Highland Mills New York Hikes
The Long Path
8.6 total miles
Moderate to difficult
The Long Path was intended for mountain ridges, which is why Schunemunk seems the perfect match. It is a beautiful ridgeline far from the valleys and lowlands the Long Path was meant to escape. There is some irony, however, in the fact that the Long Path crosses the mountain at its widest part rather than running its length. The north- south distinction goes to the Jessup Trail, the 8.l mile footpath traversing the full length of this interesting peak.
Schunemunk (pronounced “skun-uh-munk”) is unique, geologically speaking. There are unusual rocks found on its unusually long, level summit.
You can go up and come back down any number of ways. One can reach the summit via the Long Path and Jessup Trail. Most Schunemunk hikers come from the northeast or southwest on the Jessup because it offers more views off into the distance. Probably the most interesting vista comes along a cliff on the Long Path, however.
The Long Path was an idea proposed in 1932 by Vincent J. Schaefer of the Mohawk Valley Hiking Club in Schenectady. He envisioned a trail that would stretch from New York City through the Catskills and Adirondacks to Lake Placid. It would rival neighboring Vermont’s 265- mile Long Trail. His dream went one-step farther, however. He saw this great path as a map-and-compass trail; he did not want trees marked with blazes.
W.W Cady of New York City learned of Schaefer’s plan and began constructing a trail at the west end of the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, N.J., in 1933. He never went farther than Windham High Peak in the Catskills and for nine years, his effort sat unattended. In 1943, Alexander Jessup again marked the trail as far as Peekamoose Mountain in the Catskills. It included quite a bit of road walking, which was not the original intent. Jessup died in 1944 and the dream was again dormant.
In 1961, three New York City men issued a plan for a 350-mile route from the George Washington Bridge to Whiteface Mountain.
A new Long Path was started. It again stalled after 210 miles at Windham High Peak in Greene County. Nevertheless, the dream did not die there. Additional trail sections are opened periodically and in 1995, the Long Path was extended to the John Boyd Thatcher State Park in Albany.
A dirt parking area is maintained for hikers by the Star Expansion Co. at the north end of the Jessup Trail on Taylor Road, one-half mile west of New York 32. Parking at the southern end of the Jessup Trail is on Seven Springs Road in Highland Mills. The Woodbury access is on New York 32 about 4 miles north of Interstate 6 just south of a railroad trestle over the road. This is a trailhead for the Long Path.
The Long Path trail crosses New York 32 at the railroad trestle and goes up the hill under the bridge. It is 0.3 miles from a nice area for parking. The Long Path is blazed, unlike Schaefer’s original wishes. The trail markings have been described as everything from blue to turquoise, but appear to be light green until you get higher on the mountain. After climbing up to the railroad tracks, the trail follows the rail line heading northwest to 0.8 miles. The trail is not clearly marked here and can be easily missed. It descends into the trees going south-southeast, then turns west at 0.9 miles, where it enters land marked by the Open Space Institute. At 1.0 miles, the trail turns abruptly to the north (a red-blazed trail heads south). The trail climbs some rocks to the top of Little Knob at 1.4 miles. The elevation is now 1,000 feet. The trail turns west and goes up sharply before leveling and then reaching another steep section. It turns to the north at 1.8 miles, where you climb some steep rock to a nice overlook of the deep ravine. There is another steep section at 2.1 miles, which pushes you to the top of 1,383-foot High Knob and allows you some excellent views to the east, north, and south. The Long Path follows a high, pine-covered cliff above a lengthy ravine. You descend off this ridge, cross Dark Hollow Brook, and begin climbing steadily to the northwest to reach the Jessup Trail at 3.3 miles. The Long Path continues northwest down a gentle slope, while the Jessup Trail goes north-northeast over bald rock and in and out of small trees. You have views to the east and west as you go. The summit is reached at 4.3 miles. It is marked by painting on the rock – “Site of Fire Tower” and “1,664 feet.”’
The view from here
There are continuous views along this ridge, which runs about 8 miles from northeast to southwest. The summit is a bit disappointing after all you have seen on the climb because trees surrounding the peak block out the splendid vistas in all directions. You need to go 1/l0th of a mile to the northwest to the Megaliths (giant rocks) for the best look.
What’s in a name?
Schunemunk is Algonquin for “excellent fireplace.” The name was given to a village at the northern end of the mountain upon which a tribe once lived.
Camping is permitted along the ridgeline of the mountain, which is designated as the Mountainville Conservancy. It is part of 2,300 acres donated by Star Expansion Co. to be a permanent nature conservancy. There is also camping along the Appalachian Trail to the south of Schunemunk. The AT got its start here, as the first section of the Maine-to-Georgia trail was built in ] 923 through the Bear Mountain-Harriman State Parks by founders of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference. Additionally, camping is offered at the nearby Harriman State Park (914-786-2701) in Willow Grove, Rockland County.
You can mix love of nature and art at the Storm King Art Center, 2 miles north of Schunemunk’s northern-most trailhead. The Storm King Art Center (914-534-9115) has more than 120 large, abstract sculptures; many created by some of the 20th century’s leading sculptures, in its 400-acre park. It is open April I-Nov. 15, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference has produced trail maps (No.8 West Hudson Trails) and a guidebook (Guide to the Long Path). For information on buying these publications, contact the NY- NITC at C.P.O. Box 2250, New York, NY 10016 or (212) 685-9699 or www.nyn jtc.org.