We’ve restricted our detailed reviews to hikes 90 minutes or less from Trenton. This is the limit of what we’d consider an “easy” day trip: 90 minutes up, 2-3 hours hiking, and 90 minutes back translates to a 5-6 hour excursion. If you’re willing to drive up to 3-4 hours, you’re probably looking at weekend trip, but can radically expand the quality of your hiking experience.
A map of the major hiking areas in the region are shown below. Scroll down to read comments about them.
In order of my favorite regions:
- Catskills (3 hours) – less well known that their bigger brothers, the Adirondacks (which are another 2 hours north), the Catskill Park is the oldest state wilderness area in the US, established in 1885. A typical hike in the “High Peaks” will take you to an elevation of 3,500 to 4,000 feet, with a gain of 1,500 to 2,000 feet from the trail head. There are several awesome hikes which follow ridges, allowing you to bag 3 or 4 peaks in one hike (with 5,000+ feet cumulative gain). The steepest trails will gain 1,500 feet per mile, or so, which is pretty intense. Wilderness camping is allowed most places in the Catskill Park, though there’s no place so remote that you can’t day hike there.
- The Gunks (Shawangunk Ridge, about 2 hours 15 minutes) is a set of sharp ridges west of New Paultz, New York. Many of the ridges boast nearly vertical cliff faces. As a result, this is where modern free-style rock climbing techniques were invented in the 1950s and 1960s, and the area remains extremely popular for it’s famous rock climbs. However, hiking trails (which require no particular climbing skill) run along the tops of these ridges. The result are dramatic hikes which provide open views along much of their length. Vertical elevation changes of more than 500 feet are rare.
- Harriman State Park (1 hour 45 minutes) – The Harrimans founded the NY Central RR, and amassed one of America’s greatest fortunes during the late-19th century. The core of this park is the Harriman family estate, donated to NYS in 1910, and expanded over the years via additional acquisitions. It currently contains more than 200 miles of hiking trails and 31 lakes. Summits are typically 1,200 to 1,300 foot elevation, with 400-500 vertical gain from trailhead to summit (though Bear Mountain affords 1,000 vertical feet). Hikes will often traverse more than one summit. Many peaks offer great views of the Hudson River and NYC.
- The Berkshires (3 hours 30 minutes) – the Berkshires offer decent hiking and fishing, along with world-class music, dance, and theater. Destinations such as Stockbridge are internationally famous. Hikes to about 1,000 vertical feet are common. Great weekends to be had hiking part time and taking in some culture in the evenings.
- NJ Highlands (90 minutes to 2 hours) – this covers many distinct hiking areas north of I-80, including the Kittatiny’s, Sterling State Forest (just south of Harriman) and many more.
- Poconos (90 minutes to 2 hours) – less effectively preserved than many of the other highland areas discussed here, the Poconos nevertheless provide some lovely hikes amidst ugly “resort” sprawl.