The Palisades

Located in the metro area, jut of the George Washington Bridge, the Palisades offer a great one-day escape for beginning hikers. In addition to the great view you will get, you will have the choice of numerous trails, as well as great resting places.

Notice the trees in late November.

Northern Hike

Getting there
The hike starts from the Palisades Parkway Police complex. To get there, get off Exit 2 at the Palisades Parkway and follow the signs. It is easy to make a wrong turn here, so slow down if you need to. The building is on the eastern side of the parkway. Parking is limited; watch that you don't park in police-only designated spots. The main building offers some park maps.

You start on the blue-marked Long Path, down the hill. As you pass the last building, the trail veers left into the forest and starts descending. Very quickly you will come to a T-intersection. The blue trail turns right and disappears in a stone tunnel. Turn left onto the new orange-marked trail. After a few more minutes, you will reach a gravel road - the white-marked Shore Trail. Turn left here.

The first part of the Shore Trail is relatively high above the Hudson River, and wide enough to be a popular spot for dog lovers. The trail is straight and relatively flat, so the going will be easy. You may want to explore the numerous side trails that lead to water or uphill, towards a few ruins. In summer, however, the foliage can get very thick, and includes Poison Ivy.

Palisades from the Excelsior Dock.

After five minutes or so you will come to a small stream cascading downhill in a series of small waterfalls. This place is lovely after heavy rain, and offers a good photo shoot opportunity. After another five minutes the trail divides. The upper trail leads to a large picnic area, while the lower trail leads to the water. Stay at the lower trail.

This part of the Shore Trail can get quite difficult in summer months, when parts of it completely disappear in the foliage. It gets very narrow, with an occasional low ceiling. On a few spots, the trees create a complete tunnel. Watch out for Poison Ivy here. After ten minutes of laboring through the undergrowth, which can reach up to five feet), you will come to a small patch of land to your right. This is the Excelsior Dock. There is a path that leads to the tip of the Dock, for a nice view up and down the Hudson River. After an additional 10-15 minutes, you will come to a similar place, called Twomblys Landing, which, however, is overgrown by foliage a little too much.

After this, the trail offers an uneventful but tough hike for up to an hour. The foliage gets really annoying, and the whole trail looks like it has been abandoned. After half an hour or so the left side opens, and you finally get some good view on the Palisade cliffs. Soon, you will make your way through some very heavy, 6-feet tall foliage on both sides, after which you'll arrive to a small opening, with another trail leaving to your left. You will notice this trail by a sign that warns you of difficult hiking ahead. This trail bears fresh blue-white markings. Take this trail.

Why does the Women's memorial look like prison?

This is the toughest part of your hike. The trail goes steeply up in a series of steps, and in hot weather it can be very tough. Once you come to another opening with the trail turning steeply left while another trail leaves straight and towards the right, go left a few more steps. You will find yourself back on the blue-marked Long Path.

The next section consists of a flat and wide trail, with few great lookout posts. The first one comes soon - you can recognize it by a castle-like structure: the New Jersey Federation of Women's Club Memorial. From here, you can get a good view of the Hudson River. The next lookout, a few minutes later, is more spectacular. It is on an edge of the cliff, from where you get a very good view of the surrounding cliffs and the Shore Path below you. You can recognize this lookout by a rock with the year 1891 inscribed in. The place has been recently fenced for your safety. The last lookout comes about 20 minutes later, when another trail leaves the main trail to the left. Take it, cross a small bridge and you will find yourself on an isolated cliff. There's no fencing here, so be careful. After this, it will take you another 20-30 minutes of a flat and relatively uneventful hike to get back to your car.

Southern Hike

Getting there

A look at the cliffs from the top.
To be honest, to get to the Palisades is the hardest part of the whole trip. If you drive from Manhattan, take the bridge, leave at the first exit and try to get as close to the water as possible. The entrance is a bit south of the bridge. First, you will see the entrance to the Fort Lee Historic Park, and after another half a mile the Palisades entrance. The entrance is very badly marked, so watch out for it (it is across the road from a huge construction site). If you drive from New Jersey, take the last exit from Route 46 before the toll plaza and drive south.

Once there, you are ready to hike. The terrain, even though varying a great deal (basically every possible terrain you can think of - sand, rocks, marsh, wooden bridges, etc.), is very easy and good for a slow stroll along the coast. The main trail makes a big circle - one half being by the water, and the other half on the top of the Palisades. I would recommend you started with the lower half, for two reasons. First, that way you'd have to walk steep uphill in the middle of the hike and not at the end. Second, because that part is east of the cliffs, it tends to get dark at least an hour before sunset, while the top part has good visibility conditions even an hour after sunset.

What should you look for at the hike? Several things. If you started under the Washington Bridge, you will be passing ruins of houses, as well as "natural" resting places - picnic tables and chairs made of stone blocks. Overall, the atmosphere is almost movie-like, and I am still surprised I have never seen any amateur film makers trying to use it. Also in the southern part, you will run into fallen trees, which nobody removed yet, so climbing over them will add fun to the hike. In the northern part, you will meet even less people than in the southern part (even though I have met fewer hikers there than in most of the other hiking places in New Jersey). I would highly recommend you to go to the northern part, but won't tell you why. There are several almost magical places of the trail (with side trails leading to them), but you have to find them yourselves.

The second part, on the top of the palisades, is a bit disappointing. Even though you'd have great view, the trail is from most parts a gravel road, running next to parking lots full of people who were too lazy to hike. I personally like the lower part much better, and you might even think about taking the same way back.

Please note: there are no trails connecting the shore trail with the top of the palisades for about ten miles, if you decide to start under the G. W. Bridge, so you would have to walk far, or backtrack.

My advice.

A piece of the rock formation.
There are several things to look for. First, you will want to see the cliffs from the bottom (it is an impressive view). However, because the cliffs provide a great protection from harsh weather, the trees by the water tend to keep their leaves until late November. I have actually seen trees, still with green leaves, in early November. Because of that, you will have hard time to see the cliffs, except in several spots along the route. However, once you spot them, pray for a nice sunny sky - the cliffs are black, and provide great contrast against the sky.

Even though this is a very easy trail, you will be much better of with sturdy hiking shoes. Please don't wear sneakers - parts of the trail lead through (usually wet) rocks, and you could slip there very easily.

There is a road that goes parallel to the shore, about halfway between the shore trail and the cliffs. Even though pedestrians are not allowed there, you can use it to get back quickly if the darkness fell or if you got sick of hiking.

Difficulty: 6 out of 10; Terrain and trail length greatly varies; there's enough challenge around.
Orientation: 6 out of 10; Hard to get lost on the trails, which are basically straight lines, but hard to find the park.
Beauty: 6 out of 10; some impressive views, but too close to civilization.

Final words
The Palisades are far from being the greatest hiking place. In addition to the task of finding them, the do not provide the kind of refuge from civilization I would like. You will hear cars almost all the times, plenty of planes and helicopters as well. On the top of the cliffs you will run into a lot of people. Even the drive to the Palisades is one of the ugliest in New Jersey. Therefore, I subtracted two stars of my rating. I would recommend this park to people from New York who seek a quick refuge for a couple of hours or a day. The Palisades is a great getaway for people who do not hike too much, or families with children.

If you are using the book 50 Hikes in New Jersey by Scofield, Green and Zimmerman, be aware that the hike description there is a little outdated. Most markings were recently repainted, so getting lost is much harder. In addition, fencing has been hiked to the Ruckman Point (incorrectly described as having a rock with a "June 1981" carving). Finally, the description leaves out that the Shore Path has been left relatively unkept, and new foliage makes hiking there a little difficult.

Other links
Official site - Offering some great pictures.

© Jozef Purdes, 2001

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