Itching to conquer the AT, but don’t want to commit to all 2,190 miles of it? Lucky for us, it’s right here, in our own backyard.
In 1921, regional planner Benton MacKaye proposed a hiking trail from Georgia to Maine, primarily through the Appalachian and Berkshire mountains, as a way to bring city dwellers into the American forest. Less than two years later, work began on the great trail, with the first completed section being the stretch from Bear Mountain to its present-day crossing with I-87. It was fully finished in 1937, and though it’s been tweaked in the decades since, it’s essentially the same trek that was envisioned by MacKaye himself.
It’s a wonder to explore the Appalachian Trail, whether you plan to hike sections of it — say in the Massachusetts Berkshires or down in Shenandoah National Park — or you take the ultimate challenge and walk the entire route in one five-to-seven-month period. Called a thru-hike, it’s attempted by thousands of hikers per year and completed by about a quarter of those adventurers, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, which oversees maintenance of the trail.
But you don’t have to thru-hike the AT to experience its life-changing powers. Simply spending a day or two out in nature — while ducking into small towns and outposts along the way for food, drink, shopping, and entertainment — can lead you to new people, new places, and a whole new way to enjoy the world.
We’ve designed five Appalachian Trail day trips right in our backyard. They include some mostly moderate hiking, plus suggestions for additional fun along the way. Just bring some good hiking boots or shoes, a change of clothes, and an open mind. Now get out there!
Buttermilk Falls in New Jersey. Photo courtesy of National Park Service
– Trip 1 –
Delaware Water Gap and High Point State Park
The rolling hills and meandering creeks of northwestern New Jersey are a peaceful escape less than a three-hour drive from anywhere in the Hudson Valley. Start your trip on the Jersey side of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and hike the Mount Tammany Loop Trail (trailhead in lot off I-180 in Columbia, NJ). This moderately strenuous 3.5-mile hike — first following red dots and then blue dots and the AT — is a solid test of leg strength with its steep ascent, but the views of the Delaware River are worth it. Afterward, drive north on narrow Old Mine Road — speed limit 15 — and stop at the 85-foot Buttermilk Falls, the tallest in New Jersey. The falls trail connects to the Appalachian Trail.
If you want to rest your legs, or simply stroll a Main Street, visit Blairstown, NJ, filming location of 1980 teen slasher thrillerFriday the 13th. Movie lovers should scope out the Old Mill to recreate the iconic opening scene. Farther north up NJ-521 to NJ-633 is the sleepy Branchville, home to Broad Street Books, where you can get lost in an ever-growing book and CD collection.
In the late afternoon, drive up US-206 to River Road, then take that into Port Jervis, meeting up with US-6, then NJ-23 South. That’ll send you to the entrance of High Point State Park. From here you’ll start a four-mile up-and-back trek along the Appalachian Trail toward High Point, a 220-foot obelisk that marks the highest point in New Jersey with awesome views of three states after an over-200-stair climb.
Food & Drink
As seen in Friday the 13th, the Blairstown Diner has sweet counter service and delicious breakfast fare. The friendly Hainesville General Store in Branchville makes some of the best sandwiches in New Jersey. For an afternoon tipple, Milk Street Distillery in Branchville hosts tours, tastings, and live concerts. Thru-hikers might stop in at the cozy Wits End Tavern in Unionville, NY, for a beer and a chance to charge their phones.
Stay with the thru-hikers at the AMC Mohican Outdoor Center in Blairstown, which offers walk-in tent sites, ground and platform campsites, shared bunkrooms, and cabins, and have a kitchen for those who like cooking their meals. Just two miles down the road from High Point State Park is High Point Mountain Motel, a quintessential motor lodge in Wantage, NJ, with clean, wood-paneled rooms and plenty of parking.
Bear Mountain Bridge. Photo by Derek Robertson
– Trip 2 –
Warwick and Bear Mountain State Park
Want a day trip with scrambling, history, and great eats? Start in bustling Warwick in Orange County, then take on Cat Rocks before ending your journey where the Appalachian Trail began: Bear Mountain.
Warwick is a good starting point thanks to its numerous cafes eager to charge you up before a busy day of hiking. That begins with a moderate hike via the up-and-back Cat Rocks (trailhead at Route 17A and Striper Road, Warwick). This is part of the AT northbound that includes rock scrambling to the Wildcat Shelter, accessible from a blue-blazed side trail after the rocks.