For the Caveman, there is no activity more gratifying than being outdoors, in nature; taking in the fresh air, stomping through mud and dry leaves, and absorbing every ounce of beauty that the Earth has granted us. Today, with so many of our days spent in boxes and cubicles and our eyes so continuously glued to luminous screens and flashing images, it is imperative that we venture back out into the woods and immerse ourselves in the splendor of the natural world. Luckily, there is not a single place in America that is too far from a state or national park, or any area with some forestry to play in. For anyone living in or around NYC, New Jersey and New York offer an array of opportunities to get lost in the woods and find your inner caveman.
In Alpine, NJ lays the sprawling magnificence of the Palisades Interstate Park. Resting along the western shore of the Hudson River and stretching from just south of the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, NJ up passed the New York state line at Rockland County, NY, the park offers over 30 miles of majestic hiking trails, complete with beginner and intermediate pathways and breathtaking views. It truly is one the most spectacular and intense hiking trails in Northern New Jersey and its proximity to NYC makes it a wonderfully quick escape out of the city and back into nature.
For best access, head north on U.S. Route 9W (about 2.5 miles north of Closter Dock Rd.) and park at the trailhead located on the east side of the road. After crossing the pedestrian bridge over the Palisades Interstate Parkway, you will be on the Forest View Trail (blue and white markers), which is an approximately 4-mile loop, descending 500ft to the Hudson River shoreline and back up to the Palisade Cliffs.
Almost immediately upon entering the trail, you will come across the first point-of-interest: The Women’s Federation Monument, otherwise known as the Alpine Castle. The structure, though accessible, is very small and covered in graffiti and not very enchanting. If you’re lucky, you’ll come across a group of paranoid stoners which you can laugh at as they try to hide their stash from passersby and police. Also, right next to the castle, is the Alpine Lookout which offers scenic views of the Hudson River and Yonkers, NY.
Once you’ve made your way passed the castle, you will begin the descent down to the base of the Palisade Cliffs. Here you will encounter steep pathways and challenging sets of stairs that require careful footing and watchful movement. While the steps are very solid, you will encounter the occasional loose rock which can sprain an ankle if you aren’t cautious.
At the base of the base of the cliffs, you will find yourself on the Shore Trail (white markers) which will take you north along the Hudson River. This is where the hike becomes slightly more strenuous as the even walkways through dense forests are continuously interrupted by massive piles of boulders that have fallen from the cliffs. The rock-scrambles offer amazing panoramic views of the river and are always set up differently – depending on recent rainfall – so careful navigation is required to make it across safely. The scrambles are interspersed with deep, gaping pits that can swallow an entire leg, so be watchful of your steps so you don’t fall into the Hudson River (you wouldn’t want to sprout a third arm or leg). Though climbing over all of the boulders is arduous and exhausting (especially in the summer), keeping your eyes on the white markers will help get you across safely.
After having endured the steep climb down the cliffs and the treacherous journey over the rock-scrambles, you are greeted by the most highlighted point-of interest at Palisades Interstate Park: a pebbled beachfront and what looks like a city in ruins; all gloriously seated beneath a majestic waterfall, the Peanut Leap Cascade. Visiting after heavy rainfall awards hikers a magnificent view of the cascade’s true power and beauty. The ruins of the Italian Garden, built in the early 1900s, are a picturesque resting point for visitors to enjoy before attacking the next portion of the trail.
Once the scenery of the garden has been fully absorbed, continue along the shore trail (white blazes) which leads away from the river, up a set of exhausting wooden steps, and along a path running parallel to the stream the leads to the water fall. This path eventually brings you to the blue-blazed Long Path that crosses two wooden bridges over the stream and brings you to another set of steep stone steps. The climb is slightly strenuous but the reward is a breathtaking panoramic view of the Hudson River and the Tappan Zee Bridge to the north. The elevation is roughly 500 feet, so use caution when peering over the edge of the cliffs. This is another great place to relax and enjoy the natural beauty of the park and neighboring New York.
The trail continues ahead, bringing you to several more viewpoints and then through a chain-link fence marking the state line, and back into New Jersey. Keeping left, the aqua-blazed trail arrives at a concrete road, Old Route 9W, which leads to the State Line Lookout. Situated at the highest point of the Palisade Cliffs, this site offers more scenic vantage points of the Hudson River and New York along with a small picnic area and refreshments store.
After fueling up and taking in more of the sights, the State Line Lookout road will be the most direct route back to the beginning of the hike. The road does allow access to a few other trails but sticking to it and taking the final turn into the woods (right before the road meets the highway) is your best bet for a relaxed end to what was surely an exhausting day on the trails. A short walk through the woods will bring you back to the pedestrian bridge where the hike began. There, you can revel in your success and enjoy a smooth drive back down the Palisades Interstate Parkway.
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