Beginner’s Winter Hike at Fahnestock State Park


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Hiking all year round, even in winter, is not impossible. In fact, the solitude of a hiking trail in January and February offers its own kind of restorative benefits, but being prepared is essential.

As an avid hiker and winter runner, there are a few things I can’t go without: a headlamp, microspikes, a paper map, a bottle of water, a hat and gloves. It is a winter survival kit that can be easily stored in a small backpack or water bag.

Here’s why: Conditions can change quickly in winter, especially with altitude. The light fades quickly at this time of year and smartphones are dying. And sometimes even familiarity with a trail can leave you in a difficult position.

During a trail run one winter, for example, I realized the sun was setting much faster than I was running. I watched the sky take on all kinds of colors, like a blue that was both beautiful and bewitching. Glancing at my phone to check the time, I saw that my battery was at 10% and I had 3 miles to go. It started to turn dark gray then dark brown, and just as my phone went off and off it turned into a Deep dark. Luckily I knew the trail as I stupidly didn’t have a headlamp or flashlight on my phone to help me make out the contours of the ground.

Now? I take all the essentials for winter hikes and leave the micro spikes and a headlamp in the glove compartment of my car to grab if conditions warrant, just in case.

Microspikes provide extra grip on trails in icy, light snow conditions and slip easily over hiking boots or running shoes. They will prevent slipping on a patch of ice or slippery rocks and make you feel like you have superpowers that will allow you to walk safely on any slippery trail or over a top layer of crusty snow. Foldable hiking poles are another smart piece of equipment to invest in to keep your footing on any hike, but especially those faced in winter.

If you like to take your time hiking, stopping for a snack, or even heading to another trail, a map is also essential for locating where you are and how to get back. While smartphones have all the trail and map apps and can help you get around some of the most remote places, batteries drain faster in the cold and cell service can be spotty in the woods.

The New York-New Jersey Trail conference offers maps and card sets for all Hudson Highland trails, including one for East Hudson Trails that specifically focuses on Clarence Fahnestock State Park, which has trails moderate enough to that beginners test their winter hiking skills. and gear.

A break from Breakneck Ridge near Cold Spring

Microspikes can fit over any style of shoe to give you traction on snow and ice.

Valeria Vechterova / Getty Images / iStockphoto

Near the village of Cold Spring are a plethora of single track trails, remnants of old iron ore mines, and stone walls that interlock with the fields and forests of Clarence Fahnestock State Park from 15 000 acres. The park is a welcome retreat from some of the more touristy and challenging treks, such as nearby Breakneck Ridge. But the park also has the same amount of splendor, just spread out along smaller peaks and longer forays through meadows and woods, alongside lakes and streams – easier terrain to navigate in winter than a rocky climb on a ridge.

While the park boasts of having 400,000 visitors a year, recently in late December with unusually hot and rainy weather, there was no one on the trail except for the occasional couple who hiked with them. his dog. Once winter arrives in the lower Hudson Valley, Fahnestock is equipped with its own Winter Park (FWP), filled with 20 kilometers of groomed trails for Nordic skiing and snowshoeing. (Updates on FWP conditions can be found here.) But the rest of its trail system also offers plenty of winter hiking opportunities.

One of the park’s iconic loops begins with the 4.9-mile-long School Mountain Road, which begins at Hubbard Lodge, a beautiful park-owned log cabin that has a butterfly garden and interpretive signs. The parking lot is located along Campbell Road, just a little north of the intersection of highways 301 and 9. From there, hikers take an old road that narrows into a single track trail, crossing several designed wooden bridges. and built by West Point Cadets.

The hike begins in a swamp with views of the Highlands and quickly heads to a wooded area, through Bull Creek, traversed balanced on steel I-beams resting on it.

Right after crossing the I-beam, the loop portion of the hike begins. Park Superintendent Evan Thompson suggests going counterclockwise (I chose reverse), but both ways there is rock climbing, views, and most importantly calm persistent, punctuated only by bird calls, the tap, tap, tapping of red-bellied woodpeckers, the gurgling of the stream and the sound of your own breath. The intricate root systems of the forest’s beech and chestnut trees line the creek and help hikers gain a foothold as they ascend the trail.

In about a mile or so you will reach your first tricky intersection where you want to stay to the right and follow the green markers that take you along a gentle climb on the Round Hill Bypass trail. This part of the hike is all wooded, with some wet areas on rocks and roots, and if it’s icy or snowy you will be happy to have your microspikes and hiking poles foldable.

Around the 2.5 mile mark, another three-way intersection could take you to longer hikes and loops and even to the Appalachian Trail which runs through the middle of the park like a loose belt. Stay on the School Mountain Trail Loop and turn right on Fahnestock Trail, which leads on the east side of Round Hill, a relatively short climb to the top of Round Hill which offers great views of West Point, Storm King and the River Hudson.

There are beautiful rock outcrops and large boulders strewn about, like someone throwing rice at a wedding, although heavier and with more geological zest. The rock faces that mark the farms and property lines weave in and out of this loop and it’s hard not to marvel at the work and manpower that had to be put into transporting, lifting , laying and stacking these rocks by hand.


The trail descends for about a mile, then flattens out, alongside the serene sounds of Bull Creek. Soon the I-beams are back in sight and it’s time to take a sharp left turn, cross the creek and head back to Hubbard Lodge.

This loop is primarily used for walking, hiking, technical running, and bird watching. The Fahnestock Conservation Area (BCA) is one of the largest areas of contiguous forest in the Lower Hudson Valley, which helps provide important staging and breeding habitat for a diverse group of species of forest birds. Some of the species most commonly seen during periods of migration include the broad-winged hawk, Acadian flycatcher, hermit lily of the valley, dewormer, and scarlet tanager.

For a variety of reasons, including potential disturbance to nesting, breeding and migrating bird species, dogs must be kept on a leash at all times.

A bite to eat after the hike

Just a 10-minute drive from Cold Spring, Doug’s Pretty Good Pub (54 Main Street) and the Cold Spring repository (1 square deposit) offer two solid options for warming up with a pint and a burger. And if you found your gear missing during the hike, upgrade to Old Souls (63 Main Street) to upgrade your winter hiking kit.

Clarence Fahnestock State Park, 1498 Route 301, Carmel Hamlet, NY 10512. Call the park offices (845-225-7207) or the FWP (845-225-3998) for snow conditions.

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