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Best Hikes for the Kids | Harriman Trails


Hiking With Kids in Harriman: Sometimes, It’s About the Destination

Some say that with kids, the hike is about the journey, but Harriman State Park has plenty of fascinating destinations to build a hike around, and keep the kids moving down the trail.

As a kid, and later as an adult, I’ve always found that there are interesting trails, and boring trails.  Boring trails are wide and monotonous.  Whatever secrets they have, are given up immediately.

But interesting trails lead somewhere.  They bend and turn and hold their secrets, and so you have to go around the next bend to find out what’s there.  (Did you know dogs have the same expectations of trails?  They want to be intrigued, as well.)

With so many great features in the woods of Harriman, you can really set your sights on a destination — a cave, a lake or pond, a shelter, a long stream — and your kids, like little explorers, will be eager to go.*

These hikes are my suggestions for hiking with kids at Harriman.  One caveat, though:  Harriman can be hard on the little ones.  Distances are large; hills go up!  Many of the best hikes in Harriman start with a vigorous uphill hike, before you reach the interesting ridges.  Some of the best hikes are interior hikes – they take some hiking in to get to, or are otherwise hard to access because of lack of roadside parking nearby.

Of course you need to determine for yourself what your kid can handle, and how far he or she can go.  A few tips:

  • Stay away from the “ankle-breaker” hikes: the ones that use old mining roads, full of stones and tailings.
  • Avoid wide-open woods roads, made for efficient travel and not sight-seeing.  Trails that reveal all at once can be boring for kids (and people.  Dogs, even!)
  • Have a destination in mind: a cave, a shelter, a pond, a graveyard, ruins, the Trailside Zoo, a spectacular viewpoint.
  • Bigger kids like the challenge of rock scrambles.  Take them up on the ridge trails.
  • Bring a picnic — and by this I mean, special picnic food.  Really make it special, and variety is the key.   Avoid packing huge sandwiches that will make them “crash”, or be tired, after lunch.  Offer snacks along the way.  Pre-packaged, freeze-dried camper food can be fascinating for kids.
  • Plan your picnic spot at a shelter.  There’s something special about those places that kids just love.  Bring marshmallows and matches for a real treat, a chance to rest up and settle down before heading back to the car.
  • Kids love gear, just like the rest of us.  You can inexpensively pick up little mosquito nets for their heads (are you kidding!  I LOVE my daggy mosquito netting!!), small canteens that they can carry themselves, headlamps, or even a package of freeze-dried ice cream (seriously).
  • And don’t forget, if they’re really little, to bring the band-aids!  Even for little scratches.
  • Be aware that really little kids might struggle at Harriman, where the distance between trail intersections can be large.  If your kid is at the “Nature Trail” stage, take him to a nature trail!  Bear Mountain is a great place to introduce a child to hiking, with a walk through the Trailside Zoo, a walk around the lake with a stroller just in case, the Merry-Go-Round at the end of the walk, or a drive to the top, and a “hike” around the paved wheelchair-accessible path, with fabulous views across the Highlands.
  • Bring a cell phone and a map, both paper and GPS (see our post on downloadable Avenza app-maps).

These are my trail recommendations:

Very small children:

The top of Bear Mountain, in Bear Mountain State Park, New York.  A storm gathers in the warm summer evening.

The top of Bear Mountain. There are also wheelchair-accessible trails at the top that are great for strollers or little legs. Kids will enjoy climbing to the top of Perkins Memorial Tower for expansive views of the Hudson River (or just hearing their voices echo in the tower as they climb!)

Bear Mountain can keep the little kids busy all day.  There is so much for them to do there, and a nice introduction to hiking can be made by walking around the lake or through the Trailside Zoo.  Kids might enjoy scrambling up the newly-refined steps of the Appalachian Trail that leave from behind the Inn.

From Bear Mountain, you can also drive to the top via Perkins Memorial Drive, and explore the summit: climb the tower, take the wheelchair-accessible nature trail, or have a picnic at the top.

Entry by car to Bear Mountain State Park is $8.00 per car, unless you have the Empire Passport.

Young hikers:

Twin Forts Trail:

Park at Fort Montgomery State Historic Site and follow the blue vertical stripe on white blaze from behind  Fort Montgomery to Fort Clinton, via a lovely pedestrian bridge.  You’ll hike right under Bear Mountain Bridge, with the thundering echo of traffic above.  This trail is only .4 mile one-way, and ends at a grassy overlook of the river.  You can continue on to the Trailside Zoo, if you like.  To get to the parking area at Fort Montgomery, take Route 9W north from the Bear Mountain Traffic Circle.  It’s about a half-mile on the right.

Twin Forts Trail.  Follow the garish purple dotted line from Fort Montgomery, across the Popolopen Gorge, under the Bear Mountain Bridge, and further still, to the Trailside Zoo.

Twin Forts Trail, Bear Mountain, New York. Follow the garish purple dotted line from Fort Montgomery, across the Popolopen Gorge, under the Bear Mountain Bridge, and further still, to the Trailside Zoo.

Tom Jones Shelter:  

One of the easiest lean-to shelters to get to — despite an initial uphill climb from the parking area on 106 — is the Tom Jones Shelter, one of my personal favorites.  It’s a little over a mile round-trip, but take it slow.  Picnic at the top, and then return the same way.  If you’re up for it, bring matches, make a fire in the fireplace up there, and break out the ‘shmallows.  Don’t build a campfire unless you know how to properly extinguish it; teach your kids proper campfire extinguishing technique.

Park on Route 106 at the pullout (GPS: 41:22806 N, 74.14879 W — you’ll probably see other cars there), and find the trailhead across the road.

Just follow the blue-blazed Victory trail from the other side of the road, and turn right onto the red-blazed Ramapo-Dunderberg trail just before it ascends the hill.

Map to Tom Jones Shelter in Harriman State Park, New York.

Follow the garish pink trail on this map for Tom Jones shelter, parking along Route 106.

Easy walk along Silvermine Lake: 


Fishing in the evening light, Harriman State Park, New York.  Both Silvermine Lake and Hessian Lake in Bear Mountain are easily accessed for kids to fish.

Fishing in the evening light, Harriman State Park, New York. Both Silvermine Lake and Hessian Lake in Bear Mountain are easily accessed for kids to fish.

Park at Silvermine and take the unblazed but clearly visible woods road along the north side of the lake (the side closest to Seven Lakes Drive), exploring the shoreline all the way to the dam on the other end.  Another good (but rockier — at least at first) path is the yellow-blazed Menomine Trail on the opposite side of the lake.  If you’re out in late afternoon in summer, there is a very good chance you and the kids will see a family of beaver swimming around.  My dogs are always on the look-out for them, and those beaver never disappoint.  Bring bug repellant, just in case.

Energetic Hikers:

Menomine Trail to Stockbridge Shelter and the Cave Shelter:

Tell me that kids don’t love caves and shelters.  They just do.  So if your kids have the legs to go a little over three miles round-trip, this is a great hike that includes beautiful Stockbridge Shelter (perched on a rocky ledge) and the Cave Shelter (they’ll love it.  Bring matches and marshmallows.)  Park at Silvermine Parking area, as deep into the parking lot as you can go (that is, turn right when you get into the lot and follow the pavement to the end), then take the yellow-blazed Menomine Trail parallel to the road and a small cemetery, then across the road, then past Lake Nawahunta , then uphill to the intersection with the aqua-blazed Long Path, and then turn right.  You’ll arrive at the Stockbridge Shelter soon thereafter, and then you’ll continue to the Cave Shelter.  Retrace your steps back to the car (or if you’re a skilled navigator with the map, follow a very faintly-visible unmarked trail back to the Menomine Trail.  But: don’t do this without a map or GPS map — the trail is barely there.)

Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail, western section:

Older kids who love climbing will love the beauty of this trail as it travels over the whaleback ridges of the Harriman hills.  Great views, interesting terrain, plenty of shelters to make your destination.  Try the western section of this trail: Park at the pullout on 106, just west of Little Long Pond and east of the small beaver pond, and hike north on the red-blazed Ramapo-Dunderberg trail.  Ignore the white-blazed Nurian Trail that leaves to the You’ll follow it to the ridge line, and then over the bald rocks and viewpoints to where it intersects with the yellow-blazed Dunning Trail.  Turn right on the Dunning Trail and after a minute or two of hiking you’ll see a path leading to a grassy hilltop on the right.  That’s the beautiful Bald Rocks shelter, a special place to sit and have lunch.  Bring a frisbee or a game and settle in, continue along the Dunning Trail to Bowling Rocks, or retrace your steps back to the car.  (A note about retracing steps: if you think you’re just going to see the same thing twice, it’s not really true.  You’ll see an almost completely different view, as you’re facing the other direction.  :0)

To Claudius Smith Den: 

Claudius Smith Den, Harriman State Park.  It's big enough for several people to sleep inside, and there's a huge firepit outside.

Claudius Smith Den, Harriman State Park. It’s big enough for several people to sleep inside, and there’s a huge firepit outside.

Lore has it that Claudius Smith and his marauding clan of thieves buried their treasure, during the Revolutionary War, near his hide-out.  Take the kids to this wonderful cave, climb to its top, enjoy the view, and then hike back out.   I suggest dropping the kids with an adult near the trailhead on Grove Drive, because they won’t enjoy walking through the suburban streets from the hiker’s lot on East Village Road to the start of the trail.

This is a charming little “lollipop” trail that will give you views, caves, mines, and a good story to tell about old Claudius Smith.

Once you’ve dropped off the kids, park the car at the paved parking area on East Village Road and walk back to the trailhead on Grove Drive, where the trail begins.

You’ll be following the red-dot-on-white blazed Ramapo-Dunderberg trail, ignoring the yellow-blazed Triangle trail when it crosses .5 mile from the start.  Keep going uphill, to a panoramic view of Tuxedo Village and a nice place to rest.

Following the red-dot-on-white blazes, you’ll then descend into a dip between Black Ash and Parker Cabin Mountains and a junction with the red-dash-on-white-blazed Tuxedo-Mount Ivy Trail (notice the distinction, as both the R-D trail and the T-MI trail are red-on-white).  Turn right onto the red-dash-on-white-blazed Tuxedo-Mt. Ivy Trail.  You’ll follow a woods road, cross a swamp, and finally reach Claudius Smith’s Rock.

Follow the map below to complete the lollipop route back to Grove Drive:

A map of the Claudius Smith Den loop, in Harriman State Park, New York.

Follow the garish pink dotted line around the red-on-white-blazed Ramapo Dunderberg Trail, then continue on this “lollipop” loop trail to find Claudius Smith’s Den and the Black Ash Mine.


I’ll add more trails, but if you have a suggestion, feel free to chime in!  (  Thanks!


*or, at least, I hope they’ll be eager.  When I was a kid, my six brothers and sister and I loved exploring.  It was always the first thing we’d want to do when we got to a camp or wilderness.  And then we’d get yelled at for not helping to unpack the car.



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