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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
 
 
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POST #13:  SUE'S VIEW: RUNS & HIKES IN NEW JERSEY, NEW YORK,
CONNECTICUT,  & MASSACHUSETTS      
+ OTHER ACTIVITIES NEARBY
 
NOVEMBER 4
 
"I hope you keep the web site up for a long time so I can use it as a reference."
- Diane, a running friend of ours from Montana
 
 


Colorful flowers in Massachusetts wetland, Day 102..

Diane plans to hike for a couple weeks with her brother when he does a thru-hike on the AT. She's looking for ideas about which section to hike with him.

To Diane and others who've encouraged us to keep the information on the website a while: at this time, yes, we plan to keep it available on the internet indefinitely. Some people are just now finding it by word of mouth and web searches. Others may find it useful as they plan their own short or long hikes in a few weeks or a few years. I'm glad it's been a source of entertainment and education for folks. Those were two of my original intentions when I decided to keep a journal.

This is a continuation of a five-part series on weekend, one-week, and two-week vacation-along-the-AT ideas. My suggestions are by no means exhaustive. Do your own additional research about the Trail and what's nearby for further enjoyment to you and/or your family or friends. Check out Post #10 for recommendations re: maps and distances for hikes or runs.

Here's what I liked best from New Jersey to Massachusetts . . .

IDEAS FOR RUNS/HIKES IN NEW JERSEY

Although New Jersey was rockier than I expected, I really enjoyed most of the 72 miles of Trail through this state because it was so interesting and felt quite remote.  Jim and I were both surprised at how beautiful the woods and swamps and farms are. Hiking and driving in this area of New Jersey radically changed our perception of the state (for the good!).

You can do the whole state in a few days to two weeks, depending on your pace and distance. I covered this distance in four days (Days 89 to 92), but could have done it faster if I hadn't had a hip/sciatic problem at the time, forcing me to walk instead of run. The elevation is still pretty low here (all under 1,700 feet) and there aren't any very serious climbs or descents.

If you have only a weekend to spend here, these are the two places I'd recommend first to run or hike:

FROM DELAWARE WATER GAP NORTH - I really enjoyed a 26-mile section from the Dunnfield Creek Natural Area / Worthington State Forest on the NJ side of the Delaware River north to Millbrook Road (Days 89 and 90). After a gradual five-mile climb to the top, you come to the beautiful Sunfish Pond. You can see two different photos of this pretty lake on Day 89 and Post #4.

The ridge along Kittatinny Mountain is quiet and there are nice views from the open woods and several open rock "summits," many lakes down below, and pretty scenery in the distance. This is one view from the ridge; I included two others on Day 90.

The rhododendrons and laurels had just finished blooming in this section when I passed through in late July. Wildlife is abundant. There are some rock ledges and boulders that are fun if you don't hurry too fast. If you want to add another 17 miles, I suggest doing the last section in Pennsylvania that I talked about in Post #12, from Wind Gap to Delaware Water Gap). That would make about 43 miles total.

There are lots of campgrounds and motels around Delaware Water Gap and the Poconos in Pennsylvania and within a reasonable distance in New Jersey. For activities off-Trail, see the PA section in Post #12 about Delaware Water Gap.

VERNON VALLEY - this is part of the "drowned lands" of New Jersey, full of interesting swamps. One of my favorite sections of the whole AT was through the verdant, flowering Pochuck Swamp over the best wooden bridging on the Trail, bar none. There are photos from this swamp on Day 92, Post #4, and Post #5.

On Day 92 I did a 19-mile run/hike that also included Waywayanda State Park in New Jersey and marvelous views of Greenwood Lake from the ridge of Bellevale Mountain in New York. This is where I first encountered the interesting rocks called "puddingstone," which you can see in a photo from that day and in the NY section below.

If you want to go farther, Day 91 south of this section includes more swamps and High Point State Park with its numerous old stone walls in the forest. Like all of New Jersey, some of the Trail is rocky and some is quite smooth.

We didn't spend any time in this area except to pass through quickly, so I don't know about camping, rooms, or other activities nearby.

IDEAS FOR RUNS/HIKES IN NEW YORK

New York has a little bit more of the AT than New Jersey - 88 miles. Most hikers can cover that distance in about a week, runners in less time, depending on how much time you want off to do other activities or to rest.

So for a two-week hike or run, my standard advice holds: go on farther north or south and finish New Jersey and/or Connecticut, too! It took me eleven days on the Trail plus only one rest day to get from Delaware Water Gap at the PA/NJ border, through New York and Connecticut, and into Massachusetts (Days 89 to 100).

This is my favorite section in New York for a day or more:

BELLVALE MOUNTAIN TO THE HUDSON RIVER - from the NJ/NY state line, this is a distance on the AT of 36.5 miles. There is no road crossing at the state line, but Brady Road is about two miles south of it in New Jersey. I saw some hikers who came up to the AT via the State Line Trail. I don't know where it started.

I really loved hiking/running on top of Bellvale Mountain with its beautiful puddingstone rock surface and great views overlooking long Greenwood Lake (see photo below and another on Day 92).

The next 19.7-mile section on Day 94 from NY 17A to Harriman State Park doesn't get over 1,400 feet in elevation but goes up and down eight mountains for a total gain and loss of about 8,100 feet. The surface is alternately smooth and rocky, with lots more puddingstone. Harriman has mostly beautiful, airy, refined woods and the infamous "Lemon Squeezer" rock formation that is fun to crawl through and over.

On Day 95 I went through Bear Mountain Park and Zoo, which was different! Imagine walking right through a zoo. I don't recommend running through it, even if there aren't a lot of people around the lake and zoo; there's just too much to read and see. At the far end of the zoo, going north, is the Bear Mountain Bridge which spans the broad Hudson River. I enjoyed crossing the bridge, but I really didn't care much for the Trail on the other side.

Information about the Trail going north from there to Connecticut is found in Days 96 and 97. Some was runnable, some was interesting, but I didn't like it as much as the sections I've discussed.

We had difficulty finding campgrounds in New York (and Connecticut) that were suitable for our rig and close to the Trail. For most of New York we camped at Round Pond in West Point Military Academy just north of Bear Mountain. Kids would like that campground. You can use it if you have any military connections (active, retired, or family of military personnel). If you're camping in a tent or smaller rig, you might have an easier time finding a place to camp. I'm sure there are lots of motels in this heavily-populated area.

For diversion, we recommend you visit West Point (see Days 93 and 94) with its interesting architecture, history, cemeteries, statues, and views of the Hudson River. You don't have to have military connections to get in the post, which is open daily, but some areas may be off-limits.

This is General George Armstrong Custer's monument. I didn't realize until we visited that he is buried at West Point. After I moved to Billings, Montana several years ago to marry Jim, he took me to see where the Battle of the Little Big Horn was fought. Custer and his entire command died there in 1876. Jim took this photo of the front of his grave marker:

Enjoy your miles on the AT in the mid-Atlantic states! It was pretty hot in some of the un-shaded areas when I went through in July and August, so keep that in mind if you have flexibility and can run/hike during the spring or fall when the temps are more moderate. It was a bit cooler in the southern New England states because the elevations start to get higher.

IDEAS FOR RUNS/HIKES IN CONNECTICUT

Connecticut is another state that an ultra runner can cover in only a day or two, with just 51.6 miles of the AT. But it's so pretty, I recommend slowing down to enjoy it more. A hiker might choose to take a week, including a day or two to check out some local activities. I took parts of three days to get through Connecticut. I want to return to the Kent/ Cornwall Bridge area again sometime because I didn't get to spend any time there.

I loved this state. The forests are beautiful, with many  pine cathedrals (below) and lovely birch trees. There are numerous creeks and rivers. The Trail is not as rocky as the three states south of it. I was happy to be able to run more. The mountains also start getting higher, affording cooler temps and better views.

KENT OR CORNWALL BRIDGE, CT - one of these little towns would make a good base for several days if you or your family enjoy charming New England villages, historic inns, covered bridges, flowers everywhere, scenic farms, 18th century buildings and cemeteries, interesting little shops, and lot of arts and crafts. The area is known for its artists' colonies, winter sports, and hiking. Kent has lots of hiker services.

I wrote about Kent in Post #3 (one of my favorite trail towns) and on Day 98. I really enjoyed the five-mile section of Trail from the NY/CT state line to Schagticoke Mountain as it followed the Ten Mile and Housatonic Rivers. Up and over the mountain is rougher. This section is south of the trail head at CT 341, which is just outside Kent.

North of Kent, toward Cornwall Bridge, is a tough but beautiful section that includes Caleb's Peak and one of the steepest climbs or descents on the AT, St. John's Ledges. You'll catch your breath at the top of that one! I included it in my list of "toughest climbs" in Post #6.

It is followed by one of the easiest sections of the whole AT, a five-mile "river walk" that is mostly flat, scenic, and easy to run or hike along the Housatonic. There are also pretty colors of quartz rocks on Mt. Easter and boulders covered in thick, soft moss. I described this varied 26-mile section on Day 99, when I ended up at Falls Village.

Much of Housatonic River that you see from the Trail in CT and MA flows lazily by, as in the photo farther down this page. At Falls Village, however, you pass by a lively double falls on the river. There is a photo of it in Post #4. I saw folks fishing and floating various places along the river.

The AT is more mountainous the next 15 miles to the Massachusetts line. Popular Bear Mountain, which is easy to climb from the south, has nice views from the tall rock cairn on top (photo and description of this section on Day 100). Hikers can also reach this mountain a shorter way than on the AT - on the Undermountain Trail off Hwy. 41. There are several lakes and state parks in this far northwestern corner of Connecticut and southwestern Massachusetts.

If you really want to cover some ground and have a couple weeks, you could do all of Connecticut and Massachusetts and up to Sherburne Pass in Vermont and still have a couple of days off, as I did.

IDEAS FOR RUNS/HIKES IN MASSACHUSETTS

The AT follows a mostly northerly direction for 92 miles through the scenic Berkshire Mountains of far western Massachusetts. This is a popular area for all kinds of outdoor recreation (camping, hiking, fishing, cycling, canoeing, golfing, and skiing) in several state forests and parks, as well as cultural and historical activities.

The major towns in the Berkshires are strung along Hwy. 7, which the AT roughly parallels several miles to the east. You could choose one town near the middle of the section of Trail you want to run/hike, or move along as you travel north or south on the AT. Here you can find numerous events, theater, dance, music, museums, historical sites, antique and other shops, and wineries.

I spent parts of five days on the Trail in Massachusetts, plus one rest day (Days 100 to 105). As soon as you enter the state from the south, you're getting into more elevation gain and loss than in the previous six states. There are more and more tall, fragrant pines and white-bark birches, more and more wet areas with bog boards. I really felt like I was getting "up North" in Massachusetts.

STOCKBRIDGE, MA - this is one of many small towns in the southern half of the Berkshires that could be your base if you want to concentrate your hiking in that area. It is home to the largest collection of original Norman Rockwell artwork, a botanical garden, and several historical buildings where notable people used to live.

One of my very favorite parts of the entire trail is right at the CT/MA state line, Sages Ravine, with pretty Sawmill Brook running through it. It's a peaceful green mecca (photo below). See Post #3 and Day 100 for more photos of the ravine.

Sages Ravine is not easy to access. The shortest way is up the Overmountain Trail from Hwy. 41 in Connecticut, mentioned above, over Bear Mountain, down the steep northern side of Bear, and down into the ravine. That's a moderately strenuous four- or five-mile hike one way. It's longer and more strenuous if you hike only on the AT from the north or south. It's worth the effort!

The Trail north of here roller-coasters over several mountains in the next ten miles; the best views are from the smooth rocky summit of Race Mountain. I did this at the end of a rigorous 24.5-mile section from Falls Village, CT to Jug End (Curtiss) Rd. in MA. There are other trail heads at roads that allow you to modify the distance.

I also recommend the next 25 miles north of here to Main Rd./ Tyringham. It is more runnable and has a great variety of interesting terrain from bogs and ponds and rivers (see the Housatonic, below) to mountains and the beautiful Ice Gulch. See Day 102 for the details.

North of there are several gorgeous glacial ponds, but the Trail is harder to negotiate over all the roots, rocks, beaver dams, and slick bog boards.

If you're in the middle section of the Berkshires you might want to stay near Pittsfield, a small city of about 50,000 people. It has more services for travelers and hikers, and more cultural and historical activities.

NORTH ADAMS, MA - this is an attractive small city (pop. about 18,000) near the Vermont border in northern Massachusetts. It would be a good base for running or hiking the AT. The Trail goes through part of the town. We stayed at a terrific public (city) campground called Historic Valley Campground. We wished we could stay more than one night but we needed to keep moving north.

Many of the buildings in this city are made of the beautiful white marble found in the surrounding hills. I enjoyed the striking white rocks along the Trail, too. Near town is a white marble natural bridge that was formed during the last Ice Age. The Mohawk Trail, a scenic driving route popular during the fall leaf season, goes through here.

The summit of Mt. Greylock, the highest peak in MA and the only one in the state with a sub-alpine environment, is about seven miles south of town via the AT. Or you can simply drive to the top and hike from there. Nine more miles of hiking south will get you to the interesting white and orange-ish rock formations called The Cobbles. This section is described on Day 104.

North of town the AT follows pretty Sherman Brook as it climbs East Mountain four miles to the Vermont border and the southern terminus of the Long Trail. See Day 105.

Next up: the northern New England states. Are you ready for them??

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2005 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil