Hiking in the Hudson Valley – Black Rock Forest

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There are several beautiful trails in the Black Rock Forest. Here is a description of one of them. More to follow…

The Black Rock Forest
Newburgh New York Hikes
Trail Name:
The “Easy Trail”
Activity Type:
Hiking
Nearby City:
Newburgh
Length:
2.5 total miles
Elevation Gain:
400 feet
Trail Type:
Out-and-back
Skill Level:
Easy to moderate for children
Duration:
Day hike; 2 hours
Season:
March to October
Other Uses:
Top Elevation:
1,410 feet

The Black Rock Forest is not as popular with hikers as nearby Storm King, although it is hard to understand why. This interesting, large (3,785 acres), and very beautiful area has a greater variety of trails, and it is easier to put together a hike that accommodates different hiking abilities. From hikes on rough trails that are challenging to adults, to east, walks 011 woods roads, The Black Rock Forest has it all. Since relatively few people know about The Black Rock Forest, you’re likely to have the place pretty much all to yourself.

From New York City, cross the George Washington Bridge and take the Palisades Interstate Parkway north to its end at the Bear Mountain Circle. Continue north on US 9W for 8.9 miles, passing a parking area for Storm King and the entrance to The Black Rock Forest, on your left. Because the highway here is full of blind curves, barriers divide it, so you drive 1.6 miles past the entrance to a safe turnaround point at Angola Road and then backtrack on 9W to the entrance on Reservoir Road on the right. It is marked with a modest but easily visible (if you are looking for it) wooden sign. Follow the narrow Reservoir Road for 0.3 mile. Turn right at the intersection, follow the road for another 0.2 mile, and turn into the large parking area on the right.
The Black Rock Forest boasts more than a dozen peaks rising to more than 1400 feet and offering fabulous views, but reaching most of them is difficult-and in the summer, tall trees in full leaf block the views. However, getting to the top of Black Rock, the small dome that gives the forest its name, is easy, and well within the capacity of most kids.
The hike to Black Rock begins at the information signboard at the south end of the parking lot, where trail maps are sometimes available. Follow the red-blazed Dunning Trail (a new trail created by New York-New Jersey Trail Conference volunteers and opened in 1998) as it winds gently up through beautiful mixed hardwood and deciduous woodlands. At just under 0.5 mile, the Dunning Trail intersects the blue-blazed Reservoir Trail. Turn left onto the Reservoir Trail, cross a stream on stepping stones, and continue onward and upward through the woods along the stream. After another 0.3 mile, you will see a covered wooden bridge on your left leading over the stream. Cross it and walk across the gravel road (Reservoir Road) to look at the new Black Rock Center for Science and Education. This attractive building, made mostly from wood from The Black Rock Forest, uses modern-day technology such as geothermal heating to be very environmentally friendly. The coolest things at the Center, at least from a kid’s point of view, are the composting toilets. By all means, visit the restrooms to see how a toilet that uses no running water can be clean and odorless.
The Center was built not for the convenience of hikers but to provide offices and laboratories for researchers and space for educational programs. The Black Rock Forest Preserve is actually owned by a consortium of many different scientific and educational organizations, including New York University and the American Museum of Natural History. Students and scientists from the participating organizations take part in ongoing research projects in the forest. As you hike, you may see some of the research areas. Look for trees with various kinds of markings painted on them, painted stakes, and monitoring equipment. Ask the kids to think about what sorts of experiments these might be. Are the scientists trying to learn how fast the trees grow? How could you measure that? Do some trees grow faster than others do? How does rainfall affect tree growth? How can new trees get enough sunlight to grow among the deep shade from the big trees? (When a big tree comes down for some reason-a strong storm, for instance-it clears a large, open space and lets in a lot of sunlight so seedlings can grow up.)
From the Center, return to Reservoir Road, turn left (east), and walk toward the locked gate that blocks the road. Walk around the gate and follow Reservoir Road into the woods. After 0.3 mile of easy walking, you will come to Upper Reservoir, a large lake that is part of the water supply system for the nearby towns of Cornwall and Highland Falls. The red brick structure you see here is an old pumping station, no longer in use. If the kids wonder why they can’t swim or fish in this water, ask them: Would you want to drink water people had been swimming in? What if there were many houses near this water-would it still be as clean?
From the Upper Reservoir, the gravel road turns west (right) and continues through the woods; it is now called White Oak Road. In 0.25 mile, it crosses the yellow-blazed Stillman Trail, a long-distance trail leading in from Storm King (Hike 8). (If you are a fit adult, don’t have any children with you, and would like an extremely challenging hike, you can turn left onto the trail and follow it up and over the aptly named Mount Misery.) Continue on White Oak Road west and then south for almost another 0.5 mile. Look for the junction with the yellow-blazed Stillman Trail again on your left, and follow invest (right) to Aleck Meadow Reservoir. As you will see, this large reservoir was formed by damming Black Rock Brook. The stepped spillway for the dam is at the northern end of the reservoir. The overflow water from the reservoir tumbles down a magnificent hemlock-lined gorge. Take an energy break here-it’s an excellent spot for lunch. Although the children can’t play in the water, they can still hunt for frogs and other critters and look for raspberries along the shore.
To reach the trail for Black Rock, bear right and follow the walk-way/bridge over the spillway and around the northern rim of the reservoir, looking for the rectangular yellow blazes of the Stillman Trail. The trail leads gently upward for 0.1 mile. The white-blazed Black Rock Hollow Trail joins the Stillman Trail here on your right; continue following the yellow blazes back to a dirt road (White Oak Road), then abruptly turn right into the woods. The trail now climbs more steeply through thickets of mountain laurel. After 0.2 mile, you will begin seeing occasional glimpses of Black Rock ahead – you are not far from the top now. Another 0.1 mile, followed by a bit of scramble, brings you out onto an open dome of dark gray-black basalt rock.
Standing here on Black Rock at 1,410 feet, you are at one of the highest points in the Hudson Highlands. (Spy Rock, also in The Black Rock Forest, is the highest point at 1461 feet.) The unobstructed views in all directions arc breathtaking. Below you to the east is the silver ribbon of the Hudson River. Looking north, you can see Storm King; looking south, you get a fabulous view of the Hudson Highlands, including Bear Mountain. The Catskills and Shawangunks are to the west, while the foothills of the Taconic Mountains are across the river to the east. To the north is the Beacon-Newburgh Bridge; to the south is the Bear Mountain Bridge.



Admire the view and catch your breath, then retrace your steps down the trail. When you arrive again at the junction with White Oak Road, you can return the way you came or turn right onto the road for a somewhat longer but still easy and very pleasant stroll back. If you choose the longer route, simply follow White Oak Road south for 0.3 mile to an intersection with another woods road. White Oak Road, now heading north, loops around Aleck Meadow Reservoir for another 0.25 mile and then brings you back to the Black Rock Center. Here you have the choice of returning to your car via Reservoir Road (0.4 mile) or crossing the bridge and returning by the Dunning Trail (about 0.75 mile).

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