A few weekends ago, my roommate, Caitlynn and her boyfriend, Javi, dragged me out of bed way too early. Not the most delightful of people in the wee hours of the morning–this being before 9AM on a Saturday, after all—I grumbled, and slowly pulled myself together. “Who’s ready for a hike??” she said, as I wiped the sleep from my eyes. While my bed seemed much more enticing than a jaunt in the fresh outdoors at the moment, I slung on my clothes and Caitlynn, Javi, our other roommate Holly, and I hit the road. Our destination: Hudson Highlands State Park.
The Hudson Highlands are an expansive area and almost completely undeveloped, on the east side of the Hudson River, just north of the city. Easily accessible via the Cold Springs Metro North station, the park offers a perfect day trip that gets you out of the city and into the great outdoors fast. Better still, we had secured a friend’s car for the excursion, allowing us to forego the trek from Bushwick to Grand Central to catch the train. While having a car makes getting to the trailhead easier, without walking for half an hour beside a two-lane highway, the only downside to driving is getting stuck in traffic as everyone and their mother tries to get out of the city on a Saturday morning.
Traffic aside, we happily rolled along up through Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Yonkers, with only a few wrong turns along the way. Humming along to folksy country, we passed around a thermos of rich dark coffee, and I had never been happier to be out of bed on a Saturday morning. The scenery slowly shifted from city to wood and before we knew it, we were driving right along the Hudson. As we got nearer to the town of Cold Springs, Javi started scanning for a local farmer’s market that his friend told him to check out on the way. Right on the side of the NY Route 9D we found the Boscobel House and Gardens, home to a small but AMAZING weekend farmer’s market. We stocked up on cherries, bread, the most gorgeous heirloom tomatoes, and herbed goat cheese, planning on having a picnic at the summit. Truth be told, most of it was gone before we even got on the trail. We got back on the road, drove straight through the town, and stumbled upon the trailhead for Washburn Trail.
(Note: There are few different well-marked trailheads in very close proximity to each other across a few different shoulders of the road. If you go, make sure to research the various trails keeping in mind their difficulty levels and length. There is nothing worse than getting stuck on an intense vertical climb when all you wanted was a short nature walk. Know yourself and know your limits!)
The Washburn Trail was a perfect compromise for us – a nice loop with gorgeous vistas, but with a rigorous early climb. The hike took us first into a beautiful meadow, completely picturesque but with one problem: there didn’t seem to be a way out. Bends in the trail are marked by small color-coded “badges” nailed to trees, offering reassurance that you are on the right trail. The four of us literally went in circles relentlessly trying to find the trail marker to get over the steep, rocky cliff that would have been impossible to climb. We were just about to give up, call a do-over and head back to the trailhead, when Holly spotted it just a few yards from the trailhead itself, a hair-pin turn to the right. If you follow this trail, make sure to always look out for these trail markers to keep you on track. For the rest of the hike we turned this into a game, always on the lookout for badges marking the tricky twists and turns.
Once we passed the first test of getting out of the meadow, the hike continues in a brutal vertical climb. Beautiful scenery and shady-sun made it bearable and more than worth the effort but we still prayed at every turn that we had reached the summit. This initial climb might have been grueling, but the view at the summit made us forget the rough beginning completely. From high above you see the stretch of the Hudson River, the town of Cold Springs down below and the miles of beautiful green beyond. We sat for a while with our feet dangling off the edge of the craggy rocks, eating what was left of our picnic, watching the ant-size cars and trains pass by far below.
The Washburn Trail makes a great loop so you don’t have to retrace your steps to the beginning. The second half of the hike is mostly downhill and flat, but longer than the initial climb. The leisurely stroll back took us into a woodsy section, where giant mosquitos attacked us relentlessly (bring bug spray!) and we even had a close encounter with a six-foot snake crossing the path in front of us. Regardless of the sometimes pesky “friends” that accompanied us on the trail, the dappled shade and the gentle rustling of the leaves made us forget that we were anywhere near civilization. This trail is not a highway; you’ll see the occasional hiker here and there, but only towards the very end of the hike, down by a river near the trailhead, did we see more than a few people at any one time.
We stumbled back to the car, covered in mud and mosquito bites, exhausted! All in all, our hike was about 4 or 5 hours – a perfect way to spend a beautiful Saturday!
What: Washburn Trail, Hudson Highlands Park
Where: Near Cold Springs, NY – Map it!
What to Bring: Plenty of water, bug spray, good shoes (that you want to get muddy!), snacks or lunch, a trail map, your dog, and some good friends.
How Long: 4.8 mile loop from trailhead
Tips: Get out early, check out the farmer’s market, and look out for the snakes!