Fall Hiking Trails and Halloween Tales in Harriman
By Paul Clark
No matter where Bob Clinton has lived and traveled he has always found a way and a trail to hike. But by far his favorite places have always been right here in Harriman. And after decades of traversing its many trails and woods roads — on foot, skis, horseback and more — it’s safe to say that he knows Harriman better than just about anyone.
So with that in mind, and especially now with fall’s cooler, crisper climate and jaw-dropping colors fast approaching, who better to point you in the right direction for some truly spectacular hiking — and the chance to soak-in some real Halloween spirit in the process? Here are a few of his suggestions for autumn hiking fun...
If you enjoy the other-worldly sensation of walking through ghost towns and wandering among the spirits, Clinton suggests a hike to Doodletown on the scenic 1777 Revolutionary Trail (a trail that follows the route of British troops on their march from Stony Point to attack American forces at Forts Montgomery and Clinton in October, 1777) in the northeastern part of Harriman and Bear Mountain. First settled in the 1760s and abandoned just over two hundred years later, here you’ll find the crumbled foundations of erstwhile houses, a mine once owned by Thomas Edison, still active and abandoned cemeteries, and more than enough stonework, stairs, silent paths and walkways to tickle and tease your imagination.
Some say that Doodletown derived from “dood tal,” Dutch for “dead valley.” Clinton, who is also a photographer and musician, prefers another, more lyrical explanation. “The song Yankee Doodle Dandy is how the town got its name,” says Clinton. “The British marched through the settlement, singing the song to taunt the residents, so the town was called Doodletown.” Clinton discovered the town himself in the late 1960s. “Back in high school, we used to drag race on the main street there. We knew there was an old cemetery there, and thought it would be a good place to spend All Hallows Eve. So I said, ‘let’s go find it.’ It was classic Halloween night .... The wind was blowing through the treetops. The moon was poking in and out of the clouds, and vines and trees were reaching up through the gravesites. We hung out there all night telling ghost stories and reading epitaphs on the headstones.”
"Behold me now as you pass by,
As you are now so once was I,
As I am now you soon must be,
Prepare for death & follow me.”
– an epitaph in Doodletown
If, however, you prefer to mix your hiking with one part climbing and two parts treachery and murder, the place to do it is up in Claudius Smith’s Den on the scenic Blue Disc Trail in the southwestern part of the park. “Claudius Smith was America’s first outlaw,” explains Clinton, He used this place (an intriguing natural shelter concealed and protected by over-hanging rock formations) as his headquarters.” From 1774 to 1779, Smith, a British sympathizer who, along with a gang that included his own three sons, stole horses, cattle and just about every other thing they could from surrounding homes and farms — sometimes killing innocent people in the process. “He went both ways,” says Clinton, “he stole from the Americans and sold to the British, and also stole from the British and sold to the Americans.
Smith was finally caught and hanged in Goshen in 1779.” As you stand among these remote and rocky recesses it isn’t difficult to appreciate the isolation that this hideout commanded back then. And if you close your eyes and listen, you can almost feel the presence of Smith and his gang, and hear them bragging about their pillaging while plotting their next ones. While you’re in the area, the remains of an old mine, the Black Ash, are nearby and worth seeing.
Or course, there are several more recent — and peaceful — examples of the past to hike to and through, including several marked and unmarked trails and roads that reveal lasting reminders of the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a Great Depression-era program created in the 1930s. The CCC and the hundreds of workers it employed were instrumental in the building of roads, camps, water and other projects throughout Harriman, including the infrastructure that created Pine Meadow, Welch, Silvermine and other present-day lakes. And to this day, Clinton and thousands of other overnight hikers have appreciated the presence of several unique CCC-built shelters, like Big Hill on the intersection of the Suffern-Bear Mountain Trail (SBM) and Long Path, and Stone Memorial shelter on the SBM near Pine Meadow Lake. “These are beautiful shelters,” says Clinton, “and obviously built to last. Many have still-working fireplaces built into them.”
Which other trails does Clinton recommend for fall hikers? Pine Meadow Road, sensational in fall and easily accessible from the boat launch parking lot at Sebago Lake. “That’s one of my favorites. It’s wide, not difficult and it leads to some nice lakeside spots along the way.”
Also, the 1779 Revolutionary Trail in northern Harriman, which traces the route that Anthony Wayne’s American troops took in their drive to retake Stony Point from the British. There are other longer, more difficult trails in Harriman, too, including Suffern-Bear Mountain. The SBM is “a truly great trail, but,” Clinton cautions, “a difficult one that only experienced hikers should attempt because it’s all up and down. There’s next to no flat terrain on its entire 22-or-so mile length.”
But whichever trail you take, however many times — once, twice or like Bob Clinton, every chance you get — you should follow his advice to always take the right map, take your time and have fun. And while you’re there, you’ll heartily agree: You can’t top Harriman on Halloween or any other time in fall for an afternoon, day or weekend of fresh autumn air, great exercise, a little bit of history and a lot of fantastic foliage everywhere you look.
For more information on Harriman State Park, visit nysparks.state.ny.us/parks. For trail information, use the maps of Harriman Bear Mountain trails published by the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference (available at Ramsey Outdoor Stores, EMS, Campmor and other stores, and visit nynjtc.org/view/hike.