THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO HARRIMAN STATE PARK, NEW YORK
by Bearfoot Theory’s East Coast expert Katherine Oakes
The 47,000+ acres of New York state’s Harriman State Park has long been a haven for lovers of the outdoors. As a kid, I grew up a mere 30 minutes south of Harriman and spent more weekends than I can count hiking the trails, exploring the area and enjoying all of its many panoramic vista points of the Hudson River and surrounding area.
Harriman State Park is a special place in part because of its close proximity to New York City and the metro area — giving city dwellers and suburban families a taste of the backcountry, backpacking, camping, hiking, and boating without having to travel far. Then and now, what I love about Harriman is that you will cross paths with people of every skill level, whether they were first-time hikers, to Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, or parents who want to share their love of hiking and camping with their kids. It’s an awesome, inclusive place that has something for everyone. I’m excited to share my Ultimate Guide to Harriman State Park with you here on Bearfoot Theory.
And as it goes in all of the destinations we share, please remember to Leave No Trace. This means packing out all of your garbage, being respectful to others, and following the established rules.
If you are an occasional visitor, city slicker or out-of-towner looking to get away from the chaos of the NYC this overview will help you navigate Harriman State Park. Happy Trails!
Harriman State Park Basics
Harriman State Park is known for being the second-largest state park in New York with 200 miles of hiking trails, 3 beaches, 11 historic lean-tos, 2 group camping areas and 32 lakes and reservoirs. It borders the Bear Mountain State Park with connecting trails and camping areas that link the two historic areas together and make them feel like one big park.
Located in the lower southeast corner of New York state just an hour away from the city and minutes from the border of New Jersey, it’s a popular outdoor destination for many in the city and the suburbs. Be warned, it gets crowded on nice days and warm weekends.
While you’re here, take note of the white blazed trails which mark a section of the Appalachian Trail. What’s really cool about Harriman is that the AT leads thru-hikers over the Bear Mountain Bridge and eventually leads them across the northern part of Harriman State Park.
How to Get to Harriman State Park
Being that this area of the country is jam-packed with highways and well-traveled roads, there are plenty of routes you can take to get there. There are even many roads that wind their way through the park. So, driving is truly the most convenient way to get there, especially if you are planning on an overnighter.
Getting to Harriman State Park by car:
- Take Palisades Interstate Parkway straight into the park where you can stop at any of the main parking areas or stop-off alongside of the road to hop on a trailhead
- I-87 North is a main highway that takes visitors straight to the west side of Harriman State Park. From here, it’s easy to enter onto one of the park’s many interior roads
- Route 202 travels along the eastern side of Harriman, making it easy to enter the park as far up as the Pine Meadow Lake Trail where it branches off and away from the park’s entry points
- Route 17 North will take you to the southern tip of the park to a popular area called Seven Lakes Drive. Here you can park your car for an overnighter or a day trip and gain entry to one of the many trails in the lower half of Harriman.
Public Transportation to Harriman State Park:
- Take the Shortline Bus from Port Authority to any of the stops at, Suffern, Viola Road, Jones Point, Tompkins Cove and Harriman Inn to enter the west side of the park
- NJ Transit Port Jervis train line takes you to the west side of the park and drops you off at any of the following train stations that are walking distance to trailheads: Sloatsburg, Suffern, Tuxedo and Harriman
Best Time to Visit Harriman State Park
The best times to visit Harriman State Park are during the summer and fall seasons. While the park is open year-round for winter lovers too, during the summer all trails, campsites and lake areas are open and completely safe to enjoy.
Of course, the Northeast’s famous foliage makes fall one the most exciting times to be at Harriman. Not only is the weather perfectly crisp and cool but the beautiful colors of the season can be seen from every vista point and down below. Nothing beats it.
Best Places to Visit in Harriman State Park
One of the seven lakes of Harriman and one of the only two you are allowed to swim in, Lake Tiorati is a gorgeous clear blue lake with a sandy beachfront that’s perfect for families or daytrippers. It’s easily accessible by the main highways and has a parking area for you to unload. Dogs are allowed on a six-foot leash.
WEST MOUNTAIN SHELTER
Of the eleven shelters in Harriman State Park, West Mountain is by far the most popular spot. It’s a beautiful old stone lean-to that is perched on a cliff overlooking the Hudson River and the New York City skyline. Be warned, this is one of the most trafficked destinations in the area, so you’re better off going during the week or getting there very early to secure your spot. Just be prepared to share your shelter for the night with other hikers eager to get a night in at West Mountain.
For some of the best views of the New York City skyline and the Bear Mountain Bridge in one hike, Bald Mountain is your go-to spot.
BEAR MOUNTAIN BRIDGE + INN
The historic early 1900s stone building and the beautiful bridge that is directly connected to Harriman State Park should be at the top of your list. The Bear Mountain Inn’s rustic craftsmanship alone makes it worth a visit.
PINE MEADOW LAKE TRAIL + PINE MEADOW LAKE
This crystal clear blue-green lake is a popular spot in the Southern section of Harriman that’s frequented by many daytrippers and overnight guests. It’s easy to access and there is plenty of parking available, so try to plan your visit during off-peak hours or mid-week if possible to avoid overcrowding. I highly suggest doing a long or shorter loop around Pine Meadow Lake which will also take you past a waterfall and along a brook. Only enjoy the water from a distance and do not swim or plan to camp! Sadly, many guests ignore the rules that are here to protect this park, so remember to do your part and as always, carry out what you carry in.
ALMOST PERPINDICULAR + CLAUDIUS SMITH ROCK
Another popular hike that isn’t too crowded thanks to its multiple ways up to the summit is, Almost Perpendicular. Here, hikers gain quite a bit of elevation as they make their way to the top of the cliffs for big views of the park that are jaw-dropping in the summer and fall. Plus, pass by the famous Claudius Smith Den that was the hideout of notorious local cowboy, Claudius Smith during the American Revolution.
BREAKNECK MOUNTAIN TRAIL
One of the most popular and well-traveled scrambles in Harriman boasts panoramic views of the Hudson River and is easily accessible from New York City by train. Plus, the artsy and picturesque town of Cold Springs, NY is only a half hour walk from the trailhead and near a train station, so it’s a great day trip for city dwellers who want to get away.
Here are the day hiking essentials you need to hit the trail
Where to Camp Overnight in Harriman State Park
One of my favorite things about Harriman are the campsites. Having grown up in the surrounding area, we frequently day hiked in the park and camped overnight in our tent when my brother and I were old enough to carry our gear on our backs. As an adult, I realize just how lucky I am to have eleven historic, hand-built backcountry shelters under an hour away from my urban home. I highly recommend spending a night in Harriman at one of the shelters and if you can get one all to yourself on a beautiful day you’ll certainly be the better for it. Here are a few things to know before you go camping at Harriman State Park.
- You do NOT need to make a reservation for shelters or obtain a permit (unless you’re interested in a group campsite, see below)
- Camping overnight in Harriman State Park is totally FREE
- All the shelters and campsites are off-trail and are only accessible by foot, there is parking near a trailhead but no drive-in campsites
- Parking is NOT allowed by Island Pond or Pine Meadow Lake despite the well-worn campsites and fire rings that exist
- Get there early! Despite the 46,000+ acres worth of space, the eleven shelters can easily get filled up.
- Beat the crowds and secure your space while you can
- Be welcoming to other campers who want to spend the night there, too — it’s open to multiple groups or solo hikers, not just for you. Keep in mind this camping etiquette and you’re likely to make some new friends!
- Dogs are allowed
- Campfires are also allowed but you will need to forage for firewood and kindling (only use already downed trees and logs)
- Carry in and carry out all trash and other belongings
Here are backpacking essentials you need for camping in the park
If you find a shelter is totally packed, don’t worry, there are normally 2-3 well-worn campsites in the surrounding area that are just as good a spot to spend the night. Here, you can find fire pits, soft grassy patches, and sometimes some big tree trunks or rocks that other generous campers rolled in for you to enjoy by your campfire! The community of hikers and backpackers in Harriman is something that is always sensed and noticed in the area. Showing kindness and respect to your surroundings and fellow hikers is one of the most important aspects of being outdoors, so always remember to pass it on when you can.
Group Camping in Harriman State Park
There are two group camping sites at Harriman, Beaver Pond, and the Stephen & Betsy Corman AMC Harriman Outdoor Center. Both of these sites are by reservation only and are intended for larger groups who drive-in to the campground.
Located on Lake Welch Recreation Area, there are tent and trailer sites that are great for larger groups. Dogs are not allowed and alcohol is strictly prohibited and cooler/car searches will take place if you are suspect of having it on hand. Beaver Pond has a reputation for being a louder and rowdier area that isn’t the first choice for many dedicated hikers and backpackers. However, if you are looking for a fun, party atmosphere by the lake with friends, this is for you.
Stephen & Betsy Corman AMC Harriman Outdoor Center
Reserve a cabin or bunkhouse in Harriman at the Stephen & Betsy Corman AMC Harriman Outdoor Center. Perfect for very large groups like family reunions, corporate events, youth groups, etc. there are amenities included and meal services as well. They also offer tent sites and platforms, plus backcountry campsites run by the AMC.
Boating at Harriman State Park
When the trails are overcrowded and the beaches are full, there is no better place to be than out on the water. Harriman’s lakes and ponds do allow boaters with a permit and although I’ve never been, I’m super stoked to check it out one day. Here’s a brief overlook of the rules, regulations, and things to know before boating at Harriman:
- Boats are allowed out on the lakes from April 1-November 30
- Visitors must obtain a $30 permit for their season pass/boating permit
- Boating is only allowed between 5am and 10pm
- Island Pond requires you to have a fishing permit as well
- There is no alcohol allowed on the lake and you may not get out of your boat and swim
How to Get a Boating Permit at Harriman State Park
- Visit one of the ranger stations at Lake Welch or Lake Tioriati
- You must bring your PFD and boat with you at the time of purchase
- The permit costs $30 and is good for the entire season
- Boaters who want to get a permit for a “locked lake” such as, Tiorati, Welch, Stahahe and Island Pond must always purchase a key for $15 to unlock the padlock at the boat launch
- After purchasing, the permit will be in sticker form and must be attached to your boat
You can also rent a kayak, canoe or rowboat at Camp Baker for $15/hour and is first come, first serve. There are a few limitations, like you may only dock your boat at their dock, you may not swim or exit the boat and all boaters must wear a life jacket at all times.
Swimming at Harriman State Park
Swimming is only allowed at Lake Tiorati and Lake Welch in Harriman State Park . All other lakes, ponds and reservoirs are off-limits for safety reasons such as aggressive wildlife like snapping turtles and no lifeguards on duty or easy way to assist someone in danger.
Like many popular outdoor destinations, other websites or visitors will suggest otherwise but the park’s rangers and visitor centers clearly enforce these rules for everyone’s safe enjoyment of this wild place.