Top Ten Hiking Trails in the Northeast

Hello everyone. I have compiled a list of my top ten favorite hikes in the Northeast, which are concentrated mainly in New York and New Jersey. Most of the hikes are suitable for novice and expert alike. As to level of difficulty, they range from easy, such as the Ocean Trail in Acadia National Park, to strenuous. The Devil’s Path is the most challenging on the list, and is recommended only as a backpacking trip due to its length (25 miles) and lack of connecting trails. Please preview the list and pick one to hike and experience yourself. Happy Trails!

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Traversing the northern Catskill Mountains from east to west, the Devil’s Path is often cited as the toughest trail in the East. It extends for 25 miles and features the summits of six of the thirty-five Catskill High Peaks. The trail exemplifies the common adage of taking it one step at a time. A good portion of the hike entails strenuous uphill climbing, and once reaching the top, plunging straight down into the valley before doing it all over again. Remarkably, backpackers will climb and descend a total of more than 14,000 feet! While starting at the eastern terminus is more popular, the western side is not nearly as formidable and thereby allows the body and mind to get better acclimated.

Giant Ledge

While not as intense as the Devil’s Path, the trail to Giant Ledge is still noteworthy in its own right. The yellow-marked Phoenicia-East Branch Trail to the blue-marked Giant Ledge-Panther-Fox Hollow Trail begins at the Woodland Valley Campground, just outside Phoenicia, NY. The hike to the Ledge and back is approximately 8 miles. About a mile in you’ll find a series of stone steps that descend dramatically before leveling off. Soon, the trail quickly shoots straight up before a scramble on boulders leads directly to the Ledge. There are several outcroppings for sightseeing, which are simply breathtaking. Immediately to the right are Wittenberg, Cornell and Slide Mountain, the highest peak in the Catskills. In the distance is the rollercoaster-like outline of the Devil’s Path. Make sure to spend some quality time at the Ledge and restore some of your energy prior to hiking back and encountering those stone steps once again!

Breakneck Ridge Trail

Located slightly north of historic Cold Spring, once a thriving industrial and railroad hub (passenger trains still whistle by), is Breakneck Ridge, considered the most popular hike in the New York metropolitan area. Part of the Hudson Highlands State Park, the landscape is dominated by sheer cliffs, which rise up from the mighty Hudson River. Hiking, climbing, and scrambling all intertwine as everyone slowly aims for the ridge. Once there, magnificent views of the Hudson River Valley emerge. Directly in front is bowl-shaped Storm King Mountain, with its own trail network. Looking north, you can see the Shawangunk Ridge and the Catskill Mountains looming in the distance. Connector trails easily allow for a loop hike or an extended day hike. And, what better way to end the day than with a bite to eat and enjoying river views in beautiful Cold Spring.

Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail

Roughly one hour north of New York City is a park with a treasure trove of footpaths and trails that are a huge magnet for hikers and backpackers alike – Harriman State Park. One of the premier trails in Harriman is the Ramapo-Dunderberg, which runs practically the entire length of the park, from east to west. It runs parallel, and in some places merges with, the famous Appalachian Trail. Ridge hiking and panoramic views best describes the R-D, and the terrain in many spots is rugged and untamed with massive boulders and scars visible from the last ice age. Anywhere along the ridge is superb for taking a break and enjoying a snack. Though the R-D is approximately 16 miles, don’t worry. There are plenty of other trails in the network that allow for loop hikes and spectacular scenery as well.

Bearfort Mountain on the Bearfort Ridge Trail

Nestled just off Warwick Turnpike in West Milford, New Jersey, is the Bearfort Ridge Trail, replete with conglomerate rock, pitch pines, and rhododendron plants. Like many hikes in the region, the white-marked Bearfort Ridge includes steep climbing and plenty of rock scrambling, but is well worth the effort. In some places, the rock formations are simply amazing and the smell of the pitch pines is soothing. Once on the ridge, a sense of easiness prevails as you glide along the terrain. Just before the BR connects with a yellow-marked trail, called the Ernest Walter (EW), experience one of the best viewing points on the entire ridge. Immediately below is picturesque Greenwood Lake and in full view, the Jersey Highlands. On a clear day, the Manhattan skyline is also visible. If you’re feeling ambitious, then venture down the EW for a short trek to Surprise Lake, an absolute gem and a perfect spot for rest and relaxation. From there, you can backtrack on the BR or head onto the orange-marked Quail trail, though not nearly as scenic.

Mt. Tammany

Looking to head west, western New Jersey that is? Then look no further than Mount Tammany, part of Worthington State Forest and located within the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. While there are not many connecting trails as you might find in places like Harriman State Park, this region is still a must visit. A suggested hike could be straight to the top of Tammany and back down, or a much longer hike on the Appalachian Trail to Sunfish Pond, a beautiful glacial lake, and then head for Tammany. Either way, the landscape is heavily forested and charming. Once you’ve reached the apex of Mt. Tammany, following, you guessed it, an arduous and steep climb, the whole range of the Kittatinny Ridge opens up. Below, the Delaware River meanders and slices its way through the valley, while Mt. Minsi on the Pennsylvania side shows off its ancient rock formation.

Avalanche Pass/Avalanche Lake

While tackling the 46 peaks is more popular, tucked away within the glorious Adirondack High Peaks region is a special place called Avalanche Pass. Access the trail by beginning at the Adirondack Loj, which offers campsites, bunkbeds and a shop for some supplies. Head onto the relatively easy, blue-marked path and hike for two miles, until you reach Marcy Dam. The area is enveloped by the surrounding peaks, so be sure to have the camera ready to go. From here, follow the blue until it meets the yellow-marked Avalanche Pass trail. Soon Avalanche Lake emerges, and the sense that a new wilderness frontier has been discovered prevails. Towering cliffs loom over the lake, and though the terrain appears unforgiving it nevertheless pulls you in. Be careful, as some scrambling and rock-hopping is involved, but always keep an eye open to soak up the area’s beauty and wonder. While you may want to push on to Lake Colden, make sure to have sufficient water and enough daylight to head back.

Sam’s Point/Verkeerder Kill Falls

Situated neatly between the Catskill Mountains and Hudson Highlands State Park is the Shawangunk range. A favorite destination for both expert and novice rock climbers, the “Gunks”, as they are often referred to, also offer excellent hiking trails. The hike begins at the Conservation Center and is part of the aqua-blazed Long Path, which starts at the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, New Jersey and extends for 364 miles, ending near Albany, New York. Less than a mile in, Sam’s Point not only affords wide-ranging views of the region but the ridge and the rocks that form it are just as spectacular to observe. Before heading to the Falls, make a quick detour to the Ice Caves, a series of tunnels and overhangs that are fun and exciting to walk through. Forging ahead, the hike provides ample opportunities for sightseeing. In the distance is Breakneck Ridge and Storm King Mountain, where the Hudson River visibly makes a sharp turn. But the best part is at Verkeerder Kill Falls. Make sure to plan a trip after the winter melt-off when the falls are at their peak.

Schunemunk Mountain

Representing the western section of the Hudson Highlands is Schunemunk Mountain and its extensive trail network. Both the Long Path and the teal-blazed Highlands Trail cut through and merge with local trails, thus affording ample loop hikes on the ridge and in the valley. There are several access points, but one favorite is the Trestle trail. Named after the impressive structure that carries both passenger and freight trains, and whose tracks hug the base of the mountain, the path climbs steadily but intensely to the ridge and joins with the Long Path. All along the ridge, of course, are expansive views but the rugged landscape is also captivating. Dense, conglomerate rock, along with pitch pines, forms the essence of the mountain. While there are numerous highlights, the one that stands alone is an area described as the Megaliths. They are essentially massive blocks of conglomerate rock formed millions of years ago. Hikers today can imagine what the region may have looked like in the distant past.

Ocean Trail

Indeed, there are trails throughout Maine that may be considered more popular, but the Ocean Trail in Acadia National Park is quite special. More of a walking path than a hiking trail, it begins at Sand Beach, the only non-rocky beach in that part of Maine. It runs directly alongside the Atlantic Ocean and offers endless views of the unique rugged coastline. The smell of the sea keeps one moving ahead until reaching a favorite place called Thunder Hole. A big tourist attraction, sightseers enjoy watching the waves crashing headlong into a crevice that imitates the sound of thunder, hence its name. From there, the trail continues on and the smell of pine trees now intermingles with the sea. The final destination is Otter Cliffs, an excellent spot to take in the natural beauty. Keep a careful eye, as seals and bald eagles may be spotted.

Hope you enjoyed reading about my ten favorite hikes. Do you have a favorite trail of your own, apart from those listed above? If so, please let us know and post your comments. We would love to read about your own outdoor experience.

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  • FYI, pics for Sams Point and Breakneck are reversed

    • Thanks Matthew. We have fixed our mistake.

  • kbdakota

    I have to agree with you on Giant Ledge. It was my first primitive camping/backpacking trip. Went with my son & overpacked since both of us were nuebs. Had a great time despite the rain storm and heavy wind at night. Went back to the Slide Mtn part of the trail with my wife & younger son about a month later. Looking forward to completing the loop with a buddy in a couple of weeks.
    Happy Hiking