For someone who grew up with plenty of nature at her doorstep, urban living can sometimes inspire a certain level of claustrophobia. When the weather warms up, even Central Park’s vast lawns can begin to look like a crowded public beach on a hot day–with sheets, towels, and blankets connected edge to edge, obscuring and flattening the green grass.
I love New York and city life in general, but there is something about being on a cramped island for months on end that can sometimes make me want to jump out of my skin. I can remember being 23 years old and unable to rent a car with my 23-year-old friends because, at the time, car rental companies in New York had universally banned drivers under 25 from renting cars. (Now, car rental companies often allow 18- to 24-year-olds to rent their cars but will penalize them with an additional surcharge–due to the fact that statistically drivers under 25 are a higher liability.)In any case, what most stands out when I think back to that experience is the feeling of being utterly trapped. Like most New Yorkers, I did not (and still don’t) own a car. My desire to get outside the city and stretch my limbs in a natural setting with a lot less congestion seemed absolutely fruitless. Man, oh man, do I wish someone would have shared with me what I only learned a few years later: You can get to the mountains as well as un-manicured and virtually empty shorelines and rivers in less than three hours, without the use of a car–period.
The “Easy Escapes” series will be all about those lovely locales just outside the city and how to get to them by train, ferry, or other mode of transport. I promise to offer retreats for both the outdoorsy and the indoorsy types (Yes, for lack of a better word, I have made one up). The first magical escape I’ll share with you is Harriman State Park. It takes approximately one and a half hours–just ONE AND A HALF HOURS!–to entirely forget that you live in a place where people live in concrete boxes stacked on top of one another.
Here’s how you do it: Take the Metro North from New York Penn Station to Tuxedo, New York. (And yes, Tuxedo is where the tuxedo earned its moniker.) After you step off the train, I highly recommend grabbing a sandwich at the awesome deli across the street to take with you on your hike. You can also buy maps of hiking trails there. Then, walk up to East Village Road, which crosses the train tracks. Follow East Village Road across a large stream and under a traffic bridge until you get to Grove Drive. Turn left on Grove Drive. You will see the mouth of the Red Trail as marked on a tree to your right. It’s about a 10-minute walk to get from the station to the trails. From there, I recommend a two-hour hike on the Red Trail to the Yellow Trail (or on the Red Trail to the White Trail to the Blue Trail) to Lake Skenonto. If you’re just making a day trip, it will be four hours roundtrip from Tuxedo to your destination and back.
If it’s your bag, I also suggest that you consider camping there. (To be clear, this is carry-your-tent-and-backpack kind of camping, not drive-your-car to-a-site-with-amenities kind of camping.) You can cook out at night, swim in one of the lovely fresh-water lakes, and admire the mostly docile wildlife. On our last trip, we saw deer, turtles, geese, and a hawk. There were also beautiful wildflowers (wild irises and mountain laurel) and a sunset that could make your heart stop with its beauty. And stars. Have I mentioned stars? The city lights tend to make most New York skies starless. Before my first trip to Harriman, I had almost forgotten what it was like to gaze up into the black night and see an army of stars sparkling above me.Then, the next day, you can easily venture back to Tuxedo the way you came and hop a train back to New York. If you have a little time to kill before the next train arrives, you can even grab a pint and a quick meal at the nearby Tuxedo Junction Inn. They have a nice deck area with seating just off the bar, where you can reconnect with civilization and recover from your adventure in the woods.
This weekend getaway gives you just enough time to play in the dirt to remind you about what you love about city life and the modern conveniences you’ve grown so accustomed to having. Plus, when you get the urge to stretch your limbs, no one has to get hurt. It’s a win-win situation.
*** The “Easy Escapes” series is all about lovely locales less than three hours from New York City and how to get to them by train, ferry, or other mode of transport.