Historic Hudson River Towns
Working Together on the Shores of the Hudson

Bear Mountain State Park

Experience the beauty of the Hudson Valley

By Rebecca Haynes

Most people would go out of their way to avoid a snoozing bear by the water's edge, but there's one such spot in the Hudson Valley that should be on everyone's must-see list.

Bear Mountain State Park in Bear Mountain, N.Y., has something for everyone. From miles of hiking trails to an inn with all the comforts of home, the park offers nature in all of its glory for both the avid outdoorsman as well as those just out for a scenic Sunday stroll.

Nestled along the Hudson River, Bear Mountain was so-named because the profile of the mountain resembles a bear lying down.

Hours of Operation

Bear Mountain is open 365 days a year from 8 a.m. to dusk. The pool is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day and the outdoor ice rink is open from November through March. For more information, call the park office at (845) 786-2701. Also, see the official Bear Mountain State Park website.

Admission Fees

Parking is $7. Admission to the pool is $2 for adults, $1 for children 6-12. Cost for the zoo and trailside museums is $1 for ages 13 and over, while children 6-12 are 50 cents. There are also admission fees to the outdoor ice skating rink during the winter months.

Getting There

The park is located about 50 miles north of New York City at the intersection of the Palisades Parkway and Route 9W and is best accessed by personal car. Rail commuters can take Metro-North to the Peekskill station and take a taxi across the river to the park. A taxi runs up to $30 one way.

Park History

Now part of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, the area was saved in the early 1900s as development along the river began to destroy much of the area's natural beauty.

Numerous efforts were made at the turn of the century to turn much of the Hudson Highlands, the area along the Hudson River from about Peekskill to Newburgh, to a forest preserve. All of these, however, were unsuccessful until the state of New York tried to relocate Sing Sing Prison to Bear Mountain. It was then that some of the wealthy businessmen who had made homes in the area went to work.

Led by Union Pacific railroad president E.W. Harriman, a group of wealthy and influential businessman donated land as well as large sums of money for the purchase of other properties in the area. Bear Mountain-Harriman State Park became a reality in 1910. By 1914, estimates showed more than a million people a year coming to the park. Camping became popular here, with the average stay logged at eight days, and it was a favorite for Boy Scouts.

Bear Mountain remains popular today, welcoming more visitors every year than Yellowstone National Park. Hiking, boating, picnicking, swimming, cross-country skiing, sledding, ice skating as well as a zoo and trailside museums, continue to draw families to the park.

An overnight stay

The Bear Mountain Inn, built in 1915, offers visitors all of the comforts of home with nature as a backdrop. Lakeside lodges also are available for those who seek a more rustic atmosphere and a little more privacy. And Overlook Lodge, a modern hotel obscured from sight by the trees but nestled above Hessian Lake, is also available for overnight stays.

And if being outdoors brings on an appetite, no problem. The Inn boasts a sit-down restaurant as well as a snack bar for quick burgers and sandwiches. The inn can be reached at (845) 786-2731.

Something for everyone

Parking is $7, but the hiking trails and many special events are free. And as the summer's heat and humidity approaches, why not cool off while enjoying the great view at Bear Mountain's large outdoor swimming pool. The pool is open Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. beginning Memorial Day weekend. Then beginning June 21, the pool will open seven days a week, from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. weekdays and from 9:30 a.m.-7 p.m. weekends and holidays. The pool closes for the season on Sept. 6. A snack bar at the pool site is convenient for hungry bathers and a bath house offers restrooms and stalls for changing.

Paddle boats as well as rowboats are available to rent beginning June 21, weather permitting, at Hessian Lake. Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Cost is $3.50 per person, per hour and a $20 refundable deposit is required.

Picnic areas and playgrounds are scattered throughout the park. And various festivals and craft shows are held throughout the year. The zoo lets visitors get a glimpse of many of the animals indigenous to the area, such as the bald eagle, fox, black bear, river otter, owl, hawk, deer, bobcat, turkey and various types of fish. Trailside museums highlight the area's history -- especially its importance in the Revolutionary War -- local geology and nature, including mounted insects and bird species as well as live fish, reptiles and amphibians.

A trail of history

The first section of the Appalachian Trial was created at Bear Mountain, taking hikers south to the Delaware Water Gap. It opened on Oct. 7, 1923, and served as a pattern for the other sections of the trail, developed independently by local and regional organizations and then joined.

In the mid-1930s the federal government led by Franklin D. Roosevelt was embarking on its own plan to preserve the environment. The Depression-era public works programs, including the Civil Works Administration and then the Work Progress Administration, spent five years on projects at Bear Mountain State Park.

Pumphouses, reservoirs, sewer systems, vacation lodges, bathrooms, homes for park staff, storage buildings and an administration building were all created through these programs. A scenic drive to the top of the mountain, called Perkins Memorial Drive, was also contstructed -- almost totally by hand. And although construction equipment and newer easier-to-work-with building materials were available for use at the time, planners wanted these new buildings constructed with the same principles and designs used to build the lodge in 1915. Workers used stone, boulders and timber to construct the new buildings, a process which took them five years.

Who to call

For information on the park, trails, special events, swimming, boat rental or ice skating, call the park office at (845) 786-2701 or visit the Bear Mountain State Park website. For information on overnight stays, dining and special events at the Inn, call the Bear Mountain Inn at (845) 786-2731

Photo Credits

©2018 Historic Hudson
River Towns, Inc.

Jerry Faiella
Executive Director
Phone: 914-760-8067

Nancy Gold
Marketing Director
Phone: 914-232-6583