Storm King State Park is located on the west bank of the Hudson River in Cornwall-on-Hudson and covers 1,972 acres. The steep sides and rounded tops of these mountains, carved out by the last ice age, create a significant bend in the river, which marks the beginning of a fjord that stretches south to West Point and Bear Mountain State Park. The main peaks are Storm King Mountain, Butter Hill, North Point, and Pitching Point (along the North Point Ridge), and each of the trails follows steep and quick ascents to their respective summits. This entire state park is graced with many viewpoints overlooking the Hudson Valley in all directions. Directly across the river is Hudson Highlands State Park, where Breakneck Ridge and Mount Taurus are the most prominent summits in view to the east. To the south, you can see Constitution Island and the United States Military Academy, where one of several chain booms was located during the Revolutionary War to prevent enemy ships from sailing up the Hudson River.
Dr. Ernest Stillman, a physician and conservation advocate, purchased approximately 800 acres of the park in 1922 and donated it to the Palisades Interstate Park Commission to preserve the scenic area around the Old Storm King Highway. The additional 1,000 acres were acquired over the past century though subsequent gifts and purchases.
Storm King Mountain was the center of a watershed court case in the 1960s that became the basis for U.S. environmental law and an inspiration for public environmental coalitions throughout the country. At that time, Consolidated Edison developed a plan to build a large pumped-storage power plant with a powerhouse at the base of the mountain, 10-story transmission towers running power lines across the river, and a 260-acre reservoir in the Black Rock Forest. This infrastructure would pump water uphill during the night, when electricity costs are low, and release it downhill, through turbines, during the day, when it could be sold for a higher price. It was one of several construction proposals in response to numerous power blackouts in New York City. Upon learning of the plans, residents of the Hudson Valley came together to form the Scenic Hudson Preservation Conference and protect the mountain’s natural beauty and resources. Joined by the Nature Conservancy, the NY-NJ Trail Conference, the Natural Resource Defense Council, and the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association, they contested the project with national and international support and negotiated a settlement in December of 1980 that preserved the land.
In 1999, a forest fire resulted in the detonation of unexploded ordinances all over the park. Over a century ago, these lands were a target for test cannons manufactured at the West Point Foundry in Cold Spring just across the river. As a result, the park was closed for several years while remaining explosives were searched for and removed. Artillery shells from the West Point Military Reservation may also have contributed to the explosions. Following the clean-up, the park was reopened to the public in 2003.
Storm King Mountain defines the park with a monumental, jagged rock face that wraps around its eastern side. At 1,340 feet in elevation, it can easily be identified along the horizon, even from miles away to the north, with its signature dip into the Hudson River. While Henry Hudson and his crew called the mountain Klinkesberg, the name was never kept. The name Storm King comes from 19th-century writer Nathaniel Parker Willis, who referred to the fog clouds that regularly bottleneck here in the early morning hours. New York State Route 218, also known as Old Storm King Highway, cuts into the mountainside extending from Highland Falls in the south to Cornwall-on-Hudson in the north and creates an awe-inspiring route along the Hudson with several spots to pull over and marvel at the scenery.
Butter Hill, at 1,380 feet, is a second peak of Storm King Mountain that sits 40 feet higher about a half-mile to the southwest. The orange-blazed Butter Hill Trail is perhaps the most popular in the park and starts in a dirt parking lot off of U.S. Route 9W (North). Here picnic tables are situated along a high bank overlooking the Clove and the valley between the northern and southern peaks that slants down to the Hudson River. This name has Dutch origins from the colonists who referred to it as Boterberg due to its perceived resemblance to a lump of butter. There is a large information board about the park along with two memorial signs at the trailhead. One commemorates the construction of the Storm King Bypass, while a second one honors the Freedom Road, the route traveled by the 52 American hostages from Stewart Airport to West Point after their release from captivity in Iran.
North Point is located in the heart of Storm King State Park. It has a large boulder at its summit, which is notably surrounded by low growth. Farther east, Pitching Point is located along this same north ridge. In the summer months, many trekkers begin at the dirt parking area on Highway Route 218 and take the Howell Trail (Blue) along the ridge. Combining this with the Stillman Spring Trail (White) will create an approximately 3-mile loop back to the parking lot.
The Hudson Highlands Trail marks a newer cooperative venture that traverses the park. Beginning at the Riverfront Park at Cornwall Landing, this 150-mile trail initiative by the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference extends to Riegelsville, New Jersey, on the Delaware River. It is marked by diamond-shaped markers that read “The Highlands Trail.” After joining with the Stillman Trail (Yellow) in the park, it leads across the highway and into the Black Rock Forest.
There are several parking locations around the perimeter of the park that provide access to different trailheads and adventures, but there are several access factors to note. The U.S. Route 9W parking areas can only be reached when traveling North on U.S. Route 9W. There is a divider in the center of the highway that forces visitors from the north to travel an extra 3 miles to the south and use the Route 218 interchange to turn around and return on U.S. 9W north. In the winter season, Highway 218 is closed due to the dangers of snow and ice along with the increased risk of falling rocks.