A Bear Mountain Hiking Guide | Major Welch & Appalachian Loop Trail
Just an hour away from New York City you will find Bear Mountain State Park, a region full of hikes, lakes, greenery, and viewpoints. One of the must do activities in the park is to head on a Bear Mountain hiking adventure. A fan favorite is the loop hike that starts at the Bear Mountain Inn, takes you up the Major Welch trail towards the famous Perkins Memorial Tower at the Bear Mountain Summit, and then down a portion of the Appalachian Trail back to the Inn. This guide will go over all you need to know on how to take part of the hike for yourself.
1) Bear Mountain Hiking Facts
While there are many different hikes to choose from around Bear Mountain State Park, the Major Welch & Appalachian Loop Trail is one of the top ones in the area. Below are some fast facts about the trail to better prepare you for hike:
Trail Name: Bear Mountain Loop Trail (Major Welch & Appalachian)
Starting & Ending Point: Bear Mountain Inn
Mid Point: Perkins Memorial Tower (Bear Mountain Summit)
Distance: 4.2 Miles
Elevation Gain: 1,340 Feet
Duration: 3 Hours
The loop trail combines two different trails that make their way through the park. If going in a counter clockwise direction, you will first head on the Major Welch trail, which will bring you up along Bear Mountain with some beautiful viewpoint spots throughout the way.
On the top of Bear Mountain, you will find the Perkins Memorial Tower, where you will be able to see all the way to New York City on a clear day.
Once done up top, you can continue the path in the opposite direction along the Appalachian Trail, which will take you safely back down to the Bear Mountain Inn.
Later in the guide, I will also point out a “secret” viewpoint spot on the top of the mountain for those that want to get away from the crowds.
2) Bear Mountain Hiking Map
While the trail can be completed in either direction, I would recommend going in the counter clockwise direction. The Major Welch terrain is rockier and more uneven than the Appalachian terrain. It is safer to head up the rockier section of Major Welch and then down the stairs of the Appalachian.
If you are not comfortable with uneven terrain, then my recommendation would be to just stick with the Appalachian Trail up AND down the mountain. This way you will avoid the trickier terrain of the Major Welch Trail.
Below you can see the route I took with some of the highlights that I will talk about more in the guide. If you would like, you can also check out the full hiking map of Bear Mountain State Park.
3) How to Reach the Starting Point by Car
Bear Mountain is located near Tomkins Cove, New York, which is about 50 miles away from NYC. The drive from Manhattan takes 1-1.5 hours but will all depend on traffic. Of course, you can make your way there from any other nearby cities or states as well.
The starting point of the Bear Mountain hike starts right outside the Bear Mountain Inn. Here is also where you will find the main massive parking lot area if driving your own car.
When searching for directions on Google Maps, you can type in “Bear Mountain Inn – 99 Service Rd, Tomkins Cove, NY 10986”, which will take you right up to the parking lot off of Seven Lanes Drive. Be careful if you search for the Bear Mountain Inn, because that may not take you directly to the parking lot area (but instead to the Bear Mountain Overlook Lodge nearby << check out the link to book a room!).
Note: you may need to pay a $10 parking fee depending on what time of year you travel there
4) NYC to Bear Mountain
If you are looking to take public transport to Bear Mountain from NYC, that is also a possibility. There are two main ways to leverage the public transportation system to get you there.
Train → From Grand Central Terminal you will want to catch the Hudson Line to Peekskill (70 minutes). From Peekskill, you will need to grab a taxi/Uber to get you the rest of the way to Bear Mountain (about a 10 minute drive).
Bus → You can also head to the Port Authority Bus Terminal and hop on a Coach USA bus that will take you directly to Bear Mountain (90 minutes). Check out the Coach USA Bear Mountain page for schedules and prices.
5) What to Bring on the Hike
If you are wondering what to bring along when taking part of hikes in general take a look at the comprehensive Hiking Packing List that I put together. It includes everything I bring along on day hikes, and it will have you better prepared when taking part of trails all over the world. The list includes several different essentials such as:
Hiking Shoes | Keen Targhee
Water Bottle | CamelBak Chute
Action Camera | GoPro Hero 8
Rain Jacket | Columbia Watertight II
Backpack Rain Cover | Joy Walker Cover
Portable Charger | Anker Powercore
Hiking Backpack | Osprey Talon 22
6) A Bear Mountain Hiking Experience
Now that you have some of the logistics down, let’s dive into the hike itself. Once you have made it to the parking lot, you will walk towards the Bear Mountain Inn, which should be in clear site. Right beside the Inn you should see a hiking sign pointing you to the Major Welch Trail that begins by wrapping around Hessian Lake.
Be careful here, because you will also see the Appalachian Trail starting point. But like I said before, I would definitely recommend going counter clockwise and starting on the Major Welch Trail, if you are trying to do the whole loop.
A) Major Welch Trail
Once you have made it behind the Bear Mountain Inn, the trail will begin on a nice flat paved section that sits along the side of Hessian Lake. On a calm day, you should see a beautiful reflection of the surrounding trees and nature on the lake itself.
After about 10 minutes of walking along this paved path near the lake, you will come across a sign for the Major Welch Trail. The sign (pictured below), just gives you a warning that this is a rugged and steep trail, so do be prepared for the climb.
You will also see on the sign the “red O symbol”. These will be your trail markers as you climb your way towards the Perkins Memorial Tower.
From here, the trail continues through the forest on an incline as the terrain turns to rock, leaves, and branches. Throughout you will have also some more structured sets of stone stairs that bring you up the mountain in a safer manner.
Through the trees from time to time you will also be able to see the Hudson River out in the distance, so be on the lookout!
Around 45 minutes or so into the trail, you will come across one of the more difficult sections of the hike. In front of you will be a giant slab of rock that you must ascend. It will not last for long though, and the reward will be worth the effort. At the end of this steep rock section, you will have some of the best views of the trail.
You will be able to get a great landscape view of the Hudson River winding its way between Westchester and Rockland County as well as the Bear Mountain Bridge down below. In all directions will just be never ending trees and greenery.
The trail then continues onward through the rocky forest, where you will soon come across the main road (yes you can drive to the top of Bear Mountain!). Right across the road you will see the trail continue on a rock staircase. Simply cross the road and make it to the staircase, where you can head up the stairs and onto the final portion of trail.
You will have yet another steep rocky slab section, which will be your last main hurdle before the trail flattens out closer to the summit. Just watch your step here and slowly make your way up. Soon after you will come across this circular dirt pathway. It doesn’t matter if you go left or right here since the trail meets up in the middle.
Note: if you do go to the right, you will be able to take a quick detour to another viewpoint spot off the main path pictured below
After the roundabout section, you should soon see the Perkins Memorial Tower come into view. Just follow the paved path to the tower, where you can take a well-deserved break after your ascent up Bear Mountain.
B) Perkins Memorial Tower
While you can enjoy some nice views of the surrounding landscape from the bottom of the tower, the views from up top will be even better.
The Perkins Memorial Tower was built in 1934 in memory of George Perkins, the founder and president of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission. Within the tower you will find a photo exhibit that shows the history of Bear Mountain State Park.
At the top of the tower you will get those beautiful views of the park in every which direction, and on a clear day you will even be able to see the NYC skyline way out in the distance.
C) Secret Viewpoint Spot
If you head to Bear Mountain on a summer weekend for example, odds are you will be hiking alongside several other people. Coupled with the fact that the Perkins Memorial Tower is accessible to drivers, you can imagine that the area around the tower will have its fair share of visitors.
Just a 10 minute walk though from the tower, is one of the best spots on the mountain that is sure to offer you some peace and quiet. If you exit the tower and head towards the right, you will see the “blue trail” that begins right next to the parking lot.
If you follow these blue markings, which will be found both on the trees and on the ground, you will end up near a rock formation at the edge of the mountain. Continue following the blue markings on the ground until you reach the final viewpoint area.
As you can see in the images below, the views here are expansive, and you will be able to see the surrounding forest for miles and miles. Here is a great spot to have some lunch, relax, sit back and just enjoy the view.
Once you are all done at the viewpoint spot, be sure to follow those blue markers back the same way you came until you reach the Perkins Memorial Tower area.
D) The Appalachian Trail
On the other side of the Perkins Memorial Tower, you will see the Appalachian Trail sign pointing you in the direction of the Inn. The Appalachian Trail is one of the most famous in the US at 2,190 miles long. Here you will have the chance to hike just a tiny portion of the trail to get a glimpse of what it is like.
Once you make it down past the initial rocky section, the rest of the way down towards the Inn is on a much more maintained trail. Instead of uneven, rocky terrain, you will have a smoothed-out trail with actual steps heading down the side of the mountain.
Although it may be easier terrain to navigate, do be prepared for a ton of stairs down through the forest. They aren’t steep or difficult to maneuver, there are just a lot of them.
It is a super easy trail to follow down and if there is ever a doubt which way to go, there will be a sign pointing you towards the Inn. Also, on the way down, be sure to stop at some of the viewpoint areas, where you may find a bench or seating area to enjoy more views of the surrounding landscape including Iona Island down below.
Soon enough the trail through the forest will end and you will arrive right back near the Bear Mountain Inn. You can decide to spend some time relaxing by the area and the nearby Hessian Lake, before heading back home.
That about does it for a guide to some Bear Mountain hiking. If you have any questions or comments about the trail, be sure to add them in below. Also be sure to check out the nearby Breakneck Ridge Hike for another Hudson Valley experience. Have fun out there and safe travels!