Hessian Lake at Bear Mountain State Park (Oct. 2014)
Bear Mountain State Park Offers Plenty of Fun and Relaxation
Bear Mountain State Park is a beautiful recreational area - and a very popular one. The park is located next to the Bear Mountain Bridge which crosses the lovely Hudson River. For decades Bear Mountain State Park has been a location families across the region flock to year round to enjoy the pleasant park environment.
The park is open 365 days a year and while many of the park's amenities are free, parking does have a fee. Some of the other features located within the state park's confines do charge a small nominal fee but, for the most part, Bear Mountain State Park is a great place to spend the day at a very affordable cost.
There is much to see and do during a visit to Bear Mountain. Here are some of the highlights of the park:
Bear Mountain Zoo
One of my favorite areas of the park, the Bear Mountain Zoo is not the stereotypical image you'll envision when you hear the word "zoo", but this small zoo does hold a special charm. The animals, birds and reptiles housed here are not of exotic distance lands, but regional critters. In this charismatic zoo are exhibits which house animals such as the bald eagle, deer, river otters, fox, owls, bobcat, wild turkeys, birds and fish. A key attraction for decades has been the bear's den.
To get to the zoo (and pool) area you have to walk through a tunnel which takes you under Route 9W to cross the street in order to reach these areas. This short walk underneath the road is an adventure for the kids to reach the zoo. If you have toddlers, it is wise to bring a stroller because it is a bit of a walk to cross and get down the hill. Kids and adults alike delight in walking through the serene paths which lead you through the zoo. The zoo is located in a primarily wooded area overlooking the Hudson River and, as you wander the trails, you'll see plaques indicating the kinds of trees and plants you see, each providing a short description. The park caretakers pay special attention to these small details to enhance a visitor's zoo experience.
Bear Den at Bear Mountain Zoo
Another notable attraction in the zoo is the Trailside Museum which highlights regional history and geology. The area was an important location in the American Revolutionary War. You can learn about the geological makeup of the area and also of the natural habitat and its residents. Additionally, as you near the end of the zoo trails you'll come to an area which commemorates the importance and significance this region played in the Revolutionary War. You'll also see a statute which stands as a tribute to the late poet, Walt Whitman.
The zoo was free for many years, but today charges a small fee for children ages 6-12 and a slightly higher fee for adults. When you think about all you'll get to experience, the slight increased addition of a fee is minor.
There is plenty to do within Bear Mountain's boundaries. For decades, families have been picnicking on the park's main green in front of the ice skating rink. There are many additional picnic tables and grounds scattered throughout the park. Some are placed in wooded areas overlooking the lake, others are located in open fields, so you have plenty of choice of what kind of scenery you want to picnic at. There are also designated areas where you can barbeque also.
For the kids' enjoyment, there are playgrounds located in various places in Bear Mountain State Park. There are also many open fields where after a nice picnic families can play ball, fly kites or have other outdoor fun. In the park's confines there is not a lack of places for the kids to let loose some energy.
If hiking is your thing, there are numerous beautiful trails you can explore and enjoy the natural beauty the park possesses. Since the trails are nestled in the mountains, you can walk different levels of ability and spend hours wandering the wonderful trails. The Appalachian Trail also passes through Bear Mountain Park.
A relatively new addition to the park is a brightly painted carousel. The carousel theme is region-specific animals (think bears, raccoons and rabbits!) and sits near the skating rink and big open field. This is a great stop to make during your visit to the park. A small fee is involved.
One of the key attractions at Bear Mountain during the winter months is the ice skating rink. Over the years many locals and visitors head over to Bear Mountain to enjoy the wonderful skating environment. The rink is open seasonally from October 15 to March 15. The rink is of decent size and you can bring your own skates or rent them. The environment is pleasant and family oriented, although the rink makes a great place for a date as well. Music is serene and the atmosphere is representative of a traditional skating rink.
The rink is well-cared for and staff smooths the ice after each skating session to make your ice skating excursion a more enjoyable experience. There is a fee to gain entrance to the building whether you skate or not. Since fees may change, your best bet is to call the park to find out the current fees before planning a trip to the rink.
If skating isn't your thing, you can try cross-country skiing at Bear Mountain. I can't speak from experience here though (also, years ago ski jumping took place at Bear Mountain, but ceased in 1990).
Water Sports / Swimming
One of the things that make the park attractive during the spring, summer and fall months for many visitors to Bear Mountain are the water sports. You can rent a paddle boat or rowboat and indulge in the serenity that is Hessian Lake. If you enjoy fishing, Bear Mountain offers this amenity too.
The park also houses a large-sized swimming pool which opens on Memorial Day weekend and remains open through Labor Day weekend. There is a fee to gain pool access, which does change, so best to check Bear Mountain's website to get the most current fee schedule. The pool area has a snack bar, restrooms and locker rooms for convenience.
Bear Mountain Inn and Overlook Lodge is where visitors can choose to stay on the park's property. The lodge holds a definitive rustic charm and is high-end in price at certain times of the year, but is beautiful. While the lodge looks rustic in nature, it has all of the modern amenities you need to make your stay comfortable. There are also some cottages available. Additionally, there is a conference center and restaurant located within the lodge.
Every year many people come north from New York City and beyond to enjoy the rural environment and serenity the park offers. Bear Mountain State Park is easy to get to because it is conveniently located off the Palisades Parkway, Routes 9D and 9W. The park itself sits within the boundaries of Orange and Rockland Counties, but is literally a hop over the bridge to both Westchester and Putnam Counties. This easy accessibility makes it a popular destination for both locals and visitors from afar. I've always considered this park a gem in New York State.
Remains of Fort Clinton (Revolutionary War) located within the property of Bear Mountain Zoo