Pros:Awesome views, Free, Easy to access
Cons:Can get very crowded
The Bottom Line: Bear Mountain State Park is a beautiful area and the Perkins Memorial Drive and Tower are a great introduction to the Park and to Bear Mountain itself.
If you are visiting the Bear Mountain area in the Hudson Highlands of New York, you should take an hour or two to drive up Bear Mountain via Perkins Memorial Drive and take in the view from the tower on top of the mountain. From the tower you have a 360-degree of the region and on a clear day, can see the skyscrapers of Manhattan to the south and the peaks of the Catskill Mountains to the north.
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From Perkins Memorial Drive you can access a number of hiking trails on Bear Mountain including the Appalachian Trail, which has recently been reconstructed by trail crews and volunteers from the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference. There is even a section of the Appalachian Trail near the summit of the mountain, accessible from the road, which is handicapped accessible and goes out to a wonderful viewpoint.
Find Perkins Memorial Drive and Tower
Perkins Memorial Drive climbs Bear Mountain after it leaves Seven Lakes Drive, which runs between Route 9W/202 and the Palisades Parkway. There is a small sign at the intersection directing you up Perkins Memorial Drive to the summit of Bear Mountain.
There are no fees associated with this auto-road, though parking may be limited at the top depending on how busy it is.
How is driving Perkins Memorial Drive?
The road climbs at a reasonable pace and remains a two-lane road all the way to the summit. This is not a challenging road to drive, though some who don't like heights, may have some trouble where the road runs along steep, open areas.
As the road climbs, you come across several different views, including ones that allow you to look right down at the Hudson River and the Bear Mountain Bridge below. As you reach the top, the road forks - one fork goes down the mountain slightly to a small parking area that gives you access to different trails and to a view. The main road continues to the summit, where the Tower is along with a large amount of parking.
What's there to do at the top of Bear Mountain?
The Perkins Memorial Tower sits on the top of Bear Mountain and offers you 360-degree views of the surrounding Hudson Highland area. The tower is probably the single biggest ‘attraction' to visit at the top of the mountain, the trails, including the Appalachian Trail, are a close second.
The tower is open daily between April and November from 8:30 in the morning to 5 in the evening.
There's no fee for the tower, but you do have to climb several flights of stairs to get to the top of the tower. There are landings on the way up if you want to take a break and windows are located on each level, so you can see the view change as you climb higher and higher.
A nice thing about the top of the tower is the park has installed detailed photo/murals from each direction, which allows you to identify all of the mountains, lakes and features that are surrounding Bear Mountain. I found myself up there for a while just taking it all in.
Besides the tower, there is a view on the eastern edge of the summit that overlooks the Bear Mountain Bridge. From there you can look across the Hudson River to the Highlands in the eastern Hudson Valley.
One very cool thing, in the case of the view from the tower and from the eastern portion of summit is that on a clear day, you can see the skyline of Manhattan to the south and the Catskill Mountains and the Taconic Mountains to the east.
For those who have sturdy hiking shoes, you can also tackle some of the trails that make their way around Bear Mountain. These trails offer a different look at the moment with plenty of hidden views along the way. You should invest in a copy of the Trail Conference's Bear Mountain/Harriman Hike Trail Map Set if you really want to explore though. This area is criss-crossed by trails and it can be very easy to get confused at intersections and end up in a completely different area than where you started. The simple brochures you can get at the Park Headquarters are good enough to tackle the trails right around the summit, but anything more, get that map set.
There is also a small pavilion and picnic area just down the hill from the summit that is accessible from the road. You can bring up a picnic lunch and enjoy the top of the mountain.
Having grown up on the eastern side of the Hudson not far from Bear Mountain, I have made many trips here. Whenever I have friends or family over that hasn't been to Bear Mountain, I always take them over on a clear day. The drive is fun, exciting for those who've never been on it, and the views from the top are amazing. It gives you a great idea of the layout of southern New York from the metro area up to the Catskill region. I've also used the road to explore some of the trails along the top of Bear Mountain.
If you are visiting the region and looking for a half-day long trip that won't cost very much money and will give you some great views of southern New York, consider driving up Perkins Memorial Drive and visiting the Tower on the summit of Bear Mountain. This free mountain drive is exciting and there are one of a kind views almost around every corner as you get higher up on the mountain.
Bear Mountain State Park is a beautiful area and the Perkins Memorial Drive and Tower are a great introduction to the Park and to Bear Mountain itself. I don't think anyone would be disappointed after driving up and visiting the area.
Best Time to Travel Here: Jun - Aug