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.
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.