Bushkill Falls

November 1, 2013

Known as the “Niagara of Pennsylvania,” Bushkill Falls boasts a number of  waterfalls deep in the woods. The trails are easy to do, since they are mainly wooden walkways, stairs, and bridges connecting one waterfall to another. This time of year, it looks like the Main Falls near the entrance takes the prize for most impressive in the waterworks department. Count on spending 3+ hours here if you’re as insane a shutterbug as I am.  We did the red trail and then the yellow trail – combined, these two trails cover the entire area.  A word of warning – we came here in the morning and the walkways were manageable.  By noon, the crowds picked up and traffic pile-ups became the norm.

Stairs, stairs, and more stairs!
Bushkill Falls

I wouldn’t say any of these walkways were scary. They felt sturdy with no gaps in the floorboards. This place is good for kids who are able to climb up and down stairs.
Bushkill Falls

Bushkill Falls

This was one of the more anemic falls.
Bushkill Falls

A glimpse of the Delaware Valley from a lookout point.
Bushkill Falls

Bushkill Falls

Standing on top of the Main Falls. The water here is supposed to be the cleanest in Pennsylvania. However, its yellow/brown tinge would give anyone pause to drink it straight out. The color comes from the tannin and tannic acids that come out of tree roots and tree debris in the water.
Bushkill Falls

The Main Falls from below.
Bushkill Falls

Bushkill Falls is a 2-hour drive from NYC. Take Interstate 80 to Exit 309, Rt. 209 north. Turn left onto Bushkill Falls Road at the blinking light in Bushkill, PA. The falls is open April through November, 7 days a week, from 9am to dusk. Admission is $12.50 for adults, $7 for kids ages 4 to 10, and free for kids less than 4. Dogs are welcome.

The Berkshires: Bartholomew’s Cobble and Bash Bish Falls

October 25, 2013

Bartholomew’s Cobble is named after the farmer who used to own this stony outcropping of quartzite and marble along the Housatonic River. It was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1971 for its unusual diversity of plants. The highlight of the Cobble is Hurlburt’s Hill, which climbs 1,000 feet before it plateaus into a meadow with vistas of the Housatonic River Valley. The hiking trail (called the Tractor Path) starts across the street from the visitor center and runs along a flat meadow before gradually climbing up. This climb may tax your strength, but what you are climbing is most definitely not a mountain, a fact for which you will be thankful when you reach the top. You are soon rewarded with a bench to rest yourself and a 180-degree view, mainly north. With your binoculars and a little luck, you can also spot some hawks going along their migration route. We had the binoculars but not the luck.

This picture doesn’t do the hill justice. It was hard to capture the height of this place because of the wide plateau.
Bartholomew's Cobble

The Cobble also has a number of trails by the visitor center. We did the short Craggy Knoll Trail but found it disappointing. The longer Ledges Trail is supposed to be more promising with some caves along the way. There is also the historic Ashley House that you can explore if you take the Hal Borland Trail.

Bash Bish Falls, located in Mount Washington State Forest, is Massachusett’s highest single-drop waterfall. At the MA/NY border, the water flows out of MA and into NY where it later joins the Hudson River. There are two ways to get to the falls, from the MA side or the NY side. We opted for the NY side and did not regret it.

Once we parked and started on the trail, we soon encountered a fast-flowing stream created by the falls almost a mile away. There were plenty of large rocks to scramble over.

Bash Bish Falls

We found this guy hula hooping in the middle of the stream with headphones on, clearly unfazed by the audience of hikers.

Bash Bish Falls

When we got to the falls, we were rewarded with this.

Bash Bish Falls

…and a view from below via stairs.
Bash Bish Falls

Bartholomew’s Cobble is in Sheffield off of Route 7A. The entry fee is $5 per person. No dogs or bikes. Bash Bish Falls is in Mount Washington and can be reached off of Route 22 – look for signs for Copake Falls or Taconic State Park. Parking is free and the walk to the Falls is a 3/4 mile of gradual climb. Dogs are ok, but no bikes and no swimming.

The Berkshires: Pleasant Valley Sanctuary and Mount Greylock

October 18, 2013

Mount Greylock was Massachusetts’ first wilderness state park. It also lays claim to being the highest point in the state at about 3,500 feet in elevation. You can hike to the summit from the visitor center or drive up the summit road, which is open from late May through November 1st. There are several lookout points along the summit road.

Mount Greylock

When you reach the top, you will find the Veteran’s War Memorial Tower. Normally, you can climb to the top and get an even more aerial view of the State, but unfortunately, it is closed indefinitely for repairs.

Mount Greylock

I recommend plopping yourself down near the edge like these folks for some silent contemplation.

Mount Greylock

Bring your binoculars!

Mount Greylock

Pleasant Valley Sanctuary near Lenox has an extensive network of trails going through dense woods, streams, and ravines. It is well-known for its beavers. Amazingly, these beavers are all descendants of three beavers gifted by the State of New York in 1932. Beavers are nocturnal creatures, so if you’re dead-set on seeing some, going close to dusk is probably your best bet. Here’s a beavers’ nest, probably with beavers sleeping inside.

Pleasant Valley Sanctuary

The easy, flat trail around Pike’s Pond is very nice and has a viewing platform with benches.
Pleasant Valley Sanctuary

I suggest taking the Yokun trail to the Old Wood Road trail to see some more beaver habitats. Although we didn’t see much in the way of beavers or birds at 11am, we did see droppings from a large-ish animal (bears and bobcats roam around here). We had to make do with sightings of turtles, catfish, and large colorful mushrooms.

Pleasant Valley Sanctuary

Pleasant Valley Sanctuary

If you’re up for a challenge hiking up a very steep trail to the top of Lenox Mountain, you can do so from the sanctuary – it’s 3 miles roundtrip and is north of Pike’s Pond. We opted not to do this hike.

Mount Greylock is located in Lanesborough. Overnight camping is permitted, and there is also paid lodging at the summit. Dogs and bikes are allowed. Pleasant Valley Sanctuary is located at 472 West Mountain Road in Lenox. It is open from dawn to dusk and the entry fee is $5 per person. No pets or bikes allowed.

The Berkshires: The Ice Glen and Monument Mountain

October 11, 2013

This will be the first in a series of posts about the Berkshires, which we just returned from recently with its vivid-colored splendor. We explored a number of interesting outdoor spots, so I plan to highlight two per post. This first post will give you two great things to do around the town of Stockbridge.

The Ice Glen is  a not-to-miss geological wonder of green mossy boulders and caves within a gorge. Once you park your car, you will first need to cross a bridge that deposits you onto railroad tracks.

Ice glen

Cross the tracks into the forest beyond – you will immediately start seeing giant rocks situated snugly among the trees. Pretty soon, you will come to a fork in the road. Take the path to the right.

Ice glen

As you climb up a bit, you’ll find yourself taking in the solid green masses of close-set rock as you enter the gorge. A damp chill sets in. They say that snow remains hidden in the caves in the summer. I can *maybe* believe it. Be prepared for some rock scrambling up and down the boulders.

Ice glen

Ice glen

There are a lot of red newts underfoot taking advantage of their moist surroundings.

Ice glen

This area is also known for Laura’s Fire Tower trail (the trail to the left at the fork in the road) The trail climbs 600 feet and deposits you at the foot of a metal fire tower that promises a view of three States. We did the steep climb to the fire tower, but when we got onto the platform of the metal contraption, we were sadly disappointed. The view was hidden by too many dense trees that had not yet shed their leaves! I would only recommend this climb when the trees have lost all their leaves and only under non-rainy/snowy conditions because of the steep trail.

Monument Mountain offers much better views on top, but it is not for the faint of heart. You will also need to be in relatively good shape to make the climb up to the 1,642-feet summit, with places where you will be maneuvering along a 1-foot wide ledge on the face of the mountain. There are two lookout points to get to – The Devil’s Pulpit and Squaw Peak.

We decided to take the easy ascent up by way of the Indian Monument trail and then come back down on the very steep Hickey Trail. This worked out well for us. The hike up and down the mountain was also rewarding in its own way, with sunlight bouncing off some of the fuzziest green rocks I’ve ever seen.

Monument Mountain

Getting to the Devil’s Pulpit is scary. I will not lie to you. I am scared of heights and there were moments climbing up that made me freeze for a good 5 seconds wondering how I got myself into this mess. The view is worth it though. This is a tiny spot on a ledge, so I suggest you go when you don’t expect too many other hikers around.

Monument Mountain

The view from Squaw Peak is great as well, this one being a full 360-degree view.  You can see the Catskills to the west and Mount Greylock to the north.  In some places, it may be wiser not to look down the sheer drop.  There is not much space up here, so again, make sure you go when you’re not competing with other hikers.  I suspect the peak can’t take more than 6 people at a time, given the lack of elbow room…and you certainly don’t want to get elbowed off-balance here!

Monument Mountain

Both the Ice Glen and Monument Mountain have no entry fees and are open sunrise to sunset. Dogs are ok in both places, but not bikes. To get to the Ice Glen from Stockbridge, turn left onto US Route 7 and travel 0.2 mile to Park Road. Turn left onto Park Road until it ends in a parking lot. Monument Mountain is easier to find – it is along Route 7 between Great Barrington and Stockbridge.

Cranberry Lake Preserve and Kensico Dam

October 4, 2013

Cranberry Lake Preserve and Kensico Dam are so physically close together that I would recommend visiting both in one trip. It’s also appropriate to cover to two together because they share a history – the large amounts of granite dug up from the quarries around Cranberry Lake made the dam what it is today.

The lake preserve is about 190 acres, containing both a lake and several ponds. It has a good mixture of high and low terrain – grey cliffs give way to swamp in a concentrated area. Several trails provide a good introduction to the area. I’m going to guess that the purple trail is very popular because it leads you high up on the cliffs to survey the remains of a geological goldmine. But first, let’s highlight the views along the way…

Cranberry Lake itself is quite large and very peaceful.
Cranberry Lake Preserve

What looks like a stone shelter is really the remnants of a farmer’s storage shed.
Cranberry Lake Preserve

What would a forest be without a few moldering antique cars?
Cranberry Lake Preserve

At last we come to the quarry cliffs. I was told people would swim down there in the summertime. The water looks highly questionable though.
Cranberry Lake Preserve

Cranberry Lake Preserve

This large railroad wheel reminds us of what it took to get quarried stone from one place to another.
Cranberry Lake Preserve

The cliffs are everywhere – just a little rock scrambling up to the top will reward you with views of the hawks that live nearby.
Cranberry Lake Preserve

Kensico Dam is monstrous, to put it lightly. On one side is a flat park with a lot of lawn space. On the other side a gazillion gallons of water. The granite stone from Cranberry Lake is what keeps the water safely where it belongs. The dam has been in place since 1917.
Kensico Dam

Kensico Dam

Rather than just stare upwards from the foot of the dam, you should take a walk along the length at the top. To get to the top, you have choices on either end of the dam. If you choose the left side, you will encounter some steep steps. The right side has a gentle slope that’s good for bikes, strollers, and wheelchairs. There used to be car access at the top, but that is no longer the case after 9/11.

The view at the top is lovely. So much water! I’ve heard that people fish for trout here.
Kensico Dam

Cranberry Lake Preserve is in Westchester near White Plains. It is open from dawn to dusk and there is no entry fee. No dogs or bikes are allowed. Kensico Dam is a 3-minute drive away. It also has no entry fee. Feel free to bring your dogs and bikes here. The wide open lawn space is also ideal for kite flying.

Staten Island Greenbelt

September 27, 2013

The Staten Island Greenbelt is a large network of wooded trails situated in a what is undoubtedly the greenest borough in the city. Rather than being one cohesive park, it is comprised of patches of existing park and newly acquired parkland cobbled together by the Greenbelt Conservancy. Unlike regular parks in the city, this one includes a golf course and a country club, with numerous trails intersecting and running askew like a subway map. The shortest trail is 4 miles, while the longest is 12 miles one-way.

My initial reason for coming here was to visit the William T. Davis Wildlife Refuge. If it was anything like the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Queens, we were in for a treat. Unfortunately, the only trail they have there was not well-maintained, with the vegetation at some point threatening to swallow us up. So we doubled-back and decided to do a different trail towards the ruin of a colonial-era home on Heyerdahl Hill. The woods in that area is supposed to be haunted with the 200-year old spirit of a child on a pale horse. We didn’t spot any ghosts, but we did find the ruin with a surprise geocache!

This was the first weekend with temperatures in the 60s, and we were quite happy to see signs of fall approaching.

Staten Island Greenbelt

Staten Island Greenbelt

Staten Island Greenbelt

There are a few areas that are designated swamps, but the two swamps that we passed by were more like open fields that showed their swampy nature only around the edges.

Staten Island Greenbelt

The Heyerdahl ruin is not too impressive, once you find it. I was more interested in the geocache that was hidden there. My first one! If you want to see this place, make sure you have a map with you – it is a detour off the red trail, so you need to keep your eye out for a very narrow and unmarked trail. Because the red trail is a loop, you can access the unmarked trail from two different points on opposite ends of the loop.

Staten Island Greenbelt

Staten Island Greenbelt

Staten Island Greenbelt

We then headed towards another part of the Greenbelt called High Rock Park. We saw a garter snake and several frogs.

Staten Island Greenbelt

Staten Island Greenbelt

The park borders a lake and two ponds – all very nice to walk by with no danger of mosquitoes at this time of year.

Staten Island Greenbelt

Staten Island Greenbelt

Because the Greenbelt is smack in the middle of Staten Island, the only way I would recommend getting here is by car. When I stopped off at the Nature Center, I overheard some poor woman say she took two subways, the ferry, and then a bus to get here. That is insane! Entrance to the park and parking is free. Dogs are welcome, but no bikes are allowed on the trails. Ticks are an issue, as many of the signs are happy to point out. Wear light-colored clothing and knee-high socks.

FDR Four Freedoms Park

September 20, 2013

This relatively new park is dedicated to one of our great presidents, Franklin D. Roosevelt. The “Four Freedoms” bears some explaining because most people alive today probably were not around when it was first introduced. In a nationwide speech that Roosevelt gave in 1941, he imagined a world based on the following four attributes – freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. It is sad that 72 years later, these freedoms are still lacking in much of the world.

Dropped onto the southern end of Roosevelt Island, the park has views of both Manhattan and Queens. Aside from the views, the park itself is what I would call “earnest,” with a symmetrical severity punctuated by cold concrete. The park was designed 38 years ago, when the city budget didn’t allow for it.  Some might say it resembles a Soviet-era monument.

FDR Four Freedoms Park

FDR Four Freedoms Park

FDR Four Freedoms Park

FDR Four Freedoms Park

A nice view of Long Island City!

FDR Four Freedoms Park

Despite all that open grass, you are not allowed to picnic on it.  No food is allowed.  It doesn’t really give off the vibe of a casual place to hang out.  Given that, I would only recommend coming here if you happen to be on Roosevelt Island anyway.  The park is a 15 minute walk from the train station if you’re coming by subway. If you’re driving, you will need to park near the station. (The only parking closer to the park is limited to visitors and staff of the nursing facility nearby.) The park is open from 9 to 7 every day except Tuesdays.  No bikes or dogs are allowed.

Planting Fields Arboretum

September 13, 2013

I seem to find more and more places to explore in Long Island these days. I had never heard of this place until I caught sight of a sign while passing through Oyster Bay one weekend. Planting Fields is considered a State Historic Park, but definitely not a place that I would normally think of as a park. It is more of a horticultural center that happens to be on a vast tract of grassy fields, complete with a mansion to drool over. The property was founded by English tycoon William Robertson Coe, a maritime insurer whose company happened to do the insurance for the Titanic, among other ships. His wife was an heiress of the oil industry.  Certainly, this kind of money allowed for a very impressive abode on the historic Gold Coast of Long Island.

The grounds are 409 acres, but much of what you want to see is a walkable distance from the estate. There are two greenhouses. The main one has various wings that lead you through a sensory overload of colorful vegetation.

Planting Fields Arboretum

Planting Fields Arboretum

Planting Fields Arboretum

The other greenhouse, called Camelia House, houses camellias, of course. Sadly, they are not in bloom this time of year so all you see are just the green parts of the plants.

Nearby, there are a number of gardens to stroll through. One garden that was particularly beautiful was the dahlia garden. They come in so many different colors – more than I would have imagined!

Planting Fields Arboretum

Planting Fields Arboretum

Coe Hall, the mansion on the property, is a stunner with a dark, gothic interior and beautiful plasterwork everywhere. The various kinds of glass panes on the windows are also worth noting from room to room.  There are only two guided tours per day. We made do without a tour and wandered at leisure.  In some of the rooms, a staffer kindly told us about the history of the items within.

Planting Fields Arboretum

Planting Fields Arboretum

Planting Fields Arboretum

Oh how I would love to live in a place where I can summon a butler (or maid) with the press of a button!  These were in one of the bedrooms by the door.

Planting Fields Arboretum

The park is open from 9 to 5 every day. There are two separate fees – the entrance fee is $8 per car, while the fee for the house is $3.50 a person. Admission to the grounds is free in the winter. If music concerts are your thing, they host  the occasional  concert on the grounds – visit their events page for specific dates. No bikes are allowed.

Fort Wadsworth

July 5, 2013

This Fort has been around since the Revolutionary War and was first fortified by the British. Since then, it has been used by Americans through various wars for two centuries, from the War of 1812 to the Cold War. Today, the US Coast Guard occupies the grounds and the land is open to the public as a recreational area maintained by the National Park Service.

Many military batteries dot the grounds. Battery Tompkins is the first one you encounter as you enter the area. Like the other structures that you’ll see here, it has seen better days and is slowly being taken over by nature. You can go inside the battery through a guided tour.

Fort Wadsworth

Fort Wadsworth

Fort Wadsworth

Battery Tompkins is also interesting for its dry moat. There are niches inside the battery walls for shooting the enemy once they are trapped in the moat.

Fort Wadsworth

Battery Weed is probably the most picturesque of the batteries here. You get your first glimpse of it from above at a lookout point.

Fort Wadsworth

While you are walking down to Weed, you also encounter other dilapidated structures that speak to more dangerous times.

Fort Wadsworth

Fort Wadsworth

You also get to see the underbelly of the Verrazano!

Fort Wadsworth

Fort Wadsworth

Battery Weed befits its name. You can see the inside of the battery by guided tour only. We unfortunately didn’t stay long enough to do the afternoon tours that were available.

Fort Wadsworth

Fort Wadsworth

Once you walk back to the lookout point to get to your car, see if you can find the Statue of Liberty in the distance. She’s a tiny green dot in the horizon but thankfully, they provide a free telescope. You can also see the progress of the Freedom Tower. Looks like it’s almost done!

Fort Wadsworth

The Fort is easy to get to by car. It’s at the end of the Verrazano Bridge once you reach Staten Island.  If you are coming by ferry, you can take the S51 bus and it will drop you off right at the Fort. No dogs are allowed but bikes are welcome. The Fort is open from 10:00 am to 10:00 pm. For those of you who want to see the Fort at night, there are lantern tours on Thursdays from 7:00 to 9:00 pm. I can only imagine how much spookier this place is in the dark!

John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden

June 30, 2013

There are very few Japanese gardens in the city. Such gardens require some amount of space for winding paths and quiet environs for comtemplation, something which the city sorely lacks. The Japanese garden in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden offers one opportunity to experience such a garden, with a nice pond, small waterfall, and a wood pavilion. A little more hidden and out of the way is the John P. Humes Japanese Garden on the North Shore of Long Island. Inspired by a visit to Kyoto in the 1960’s, John Humes turned a corner of his estate into a Japanese garden. He hired a Japanese landscape designer to design the garden and to ensure that the proper foliage and other Japanese elements were in place, including a tea house that was brought over from Japan. This garden provides a nice escape from the bustle of the city. It is most definitely a strolling garden, with moss-covered paths, stepping stones, and shady Japanese maples.

John P Humes Japanese Stroll Garden

John P Humes Japanese Stroll Garden

John P Humes Japanese Stroll Garden

On some Saturdays, you can catch a tea ceremony demonstration at the teahouse. Check out their events calendar for times.

John P Humes Japanese Stroll Garden

John P Humes Japanese Stroll Garden

If tea is not your thing, you can also just watch the koi in the nearby pond.

John P Humes Japanese Stroll Garden

The garden is at the corner of Oyster Bay Road and Dogwood Lane in Mill Neck, NY. It is best reached by car, but you can also get there by taking the LIRR to Oyster Bay station. The garden is a short cab ride from the station. This year, the garden is open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays until October 27, from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is $10. Dogs are not allowed.


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