Schunemunk State Park is a 2,700-acre mountain with a nearly 3-mile double-crested ridge. Part of the Appalachian Mountains, this park is a sample of the long twists and bends that define this long range from Maine to Georgia. It’s located in the towns of Blooming Grove (the summit location), Cornwall, and Woodbury. There are eight marked trails spanning over 25 miles, which are fantastic for hiking and snowshoeing, and you can find wide open vistas in every direction.
Schunemunk Mountain is the highest peak in the park and the highest summit in Orange County, New York. Its name is of Algonquin origin, meaning “excellent fireplace.” There are a number of unusual geological features that grace this park that are dissimilar from Storm King and the Hudson Highlands to the east. The megaliths atop of this mountain are the most popular destination for hikers and a natural midpoint for many of the trails. They are enormous blocks of fissured bedrock that cracked and lifted at the summit, creating unusual platforms and crevices. The remains of a compacted seabed form a stark purple conglomerate rock face that will awe your inner geologist. Some of the round, sedimentary rocks are more than 8 inches in diameter and embedded within a matrix of white quartz and pink sandstone similar to that of Minnewaska State Park and the Shawangunk Ridge.
The largest parking area is on Taylor Road at the clearly marked Sweet Clover (white markers) and Jessup (yellow markers) trailheads. The first mile of these trails weaves through a tall grass field until entering the woods and intersecting the Otterkill Trail (red markers) that runs parallel to the Metro-North railroad tracks. BE CAREFUL WHEN CROSSING THE TRACKS! The electric trains move quickly and can be very hard to hear if approaching against the wind.
Many hikers choose to create a looped path that spans between 8 and 12 miles depending on the trail choice. The Dark Hollow Trail is another option that follows a steep stream bed up the eastern face of the mountain. The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference publishes a map with all of the marked trails and their distances so you can decide on a route that’s best for you.
Another popular trail is the Trestle (White) Trail, which begins on Otterkill Road. This parking area is unmistakable; it is directly under the massive and scenic train trestle. There are few unofficial entrances into the woods, but the main path is easy to find and clearly marked. From here, it is a steep climb to the top of the western ridge with a few unique lookout points to the north.
Barton Swamp separates the two ridges and harnesses the Baby Brook that flows to the north and out to the Moodna Creek. This often results in a wet and muddy path for travelers trekking from one ridge to the other. As you dip into the valley, you enter a micro-climate with much different flora than that of the pitch pine and blueberry heaths covering the peaks. Perry Peak also drains the swamp at the southern end out to the Ramapo River.
The Long Path, aqua-blazed, is an approximately 350-mile trail that begins at the George Washington Bridge and ends in the Albany area of New York. In Schunemunk State Park, it begins under a second New Jersey Transit train trestle at the southern point of the park off of Route 32. (Parking can be found on the east side of the road a little farther south from of this point.) This trail climbs up the mountain from the south and offers eastern views of the Hudson Valley. After reaching High Knob, a minor summit in the park, the trail will intersect several other park trails and head southwest past a cell tower as it exits the park. From there, it leads through the Earl Reservoir Park and eventually Gonzaga Park for a total length of about 10 miles. (While the 4.2-mile orange-blazed Western Trail also shares the Long Path markings, it is considered an alternate Long Path entrance that is not part of the primary trail.)
Each ridge will provide you with unique views of the surrounding Hudson Valley. Directly to the west, there is the Black Rock Forest and Storm King State Park. Farther across the river there is Breakneck Ridge and the Mount Beacon Fire Tower. To the south, you can see Bear Mountain State Park and Harriman State Park. Regardless of which path you choose, you’ll be delighted by the large rock faces and open vistas that characterize this high plateau.