*Please remember to respect social distancing guidelines if you encounter other hikers.*
*Check that trails are open and not too crowded before parking, and be open to driving or biking to the next trail on your list if one seems too active.*
Westchester may be known for its lovely undulating hills, but Mount Everest it is not. Still, if you think you can’t get a good view or a heart-thumping hike without leaving our borders, it’s time to think again.
New Canaan, Connecticut, residents Catherine and Christopher Brooks, authors of 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles, New York City, practically met on the trails. When they were dating in the mid-’80s, Christopher convinced Catherine to emigrate from her native Belgium by showing her the natural beauty of the U.S., and they developed their love of hiking together in the country’s national parks. But when they returned to our area, they didn’t just want to put the boots away, and started finding the best hiking trails in Westchester, too. Here, they tell us their top five vistas and hikes:
The vista at the top of this mini-mountain (supposedly named for a pre-Revolutionary War captain with a Cyrano sniffer) “is like a helicopter view of the Bear Mountain Bridge” and the Hudson River, says Catherine of this six-mile/three-hour loop, which is also part of the Appalachian Trail. With all the ups and downs, one climbs up about 1,500 feet total (the Empire State Building is only 1,250 feet). The hike begins just off Route 6.
Ward Pound Ridge is the “crown jewel of parks in Westchester County,” Christopher declares. The five-mile Star Loop, a broad and well-maintained trail that looks out over the Cross River Reservoir, reaches about 665 feet. The trail also sweeps past the cave of the Leatherman, the itinerant 19th-century “über-hiker” and leather worker of Westchester lore. “You almost have guaranteed wildlife sightings,” adds Catherine.
This climb — right off of Interstate 684 — has a hawk-watch at about 750 feet where bird lovers gather in autumn. The real treat, though, according to the Brookses, is the swampland in a lower part of the hike. “It’s an Alice in Wonderland experience, with all of these devilish mushrooms coming out of the ground,” says Christopher. The trail is typically closed during the rainy/muddy season, from March until mid-June.
Westmoreland, which is across from the Butler Sanctuary, is a place where “you can really get away from people,” says Christopher. Its forest contains ponds, cascading streams, stone walls, and a “huge quartz rock outcropping.”
An easy five-mile walk that’s great for children, the gorge may not plunge for thousands of feet, but even its 40 feet make the thrilling view “like the Grand Canyon of the Mianus River,” says Catherine. The trail is one of the oldest Nature Conservancy preserves in the country and also affords opportunities to see cascades, an old mica and quartz quarry, and flowers like red trillium and marigolds.