb would have felt near impossible, it was exhausting enough when dry. The climb gave us our first and only vista of the hike though and at sunset it was well worth it.

Babysteps looks out at a vista of Harriman State Park, green rolling mountains and a sunny, hazy sky. Shot from the back his fully loaded back blocks much of his torso.
Atop Agony Grind

We found a camp site near the Sapphire trail which was our way out and spent another night out in Harriman. In the morning we got up and made pretty quick work of the blue blazed Sapphire Trail.

A carin is piled by a trip of square blue blazes on a tree to denote a side trail off the AT in Harriman State Park. In the distance J-Dub can be seen walking the trail in dark rain gear. Surrounding the male figure of J-dub is a dense, green forest.
Sapphire trailhead photo by Babysteps

It was fairly pleasant terrain, a lot of rock hopping across streams and access road walking, that dropped us right at the parking lot of Harramin Station in time to catch the 10:30 train back to New York City.

Babysteps boards a steel gray New Jersey transit train with the conductor looking on. He has a fully loaded pack and is in long pants and a rain coat.
Harriman Station

-Words by Babysteps, Photos (unless otherwise noted) by J-Dub

*Mileage and location notes based on AWOL’s Appalachian Trail Northbound guide 2018

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