The Hudson Highlands — Mount Beacon Park

Nestled along the East side of the Hudson River in New York is a cute little town called Beacon. A long history of revitalization has taken this broken down factory town to an updated industrial dream land (no exaggeration). I just love it.

Beacon lies in the south eastern corner of Dutchess county and in the Hudson Highlands State Park. It’s a popular destination for people in New York City to “get away.” An 80 minute train ride will get you to Beacon from the city–If you are a hiker living in NYC, the Hudson Highlands is an easy place to come to get outside (so I’ve heard).

My sister-in-law’s family lives just 30 minutes from Beacon. So when I knew we would be spending the weekend in this area, I immediately thought of Mount Beacon’s fire tower.

Mount Beacon is most popular for the Beacon Incline Railway which, when it was in operation, was the world’s steepest railway. There is also a fire tower (always a point of interest) at the top of Mount Beacon. An old, dilapidated cable system that at one time pulled rail cars up the mountain is a mid point between the start of the hike and the fire tower. The same site hosts a view and a clearing of trees where a casino used to stand. There is talk of reopening the rail way so that people could pay for rides to the mid point of Mount Beacon–to me it seems impossible that a rail car could make its way up the side of this mountain.

Most people go out to the fire tower and come back down (a 3.5-4 mile hike), but we wanted a longer stay in the woods so we completed a loop in order to explore the back side of the mountain.

Quick Facts:

  • Here’s a great resource for printing/saving a map — Scenic Hudson site.
  • More info on Mount Beacon Park from the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference
  • Address: 788 Wolcott Ave, BeaconNY 12508
  • Difficulty: Easy-Moderate
  • Distance: ~8 miles
  • Elevation: 2000+ ft.
  • Time: ~4.5+ hours
  • Date: November 4th, 2017
  • Our Weather: Mostly cloudy / 40-50 degrees.
  • Gear: Nothing different. Just my normal day hiking things.

Our plan: Take the red trail to the casino remains. Continue up red and turn right on white to head up the fire tower. We planned to retrace our steps back down white and turn right once we return to the red trail. From here, it would just be a series of lefts to complete a loop (from red, to yellow, to blue, to white, to yellow to red).

Mount Beacon Map

The Hike:

As we officially make our way into “stick season” as the Mountaineer would call it (when the trees are officially “sold out” of leaves), Kyle and I felt pretty lucky to be experiencing the last bits of fall foliage in the Hudson Highlands.

Our experience of this hike is that it was BUSY. If you’re planning to head up to the fire tower and back down again, I recommend going EARLY or choosing a random weekday morning for your hike. At the top, where the fire tower lies, we were accompanied by 20-30 other people! That being said, the hike to the fire tower is pretty fun (we like to go up!) and the view from the top is excellent!

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After we passed the fire tower, we had the trail to ourselves with the exception of 2-3 pairs of hikers. We weren’t entirely sure what to expect from the remainder of the loop, but I was pleasantly surprised by how cool it was. There were mini rock scrambles, views, a few rock walls, an incredible waterfall (seriously, a hidden gem), a broken down bulldozer (oddly enough), an old broken down jeep and, in November,  the loud rustling of leaves. Mmmmm.

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Dozer Junction
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View from Lamb’s Hill (see map)
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View of Mount Beacon (middle) from Lamb’s HIll

The Mitteneer’s Rating

  • Kyle’s Rating (1-20): 13
  • Caitlin’s Rating (1-20): 14

A couple things: We DID like this hike a lot. It was perfect for the amount of time we had. A hike doesn’t need to be extremely difficult or have extraordinary views for us to give it a higher score, but there were just a couple things:

  • The hike is REALLY popular! You can walk or drive (4-wheel drive vehicles or dirt bikes) to the mid point of Mount Beacon and many people do. The popularity creates a few things:
    • It’s a teenager hang out. This particular teenager hang out holds on to a several samples of teenager graffiti. One huge rock was painted completely black with a white cross on top. I’m not sure Jesus would approve.
    • It’s not an EASY hike, it climbs 1000+ feet of elevation in the first mile. My guess is that people look at a popular hike that is so close to town and assume that it’s for anyone. In the interest of safety, this hike is NOT for everyone, and it makes it hard for me to enjoy myself when I’m busy worrying about all the people around me. You need proper hiking gear to be out on this trail. Check here for some suggestions.
    • Since the red trail (called The Casino Trail) is so frequently utilized, it FEELS really open. There’s no sense of exclusivity while you’re out there and it doesn’t leave you feeling immersed in the outdoors.

For me, coming off of a month long illness, the climb to the casino and fire tower was just what I wanted to get my lungs pumping. Despite some of the drawbacks, I approve. AND like I’ve said 4-5 times, the rest of the loop was sweet!

SO! You should make it a point to visit the town of Beacon! While you’re there, check out this hike. It’s worth it!

Sincerely Yours,

The Mitteneers


Extra Resources:
More on the infamous railway and a potential restoration in the future.
A guide to the town of Beacon from “A Little Beacon Blog

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