Out There: Trails Less Traveled

trout brook

A quiet place to sit on Trout Brook (Photo by B. Cronin)

In some ways, we’re lucky.

It may not seem like it, with many of us isolated. Businesses are closing, jobs are being lost, and we’re all home-schoolers now. But the outdoors is still open.

For those of you who are New York City expats, imagine what this time would be like if you still lived in that apartment with all those roommates who refused to practice basic hygiene and the community garden on the block having been long since bulldozed for apartments. (On a related note, is there a long German word for the opposite of nostalgia?)

Most park facilities, including education centers and restrooms, are closed. But trails and parks are all open, and entrance fees have been waived. Park rangers are still on the job but practicing good social distancing measures, so if you see them, thank them for their service from at least 6 feet away.

My inbox exploded this week with press releases from such organizations as the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference and Scenic Hudson, urging me to remind you of the many physical and mental benefits of being outside. As Lori Severino of the DEC said: “Scientific studies show that time outside in nature, especially among trees, significantly reduces stress and anxiety, lowers blood pressure, improves mood, energy and sleep, and boosts the immune system.”

The obvious problem is that many people are hitting the same trails, crowding Mount Beacon, Breakneck Ridge and the trails at Bear Mountain, which defeats the purpose of social distancing. If you’re all going to be in the same place, they might as well reopen the bars.

We’re here to help. For as long as it’s needed, each week I’ll profile a Trail Less Traveled that is kid-friendly to some degree. For those of us who became teachers’ aides overnight, you’ll find the outdoors is a great way to sneak in some educational programming. Dust off those Peterson’s field guides, and I also recommend the works of Tristan Gooley, particularly The Natural Navigator and The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs.

No guidebooks? Both Binnacle Books in Beacon and Split Rock Books in Cold Spring are doing online ordering, with delivery-via-bike from the former and curbside pickup from the latter. If you don’t have maps, Mountain Tops Outfitters in Beacon is also doing online ordering and local delivery. The DEC has educational resources at dec.ny.gov/26.html.

Or, just go out hiking with the kids for recess. It’s worth asking yourself what you want your children to remember most about this time. I figure that if my son can look back at the disruption as when he got to know and love the place he lives even more, that’s worth more than trying to find a Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

Trail Less Traveled No. 1

Wiccopee Pass

NYNJ Trail Map #103

This one’s a little more than 2.5 miles round-trip, with about 500 feet of climbing. There’s an option for a shorter, flatter hike of about a mile round-trip for little legs as well as adults if you prefer an easy hike because you’re too exhausted from, well, everything.

Punch 78 Trout Brook Road in Cold Spring into your GPS. The trailhead is to the left of the driveway, and on the other side of the trailhead is a parking pull-off. Follow the yellow trail markers around the gate and over Trout Brook.

This is a great hike during this time of the year when the trees and bushes are still bare because you’ll be able to see the ruins of old farms off-trail. Soon after you pass through the gate you’ll see a ruined stone chimney to the left and a silo to the right.

After a quarter-mile the trail splits, with an unblazed trail going to the left and the yellow Trout Brook trail continuing straight ahead. If you’d like an easy hike, head left and take the quarter-mile unmarked trail which follows the brook. You’ll find another old stone chimney, some benches for sitting, and down the hill past the benches the ruins of a dam as well as two beaver dams.

Back on the yellow trail, you’ll continue straight ahead for another quarter mile before the yellow trail ends and you’re in the middle of the blue Wiccopee Trail. Hang a left here and follow the trail as it winds and weaves up the pass, sometimes sharply. After 1.3 miles from the trailhead — you’ll know you’re almost there when you pass two chest-high boulders on the left of the trail — a splendid viewing ledge opens up on the left.

The blue trail continues past the viewing ledge, but we’ll stop here for today. The ledge is a great place to stop for a picnic and take in the view of Fahnestock below and Shenandoah Mountain in the distance. And the ledge is wide enough, and large enough, that if another family is already there, there’s still plenty of room for both families to relax together while still keeping your distance.

25 thoughts on “Out There: Trails Less Traveled

  1. This remote corner of Fahnestock is beautiful… and generally delightfully deserted. For those up for a longer hike, consider this loop that continues from Brian’s hike, which I’ve done a number of times. It passes through interesting terrain, has some ups and downs, and is around 6 miles altogether:

    Continue to the end of the Wiccopee Trail, where it meets the start of the Charcoal Burners Trail (red blaze). Take the Charcoal Burners Trail, and continue on it after the Fahnestock Trail (blue blaze) joins it from the right. Stop at lovely Beaver Pond for a lunch break! Then retrace your steps to the junction, but this time go left and take the Fahnestock Trail, which descends following the outflow of the pond.

    Eventually, you will take a right on the Clove Creek Trail (white blaze), which passes through the wet areas where Clove Creek arises and then regains altitude. The Clove Creek Trail ends at the Wiccopee Trail (blue): turn right. You will very shortly come back to the Trout Brook Trail (yellow blazes) where you started on the left. Take it back to your car.

    I recommend the free Avenza Maps app, which allows you to load PDF trail maps on your phone and follow them with GPS showing your location. The NY-NJ Trail Conference maps are definitely the best… but once you’re in the Avenza Map Store, you can do some searches and save a few bucks by downloading New York State’s own Fahnestock trail map for free. (And other free NYS park maps too.) The NYS map is not as detailed as the Trail Conference map, but it shows all the trials clearly and is very serviceable. More info at https://www.nynjtc.org/view/maps

  2. Unfortunately the parking is very limited, is near private property, and the access road – East Mountain – does not need significantly more traffic. I think much needs to be done to these trails in order to educate hikers on trail etiquette, such as staying on trails, hiking in small groups, and not leaving trash or spray painting rocks. We have seen the impact of Breakneck Ridge, and would prefer if this behavior does not turn these remote trails into the same overused thoroughfares. I think your article is premature and i am wondering if you researched this enough. This is extraordinarily short-sighted and dangerous to post this NOW, when we are trying to discourage people from congregating. Where do you think they are going to have lunch?

  3. I’m all up for people exploring the outdoors and our great lands but please note these “less traveled” trails are in heavy residential areas where children are playing, ride their bikes, go for walks, and walk their pets on these very narrow roads. It is irresponsible to send people up this road when they should be starting at Hubbard Lodge where there is parking. There are no safe places to park on this road.

  4. As this crisis sweeps through our state, so do the changes in rules pertaining to how we are to approach these changes. I have spent the last two days calling on Gov. Cuomo, state park officials and state parks Regional Director Linda Cooper to request the immediate closure of Hudson Highland State Park Preserve, along with all New York State parks.

    I am working with local officials, Philipstown Supervisor Richard Shea, Cold Spring Mayor Dave Merandy, Nelsonville Mayor Michael Bowman and Putnam County Sheriff Robert Langley and municipal attorneys to do the same. I am calling for a “locals-only” policy. A continued influx of visitors at this critical time presents a grave public health concern to our small towns and our surrounding communities. New York City is the epicenter of this crisis in the U.S. A third of all COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are an hour south of us.

    We do not have a hospital. We need to minimize our exposure to the greater world in any way we can. We do not need to be encouraging anyone to visit our parks, playgrounds or streets. We need to shut down the Airbnb rentals. We have an older, high-risk population with many retirees and limited critical resources. Some of our businesses are closing and others are on restrictions to comply with public health orders. Medical and emergency services, as well as basic supplies like groceries, must be available to meet the needs of our community at this time. Philipstown, Putnam Valley and Putnam County are not in a position to support the potential needs of extra guests at this time. It’s too dangerous.

    Montgomery is a Putnam County legislator whose district includes Philipstown.

  5. I implore you – for all that is decent and human – remove the post and apologize immediately. Shame on you, Highlands Current. You should know better! I’m angry.

  6. I would also like to point out to anyone who is not familiar with this trail who is considering it – the last paragraph is misleading. There is NOT room at the point he’s describing for two families to keep a safe distance from each other. And if it is publicized you will find many more than “ two families” at any desirable point on the trail.

  7. I know this article is truly well intentioned, but I agree with Nancy Montgomery. Visitors should not be encouraged now. Also, please don’t publish the address of a private home as a landmark!

  8. I have to agree with Nancy Montgomery. Please limit visitors at this time for all the reasons she stated. In addition, Trout brook is within a residential area, and there aren’t many parking spots. We are all trying to limit our interactions. Flooding these narrow trails with tourists is not a good idea. Also, why is the address of a private residence published here? Please consider taking this post down. Thank you.

  9. Hi everyone! A few things: None of the trails we’ll be covering are secret. They’re established trails, on state-owned land. They’re on maps, they’re in guidebooks. They’re exactly the kinds of trails that the Parks Department, the DEC, and the NY-NJ Trail Conference right now are urging people to get out on: Lesser known hikes, so that there is plenty of room and space for people to be responsible and practice social distancing.

    I won’t be writing about local swimming holes or foraging spots. It’s not like when the Huffington Post wrote about [REDACTED] and now you can’t park there anymore. I’m flattered that you think that our reach is wide enough that one article is going to send thousands of people to these trails, but I’m familiar with our circulation and social media reach, and for better or worse, we’re not. We’re a local paper. We live where you live. And the article is for local people, probably families, who desperately would like to get outside to enjoy the one leisure activity we have left these days but can’t because the trails they know about are too crowded.

    We’ve all seen and are horrified by how many people are crowding Breakneck, Mount Taurus, Mount Beacon, etc., right now. But if the parks are open, telling people not to use them is not the answer. If the parks are open, then we all have a responsibility to spread out, give each other space, take care of each other, not all crowd the same spots, and educate each other. Otherwise, they’ll all be shut down and then NONE of us will be able to enjoy them.

    This is how we’re doing our part, and we’ll keep doing it for as long as the parks are open to the public. We’re already working on pieces for upcoming issues that go over trail etiquette and basic outdoors skills for those who may not be familiar. And if regulations change in response to the crowds or other issues, we’ll cover that too.

    I know that we’re all nervous right now. These are unprecedented times. But we’re not going to get through it unless we all have a little more empathy, and not start deciding that certain public goods are suddenly only available to “ourselves.” That’s a dangerous line of thinking, and it has a way of coming back to bite you.

    Two specific points:
    1. I didn’t encourage people to hike up from Hubbard Lodge on the Schoolhouse Trail because the northern part of it is currently closed to construction.
    2. Lori, I apologize for the confusion. I certainly did not invent a quote, but I was talking to two people at the DEC for two different stories at deadline and I’m realizing now that I accidentally combined their names. So we’ll make the change online but it was Lori Severino who sent me that quote. 100% my fault, and I know what it’s like. There’s another Brian Cronin who is a graphic designer for newspapers and magazines; I’ve been getting his mail and phone calls for 15 years now.

  10. I live a giant’s stone throw away from Wiccopee Pass, the first featured trail of the Trails Less Traveled series. I find myself hiking or running on it at least once a week. In the lucky place that we live — among a thick nest of trails that clamber up mountains and cut deep into the forests — too many of us know of just a few routes, those made infamous by the out-of-town crowds. In these extraordinary times, when a hike is just about the only thing a family can do together outside, it’s wonderful to share with our neighbors some of the ordinary treasures nearby. Thank you for the great new series. I can’t wait to explore where the next paths lead.

  11. What a socially unaware and tone-deaf piece when we should be encouraging everyone to stay at home right now. What are you thinking, Highlands Current? Do you have any clue what’s going on in the world?

  12. I was disgusted reading Brian Cronin’s suggestion for visitors to come to hike along Wiccopee Pass and Trout Brook. This is a times when we need to keep isolated and to protect ourselves from the COVID-19 virus. Why would you suggest people come here to bring more cars racing up and down and unknown people to an area we are attempting to protect for ourselves and our families. This is distasteful and I ask you please to take this article out print immediately. How could you think this was OK?

  13. Please keep the secrets a secret. Too many of our “trails less traveled” have been ruined. [via Facebook]

  14. We pay very high taxes to live in this beautiful area and it has to be shared with everyone? I don’t think so. There are plenty of parks in New York City. East Mountain Road South is not intended for high-volume traffic. [via Facebook]

  15. Trails less traveled will become trails most traveled by citidiots. About 10 years ago one of the New York papers wrote a story about Manitoga. For weeks after, the city dwellers got into their cars, parked up and down Route 9D, backed up traffic, and blocked people’s driveways all because they wanted a joyride in the “country.”

    This is what’s going to happen to these lesser-known trails if you decide to “out” them. If anyone who lives here wants to find out about these trails, let them ask their neighbors. These trails are not a secret to most of us who live here. [via Facebook]

  16. This idea for a column is ridiculous and completely reckless given the current circumstances. I cannot even fathom the editorial decision being made here.

    First, the caution being expressed by local residents has absolutely nothing to do about hiking, and has everything to do about inviting numerous people from all parts of the tri-state area into the community at this time.

    I don’t think anybody cares about exposing hiking trails or swim holes, but they do care about their personal health. And let’s face facts: Most hikers who come here are from New York City, which at this moment is ground zero of the epidemic. There is no need to regurgitate the facts about asymptomatic transmission and the reasons for social distancing. It’s just common sense at this point. I read the response from Cronin posted on the site and it is not only flippant, condescending and reckless, it’s actually just plain selfish and symptomatic of the larger issue of why this “stay at home” order will be continuously ramped up.

    Second, I would completely agree (under normal circumstances) that every resident and taxpayer is “entitled” to the out-doors, but given these extraordinary circumstances all those “rights” are literally out the window. When it comes to saving the lives of the most vulnerable (and maybe even those who are strongest, if the latest developments are true) then perhaps it’s time for The Current to focus on activities that can be enjoyed indoors and not ones that create a melting pot of epidemiology on our trails, and in turn our supermarkets, public spaces, etc. In my opinion, it’s worth erring on the side of caution.

    Bowman is the mayor of Nelsonville.

  17. I just read Brian’s reply and found it insufficient, condescending and tone-deaf. I add my voice to the growing chorus of community members imploring The Current to not only take this post down but to give up the idea of the Trail Less Traveled column out of respect for our community, as well as for nature.

    Brian assures us this column is intended for local readership and justifies the necessity by saying locals may not be aware of uncrowded trails — this is after Brian reminds us that these trails are not secrets, are published in maps and in guidebooks, and are on state land.

    I would imagine that anyone ambitious enough to get out into nature would know how to use Google, consult a map, buy a guidebook from their local bookstore or ask a neighbor. No need for the weekly paper to do that. [via Facebook]

  18. If you’re a financial supporter of this paper, let them know this column is a very bad idea. [via Facebook]

  19. I live a giant’s stone throw away from Wiccopee Pass, the first featured trail of your Trails Less Traveled series. I find myself hiking or running on it at least once a week. In the lucky place that we live — among a thick nest of trails that clamber up mountains and cut deep into the forests — too many of us know of just a few routes, those made infamous by the out-of-town crowds.

    In these extraordinary times, when a hike is just about the only thing a family can do together outside, it’s wonderful to share with our neighbors some of the ordinary treasures nearby. Thank you for the great new series. I can’t wait to explore where the next paths lead.

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