Well two, actually.
We were so blown away by the wild beauty, history and the fabulous AirBnB we’d booked that we just had to stay awhile.
The storm clouds rolled in and out, the rain came pounding down and the sun shone, occasionally.
It was real four-seasons-in-one-day weather.
And we loved it.
At this point serious hikers will turn away, because we weren’t walking the Appalachian Trail or yomping across hard terrain with backpacks.
This was definitely a luxury stopover on a road trip in a comfortable, air conditioned rental car.
Our room had a spectacular view, looking out over the valley as the Bear Mountain Suspension Bridge peeped in and out of the lowering mist.
Heck we’d even brought a bottle of wine from Queen Bee vineyard and a rather large Boston Cream Pie to celebrate Pork Belly’s birthday half-way up a mountain.
But isn’t that the point of a national park?
That it’s open and accessible to all, regardless of their physical condition, experience and inclination?
And this was just a short stay. A taster for our next trip Stateside – whenever that may be.
So here are the questions we’ve been asking as we plan our return.
Are there bears on Bear Mountain?
Bear Mountain was named because the outline resembles a bear lying down.
But yes, there are bears.
Black bears to be precise.
Their numbers are growing and, although they’re forest animals, they are now being seen close to human habitation.
We didn’t spot any from our vantage point in the Hudson Highlands, but then we weren’t camping in the wild.
And unless they fancied a slice of Boston Cream Pie, we didn’t expect a visit.
However, bears are always on the search for food and that brings them into close contact with humans so it’s vital to be ‘bear aware’.
What about other wildlife?
The park is a critical habitat for birds, with both Iona Marsh and Doodletown designated Important Bird Areas. There are bald eagles, osprey, warblers and woodpeckers among the trees. In the waterways, there could be kingfishers and the great blue heron.
And all the usual forest life including deer, chipmunks and possibly beavers.
How big is Bear Mountain?
The State Park sprawls across more than five and a half thousand acres along the western side of the Hudson River, partly in Orange County, partly in Rockland.
Bear Mountain is one of the Hudson Highlands’ best known peaks, about an hour’s drive north of New York City and is popular with New Yorkers wanting to escape for a day or two.
Can you see New York from Bear Mountain?
Not from where we were.
But take the Perkins Memorial Drive scenic road to the summit and climb the 40 foot tower there and you may be rewarded with a view of the Manhattan skyline, 40 miles to the south.
If the weather’s not clear enough, you’ll still get amazing views across four states.
Is Bear Mountain good for hiking?
There are over 50 official hiking trails so that’s a big yes!
The famous Appalachian Trail starts here and stretches south to the Delaware Water Gap. The 2,000 mile trail has been in use since 1923 and has spawned a whole raft of other, branching trails throughout the park.
Whilst parts, like the paths around Hessian Lake, are easy walking, for most areas you’ll need to be moderately fit. And some of the trails need preparation, determination and stamina.
Is Bear Mountain busy?
Well the State Park gets around two million visitors a year, but with all those acres to explore it’s not usually crowded.
The busiest areas are, not surprisingly, around the car parks, zoo, picnic areas and family friendly activities.
On our stay we passed a few cars and trucks on the winding road up and down the mountain, but we had the woods and trails pretty much to ourselves.
How old is Bear Mountain?
Geologically speaking, millions of years. The bedrock is a type of granite probably formed in the late Paleozoic era when we were all part of one big land mass called Pangaea.
As for humans, well the area was once home to two main groups of Native Americans.
The Iroquoian speaking tribes lived along inland rivers and lakes and were probably the ones who populated Bear Mountain’s lower slopes. The Algonquian speakers were usually found in farming and fishing villages on the coast.
Both groups were among the first to have sustained contact with European settlers who pressed westwards and displaced both sets of indigenous people.
It wasn’t long before trouble followed. During the American Revolution, the British wanted to control the Hudson River and there were several hard-fought battles in the area.
The ruins at Fort Montgomery are testament to one such conflict.
Perched on a cliff overlooking the Hudson, you can see why it was strategically so important to the American Patriots.
But on October 6 1777, British forces attacked. The defenders were outnumbered 3 to 1 and fought desperately. But eventually they were driven out, killed, wounded or captured.
We spent a couple of hours playing dodge the raindrops wandering round the remains of the 14-acre fortification with its restored canon battery and magnificent viewpoints.
Not that victory did the Brits much good. They were soon recalled to support troops in Philadelphia and, ultimately, lost the war.
The State Park itself was established in 1910 after determined efforts by conservationists. They even managed to stop the authorities building a replacement for Sing Sing prison on the mountain.
Where to stay on Bear Mountain
If you’re looking to stay for more than a day, why not stop at one of the earliest examples of the type of rustic park lodges common in US state and national parks?
The Adirondack style Bear Mountain Inn was built in 1915. It’s undergone a recent renovation but still retains the original stone and timber facade and two huge fireplaces, all made from local materials. Despite its rustic look, the basic framework is steel.
But we preferred the solitude of our AirBnB.
And as we sat in our comfortable room, drinking in the twilight, listening to the mournful hooting of a long distance freight train from the valley below, we were delighted to spend a night (or two) on Bear Mountain.
Next time, we’ll stay longer. Promise.
We stopped off on Bear Mountain while driving from Boston to Philadelphia as part of our American Roadtrip. If you’re looking for car rental you could try our affiliate partner TravelSupermarket