Fall Hiking in Palisades Interstate Park

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New York’s most alluring autumn views are not in the city, but from above the soaring cliffs across the Hudson River.

Perched 500 feet above the tidal waters of the Hudson River, dramatic rock formations mark Palisades Interstate Park. Sitting opposite the man-made skyscrapers of Manhattan, the natural beauty of the Palisades strikes serious contrast with the City That Never Sleeps. And yet, the two complement one another to display the stunning fjord that is the lower Hudson.

The endless columns of dark diabase rock help explain the park named for its remarkable geology. Striations in the formations pop to life with the surrounding hardwood forest of maple and oak; you can see why the Native Lenape people referred to the place as weehawken, meaning, “the rocks that look like trees.” Come fall, they paint the riverfront with hues of oranges, reds and yellows as the leaves flutter to the ground and the views open to the magnificent rocks rising from the river.

Orient Yourself

Hiking Palisades Interstate Park feels like entering a national park in plain view of America’s largest city. Though the park predates humans living along its flanks, it could have been lost to the Industrial Age, quarried to build the city across the river and beyond. There would likely be no Palisades to hike today if it weren’t for its strongest advocates, the New Jersey State Federation of Women, which helped create an interstate park between New York and New Jersey in 1909.

Today, the park has over 30 miles of trails, with two major arteries paralleling its length. The first traces the ridge with 11 miles of New York state’s Long Path Trail (a 350-mile, long-distance trail going from New York City to Albany, finding its first significant leg in New Jersey, through the park and along the Palisades Escarpment). The aqua-colored trail markers run the length of the park, and intersect with side-trails descending below.

You’ll find the park’s other main trail artery—the 12-mile-long Shore Trail—way down on the banks of the Hudson River. The Shore Trail follows the Hudson riverfront below the Palisade cliffs. Though lacking in vertical climbs up the Palisades, the Shore Trail makes up for elevation change with a variety of terrain. Sections cut through technical boulder gardens, such as the Giant Stairs. It also passes through meadows and ruins of the bathhouses that Manhattan residents, once ferried across the river to the park, frequented for summer swimming in the Hudson. Note: Some sections of the Shore Trail require detours for inundation at high tide.

Colorful fall foliage surrounds a road at New Jersey's Palisades Interstate Park. Andrew Tuttle/Shutterstock

Recommended Route

The 4-mile loop from the State Line Lookout to the Giant Stairs is a strenuous half-day hike featuring some of the park’s standout spots. The namesake Lookout provides must-see views of fall draping over the Hudson from atop the Palisades. Along with the foliage, the scenic viewpoint also makes a great place to watch the fall raptor migration. Heading north, the first segment of the hike follows the Long Path on the ridge of the rock walls, and crosses into New York state. Near the northern terminus of the park, hikers reach an intersection with the Shore Trail, which descends 300 feet to the Hudson. You’ll follow the ravine of a stream cutting through the rock, and eventually find yourself standing under Peanut Leap Cascade.

If the route to Peanut Leap Cascade was enough of a challenge, return back the way you came to State Line Lookout rather than proceeding. Otherwise, the Shore Trail continues south, weaving along the banks of the Hudson. Within a mile, it reaches the Giant Stairs, a field of massive talus boulders fallen from the towering cliffs above. Take your time moving along this long, technical stretch of the trail.

As you work through the boulders, you’ll understand the ‘stairs’ label as the Short Trail starts making its way up the ridge. Shortly after it returns to river level, it intersects with the 500-foot ascent aptly named the Forest View Trail: Take a breather at the top, and enjoy the view of what you climbed below. You’ll see you’ve met the aqua blazes of the Long Path once again. A short detour south (less than a quarter-mile) offers an interesting visit to the Women’s Federation Monument. When you’re ready to head back to the car, State Line Lookout is under a mile back to the north.

Interested in a less strenuous hike? Try an out-and-back on either the Long Path or Shore Trail, without the climbs and descents of the side-trails. There are multiple access points for each throughout the park—and some scenic roads to reach them. More info: njpalisades.org

Getting There

From Manhattan to the State Line Lookout, take Interstate 95 south toward New Jersey over the George Washington Bridge. Use Exit 74 for the Palisades Interstate Parkway. Continue 9 miles to reach the exit for State Line Lookout.

Refresh & Refuel 

Nothing is quite as satisfying after a long day spent hiking as a juicy cheeseburger. Before driving back through the city stop up at The Filling Station and grab a classic TFS Burger with bacon, onions, and mushrooms. Or try their take on the Impossible Burger.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.