Crater Lake Trail (Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, NJ)


Crater Lake Trail, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, May 2018

The Crater Lake Trail (no, not that Crater Lake) is a pleasant—although not particularly inspiring—loop hike in a remote section of Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area on the New Jersey side. Access to Crater Lake requires a lengthy drive on unpaved roads, which helps thin out the crowds in an otherwise crowded park, although its location just off the Appalachian Trail (AT) offers the possibility that you will run into some AT through-hikers in the summertime. The circuit hike offers access to the AT, some limited views of the surrounding mountains, and, of course, Crater Lake. (Note: The Crater Lake Trail is sometimes combined with hikes to nearby Buttermilk Falls and Hemlock Pond.)

Crater Lake Trail Delaware Water Gap hike information

The hike

The Crater Lake picnic area is situated at the end of 2-mile Skyline Drive, which is a rough, unpaved road but passable to standard, 2-wheel drive cars. Skyline Drive is itself accessed from the more improved Blue Mountain Lakes Road, deep in the heart of Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Crater Lake sits in a depression along Kittatinny Mountain, a lengthy ridgeline that is closely followed by the Appalachian Trail (AT) as it runs through New Jersey.

From the parking area at the Crater Lake picnic area, it is a handful of steps to the edge of Crater Lake, a still, blue pool surrounded by shrub-lined shores. The lake is a remnant of an ancient glacier that receded roughly 22,000 years ago, leaving behind a basin hemmed in on nearly all sides by high ground. A handful of picnic benches offer a place to eat lunch by the lake.


Crater Lake

Begin the Crater Lake Trail by backtracking from the lakeshore and heading south on a wide, orange-blazed path through the woods. While Crater Lake is not visible, the grassy path passes swampy Lake Success on the left about 150 yards down the trail. In the early 20th century, the shores of Crater Lake and Lake Success played host to a popular summer cottage community that was eventually torn down in the 1970s.


Lake Success

Just beyond the first views of Lake Success, a narrow social trail on the right offers access to Crater Lake. At about 250 yards, the Crater Lake Trail begins to climb a minor hill amid a grove of beech trees. The gradual uphill is mild and eventually flattens out as more social trails head off to the left and right. Although hikers still cannot see Crater Lake from the trail, they can spot a rock wall, which towers over the lake, on the right in the distance at about 4/10 mile.


Pond along Crater Lake Trail

At the ½-mile mark, the trail reaches a four-way junction, with the white-blazed Appalachian Trail cutting across the main path. Stay straight on the orange-blazed Crater Lake Trail, which quickly passes a small rock-hewn pond on the right. After about 2/3 miles of hiking, the trail rounds a right-hand bend and begins a modest climb that surmounts a low ridgeline. The path, now an old road bed, follows the ridge before joining again with the AT, which comes in from the right and combines with the Crater Lake Trail for a short distance.

Directly opposite the merger is a spur path leading to one of the only real viewpoints on the hike. Here hikers can get partly obscured views to the west and north, overlooking the Blue Mountain area in the direction of the Delaware River.


View northeast from an obscured vista off the Crater Lake Trail

The trail climbs to its highest point shortly thereafter and splits at 1.15 miles, with an unmarked spur trail heading right. Stay left, then bear right at the next junction 1.2 miles, where the AT bears off to the left. (Note: This is also the access trail for Hemlock Pond.) From here the Crater Lake Trail begins to shed elevation, and the same unmarked spur trail comes in from the right. Crater Lake returns to view, and a narrow social trail at about 1.3 miles offers access to the sunbaked shores.


Crater Lake

From here the main trail leaves the lakeside again and empties out onto a gravel road below a set of power lines. Bear right on the road and follow it to its end as it bobs and weaves up and over a series of minor slopes. The road—and hike—ends at around 1.5 miles, back at the parking area.

Allot around 45 minutes to an hour for this easy loop hike with some minor elevation change.

Posted in Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Easy Hikes, New Jersey | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Raymondskill Falls Trail (Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, PA)


Raymondskill Falls, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, May 2018

The 150-foot Raymondskill Falls, when at full strength, is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the Mid-Atlantic and the tallest in the state of Pennsylvania. Nestled in a shaded valley in Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, the three-tiered falls are reached by way of a short but steep trail. While Raymondskill is just one of several waterfalls in the area, it lacks both the crowds and atrocious entrance fee of nearby Bushkill Falls, and as of summer 2018, was one of the few waterfalls in Delaware Water Gap NRA that was open to visitors following storm damage earlier in the year that closed many of the trails.

Raymondskill Falls Trail hike information


Map of Raymondskill Falls Trail

The hike

The loop trail begins at a parking area off Raymondskill Road in the northern section of Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, about four miles south of Milford, Pennsylvania. (Note: There are actually two parking lots that provide access to the trail; the marked lot that is farthest to the west, however, is the best starting point.) There is a restroom and trail kiosk at the trailhead, and the main path takes off to the right.

The Raymondskill Falls Trail begins with a gradual descent, eventually growing steeper as it drops to a wooden platform with two benches after about 50 yards. From here the path drops further as the roar of the falls drowns out the wind and sound of chirping birds. At about 100 yards, follow the spur trail to the right, which leads to a wooden platform overlooking the falls. While upper falls is little more than a 2-foot drop, you can also peer over the precipice of the much taller middle falls.


Upper falls


Looking over the top of middle falls

Work your way back up the spur path to the main trail and bear right as the path hugs the edge of a stony bluff with a small cave on the left. The trail descends a set of steep, slippery steps before reaching a second spur at about 0.15 miles.


Steep descent along the Raymondskill Falls Trail

Take a right here, following the path to the second viewing platform, this one situated perfectly at the base of middle falls. The view of the roaring falls, especially in spring, is spectacular. Here Raymondskill Creek drops over a two-tiered terrace, slicing through beds of sandstone and interbedded shale and siltstone.


Middle falls

The observation platform also sits at the top of lower falls, which tumbles around 25-30 feet and is met by a perhaps seasonal fall—known as Bridal Veil Falls—which drops out of a sea of vegetation along the wall opposite the platform. The moist canyon walls are coated with green lichen, giving the falls an additional, colorful flair.


Lower falls and Bridal Veil Falls

From the viewing platform, head back up the wooden stairs to the main trail, then continue to follow it right as it wraps around to the east and briefly levels off. At about 2/10 mile, the path ascends an uphill, gravel path and reaches a fork with the Raymondskill Creek Trail, a dead-end path to provides access to the stream well downstream of the falls. Continue left as the path bears north toward the parking area. Just as the road is within sight ahead, bear a hard left at the next trail junction—the parking lot straight ahead is different from the one where you started.

From here, follow the wide path as it traces west back to the original parking area and trailhead. The entire hike, with some breaks to admire the awe-inspiring falls, should take around 30-45 minutes.

Posted in Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Moderate Hikes, Pennsylvania | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Billy Goat Trail – Section C (Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park, MD)


Billy Goat Trail – Section C, Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, August 2018

The Billy Goat Trail is well-known to DC-area hikers, but most hike only one of the trail’s three sections. While Section A is swamped with visitors on any given weekend, Sections B and C are usually quiet and serene. Section C, the closest to DC, covers relatively level terrain above the north banks of the Potomac River. Though easier than Sections A and B, hiking boots are still recommended, as no trail in the Potomac Gorge can escape a handful of rocky traverses. Like the other two sections, combine with the flat and easy Towpath Trail to form a loop back to the trailhead. (Note: See here and here for descriptions of Section A and Section B.)

Billy Goat Trail Section C hike information

Billy Goat Trail Section C map

Map of Billy Goat Trail – Section C; created using National Geographic Maps/AllTrails, (Check out the PDF version, interactive map, and MapMyHike track)

The hike

Section C of the Billy Goat Trail forms a circuit around Carderock Recreation Area, itself inside Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park and just off Clara Barton Parkway. Carderock, a popular rock climbing destination, has multiple parking areas; the Billy Goat Trail is most easily accessed from the southernmost and northernmost parking lots. For the purposes of this description, start the hike at the Carderock north parking area.

From the parking area, head for the far end of the loop drive and catch an unmarked but well-trodden path that bears north. (Note: There is another spur trail that takes off from the restrooms and heads west to meet the Billy Goat.) For much of the year, there is a muddy bog off to the right. In about 125 yards, the access path merges with the Billy Goat Trail; bear left, immediately dropping down a sloped hillside dotted with the area’s characteristically jagged metagraywacke, a form of metamorphic rock. At the base of the descent, the trail crosses a short footbridge, skirts a large rock outcrop on the right, and climbs again to make up much of the elevation loss.


 Near the beginning of the Billy Goat Trail

From here, the trail follows a long depression between two rocky ridges, then approaches a four-way junction at around 2/10 mile. Off to the right is the primary rock climbing area; to the left is a path leading back to the parking area and restrooms. Stay straight, continuing to parallel the stony ridgelines.

As the Billy Goat Trail continues south, curious hikers can scramble up the rocks on the right for views of the Potomac River. Here the river appears still and narrow—but this is deceptive, as the Potomac here is split into three channels, only one of which is visible for this vantage point. Across the water is Vaso Island, a good-sized wooden islet that conceals the rest of the waterway.


View of Potomac River and Vaso Island

At around ¼ mile, the trail briefly bears left, away from the river, before returning to the edge of the ridgeline. Bearing away from the river again, the trail drops down at the 1/3-mile mark to cross a muddy ravine. A little past ½ mile, hikers can see the full river as Vaso Island recedes from view. Around a minute later, the trail begins a sharp downhill that ends at the banks of the river, allowing hikers to get their toes wet if they choose.


Banks of the Potomac River


Minor rapids on the Potomac

At around 8/10 mile, hikers can look across the Potomac to the Virginia side and spot Scott’s Run Falls, a 12-foot drop and centerpiece of Scott’s Run Nature Preserve. A protrusion of metagraywacke in this area offers a nice place to sit by the water and enjoy a snack while waving to kayakers as they pass.


Scott’s Run Falls from across the river

Continuing down the Billy Goat Trail, the path cuts abruptly left and reaches a junction at about the 1-mile mark. A spur trail heading left leads to the southernmost parking area at Carderock, while the Billy Goat continues right. Cross the bridge over a tributary creek, then gaze out over a set of Class III rapids on the Potomac: this is Stubblefield Falls.


Stubblefield Falls

At about 1.25 miles, the trail drops to cross a tributary stream, which features a minor waterfall on the left. At about 1.4 miles, the sound of the rapids begins to fade, and the trail passes a quiet cove that, at lower water levels, is cut off from the rest of the river. At 1.5 miles, pay attention as the actual trail abruptly cuts left, even as a social trail continues straight for several dozen yards. Look for blue blazes as the trail bears north, leaving the Potomac behind.


Minor falls along the Billy Goat Trail – Section C

At 1.6 miles, the Billy Goat Trail ends, spilling into the Towpath Trail heading east-west. Bear left and follow this wide, gravel path for a little more than a mile as it parallels the C&O Canal. At 2.2 miles, the canal becomes an aqueduct as it passes over the entry road to Carderock, and frequent spur trails head off into the woods on the left.


Towpath Trail

At 2.6 miles, a prominent path bears left to return to the original parking area; hikers can turn here to head back to their cars. Those determined to complete the entire loop, however, should continue another 1/10 mile to the western terminus of the Billy Goat Section C. Take a left here, followed quickly by another left, which leads back to the parking area.

Allot 1-2 hours for this easy-to-moderate hike.

Extra credit

Check out Billy Goat Section A (3.8 mi. loop) and Section B (2.6 mi. loop), or cross to the other side of the river to explore Scott’s Run Falls.

Posted in Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, Easy Hikes, Maryland | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chesterfield Gorge Trail (Chesterfield Gorge Natural Area, NH)


Chesterfield Gorge, Chesterfield Gorge Natural Area, May 2018

Chesterfield Gorge Natural Area in southwest New Hampshire—not to be confused with another Chesterfield Gorge in Massachusetts—features a short, 0.7-mile walking trail that follows Wilde Brook as it tumbles over a series of cascades. While the park is a mere 13 acres, the Chesterfield Gorge Trail makes for a pleasant quick stop along the road between Keene, New Hampshire and Brattleboro, Vermont.

Chesterfield Gorge trail information


Map of Chesterfield Gorge Natio

Map of Chesterfield Gorge Trail

The hike

Chesterfield Gorge Natural Area is located on the north side of New Hampshire Route 9, a.k.a. Franklin Pierce Highway, between Keene and the Vermont border. The small parking area, situated parallel to the road, is marked by a wooden sign reading “Chesterfield Gorge State Wayside.” From the parking lot, pop into the visitor center for information and a map, then follow the sign for “Gorge Trail.”

The wide path immediately begins a modest descent to the northeast, quickly reaching a junction in less than 100 yards. Bear left as the trail switchbacks to the west and enters a small valley ringed with hemlocks. Wilde Brook comes into view on the right, and the easy trail traverses a small tributary before approaching the start of the loop section of the hike. Bear right first, crossing a wooden bridge over Wilde Brook, then bear left, hugging the north bank.


Wilde Brook

From here, the creek begins to cut into a shallow gorge, forming pleasant and photogenic cascades. Views are partly obscured as the trail remains high above the gorge, but the trail quickly drops at about the 1/3-mile mark to cross a bridge at the base of the canyon.


Wilde Brook below the first bridge

The views are much better as you ascend the south side, reaching a fine but fenced off viewpoint at 4/10 mile. Here the creek squeezes through a narrow channel with jagged walls on both sides.


Waterfall in Chesterfield Gorge

Chesterfield Gorge was formed during the latest Ice Age, as melting ice formed a stream that cut through the existing bedrock and reached the igneous granodiorite, where it carved a channel through the path of least resistance. The rocks today are covered in green lichen, providing color to the gray rock.


Cascades at the top of the gorge

Continuing around the loop, the trail leaves the gorge behind and weaves back to the initial bridge. Stay right, following the uphill path leading back to the parking area. The total distance comes out to around 7/10 mile, a trip that should take between 30-45 minutes.

Posted in Easy Hikes, New Hampshire | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mount Monadnock via White Dot Trail (Monadnock State Park, NH)


Mount Monadnock, Monadnock State Park, May 2018

Derived from an Abenaki word, “monadnock” is used by geologists to describe a mountain that stands alone, rising abruptly from a plain and separate from a broader mountain range. Mount Monadnock (3,165’) in southern New Hampshire aptly fits the description: a rocky and prominent peak that towers over the small city of Keene and features 360-degree views that, on a clear day, extend as far as Boston, Massachusetts. Situated in Monadnock State Park, there are numerous trails that lead to the summit, but the shortest and most popular is the White Dot Trail, a 1.8-mile journey through pine forests and past granite faces, culminating in excellent vistas.

Mount Monadnock hike information

Mount Monadnock White Dot Trail map

Map of Mount Monadnock via White Dot Trail, Monadnock State Park; created using National Geographic Maps/AllTrails, (Check out the PDF version, interactive map, and MapMyHike track)

The hike

Start your hike at the parking area off Poole Road in the southeast section of Monadnock State Park, near the Park Headquarters. Following a well-trodden path through thick woods, the trail cuts across an upper parking area (closed for most visitors) in around 150 yards. A large sign marks the way to the White Dot Trail, which quickly passes a small Visitor Center on the right.


Start of White Dot Trail

From here, hikers leave the buildings and parking lots beind, entering a hardwood forest and traversing a path chock full of rocks and tree roots. The incline at first is gradual, but it begins to pick up in earnest after an initial trail fork at 6/10 mile with the White Cross Trail. (Note: stay right on the White Dot Trail.) Just beyond a second junction (with the Cascade Link at 0.75 miles), the wide path becomes a rock scramble as hikers are required to traverse the cracks of an otherwise smooth granite slope.


Rocky trail


Rocky climb

In the course of the next ¼ mile, hikers must mount a series of ledges—a climb that may require use of hands for balance but is not technical. Just past the 1-mile mark, the route briefly levels off and passes a sign marking the halfway point (although it is technically mile 1.0 of 1.8). Before long, hikers will climb a rocky staircase to the edge of a rock outcrop with outstanding views to the south and east. A smattering of blue ponds is visible in the flat below, and the mountains in the distance are part of the Wapack Range.


Emergence above the trees


View northeast

As the trail continues, the trees are increasingly sparse, allowing for more expansive views. Hikers will have to negotiate several more granite climbs before the path briefly plateaus atop a stony ridgeline at about 1.3 miles. From here, the summit is visible—still a ½ mile away with several hundred feet in elevation gain.


View toward the summit of Mount Monadnock

Weaving in and out of spruce forests, the trail makes its way in the direction of the summit, passing the junction with the White Cross Trail (an alternative route up and down the mountain) at 1.6 miles. Shortly after, the White Dot Trail drops into a pleasant wooded ravine known as Paradise Valley, then resumes the climb, traversing a granite slope with interesting striations cutting across the rock.


Interesting rock along the White Dot Trail

As the trail wraps around to the south side of the mountain, the wind is likely to pick up considerably. The final stretch to the summit is largely free of vegetation, leaving little to protect hikers from the wind and full sun. Following the cairns to the top, the trail ends at the summit, the culmination of 1.8 miles and nearly 1,800 feet in elevation.


Near the summit


Approaching the summit

Panoramic views from Mount Monadnock include a look toward the White Mountains to the north and as far as the skyline of Boston to the southeast. The Green Mountains of Vermont dominate the horizon to the west. In the foreground, the mountain drops down a wooded ridgeline to the south known as Bald Rock, with views of Massachusetts beyond.


Summit views


South to Bald Rock

Mount Monadnock was once the stomping grounds of transcendentalist authors Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, and one can understand why: the serenity and beauty of the mountain inspires deep reflection. Much has changed since the 19th century, however: Mount Monadnock is now thought to be the third-most climbed mountain in the world, behind China’s Tai Shan and Japan’s Mount Fuji, and you will be very lucky to have the summit to yourself.


Views from Mount Monadnock

From the summit, trails descend in all directions. After taking in the views, be sure to return the way you came, following the White Dot Trail back down to Paradise Valley and beyond. Hikers looking for a change can follow the White Cross Trail, which largely parallels the White Dot before merging again, but the White Dot Trail remains the quickest route back to the trailhead.

Allot at least 3-5 hours for this short but strenuous hike.

Posted in New Hampshire, Strenuous Hikes | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Eleanor’s Walk Trail (Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, NY)


Eleanor’s Walk Trail, Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, May 2018

Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the United States and the first US delegate to the United Nations, lived part of her life at Val-Kill, a quiet, wooded estate in Hyde Park, New York, just east of her husband Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s home at Springwood. Val-Kill is today protected as part of Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site and serves as the jumping-off point for a pair of hikes: the Top Cottage Trail and the Eleanor’s Walk Trail. While the former was the subject of a previous post, this post covers Eleanor’s Walk, a short and easy circuit through part of Eleanor Roosevelt’s wooded estate. (Note: There is an accompanying podcast for the trail!)

Eleanors Walk Trail hike information

The hike

Start your journey at Val-Kill in Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, situated in eastern Hyde Park. Visitors are required to park off to the left before approaching Val-Kill Cottage, then cross over a bridge to reach the cottage and Visitor Center. Behind the main buildings, which were constructed in 1924-26, follow the road to the stable/garage. Here a spur road heads off to the right; the end of the dead-end drive serves as the trailhead for Eleanor’s Walk and the Top Cottage Trail.



Follow the wide path for around 100 yards, when you will reach a trail junction. Bear right on Eleanor’s Walk, leaving the Top Cottage Trail for later. The red-blazed Eleanor’s Walk bears southeast, crossing a minor stream named Fall Kill. Eleanor frequently walked these woods with her dogs, giving her time and space to think, drawing up plans as she served as US delegate to the United Nations and a prominent advocate for international human rights.


Power lines

At 1/10 mile, the trail forks again, marking the start of the loop section of Eleanor’s Walk. Heading left first, the path quickly emerges into a sunny clearing, passing under a set of power lines. Returning to the woods, the trail climbs up an old track, cresting a modest hill at 2/10 mile. The landscape around here is a wooded swamp, typified by a boggy pond at 3/10 mile. During Eleanor Roosevelt’s time, she would encounter herons, ducks, beavers, and other marsh-loving fauna during her daily walks.


Pond along the Eleanor’s Walk Trail

At 4/10 mile, hikers will encounter a second pond before dropping through a minor, rock-lined ravine. Passing back under the power lines at 6/10 mile, the trail bears north, the final stretch back to the start of the loop. On the left, a subtle spur trail leads to a beaver dam and large pond, with residential houses beyond. At 9/10 mile, the path returns to the start of the loop; bear left, then bear left again at the merger with the Top Cottage Trail. Within 100 yards, you will return to Val-Kill.


Eleanor’s Walk Trail

Extra credit

After stretching your legs on the Eleanor’s Walk Trail, climb the moderately-difficult path to Top Cottage, or visit the home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt at Springwood, where FDR and Eleanor are buried, or nearby Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site.

Posted in Easy Hikes, Hudson River Valley, New York | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Cottage Trail (Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, NY)


Top Cottage, Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, May 2018

Springwood, the Hudson River Valley home of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, is now preserved by the National Park Service in Hyde Park, New York. However, during his second term as president, Roosevelt also had built a separate cottage, intended as a retreat atop nearby Dutchess Hill, a mostly wooded ridge east of the Hudson. Today, that house—known as Top Cottage—sits within Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, itself dedicated to the life of FDR’s intrepid First Lady and first US delegate to the United Nations. Most visitors to Top Cottage reach the house by shuttle bus (as part of a guided tour from the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site). However, those looking for a walk can reach the cottage by way of the moderately difficult Top Cottage Trail (part of the Hyde Park Trail), which begins at nearby Val-Kill, Eleanor Roosevelt’s former home. (Note: There is an accompanying podcast for the trail!)

Top Cottage Trail hike information

Top Cottage Trail map Eleanor Roosevelt NHS

Map of Top Cottage Trail, Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, created using National Geographic Maps/AllTrails, (Check out the PDF version, interactive map, and MapMyHike track)

The hike

Start your journey at Val-Kill in Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, situated in eastern Hyde Park. Visitors are required to park off to the left before approaching Val-Kill Cottage, then cross over a bridge to reach the cottage and Visitor Center. This land served as a retreat for Eleanor Roosevelt, who constructed the buildings here between 1924-26, early in FDR’s political career and before the family’s launch to national fame.


Approaching Val-Kill

After exploring the grounds, walk around to the back, near the stable/garage, where a spur road bears off to the right. The end of this dead-end drive serves as the trailhead for the Top Cottage Trail and nearby Eleanor’s Walk. Beyond the gate, the wide path bears southeast across a wooded and often swampy flat, leading to a trail fork within 100 yards. As Eleanor’s Walk heads off to the right, bear left on the Top Cottage Trail.


Trail fork

In around 50 yards, the trail cuts through a clearing and passes under power lines. After returning to the woods, the path cuts right and traverses a small wooden bridge. Passing through a grove of pines amid a sea of deciduous trees, hikers cross a second bridge at around 2/10 miles. By now the trail has narrowed significantly from an old road to a genuine single-track footpath, and hikers begin to gain elevation. After a third bridge, the trail dips up and down, clearing a series of ravines and passing several stone walls, remnants from previous development dating to FDR’s time.


Stream crossing on the Top Cottage Trail

At about the half-way mark, the trail crosses what was clearly an old roadbed, and a modern road, running through a residential neighborhood, can be seen down to the left. From here the Top Cottage Trail climbs steadily, bearing northeast. After a downhill section, the path appears to be approaching the residential area ahead; just before it reaches the neighborhood, however, the path abruptly rounds a right-hand bend and begins another sharp climb. The steepest section comes in the final 1/10 mile, before the path finally emerges atop Dutchess Hill.


Top Cottage Trail

Here, atop the wooded ridge, Top Cottage offered what was once a fine view of the Hudson River Valley. Today, tree growth largely blocks such a vista (at least in spring and summer); however, sitting on the porch of the small stone house still offers serenity in a natural environment.


Top Cottage

FDR used the house, which was specially designed to accommodate his wheelchair, to “escape the mob” at Springwood, providing a place for the president to relax. Several important meetings took place at the cottage, however, including visits by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, King George VI, and Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain. (Note: Visiting Top Cottage early in the morning, before visitors arrive on the shuttle bus, is splendid.)


Porch at Top Cottage in the morning

After spending some time at Top Cottage, return the way you came, this time downhill most of the route. The 2-mile out-and-back requires between 1-2 hours of hiking, depending on pace and amount of time spent lounging on the porch at Top Cottage.

Posted in Hudson River Valley, Moderate Hikes, New York | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Vanderbilt Loop (Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site, NY)


Vanderbilt Loop, Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site, May 2018

Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site in Hyde Park, New York preserves the historic estate of Frederick Vanderbilt, grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, the famous 19th century railroad tycoon. Reaping the success of his ancestors, Frederick owned considerable real estate across New York and New England and completed constructed of this mansion in Hyde Park in 1899. Now a monument to the extreme wealth and opulence of the Gilded Age, the site has been under the protection of the National Park Service since 1940.

The Vanderbilt Loop—part hiking trail, part roadside walk—offers the best option to explore the historic estate on foot. The loop traces part of the lengthy Hyde Park Trail, including a short spur to Bard Rock on the banks of the Hudson River, as well as sweeping views from along the Vanderbilt Park Road, some of the best in the area.

Vanderbilt Loop hike information

Vanderbilt Loop Bard Rock trail hike map

Map of Vanderbilt Loop, Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site, created using National Geographic Maps/AllTrails, (Check out the PDF version, interactive map, and MapMyHike track)

The hike

The 2.8-mile Vanderbilt Loop begins and ends at the main parking area at the park’s Visitor Center. After exploring the exhibits in the Visitor Center, bear south on the paved path as it heads toward the Vanderbilt Mansion. Designed by McKim, Mead & White—America’s most prestigious architecture firm at the time—the mansion was developed in the Beaux-Arts style and sits atop a grassy knoll overlooking the Hudson River. In its heyday, the Vanderbilt Mansion hosted lavish parties, mostly organized by Frederick’s socialite wife Louise. As the US entered the Great Depression, however, maintaining such an estate become much more difficult, and the mansion was sold shortly after Frederick’s death in 1938.


Heading toward Vanderbilt Mansion from the Visitor Center


Vanderbilt Mansion

From the south side of the mansion, follow an initially faint gravel path as it continues south, hugging the edge of the woods. This is the Hyde Park Trail. The gingko tree in the field to your left is thought to have been planted as early as 1799—long before Frederick Vanderbilt bought the estate in 1895—and is one of the oldest remaining in North America.


Hyde Park Trail past the Vanderbilt Mansion

At 3/10 mile, hikers will reach the Italian Gardens on the left, an elaborate plot of flowers, hedges, and man-made ponds. The terraced gardens are maintained today by local volunteers.


Italian Gardens

Beyond the gardens, follow the trail signs—marked by a blaze in the shape of a tulip leaf—as the route leaves the gravel path and plunges into the woods. Hikers quickly lose elevation as the path drops precipitously; at about the ½-mile mark, the trail disappears into Lower Gate House Way, a paved but lightly-trafficked road. On the opposite side, one can see the surprisingly powerful cascades of Crum Elbow Creek, which eventually flows into a still pond that is difficult to view.


Descent into the woods

Bear right on the road and follow it for roughly 1/10 mile as it approaches the southern reaches of the estate. Just before reaching a closed gate at the park boundary, bear right on a gravel road that cuts across a neatly-trimmed field and returns to the woods. The wide path follows a minor break in the hillside and wraps around to the north, paralleling the Hudson River and railroad on the left. A break in the metal fence on the left at around ¾ mile leads to a decent viewpoint of the train track and the river beyond.


Viewpoint of railroad track and Hudson River

As the trail continues north, occasional rock escarpments appear on the right, and a side road comes in from the right at 1.1 miles. Passing under towering maple and oak trees, this section is relatively flat and straightforward. A brief clearing at 1.2 miles offers a glimpse of the mansion up on the hill to the east before the trail returns to the forest. The path drops to a local low point at about 1.35 miles, roughly level with the railroad on the left, then gradually ascends again; pine trees are more frequently seen in this area.


Clearing with peek at the Vanderbilt Mansion from below

At 1.75 miles, the trail ends abruptly at the paved Bard Rock Road. Bear left for the short detour to Bard Rock, following the road as it crosses over the railroad tracks and ends at a parking area on the Hudson River.


Bard Rock and Hudson River

Here a small protrusion of black shale and sandstone, a rare exposure of bedrock dating to 450 million years ago, juts into the river. Bard Rock’s relatively smooth striations were formed by the passage of a glacier, which grinded down the stone surface during the last Ice Age. The rock extends both north and south from the parking area, with the most impressive striations situated on a small wooded peninsula to the northwest. To the south lies a set of riverside picnic tables that offer a fine spot to stop for lunch or a snack.


View north from Bard Rock

After visiting Bard Rock, return the way you came, heading back up the road and over the railroad tracks. Passing the trail junction on the right, continue straight on Bard Rock Road as it climbs gently to the east. A broad field of waving grass opens up to the right, one of the most charming parts of the estate. The views get better as an unmarked but well-trodden trail leaves the road on the right, climbing to a perch with a bench overlooking the hillside and Hudson River beyond.


View of the fields

After passing through a forest of thick pines, the trail ends again at another drive, this time the one-way Vanderbilt Park Road. Following the road southward, the vistas are even better—culminating with a marked viewpoint known as the “Millionaire’s View.” Across the lush Hudson River Valley lies Shaupeneak Ridge, with the distant Catskill Mountains on the horizon.


Excellent views of the Hudson River Valley

Continue to follow the road southward until you return to the Visitor Center and parking area. The entire Vanderbilt Loop, with the spur to Bard Rock, comes out to around 2.8 miles. Visitors to the area can also drive—or hike on the Hyde Park Trail—to the nearby Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site or Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site.

Posted in Easy Hikes, Hudson River Valley, New York | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Island in the Sky Trail (Babcock State Park, WV)


Island in the Sky Trail, Babcock State Park, May 2018

Dwarfed in size by nearby New River Gorge National River, Babcock State Park is often overlooked by visitors to southern West Virginia. Yet the park, most famous for its photogenic grist mill, offers several excellent hiking options. While the best lie elsewhere in the park, the short Island in the Sky Trail is easily accessible from the Park Office and Grist Mill and includes some scenic—yet partly obscured—vistas above the Glade Creek valley. The lower section of the trail follows the base of chiseled sandstone walls before climbing up a rocky crevasse to the rim of the “island,” where an overlook shelter awaits.

Island in the Sky Trail Babcock hike information

The hike

To reach the trail, park at the Park Office and walk across the bridge over Glade Creek to the Grist Mill. Directly across the road from the Grist Mill, away from the creek, you will spot a small sign for the Island in the Sky Trail.


Start of the Island in the Sky Trail

Set off up this initially steep footpath, which ascends the western slopes of the valley, putting Glade Creek out of view. The partly asphalted trail eventually gives way to dirt, weaving through a dense thicket of rhododendrons after around 150 yards. A 15-foot cliff emerges on the left, and the path hugs the base of the terraced rock face as it continues northeast.


Island in the Sky Trail at the base of the cliffs

After briefly veering away, the trail rejoins the cliffside about 250 yards into the hike and then descends to clear a minor ravine. In spring and summer, hikers will get a sense of being immersed in a sort of jungle, with the sounds of rushing water in the distance and dense, lush thicket crowding the base of the cliffs. Above the ubiquitous rhododendrons, however, the tall trees are a combination of oaks and maples, a reminder that you remain in the Appalachians, not the Amazon or Congo rainforest.

Gradually veering toward the northwest, the trail rounds the tip of the rock “island” at around 2/10 mile. Now heading south, the trail switchbacks up a slope to the base of the terraced sandstone, where a set of wooden stairs provides upward passage. Beyond the staircase, the trail enters a dark and dank crevice, where a small, three-pronged ladder provides the only route up through a hole in the rock. Once out of the notch and back in daylight, you are officially atop the Island in the Sky.


Dark passage to the top of the Island in the Sky

Take an immediate left (heading straight dead-ends at a dark drop into the crevasse), then continue to a trail fork at about the ¼-mile mark. Bear left and follow a short and level path to the gazebo, which offers obscured views of the Glade Creek valley below.


Gazebo overlook at Island in the Sky

There are better vistas if you leave the gazebo and follow the southern rim, where a couple of social trails lead to the edge of the cliffs. Across the valley, the slopes look much like here—a sea of trees that conceal a line of sandstone cliffs. It’s also fun to look straight down, giving you a bird’s eye view of the trail below the rim over which you passed minutes prior.


View from Island in the Sky

From the gazebo, retrace your steps back to the trail fork, and this time continue straight as the path widens and remains level. At about 4/10 mile, the path emerges suddenly from the woods and onto the paved Park Forest Road 801. This is the end of the trail. Continue left down the road to return to the Grist Mill and Park Office.

Allot 30-45 minutes for this short but moderately strenuous hike.

Extra Credit

Take a walk around nearby Boley Lake or complete the excellent Skyline Trail – Narrow Gauge Trail loop, arguably the best circuit in Babcock State Park.


Spectacular Grist Mill and waterfall view

Posted in Babcock State Park, Uncategorized, West Virginia | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Butcher Branch Falls (New River Gorge National River, WV)


Butcher Branch Falls, New River Gorge National River, May 2018

Southern West Virginia’s New River Gorge National River includes dozens of waterfalls, some easier to reach than others. Among the relatively simple is Butcher Branch Falls, which, despite being less than a half-mile from the Kaymoor Top Trailhead, is rarely crowded. The moderately difficult hike drops 150 feet from the western rim of New River Gorge to the base of the falls, also known in some guidebooks as the Upper Falls of Butcher Branch.

Butcher Branch Falls hike information

Butcher Branch Falls trail map

Map of Butcher Branch Trail, New River Gorge National River; created using National Geographic Maps/AllTrails, (Check out the PDF version, interactive map, and MapMyHike track)

The hike

The 0.9-mile out-and-back hike begins at the Kaymoor Top Trailhead, a 3-mile drive east of Fayetteville, West Virginia in the northern section of New River Gorge National River. From Route 16 heading south from Fayetteville, take a left on Gatewood Road, then another left at Kaymoor Road, following the signs for Kaymoor Top. Follow the drive to its end, passing the start for the nearby Craig Branch Trail and Kaymoor Miners Trail. From the parking area, two separate paths—the Fayetteville Trail and the Butcher Branch Trail—bear off into the woods. Bear right on the Butcher Branch Trail, the quickest way to the falls.


Kaymoor Top Trailhead

Leaving the parking lot behind, the Butcher Branch Trail begins a gradual downhill, then flattens out as it approaches the rim of New River Gorge. Here the terrain drops around 1,000 feet to the canyon floor—although views are limited by a tangle of thick rhododendrons that hug the rim. At around 300 yards, the trail crosses a muddy puddle and man-made pipe, then the trail briefly climbs uphill. A small depression of the left often holds standing water and extensive undergrowth.


Rhododendrons line the Butcher Branch Trail

At 3/10 mile, the Butcher Branch Trail rounds a sharp, right-hand bend and begins a steady descent. One can hear the tumbling waters as hikers enter the Butcher Branch drainage, a sign that the falls are drawing nearer. After a hard left-hand switchback, the trail forks at about the 1/3-mile mark. Leave the main trail behind, staying right on a spur marked “Climbing Access.”


Sheer wall along the spur trail

The spur trail immediately descends a steep set of switchbacks and then hugs the base of a blocky wall of sandstone as it approaches Butcher Branch. It is a short walk from here to the creek. Where the path crosses Butcher Branch, stop and look up to the left: here is Butcher Branch Falls, a multi-tiered tumble surrounded by dense vegetation. One can reach the base of the falls with some minor scrambling, but be careful traversing the wet and slippery rocks and log jams.


Up-close view of Butcher Branch Falls

The spur trail continues westward across Butcher Branch but ends shortly thereafter at the base of a popular climbing area. Return the way you came, walking back uphill to the trailhead. Allot 45 minutes-1 hour for this moderate, out-and-back hike.


Butcher Branch Falls

Posted in Moderate Hikes, New River Gorge National River, West Virginia | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment