It was supposed to be the Red Cross, Beech Trail and Long Path Loop from Lake Skannatati..total distance 8.4 miles – considered moderate on the NY-NJ Trail Conference website, with views and a waterfall along the way. Knowing that the Fort Montgomery trail we had hiked the day prior had been labelled challenging (by Bear Mountain Park’s trail map), I figured this would be pretty easy. While I hadn’t read all of the details about the hike when we chose it, I figured same distance as yesterday, labeled moderate, should be a piece of cake. Here’s the overview from the website:
This hike explores a less-used area of the park, passing a historic mine and a small cemetery, and following several attractive brooks.
Finding Lake Skannatati was the first challenge. Because my GPS didn’t recognize the name of the lake, we just drove along Seven Lakes Drive until we saw a sign with the name on it. The entrance to the parking lot sat right next to some road construction…probably the reason we saw the small sign at all.
We parked the car and looked for the triple upside down triangle blaze, which marked the trail head, as instructed. This was pretty easy to find, as it’s the only obvious trail from the lot. After walking up to the top of the hill to check out the view over the lakes, we continued on to the Red Cross Trail.
At about this point we both realized neither one of us had charged our phones overnight, and were going to lose power on our directions…which would not be good. “I don’t really want to go into the woods unprepared,” Damany stated with an air of ‘I’ve seen I shouldn’t be alive‘ in his voice.
“What do you mean unprepared? We’ve both got water, and I’ve got a sleeping bag and a loaf of bread; I’d say we are fairly prepared. I’ll just jot down the directions on a piece of paper real quick.”
My jotted down directions:
So, what I was able to jot down right quick was not quite all of the information we needed. We followed the Red Cross Trail for what seemed like quite a ways…up and down hills, through fields which clearly hadn’t been traveled very much, across a road, past a small lake which we thought the mine would be near, through some dense brush, and beyond fallen trees which had our trail markers on them. We didn’t want to go too far off track looking for the mine without our real directions, so crossing the small stream on some rocks a short distance from that area led us to figure we were at least somewhat on point, and we must have already passed it. At some point we found a large rock to sit on for a while and look over the beautiful mountainous area while we rested up and nibbled on some bread.
Continuing on through more heavy brush, which I assumed must have been the laurel bushes I read about, I began to think this Red Cross Trail was never-ending. I mean, I was still at the beginning of my shortened directions, and it seemed like there was so much more to go. ‘This can’t possibly be only 8.5 miles,’ I thought to myself. Finally we came to a stream with a wonky little footbridge. I remember reading about a footbridge, but what my paper said was ‘Tiorati Brook Rd Bridge’. “What do you think this means?” I said to Damany. “I mean, did I really mean road? Or did I mean bridge? You think this is the bridge? Because if so, we are supposed to make an immediate right on to the blue blaze trail.” Thinking back…it was definitely not a bridge. Damany agreed anyway, “It’s probably the bridge.”
With no immediate right to take, we took the right that did exist only a few yards further down the trail. Though we saw no trail markers, we figured we could always make our way back to this point if it wasn’t the correct route. It was a right after all…not immediately, but just a short ways past the supposed brook bridge.
This new path showed no sign of markers…anywhere. The further we walked, the more I wondered if we were on track. I was beginning to get tired – my camera tugged my neck, and my pack began to weigh down on me. I would have been really unexcited if we had to turn and go back the way we came – being that it was the never-ending trail and all. At some point we came down a hill, and the trail seemed to dissipate a bit. Naturally we kept heading downwards, and when we realized we had diverted from the path Damany began to get a bit nervous. I looked back to see that the path had taken a sort of horse shoe turn back up the hill and headed back towards it. Damany at this point didn’t trust that it really was a trail, and I just asked him to trust that I could see it was.
I thought I heard a waterfall, and we were supposed to pass Arthur’s Falls on our left, so I urged him to continue with me on the trail to see if it was the falls. At this point the ground began to get very muddy, but the sound of cars rang in my ears. “At least if we’re not on point there’s a road nearby,” I said. “We’re actually supposed to cross another road, maybe that’s it.” “Well, lets not wander off the path to find it,” Many responded ” you know things sound funny in the woods.”
Soon the sound of people began to chime in with the cars, and we came to a few men fishing aside a lake. Further down the trail an older couple seemed to be looking for interesting plants. After the muck the path led down a hill, and under some power lines, again confirming we were headed the right way. Suddenly, what appeared to be a small damn appeared to my right. Passing it I stepped onto the road, and began to recognize that this was the construction at the entrance to the lot we had parked in.
“Interesting,” I said crossing the street. We couldn’t enter the lot from the same entrance, as we were on the other side of the construction which was creating the single lane situation (that had slowed us enough to notice the sign in the first place earlier). Instead, we headed down a small path in the trees, and crossed another small stream on rocks, entering the lot right next to our car.
“We didn’t pass the cemetery,” I said getting into the car, “I don’t think we did the whole trail. I think we took an accidental shortcut.”
Looking back over the full length directions, we definitely took a shortcut. And boy were we wrong about passing the mine. We didn’t even make it to the mine! To think we only made it to the 2nd line of my shortened instructions really makes me laugh. Here’s the real directions for the hike, which I will have to do in full another day:
Although it begins with a rather steep climb, this hike, for the most part, follows relatively level trails through a section of Harriman State Park that hikers rarely visit.
At the northwest corner of the parking area, you will see three inverted-red-triangle-on-white blazes that mark the start of the Arden-Surebridge (A-SB) Trail. Follow this trail as it begins a rather steep climb of Pine Swamp Mountain. After a very steep pitch near the top of the climb, the trail levels off.
Just ahead, to the right, you’ll see a triple red-cross-on-white blaze. This marks the start of the Red Cross Trail, which is the next part of your route. However, first continue ahead on the A-SB Trail a short distance to a rock outcrop that overlooks Lakes Skannatati and Kanawauke.
After pausing to rest from the climb and enjoy the view, retrace your steps to the junction with the Red Cross Trail, then turn left onto that trail.
The Red Cross Trail climbs a little to the summit of the mountain, then begins a steady descent to Seven Lakes Drive, which it crosses.
On the other side of the paved road, the trail crosses the inlet stream of Lake Askoti and begins a steady climb through dense mountain laurel, with views over the lake through the trees to the right. Soon, the trail bends sharply to the left and continues to climb gradually. At the top of the ascent, a rock outcrop to the left offers views of Fingerboard Mountain, to the northwest.
The Red Cross Trail now levels off and passes under a power line. Soon, the trail bears right and begins to descend on an old woods road. After crossing a wooden bridge over a stream, the trail turns left onto a wider woods road.
After re-reading the directions…this is the point we turned right – conveniently for us, this mistake was a shortcut. Here’s what we missed:
Soon, you’ll notice a large pit with several rusted drums on the left side of the trail. This is a remnant of the Hasenclever Mine, first opened in 1760 by Baron Peter Hasenclever, who dammed the Cedar Ponds to create the present-day Lake Tiorati. Just ahead, you’ll reach a junction with the Hasenclever Road (a woods road), where you should bear left, following the red cross blazes.
Here, on the right side of the road, is a water-filled pit, which is all that remains of the main opening of the mine. To the left, you will see several long rows of tailings – rocks that were excavated from the mine but discarded. A short distance ahead, you can find a stone foundation on the left side of the trail – a remnant of one of the many buildings that were built for the mine operations.
After exploring this fascinating area, continue ahead on the Red Cross Trail which, in about half a mile, crosses paved Tiorati Brook Road (closed to traffic during the winter). On the other side of the road, the trail passes through an unused ballfield and descends to cross Tiorati Brook on rocks. It turns right and briefly parallels the brook. After crossing a tributary stream, the trail bears left and begins to climb gently.
In about three-quarters of a mile from the crossing of Tiorati Brook Road, you’ll notice a cairn and a triple-blue blaze on the right side of the Red Cross Trail. Turn right onto a footpath and follow the blue-blazed Beech Trail, which begins here. Soon, the trail widens to a woods road and begins a steady descent to Tiorati Brook Road.
The trail turns right, crosses Tiorati Brook on the road bridge, then immediately bears right and follows a footpath along the brook. It soon reaches the paved road again and turns right to cross the road bridge over a tributary stream. In 200 feet, the trail turns left and reenters the woods.
After crossing a stream on a wooden bridge, the trail begins a steady climb on a footpath, which soon widens to a woods road and parallels another stream. About halfway up, you’ll notice an attractive cascade – known as Arthur’s Falls – to the left.
Three-quarters of a mile from Tiorati Brook Road, the Beech Trail reaches Hasenclever Road. It briefly turns right onto the road, then turns left onto a footpath, soon continuing to climb. A short distance ahead, you’ll reach the site of an old farm, marked by several stone walls and dense barberry thickets.
At the top of the hill, you’ll notice a small cemetery just to the right of the trail. Recently restored by Boy Scouts, the graves in this cemetery date back to the mid-1800s and include those of Civil War veterans. You’ll want to take a few minutes to explore this unusual and interesting burying ground.
The trail now descends and soon joins a relatively level woods road. In about half a mile from the cemetery, there is a balanced rock to the left of the trail, and in another half a mile, you’ll cross Route 106.
The Beech Trail continues on a narrow footpath through dense mountain laurel, passing interesting rock formations to the right. A short distance ahead, the fascinating Green Swamp (probably named for the evergreens that grow in the swamp) is visible below to the left.
After descending slightly and passing the stone foundation of an old cabin, the Beech Trail ends at a junction with the aqua-blazed Long Path. Turn right and follow the Long Path, which begins a steady descent through dense laurel. At the base of the descent, it crosses a stream and continues with some minor ups and downs.
In three-quarters of a mile – after crossing a stream on a bed of rocks – the Long Path reaches Route 106. It turns right, follows the road for 250 feet, then turns left and climbs to a woods road. Follow the Long Path as it turns left onto the woods road, crosses under power lines, and descends to cross Seven Lakes Drive. On the other side of the drive, the Long Path heads down to reach the parking area where the hike began.