If you live on the East Coast and you love outdoor adventures, you’ve probably daydreamed about hiking the Appalachian Trail. But if you also happen to be a real person with a job and/or family, you probably don’t have six months to spare anytime soon. For everyone who can’t commit to hiking 2,200 miles at once, here’s a round-up of AT day hikes in the greater New York area. Whether you’re training for a longer trip or just want to see what all the hype is about, these hikes will let you experience one of the country’s longest trails – all in an afternoon!
Sunrise Mountain to Culver Fire Tower/Culver’s Gap (New Jersey)
Only a slim section of the Appalachian Trail runs through New Jersey, but it offers a glimpse of the state’s best scenery. This hike will take you from the Sunrise Mountain Pavilion, which offers panoramic views of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, through a wooded trail to a second vista at the Culver Fire Tower. If you’re not tired yet, continue another mile to Culver’s Gap. Since this hike is entirely on the AT, navigation is a breeze. Hike out and back from the Sunrise Mountain parking area or park a second car near Culver Fire Tower or Culver’s Gap. Mileage: 3.6 or 4.5 (one way). Elevation: 328 feet (one way).
Ten Mile River and Bull’s Bridge (Connecticut)
Wending through the Connecticut countryside, this modern hike is great for a gentle day in the outdoors. Start at the historic Bull’s Bridge, one of the state’s few covered bridges that allows vehicle traffic (the site has experienced an epidemic of littering in recent years, so remember to leave no trace!). The trail follows the bank of the Housatonic river, offering views of the water and – if you’re lucky – a great blue heron looking for its lunch. At the summit of Ten Mile Hill, there’s a small side trail leading to a view of the Housatonic Valley. Hike out and back from the parking area at Bull’s Bridge or park a second car near Ten Mile Hill. Mileage: 2.5 (one way) or 5 (out and back). Elevation: 863 feet.
Anthony’s Nose (New York)
If you want a quick and dirty hike with a great view for a reward, this is the one for you. From the trailhead the path is steep and rocky, but once you reach a junction and turn on to the blue-blazed Camp Smith trail, it will level out and lead to a beautiful promontory with views of the Bear Mountain Ridge across the Hudson River. It’s a great picnic spot, but if the junction is too crowded follow the blue trail for another few minutes to reach a smaller but more tranquil viewpoint. Take time to explore the rock formations along the ridge before heading down. Park at the Anthony’s View trailhead (searchable on Google Maps). (Picture above: By Ahodges7 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9855497) Mileage: 2. Elevation: 685 feet.
Nuclear Lake (New York)
This lake derives its slightly frightening name from a 1972 chemical explosion in a nearby nuclear facility which spilled plutonium into the surrounding area. Fortunately, the trails have been thoroughly cleaned and bear no trace of their checkered past. From the trailhead, you’ll follow the Appalachian Trail until it meets the yellow-blazed Nuclear Lake Loop. Some hikers have deemed this lake one of the best the AT has to offer, so take your time strolling the waterside path before retracing your steps on the AT. Hike out and back from the Nuclear Lake Municipal Parking Area. Mileage: 4.1. Elevation: 627 feet.
Depot Hill (New York)
This moderate hike allows you to summit a mountain without feeling it in your legs. From the trailhead you’ll follow a blue-blazed trail for a few minutes before joining the AT, which will wind gradually upwards. Make time to stop at several rocky outlooks along the way. After passing an Appalachian Trail shelter you’ll reach the peak of Mt. Egbert and arrive at the final viewpoint, which looks over the Hudson River and the Catskills. It’s a great place to enjoy lunch before retracing your steps. Park at the large dirt lot on Depot Hill Road. Mileage: 3. Elevation: 685 feet.
Pochuck Boardwalk and Stairway to Heaven (New Jersey)
Boardwalks aren’t just for the beach! Spanning swamps, fields, and forests, this hike has enough variety to keep anyone interested. From the trailhead you’ll follow AT blazes over a boardwalk path which transitions to a wooded path and eventually pastures, where you might pass a cow or two. Don’t get too comfortable – shortly after this the trail will grow rocky for a steep ascent up Wawayanda Mountain, the “Stairway to Heaven.” At the top, follow the short blue trail towards one of the state’s best viewpoints, Pinwheel Vista. Park on a small lot of Route 517 (searchable as “Appalachian Trail Boardwalk” on Google Maps) or, for a shorter hike from the base of the mountain, at the lot on Route 94 (searchable as “450 Appalachian Trail”) (Picture above: http://www.townandtourist.com/lifestyle/appalachian-trail/). Mileage: 7.3 or 2.5. Elevation: 840 feet.
Mt. Minsi (Pennsylvania)
With great views across the Delaware Water Gap to Mt. Tamany and New Jersey, this is a great trip for energetic hikers. From the parking lot, you’ll hike along the AT to Lenape Lake and uphill from there, crossing several rocky brooks along the way. At the summit, take time to explore different vistas and maybe enjoy lunch before heading back to the parking lot via the Mt. Minsi Fire Road. Park at the Lenape Lake Parking lot. Mileage: 5.1. Elevation: 990 feet.