When the autumn season is upon us, nothing says 'fresh air' and 'fall foliage' better than a hike through the woods. New York State is known for these prime destinations that feature prominent color changes each year, but none other is as beloved as Bear Mountain. This iconic mountain is surrounded by woodland and is one of the most well-known in the Hudson Highlands. Hikers won't need to summit Bear Mountain in order to take in its spectacular views because Bear Mountain National Park is alight with color during the fall.
Another reason to visit this spectacular park - if anyone wasn't convinced already - is that it was a favorite of Walt Whitman, as well. The masterful poet wove lines of prose that were inspired by none other than the scenery around him, and this park was high on that list. A state of Whitman can be found on the Appalachian Trail, and those who are keen on finding it will be rewarded with a dreamy landscape.
Why Bear Mountain In The Fall?
One doesn't even need to hit the trail in order to appreciate the beauty of Bear Mountain National Park in the fall. The sight of the leaves changing color is just as evident from the roads that go around the mountain, and the Palisades Parkway, which goes right through Bear Mountain, is hailed as one of the most scenic fall drives in the country.
Another option is to take the walk across Bear Mountain Bridge, which gives way to gorgeous cliffs with the trees outlining them in hues of red, brown, yellow, and orange. Those who plan to walk the bridge rather than drive will be happy to know they won't be alone on their stroll; the fall season sees more pedestrian traffic than vehicle traffic. It's the perfect place to take in the surrounding scenery and appreciate what makes Bear Mountain one of the most beautiful places in the Hudson Valley. On a clear day, visitors will have expansive views of the Hudson Highlands one way, with views of Cortland and Peekskill spanning down the other.
Finding Walt Whitman
The statue of Walt Whitman was dedicated in 1940 and still remains in the park to this day. It was created by Jo Davidson, and depicts the famed poet strolling through the park, wearing a collared coat with his hat in hand, and a look on his face as though he's observing something in the far-off distance. Near the statue itself sits a plaque that reads:
"Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose."
The lines are from the poem 'Song of the Open Road' out of Whitman's first published work, Leaves of Grass. The words are perfectly suited for the bronze statue, which looks as though it has always belonged there in the woods, and, standing there with an array of changing leaves surrounding it, is somewhat of a magical experience.
- Finding 'Walt Whitman at Bear Mountain': Take Perkins Memorial Drive roughly two miles north of Seven Lakes Drive, staying to the left. The statue is located on the path leading from the Bear Mountain Inn to Fort Clinton.
What To Know When Visiting Bear Mountain
Bear Mountain National Park is home to many activities, with hiking as the main pastime. The park itself also features a playfield, lakes and rivers for fishing, shaded picnic areas, a pool for swimming, the Trailside Museum and Zoo, biking, and trails for cross-country skiing. Additionally, visitors will find an outdoor ice skating rink between the months of October and the middle of March, weather permitting. Families visiting the park can also visit the Bear Mountain State Park Merry-Go-Round, which features 42 hand-carved seats depicting various wildlife.
The best vantage point in the park and the surrounding area are from the summit of Bear Mountain, which offers sweeping views of the Hudson Highlands below. Hikers might also choose to hike to the Perkins Memorial Tower, which is also located at the top of Bear Mountain, which includes views of Harriman State Park as well as the Hudson Highlands. Both the tower and Perkins Memorial Drive are open from April through until late November, but visitors should always be aware of the weather before starting any hike.
- Park Entrance Fee: Varies by season, contact parks department for the exact price
- Vehicle Use Fee: $10/vehicle
- Pool Admission: $5/person (cash only)
- Merry-Go-Round: Contact guest services for fees & operating hours
- Trailside Museum and Zoo: Free to enter, with a suggested donation of $1
- Skating Rink: $5/person, children age four and under are free; $5 for skate rental, $5 for skate sharpening