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Harriman: Bald Rock and Big Hill Shelters

My friend Brady and I took a weekend camping trip in Harriman. We had his truck with us so we were able to park and hop around to two different spots: Bald Rock Shelter and Big Hill Shelter.

We started out early Friday morning and got to Harriman quite easily from NYC. I like to get into Harriman on Fridays because Saturdays and Sundays can be packed, especially in nice weather, and it’s nice beating both car and foot traffic.

There's a parking lot off Kanawauke Road that can be used for overnight parking with the White Bar Trail running right through it. We parked there with only a few other cars around.

Large parking lot with only two cars at a wooded trail head.

The parking lot put us in good striking distance of Bald Rocks Shelter and Tom Jones Shelter. We opted for Bald Rock because it was a bit closer and Tom Jones doesn't have a water source.

We made our way up the White Bar Trail bright and early. We were only on it for a short time and it stayed mainly between the road and a stream. At the intersection with the Nurian Trail we turned eastward and used the Nurian to connect to the Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail.

A white man hikes up a steep rocky gap between two larger boulders on a sunny day.
Rocky and rooty up on the Nurian Trail (Photo: Brady)

The Nurian Trail had a lot of quick, steep ups but the connection with Ramapo-Dunderberg immediately rewarded us with a view.

A white man in hiking gear stands on a rocky expanse and looks out at a vista on a sunny day
First view on the Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail (Photo: Brady)

The Ramapo-Dunderberg is a trail that connects across Harriman, running 22.3 miles from Tuxedo to Jones Point. Along the way it crosses and overlaps with a lot of the park's trails including the Appalachian Trail. It’s another Harriman thru-hike on my to-do list so spending a little time on it for this trip was a fun sneak-peak.

The portion we hiked was a fairly typical Harriman stretch, walking across lightly forested granite with nice views poking out east and westward.

A white man in hiking gear stands on a boulder and looks across a mountain vista on a sunny day.
Another Ramapo-Dunderberg vista

While scenic, it was also hot on all that rock face, even in the morning. We were out on an unusually warm Spring weekend, with temperatures in the 80s and getting up to 90 back in the city! I was thankful Bald Rock Shelter wasn’t too far off.

A white man looks at a white trail map under the shade of a tree on a sunny day
Taking a shade break (Photo: Brady)

We got in a little bit before noon and explored around. The shelter itself is a roofed, stone built structure. The flooring inside left a bit to be desired, but in a storm or a pinch I wouldn't complain.

Stone built, roofed, hiking shelter on a sunny day. A bear warning hangs on the roof.
Bald Rock Shelter (Photo: Brady)

It also had bear cables set-up and from the logs, seems like there was a problem bear in the area sometime in the past couple years.

Steel cables hang from a cross cable on a sunny forest floor.
Bear cables at Bald Rock

Like many of the Harriman shelters, Bald Rock has some fantastic tent sites around it. Another reason I like to get into Harriman early is that it gives you first pick of the sites. We took our time and settled on a wonderful little site with a west view for sunset and nice, established fire pit.

Two tents set up on a sunny day in a clearing between trees with a fire pit between them
Bald Rock tent site (Photo: Brady)

Our next camp chore was water. The water for the shelter is off the yellow blazed Dunning Trail which intersects with the Ramapo-Dunderberg. There’s also a side trail that leads to the Dunning Trail from a wood road (as marked on the 2018 NYNJ Conference Southern Harriman Bear Mountain Trails map) by the shelter.

Finding the actual intersection of the Ramapo-Dunderberg trail and the Dunning trail turned out to be quite a chore and more than a few other hikers and trail runners came by asking us for directions as well.

The woods road was a little bit simpler to find as it led right into a neighboring campsite and was a fairly straight shot to the Dunning Trail. I say fairly because the woods road meets the Dunning Trail right at a sharp turn in the Dunning. We got the opposite turn blaze before we were able to catch a straight forward yellow blaze. Like many junctures and turns in Harriman, these two just require slowing down and double-checking yourself and your surroundings.

At this point it was the height of the afternoon and on our water hunt we made a few friends, like this milk snake:

Stripped snake extended on a hiking trail
Milk Snake (Photo: Brady)

Every water source we passed in the park was pretty dry, and this source was no different. It was moving, but very slowly. We decided to be a bit cautious and run it through my Sawyer Squeeze then boil it with my stove since nothing kills a good camping trip faster than stomach problems.

Water found, the rest of the day and night passed rather pleasantly. Brady and I had met up in the city once before, but being able to really, simply hang out for a day with a friend after more than year of lock down was a wonderful feeling. As the day went on, the sites around us filled up, but they were spaced out enough that it wasn't bothersome. Our tent site also stayed shaded throughout most of the day which was a nice luxury and we were able to lazy about, catch up, and build a small fire for the night.

A tent at sunset with a small campfire in the foreground
Bald Rock tent site at sunset (Photo: Brady)

Our water strategy brought some peace of mind, but it also ran my fuel down. I brought an older can, but one that would have plenty of fuel to get us through meals and coffee. However, the meals on top of water boiling drained it. We were on the fence a bit about our next move: hike on or drive to a new spot all together. The fuel made the choice for us and made we broke camp for Brady's truck in the morning to head into town in search of fuel and, importantly, coffee!

Now that we had firmly established the path of the yellow Dunning Trail it was a pretty quick hike down that to the White Bar Trail to the parking lot on Saturday morning. The trail was a pleasant wooded path that crossed a few streams (also pretty dry) and fun rock formations. Another fairly typical terrain experience in Harriman.

The parking lot was packed now! Day hikers, campers, and a boy scout troop were all getting ready to start their trips as we hopped into Brady's truck. The side pull-offs and shoulders were also totally filled up with cars, bikers, and people walking to trail heads.

We drove out of the park through Sloatsburg then went to Suffern for coffee at Java Love and also swung into a mini-mart to stock up on some waters and Gatorades. Today was supposed to be even hotter than yesterday and while we weren't sure where we were going next, we figured this would be a good investment either way.

After walking around Suffern for a bit we headed back towards the park to Sloatsburg for lunch at an Irish Pub called Characters.

A burger with french fries on white plate on a wooden bar counter with beer and water in pint glasses.
Lunch! (Photo: Brady)

A humorous pub poem about a mouse drinking Guinness
Pub humor (Photo: Brady)

As we ate and chatted with the bartender he told us it'd been weeks since they had good rain and wasn't surprised to hear how dry it was in the park. It also hit me here, that this was my first time in over a year eating indoors at a restaurant and I was pleasantly surprised at how normal it felt. A good sign for the future, I hope.

At the bar, we got a few recommendations on where we might find fuel, but none of them panned out. There were options for propane grills at Wal-Mart, but none those weren't compatible with my Jetboil. It was a bit of a run-a-round, but it also let us beat the heat of the afternoon. Since we had only one more night out, decided we'd just eat cold and carry on.

Over lunch we planned out our next spot. We had initially thought about heading back and doing Tom Jones shelter, but shifted plans to spend the night at Big Hill shelter, a stop I had made on the Suffern-Bear Mountain Trail. We choose it in part because it's close to what I remembered as a healthy water source just north on the Suffern-Bear Mountain should we need it and because there was another over night parking lot really close to the shelter.

The a parking lot is off the seasonal road Lake Welch Drive and right beside St. John's Church of the Wilderness. The lot connects to the Long Path on a short woods road and we could then goes SOBO on the Long Path right up to Big Hill. It's a bit more remote than our Friday parking spot and can only hold four or five cars. That said, when we got there a park ranger was finishing up lunch and the church is still active, so seems fairly well monitored even though it's off a smaller road than Kanawauke.

The Long Path is a 358 mile hiking trail running from the George Washington Bridge in New York City to John Boyd Thatcher State Park outside of Albany. It's another trail I'd like to thru-hike one day! I've done the section on the George Washington Bridge into the Palisades Park, but it was a cool feeling being on it again here in Harriman.

A white man stands next to teal hiking blaze in full hiking gear.
On the Long Path (Photo: Brady)
A white man crosses a wooden bridge over a stream in a forest.
Bridge on the Long Path (Photo: Brady)

The terrain was fairly tame, though a bit over grown in parts as we made our through the late afternoon up to Big Hill Shelter passing the Flight 6231 Marker memorial.

As I mentioned, I like getting in places early in Harriman. I had anticipated that this shelter would be a bit more crowded, but I hadn't banked on a boy scout troop.

The scouts and other weekenders made tent spots rather sparse, but I had remembered noting some on my way in on the Suffern- Bear Mountain and we were able to get a nice little spot SOBO on the Suffern-Bear Mountain, but still close to the shelter and it's views. We definitely had to squeeze a bit more than our last one on Bald Rock.

Two tents are set up in a wooded camp site with some gear scattered about
Big Hill tent site (Photo: Brady)

As other hikers and campers filed in later and later, the shelter and surrounding tent areas filled up completely, or at least as completely as I know the area. There were tents up and down both the Suffern-Bear Mountain and Long Path.

A cloudy night prevented any real dramatics for sunset, but it did clear up a little bit for the moon to come out at night. We were hoping for some good star viewing with the all the openings and the shelter clearing, but the cloud covered stayed on just a bit too thickly for that.

What I love about Big Hill shelter though is that it's view is east facing (NNE to be more precise I believe) and the two sunrises I've seen there have been spectacular.

A white man in a sweater and shorts sits, leaning back, on a rock to watch sunrise in a forest.
Brady watching sunrise at Big Hill

Up for sunrise, we made quick work of the Long Path back down to the truck and headed back to the city.

It was a fun weekend outing! I initially was excited to explore some new spaces, but returning to Big Hill for that sunrise made me realize why so many people hike Harriman over and over again and deal with the crowds the park can bring. When you hit one of the rocky, open, views just right, there isn't much else like it.


A mountain sunrise between a break in tree canopy. The purple, blue sky has dark clouds in it and mountains can be seen outlined in the distance.
Sunrise from Big Hill shelter

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