Towering over the west side of the Hudson River in Storm King State Park, just over an hour's drive from New York City, and north of the West Point Military Academy, looms a mountain with the ominous name of Storm King. Usually brushed by a cottony wisp of clouds, the mountain marks the northernmost limit of the Hudson Highlands, a region of small peaks that hem in the river’s most beautiful stretch. Storm King crowns the Black Rock Forest, largest protected region of the Highlands, and is the area’s most distinctive feature. It also played a huge role in history, being the focus of a watershed court case that transformed environmental law in the United States. In the early 1960’s, Consolidated Edison announced plans to transform the mountain – then part of Palisades Interstate Park - that included 10-story transmission towers that crossed the river, an enormous power station and a 260-acre reservoir in the forest. Conservation efforts involved numerous groups and the issue was finally settled in 1980 – nearly 20 years later – establishing the right of citizen groups to sue a government agency to protect natural resources and scenic beauty. Today, the handful of trails in Storm King State Park are popular with hikers, but, fortunately, mostly left alone in the windy winters. This can be a perfect time to go, especially after a recent snow.
Driving from New York City, cross the Tappan Zee Bridge and Take Route 9W north at Nyack. Pass the imposing Bear Mountain Bridge and climb into the park; make sure to check out the views of West Point and the river from two pulloffs. A right turn down Mountain Road leads to a small lot: the western Storm King trailhead, the yellow-blazed Stillman Trail.
The first section runs along a fire road, ideal for snowshoes in this broad, relatively flat section. About 200 yards past a stone bridge, a narrow trail blazed yellow and blue enters from the left. This skirts the side of the mountain and slowly rises into a boulder-strewn pine forest. The trail here is a bit too rocky and narrow to effectively use snowshoes so here would be a good place to shed them. The trail narrows as it winds its way around the east side of the mountain. Especially in bare winter foliage, the views of the river are stupendous. The view north reveals the last gasp of the Highlands before the terrain levels at Newburgh, the river widening to more than a mile. The Catskills rise to the northwest and immediately below, rests tiny Pollepel Island, crowned by an ostentatious, crenellated castle of seven stories, built by an eccentric ammunition-hoarding millionaire, Frank Bannerman, in the early years of the 20th century. Several of the arms of the war-obsessed recluse are now in the Smithsonian.
Hugging the mountain, the trail wraps around to the east and the push to the 1300-foot summit is an easy one. Bald granite outcrops at the summit offer views in all directions, looking east across the river to Mt. Taurus and the town of Cold Spring, and south to Constitution Island and West Point. Returning via the same route makes for a quick roundtrip of about four miles. Alternately, the hiker may descend via the Howell Trail/Clove Road combination, (blazed blue) exiting at a parking area on route 218, right beside the river. A final option is to stay with the yellow-blazed Stillman Trail until it meets route 9W. Both options require leaving a vehicle in another parking area. The hiker is sure to spot white-tailed deer; wild turkey and black bear tracks indicate their prescence as well. Important note: it is essential that the hiker do not stray from marked trails. As of this writing, some unexploded artillery shells, fired decades earlier, are believed to be embedded in the ground in the park.
(Provided courtesy of Sean Hickey)
Overall, Stillman Trail is the 8th most popular hiking trail of all 49 hikes in New York.