As the August heat index rises, head out of the city and straight for one of these easy East Coast adventures.
Author: Katherine Oakes | Photography: Bella New York, Greg Fullum & Katherine Oakeshuckberry.com
Being an East Coaster is kind of hard. Unlike West Coast denizens, we aren’t spoiled by impressive vertical gains and scenic vistas like those of the Sierras, Cascades, or the Rockies. We also don’t have acres of virtually untouched, pristine backcountry to romp around, play in, or explore to our heart’s content.
To put it simply, East Coast adventures are a little more humble and harder to come by – but that’s not to say that East Coast adventuring doesn’t exist. Oh, it does. You just need to put your back into it, is all.
Now, to be fair, for many the daily grind of life on the merciless and fast-paced island of Manhattan is adventuresome enough. Dodging potholes, pedestrians, and sprinting from one subway to the next with hot coffee in hand is equally as strenuous as summiting Mt. Whitney or climbing El Capitan. Not to mention getting a table – any table – on a Sunday morning for brunch.
When you really think about it, no one could blame you for wanting to indulge in boozy brunches and artisan doughnuts over the weekend. But what if we told you there was some truly spectacular natural beauty and adventure just beyond the city limits? And no, I know what you’re thinking, it’s not just New Jersey… but that’s definitely a good place to start.
Hartshorne Park, Atlantic Highlands, NJ. Debunking myths that New Jersey is only inhabited by people named Snookie is an outdoor lover’s paradise called Hartshorne Park. Directly south of Brooklyn, Hartshorne encompasses 794 acres of pure fun that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean. With 14 miles of varied terrain, it boasts plenty of moderately challenging woodland trails, winding roads for cycling devotees, and easy access to the brackish waters of the Navesink River – think: fishing, boating, swimming, and beautiful views of the Atlantic.
Perfect for the gearless yet fearless explorer, Hartshorne fortunately offers group cabin camping in the heart of the park so you can spend an entire weekend exploring the place. If by some stroke of luck you manage to have some time left over, head out to the beaches of Sandy Hook where you’ll gain a rare vantage point of the city skyline while swimming. And all this is within a quick 40-minute ferry ride from Pier 11, plus a five-minute bus ride to the park itself from Manhattan, because who really likes sandy subway rides back and forth to Coney Island?
Breakneck Ridge, Hudson Highlands State Park, NY. Described as “gorgeous, unforgettable” and, oh yeah, “steep,” Breakneck Ridge is a helluva day hike that’s wildly popular for a reason. Scramble up the first three summits of the ridge (you’ll need both hands free) and take in an amazing view of the the Hudson River at the fourth summit where you’ll have gained an impressive 1,400+ feet in elevation. From there, you can either hike the 3.6 mile loop and head down into the town of Cold Springs for a bite to eat, or pack a lunch and continue on the Wilkinson Memorial Trail where you can enjoy another vista point at the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. Then be sure to go get yourself the cold one – you know you deserve, just to make being at sea level at little more fun.
Aside from the fun challenge and beautiful scenery, the trailhead is walking distance from the Hudson Valley line station stop via Metro-North and a quick hour and half up from the city. Win, win, and win.
Timp-Torne Trail in Harriman State Park, NY. It would be a shame to write this list and not mention a single hike from the historic and magnificent Harriman State Park. You may have heard about the Adirondacks, but Harriman trails behind at a very close second. The park has 200 miles of hiking trails so you’ll be able to get in that overnighter you’ve been craving. This is best accomplished on the rugged Timp-Torne Trail.
Let’s back up: hop on the Shortline Bus from Port Authority and buy a ticket to Tompkins Cove, the last stop before Bear Mountain. This is most definitely the less scenic part of the trip, but don’t worry it gets a lot nicer, I swear. Once you arrive, you’ll walk less than a half mile north along Rte. 9W to the trailhead. From there, follow the blue blazes until you get to your home for the night at the scenic West Mountain Shelter. Give yourself permission to ooh and ahh at some preeeetttyyy nice views of the city skyline off in the distance. You’d be lucky to have this shelter all to yourself but if not, set up camp somewhere near the trail.
In the morning, hike over to the historic Bear Mountain Inn and refuel with food and drink before you catch a 90-minute bus ride back to New York. Now was that so hard?
Finger Lakes National Forest, NY. You’ll need a car for this four-and-a-half-hour trip to the Finger Lakes National Forest, but it’s well worth it. Drive North up to Blueberry Patch Campground and be sure to get there early enough so you can snag one of the nine sites for just $10 a night. Once you’ve set up camp, you will have easy access to the Interloken Trail that runs through the National Forest. Lace ‘em up and do a hearty 12-mile hike or if you have other plans, create a loop of your own. A word of advice: While you wander, do make sure to close the gates behind you as to keep the cows from wandering off — don’t worry, you’ll know it when you see it.
If you’ve opted for a shorter route in favor of “other plans,” spend your time at Watkins Glen State Park, which is only a 15-minute drive away from the site. Standing in awe of the 19 waterfalls and winding pathways carved into the gorge is a totally acceptable plan, but it’s also really fun to hike up to the top. On your way back to the campsite, it’s a very good idea to catch a few fish at Seneca Lake and fry them up for dinner under the stars.
DUMBO Boulders, Brooklyn Bridge Park, If you’re simply too pressed for time to leave the city but still want to get outside, get your fix over at DUMBO Boulders’ outdoor climbing facility in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Situated right beneath the Manhattan Bridge on the banks of the East River, you can spend your day scaling the beginner-friendly boulders or challenging yourself on their advanced courses. Whether you’re going solo or have a few friends with you, it’s an easy and affordable way to pack in some outdoor adventure – all in a New York minute. [H]
Writer/Adventurer/People Person. Katherine Oakes is based in New Jersey and works out of Brooklyn + weekends worldwide. When she's not exploring new people, places, and things, you can find her teaching yoga or blogging about her wholehearted attempts at sustainable living on The Basic Goods.