NOT MANY PEOPLE think of hiking when visiting New York City. But the five boroughs and the area that surrounds them offer surprisingly varied and rewarding hiking options, and writer Ben Keene aims to let the world know about them.
Keene’s book, Best Hikes Near New York City, was published by FalconGuides in this past spring. I caught up with him by email to talk about his book, New York’s outdoor spirit and the importance of a post-trail ale.
EH: How did you get started hiking in the New York area? Was it something you discovered only after you’d been living there for some time, or did you start seeking out the local trails right away?
BK: I moved to New York more than a decade ago now, eager to experience its nightlife, music scene and dining culture. Four years at a small college in rural Ohio will do that to you. What I found over time though, is that I needed an escape every once in a while—a break from the city, even if it was only for an afternoon.
Day-tripping to nearby parks with trails quickly became one of my favorite options, and I was soon making regular hiking trips to the lower Hudson Valley in the summer and fall.
What would you say to people who turn their noses up at hiking in / near an urban area? How would you sell them on New York’s trails?
First of all I would say that those people don’t know what they’re missing! Sure, greater New York doesn’t seem like a hiking paradise at first glance, but I think the number of opportunities will surprise anyone who goes looking.
From the 2,800-acre Staten Island Greenbelt to the almost 30-mile network of trails across the river in New Jersey’s Palisades Interstate Park, there are places in the metro area to satisfy all but the snobbiest of outdoor enthusiasts.
Whether you’re looking for a hike with sweeping vistas, challenging climbs, bird-watching possibilities or even a waterfall payoff, my book has something for just about everybody.
In fact, New York is wilder than most people know it to be, and visiting and supporting parks in and near cities helps to keep those green places healthy and relevant to the urban population.
One of the great things about some of the NYC-area trails is their accessibility via public transit; hiking shouldn’t be a sport reserved for vehicle owners. Did you make a point of seeking out and including some of those spots in the book?
You’re absolutely right. Hiking shouldn’t be a luxury reserved for drivers. And yes, because of this belief, I sought out and included trails that could be accessed via public transportation. More than half of the routes in my book are reachable via bus or train, and several shorter hikes are actually on subway lines.
What’s your favorite trail of the 40 included in your book?
I’ve never been good at picking favorites, but if I had to choose, I guess I’d say Schunemunk Mountain State Park. Just shy of 1,700 feet in elevation, it’s the highest peak in Orange County and it has the views to prove it.
If you’re impressed by the Empire State building’s observation deck, then you’ll definitely want to visit this mountain. Be prepared for some tough climbing though—getting to the best overlooks isn’t easy.
Finally, you and I have talked in the past about the glorious combination of a solid day’s hike topped off with a visit to a local brewery. Can you recommend any New York-area hikes that wrap up at the pub?
It’s true, a post-hike pint makes every outing that much more rewarding, in my opinion. Fortunately for New Yorkers who share my fondness for craft beer, there are several breweries in easy distance of one or more trailheads. My Blue Mountain Reservation hike would finish off nicely with a visit to the nearby Peekskill Brewery, the Chelsea Brewing Company is a pleasant spot to end up after a jaunt in Manhattan’s Inwood Hill Park, and if you have to catch a train back to the city after a trek to Fire Island National Seashore, why not wait at Blue Point Brewing’s tasting room in Patchougue?