Escape the Vassar strife and discover the hiking life

Courtesy of Talya Phelps

Hiking tends to be a divisive issue: For some, it’s (literally) a breath of fresh air after a week of being cooped up indoors studying; for others, it’s a torturous slog punctuated by blisters, mosquito bites and other unforeseen dangers lurking in the forest. Luckily for those in the former group, the Hudson Valley is replete with hikes scenic and exhilarating enough to convert even the most ardent critic of the outdoors. Vassar Outing Club Co-President Charles Hooghkirk ’19 recommended a few choice spots, some ideal for a spontaneous afternoon picnic and some better suited to a full-day expedition. This is a small sampling of all the gorgeous hikes in the region, so stay tuned for a follow-up feature.

1. Alander Mountain

If you’re hungry for a steep scramble and not alarmed by the possibility of rattlesnakes, Alander Mountain is the place for you. Located just across the border in the Taconic Mountains of Mount Washington, MA, this hike offers several ways to make it to the summit, which rises 2,234 feet above sea level. To try out a four-and-a-half-mile loop route, start on the blue-blazed Alander Brook Trail and then switch to the white-blazed South Taconic Trail, which opens onto several hundred yards of trail with views on all sides. Continuing on, if you turn right at a sign for “MASS. PARK HQ ,” you will come across a small cabin, which you could use for a power nap. To hop on the Alander Loop Trail from this spot, leave the cabin and retrace your steps uphill until you see a sign with arrows pointing right; turn left instead and follow the blue blazes to a left onto the South Taconic Trail. Finally, turn right onto the red-blazed Robert Brook Trail to begin the last leg of the journey (Hike the Hudson Valley, “Alander Mountain”).

2. Stissing Mountain

If you’re not quite up for the lengthy Alander hike but still crave a bird’s-eye view of the Hudson Valley, make tracks to Stissing Mountain and its eponymous 90-foot-tall fire tower. While the climb is steep, it takes less than an hour to journey from the base of the hike to the fire tower, and the time spent admiring the view will give you a chance to catch your breath. The trail is a loop without much possibility of getting lost, but make sure not to miss the final right turn off the old woods road (Hike the Hudson Valley, “Stissing Mountain”).

3. Nuclear Lake

In 1972, a chemical explosion blew out two windows in the nuclear research lab that sat by the shore of this lake, spreading bomb-grade plutonium over the water and surrounding woods and giving the location its rather alarming name. Have no fear: The area was cleaned and declared safe long ago, and it now offers a serene four-mile hike that includes sections of the Appalachian Trail. From the Blue Trail at the beginning, switch to the white-blazed Appalachian to head towards the lake and turn right onto the yellow-blazed Nuclear Lake Loop. On the far side of the lake, you can take a four-mile detour up the Appalachian to the Cat Rocks overlook, or you can turn left to head back towards your car or, better yet, take in a lakeside picnic (“Hike the Hudson Valley, “Nuclear Lake”).

4. Storm King Mountain

Located across the river in Cornwall-on-Hudson, NY, Storm King is a moderate two-and-ahalf-mile loop trail with a few steep sections and a plethora of picture-perfect overlooks. While the name may be familiar because of the Storm King Art Center, the sculpture park (which is also worth a visit) is about a 10-minute drive from the hike and the surrounding Storm King State Park. Begin on the designated Orange Trail and ascend toward Butter Hill; you will pass the ruins of a small building. Turn right when the Orange Trail ends and continue onto the trail marked with blue and yellow blazes, which opens out onto views of Newburgh Bay, Bannerman’s Castle, the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge, the Catskills and the Hudson Highlands. When the Blue/Yellow Trail takes a sharp left, switch to the White Trail to finish out your journey (Hike the Hudson Valley, “Storm King Mountain”)

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