Hiking the Bear Mountain Loop with Kids
I’ve been a little AWOL. Fall is so busy and work has been draining, leaving little energy for my extra-curricular pontificating. But, truthfully, I’ve been so consumed with the horror stories in the news, mainly in relation to the mass, seemingly institutionalized, sexual harassment and assault of women. I’ve found it hard to switch gears and think about other things. Perhaps if I can find a way to intelligently talk about that topic without saying all the incendiary things I cannot stop myself from thinking, I will, at some point.
In the meantime, we have been straddling 80 degrees in late October here in New York. As unsettling as that is, it’s given us extra chances to get outside. This past weekend, we packed up the kids and met some friends up at Bear Mountain for a hike.
I’ve never been to Bear Mountain before, which is stupid, because it’s so close to New York City. The kids did great hiking this summer, so we wanted to try out a few spots close to home. In typical self-defeating fashion, I labored though every review of every nearby hike on AllTrails.com.
I settled on the Bear Mountain Loop Trail because the consensus was that it was good for families, the views were great and it was not too short. If we were going to make the drive out of the city, I didn’t want it to be for a two mile hike. But five would be too much, so I was looking for that sweet spot – three to four miles. Long enough to be worth it, but not too long for the kids.
There were some warnings.
The first was about big crowds and litter. The second, which I took more seriously, was about the difficult rock scramble up the mountain. I could not get a handle on the difficulty level no matter how many reviews I read or videos I watched. All Trails rated it as moderate. Other sites rated it as difficult. Yes, in 2017 we spend two hours doing internet research before taking a walk in the woods.
I know it’s silly, but I really was just trying to determine in advance if I was putting my kids on too scary a rock scramble, something I did in Lake Placid and which was a little unpleasant. It had worked out fine, but if I could avoid that this time, I wanted to.
Reviews are a funny. There are always completely conflicting accounts of everything, from a hiking trail, to a pair of boots to a bowl of poutine. Why do we bother? It just adds to the confusion! Ultimately, there was only one way to find out how the kids would do and that was to just do it. Like generations of yore. But for not unrecognized irony, here’s my review. For people with kids.
The Major Welch Trail
Some people choose not to take this path up because of all the dire warnings about difficult and steep rock scrambling. But we really didn’t want to walk up and down the same way. From what I could tell from the videos I watched, my gut said it would be ok. We went for it. And I am so glad we did. It was pretty crowded for a hiking trail, but much less crowded than the way down. Most important, my kids, ages nine and five, had no problem. The rock scrambling was pure fun for them. My five year old was getting up so quickly and nimbly, I couldn’t keep up. He proclaimed himself a “mountain goat.” The rest was history.
If my kids could do it, I’m sure most other kids could, as well. We did not encounter any situation like we did on Cobble Hill in Lake Placid where the rock was smooth, slippery and very exposed with nothing to hold on to. I imagine this trail would be difficult for anyone who is elderly, injured or incapacitated in any way and just looking for a walk in the woods. But any able-bodied person or child over five should be fine. I wouldn’t recommend doing it while wearing a baby. And it would be a far greater challenge to do this going down. Indeed, most people take the Major Welch up.
To make hiking more fun for my little one, I had jotted down some “nature scavenger hunt” items to look for from a list I found on a Google image search 30 seconds before we headed out the door. It really helped him get through the day, checking things off the list … a butterfly, moss, a cool shaped rock, etc. Constant snacking is the other critical hiking crutch for my kids. Every time my son started to be over it, I pulled out a new snack and that was enough to distract him and get him back into a good place. All was great by the time we got close to the top and stopped to eat lunch and enjoy the views before heading to the summit.
Little did we know what awaited us.
Because the summit is reachable by car, the crowds were jaw-dropping. I’m talking waves of humanity. There were a million cars and a million motorcycles. It was very loud. We walked over to the summit, looked out for one minute, took a picture and then made our escape. If you take the Major Welch Trail up the mountain, you take the Appalachian Trail down to close the loop.
The Appalachian Trail! I was excited to set my feet on this little segment of the iconic path, which, on Bear Mountain, consists mostly of stairs. Not quite the wilderness that you think of when you imagine the Appalachian Trail. “Average nature,” as our friend has coined it. But still, we were walking in the footsteps of a very small number of people who have passed through here on their way from Georgia to Maine. And all we could think was, what would those people think if there were walking through here right now.
Because, on a prime, mild fall Sunday in October, this place is difficult to enjoy.
I read the complaints about the crowds but I had no idea the degree to which this place is mobbed. Walking down some skinny paths, we were literally standing still in human traffic, waiting for the people ahead of us to move. I’ve never seen anything like it. Effing New York. Even when you drive an hour and a half out of the city and climb a mountain, you still can’t escape crowds.
Also, a word about litter. How can someone, who has taken the effort to get themselves on a hiking trail to enjoy the outdoors, leave their trash on the ground? Granted, it was worse on the summit where you probably have a lot of people who drive up, take a picture and drive back down. But still, you came to this place for beauty. There are trash cans. WTF.
The cumbersome crowds on a descent consisting mainly of about 800 stairs, made things a little more difficult. Thank goodness I ordered some trekking poles a week earlier, which really help on the way down. I have been on longer hikes than this, which was 4.2 miles, but my legs were shaking by the time we were done. The kids were dead. But they did it. And we knocked off a bunch of my older son’s Webelos requirements, which was great.
All I wanted, when we finished, was a cold beer at the Bear Mountain Inn. But there was such a long wait, we just decided to hop in the car and head back to the city. You owe me a beer, Bear Mountain Inn!
When we were sitting high up eating our lunch and looking at the view, I remarked that even though this may not have been the most heart-stopping, breath-taking place I’ve ever been, at that moment, after you’ve exerted energy climbing, on a gorgeous day, and have come to sit on a rock and rest and look around… you can’t help but feel that nature-induced joy. The first part of our hike was a blast. The second half of the journey definitely suffers because of the crowds.
But we still had a great time, marveled at our kids’ stamina, laughed with our friends and were pleasantly sore the next morning. My advice: check out the Bear Mountain Loop, for sure and don’t worry — your kids can definitely handle the Major Welch Trail. But do not ever attempt to go to this place on a weekend. Let alone a peak fall weekend.
The mild weather doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, so I’m hoping we can get in one more adventure in before winter. I am ready for a nice, quiet, woodsy forest path this time. That’s my favorite kind of trail and it offers more chances for slow meandering, where the kids can play and, without fail, turn every item they find into a gun.
Happy October, friends.
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