Exploring NYC Area Hiking Trails with Skip Card

1. Many people don’t associate New York City with the outdoors—are there really places to hike close by?

New York is such an interesting city that many residents rarely leave. So most New Yorkers don’t know about the many preserves and state parks that exist not far beyond the city limits. Preservation efforts began many years ago, as people saw the area’s population booming and undeveloped land becoming scarce. Today, thousands of acres of scenic or historic land are within easy reach of New York City, and virtually all have well-maintained foot trails just waiting to be explored.

2. What should beginners be wary of before a hiking trip?

On most trails, you’ll have to take precautions against poison ivy, which sometimes grows on the edges of the paths. To protect their skin, many experienced hikers wear long pants, and often a long-sleeve shirt. Mosquitoes and ticks are also founds in the woods. I always carry bug spray, and I give myself a “tick check” before I shower to make sure a tick hasn’t latched onto my body. I’ve had to use tweezers to pull off ticks, I’ve gotten rashes from poison ivy, and I’ve had many mosquito bites. But these are minor and avoidable nuisances, and they don’t keep me from hiking.

3. How can you reach good hiking trails without owning a car?

Some of the most avid hikers I know don’t own a car. Instead, they use the excellent network of public transportation that serves the greater New York area. Trains and buses often stop close to the trailheads I describe in my guidebook. To reach even more remote trails, folks often use local taxis. Once you start to study the train and bus maps, you’ll quickly realize there are few places you can’t reach. Using public transportation also lets hikers start in one area and finish in another, something you can’t easily do if you have to loop back to your car.

4. Does it feel safe in the woods?

New Yorkers frequently ask this. Personally, I often feel safer hiking in the woods than I do walking around the city — and, frankly, I feel quite safe in the city. Whether hiking in the woods or walking through Times Square, I use common sense and take basic precautions. My guidebook has a thorough introduction that tells beginners what supplies they should bring in their packs to stay comfortable and safe, and what medical supplies they should carry to cope with common minor emergencies.

5. Many beginners worry about getting lost. How do hikers stay on the trail?

Fear of getting lost is another common worry. But virtually all hiking trails in the region are very well marked and well maintained. My guidebook explains how trails are marked in “blazes,” color-coded plastic squares or dabs of paint placed on trees, rocks or posts. Blazes are found every 100 feet or so on marked trails. As long as you see the blazes, and carry a trail map showing what they mean, getting lost is rarely a problem.

6. In New York City, maps and guidebooks are only for tourists—can I skip them?

In the woods, only beginners don’t carry trail maps. It’s probably the one piece of equipment I never leave home without. My guidebook has basic maps showing the trail routes, but hikers should also carry detailed trail maps that show all the paths and all the landmarks in a particular region. Good maps are sold at many hiking stores. Or you can go to the web site of the New York New Jersey Trail Conference, the nonprofit organization that maps and maintains most of the trails in the area.

7. Breakneck Ridge is a common hiking destination—should beginners start there?

Breakneck Ridge north of the town of Cold Spring is one of the most popular hikes in the region, but it’s also very dangerous because it is steep and rocky. Many hikers I’ve seen on that trail should not be there, in my view. I’d suggest beginners start hiking somewhere else. Nearby Bull Hill, also called Mount Taurus, offers similar views but doesn’t force hikers to use hands and feet as they scramble up a steep ridge. After you’ve got some trail experience, come back and tackle Breakneck Ridge. You’ll have a much better time.

8. Are dogs suitable companions for hiking?

In most cases, the answer is yes — so long as you keep your pet on a leash. But some preserves don’t allow dogs. My guidebook lists which trails are dog friendly, and which aren’t.

9. Should hikers bring along their children?

Some trails are quite suitable for kids. A number are listed in my book. I’ve got a young daughter, and she often goes hiking with me. But I take care to choose a trail that fits her abilities. And we talk before we hit the trail, so she knows what to expect and what I expect of her. I also bring lots of kid-friendly trail snacks, to sweeten the deal.

10. What climate should visiting hikers expect and prepare for?

New York’s weather varies dramatically with the four seasons. Tough hikers even head out in the dead of winter, when blazes on trees are the only signs of the trail. But for most of us, hiking is a spring-summer-fall sport. In spring and fall, temperatures can vary greatly, so pack extra clothes. Summer is often humid, hazy and hot, with temperatures regularly in the 80s or 90s. Wear lightweight fabrics, and always carry extra water. In all seasons carry a rain jacket, since brief but heavy downpours can sweep in with little warning.

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