Heading to Bear Mountain State Park with kids makes for a great day trip now that school's almost out and schedules are a little looser. The Rockland County park, which is nestled against the Hudson River and offers something for kids of all ages, is one place our family has returned to each year.
With hiking, paddleboat rentals, a large playground, ample room for picnicking, and even a zoo, the park has plenty of options to fill an entire day. Our summer readers will be especially happy to learn the swimming pool opens for the 2022 season on Saturday, June 18. We recently visited the park and can fill you in on what you need to know about this year-round destination, including our top 10 favorite things to do.
The Bear Mountain Zoo features creatures native to New York that have been injured or orphaned, and aren’t fit to return to the wild. The main stars of the show are the bears in their den, but you’ll also have the chance to see eagles, foxes, coyotes, and beavers. There are also several museum buildings; the Herpetology House has a decent array of reptiles, amphibians, and fish, and the Geology Museum features a particularly cool geode display involving a black light that wowed my 6-year-old. When you compare it with that big zoo in the Bronx, the Trailside Zoo can be admittedly a wee bit underwhelming. (One member of our family has given it the unfortunate nickname of the “Roadkill Zoo.”) But if you leave those Bronx Zoo expectations at home, the Trailside Zoo is an extremely manageable and cute little zoo.
2. Have a Picnic
There is plenty of lush green grass for picnicking at Bear Mountain, and there’s ample space for running around and playing Frisbee or soccer. You’ll often find large groups congregating next to Hessian Lake, where there are multiple picnic benches in the shade plus vending machines and a concession stand serving burgers, kosher hot dogs, french fries, and ice cream.
The playground at Bear Mountain is great for a range of ages. Photo by the author.
If that area is too crowded, you can always park a blanket on the lawn adjacent to the parking lot. There is a new playground with multiple climbing structures tucked away on the far side of the park, past the carousel house, with a few picnic benches nearby. There are also a few prime benches near the Hudson River that offer amazing views of the Bear Mountain Bridge—follow the signs for “Scenic Views and the Trail to Fort Montgomery" from the zoo.
Don't forget the binoculars for some stunning views of the Hudson River. The pedestrian lanes are guarded by very high gates, so it’s safe even for little ones. The lanes are wide enough for two people to walk side-by-side and should fit most strollers.
4. Rent Paddleboats
While there’s no swimming permitted in Hessian Lake, you can rent paddleboats for $10 per person per hour. (Each boat must have at least one person who is 16 or older.)
Take a spin on a turkey or other animal native to the area. Photo by the author.
5. Take a Spin on the Merry-Go-Round
Why ride a horse when you can ride a skunk? The indoor carousel at Bear Mountain houses 42 hand-carved replicas of native animals, including bears, wild turkeys, foxes, rabbits, and much more. Rides are $1 per person, and children under 42 inches must be accompanied by an adult. Take note that it's open Wednesdays through Sundays during the summer, and only on weekends and holidays the rest of the year.
Restaurant 1915 at the Bear Mountain Inn offers a full brunch menu beginning at 2pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Looking for something a little more casual? There’s the Hiker’s Café on the ground floor of the Inn offering a wide variety of sandwiches, burgers, and pizza, and you can also find a small snack stand inside the carousel building. Check out the large gift shop next to the Hiker's Cafe, which has a wide variety of apparel, tchotchkes, snacks, and camping toys.
There are tons of trails for hiking in Bear Mountain State Park. Photo by Mommy Poppins
8. Go for a Hike
In addition to a 6-mile span of the Appalachian Trail in the park, there are numerous hiking and bike trails for all skill levels, as well as cross-country skiing in the winter. The most popular hike in the park is the 3.9-mile-roundtrip hike from Hessian Lake to Perkins Memorial Tower, which you can also drive up to via Perkins Memorial Drive. The New York City skyline is visible from the top on a clear day. Another less challenging hike is through Doodletown, a hamlet that was abandoned in 1965. Here you can see the remains of the houses as well as a reservoir and an old cemetery. The hike meanders along a creek with nice waterfalls.
9. Visit the Docks
While not necessarily a safe destination for little ones, the docks are another prime spot for spectacular Hudson River views. Bring your fishing poles and tackle.