Highlights: Awesome views, reservoirs, creeks, wooden bridges
Distance: 5.4 miles, loop
Approximate roundtrip time: 3.5 hours
Total ascent: 1,007 ft
Max Elevation: 1,413 ft above sea level
This hike is for you if: You want to hike an awesome loop that throws interesting sights at you the entire way. Or you’re a huge fan of the song Black Rock by OAR. Or both.
Background you can feel free to skip: Black Rock Forest is one of the first hikes I discovered when I moved to the Hudson Valley, and it remains one of my favorites. There’s no huge, steep climb here, just a gentle, constant ascent past picturesque creeks and reservoirs on your way to one of the best money spots in the area.
You’ll probably see another hiker or two as you stroll around Black Rock Forest, but for all the awesome trails and sights here, it seems like these woods are never crowded. The last two times I’ve been up at the overlook on warm, sunny weekend afternoons, we didn’t see another soul. Maybe we just lucked out, but we seem to luck out here just about every visit.
Somehow, Black Rock had fallen down my list of favorite hikes in recent years, perhaps because Storm King Mountain right up the street offers larger views, directly over the Hudson. Now that I’ve been back to Black Rock a couple of times recently, I’ve remembered everything I love about this place, and it’s firmly back at the top of the list, where it belongs.
The loop trail I’ll describe below takes you on many different trails, so if this is your first visit to Black Rock, please take your time and read the trail guide below very carefully. NOTE TO SKIMMERS: I just asked you to please read the trail guide below very carefully. There are lots of turns in it.
If you like the hike I’ve outlined below, there are many more trails to explore here, and many more overlooks. You can plot more hikes using the nice, official Black Rock trail map (which isn’t as nice as the one you can buy from the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, but it’s free, so that’s pretty awesome.) You’ll also find some links to other quality online trail guides in the related resources section at the bottom of this write-up.
So next time the weather’s nice and you have a free afternoon, give Black Rock Forest a whirl and see if it doesn’t instantly become one of your favorites, too. All the excitement might just wear you out.
1. From the parking lot, find the stone staircase that heads up the little bank onto the road you drove in on. Go up the stairs and take a right on the road to head uphill, past the gate.
2. In about five minutes, bang! Your first views. That didn’t take long. Keep climbing the gravel road and the views disappear again. Don’t worry – there are plenty more where that came from.
3. Keep heading up the road, and in a few minutes you’ll see a walkway with solar panels leading up to your left, to the Center for Science and Education and the Forest Lodge. I’ve never been up there, but I bet they run some cool programs. To your right, you’ll see Mailley’s Mill Bridge, which we’ll cross over right now.
4. Pass over the second small bridge, then turn left to head upstream along the creek.
The trail here is clear but unmarked. Just stay as close to the stream as you can, heading uphill. (If you see the Blue Trail here, even better – just keep following it uphill. Whether you find the Blue Trail or not, no worries – we’ll be crossing the creek again very soon.) UPDATE June 2015: Thank you, Morgan, for your comment with a photo of some new signage along this stretch!
5. In a few minutes, you’ll see a nice stream crossing on your left, with trail markers indicating the end of the Blue Trail.
Hop across the stream here to rejoin the gravel road, where you’ll make a right to keep heading gently uphill. Yellow Trail blazes greet you as you make the turn.
6. Keep climbing as the road bends under the reservoir. When the road forks, go left to climb the bank and stand on the shore of the reservoir.
7. What a nice spot. Take a moment to relax here. Or if you’re not a human, maybe a grab a quick dip.
8. When you’re done maxing and/or relaxing, turn to your right (assuming you’re looking out over the water) and follow the road that hugs the shore of the reservoir. Keep heading straight as things get grassy.
Keep a sharp eye out on your right for the beginning of the blue-blazed Swamp Trail, which begins just a minute after you pass the “No Trespassing No Swimming” sign on your left at the far end of the reservoir.
9. Turn right onto the Blue Trail, which is marked with three blazes and a few stepping stones leading off of the grassy road. You’d miss this turn if you weren’t looking for it.
(If you come to a yellow gate across the grassy road, you’ve gone a few hundred yards too far. Turn around and keep an even sharper eye out for the Blue Trail this time. It’s there, I promise.)
10. Follow the Blue Trail through a beautiful section of woods, with old stone walls crisscrossing around you. In just a minute, the White Trail begins straight ahead. Turn right here to stay on the Blue Trail.
11. Maybe the Swamp Trail should be renamed the Fern Trail? Seems like that would be a good PR move.
In any event, keep following the blue-blazed Swamp Trail as it passes through some very nice woodland scenes. If you notice the White Trail joining you again from the left, just ignore it and keep heading straight. You’ll follow the Blue Trail until it dead-ends onto a gravel road about 10-15 minutes from the time you joined it.
12. When you reach the gravel road, turn right and follow it for just a moment. You’re looking for a left turn about one minute down the road, around an old wooden gate.
13. When you see the gate on the side road to your left, turn left off the gravel road and go around the gate. Straight ahead, you’ll pass another “No Trespassing No Swimming” sign, then you’ll keep going straight to arrive at the shore of another gorgeous reservoir (the Aleck Meadow Reservoir, for those following along on a map).
14. Head to your right around the reservoir, stopping at the concrete wall that doubles as an excellent bench. Take in the view across the water and, if the water’s high enough, listen to the cascades running down the spillway. (The spillway has been totally dry on my last two visits, but it’s a pretty spot if you catch it at the right time.)
15. Follow the trail (now marked with the yellow blazes of the Stillman Trail and the teal blazes of the Highlands Trail) downhill, over the little bridge that runs over the bottom section of the spillway. You’ll follow these blazes all the way to the overlook at Black Rock.
16. Emerge at the far end of the reservoir for one last peek. If you’re looking out over the water, the trail plunges into the woods directly behind you (it would be a right turn if you just followed the trail from under the reservoir.) In any event, plunge into the woods to continue following the Yellow-and-Teal Trail, and enjoy the beginning of the biggest ascent you’ll be tackling today.
17. After about five minutes of climbing, you’ll arrive at a junction with the White Trail, which departs to your right. Turn left to stay on the Yellow-and-Teal Trail.
18. About one minute after the junction with the White Trail, you have to turn sharply to your right to stay on the Yellow-and-Teal Trail. If you went straight, you’d pop out onto a gravel road, which you don’t want to do right now (though you’ll come back to this spot later, coming from the road back to where you’re standing now). Just keep following the trail markers and you’ll be good to go. (You might also notice a diamond-shaped Highlands Trail marker on a tree to your right. That’s the only one of those markers I noticed, but if you see it, don’t be thrown off – you’re in the right place.)
19. You’ll climb about 400 vertical feet from the reservoir as you keep following the Yellow-and-Teal Trail uphill. From the right turn at the gravel road, it took me ten more minutes to get to Black Rock. And when the trail emerges onto Black Rock, you’ll know you’re in the right place.
20. Besides being among the most beautiful overlooks in the Hudson Valley, this spot also boasts some choice rocks for lazing upon. If you brought some munchies, munch them here. Take a load off and enjoy the view.
21. When you’re done spending your time, writing a memory or writing a rhyme, thinking about what is right or wrong, look straight out into the awesome view. Now look to your left, as far left as you can without having your view blocked by the trees, and you’ll see a little fire tower on the horizon (which I believe is not open to the public). The trail heads down Black Rock toward that tower – you can follow the blazes there once you pick up their trail along the rocks.
22. Be careful climbing down the rocks here – it’s very steep, and you’ll probably have to use your hands a bit.
23. Once you’re on flat ground again, just keep following the trusty Yellow-and-Teal blazes. In about ten minutes, the trail will dump you off onto a gravel road. Turn left to walk down the road for just a moment.
24. In less than a minute, you’ll arrive at another intersection. Take a left at the intersection and say goodbye to the Yellow-and-Teal Trail. If you’d like, before you make the turn, you can check out the podium on your right with a Black Rock trail map posted.
25. Enjoy a brisk stroll down the flat, wide gravel road. This section is manageable for even the smallest hikers. If you’d like, spend a minute investigating the awesome tire tracks.
26. In about 15 minutes (walking at toddler pace), you’ll arrive at a junction that is marked by a huge honking oak tree in the middle of the road, which gets a “White Oak Tree” designation on Black Rock trail maps. If this old tree could talk, I bet it could tell some awesome stories. Or maybe it would just brag about how big and awesome it is.
In any event, make a left at the huge tree to join a different unmarked gravel road (White Oak Road, actually, but you won’t see any signs for it).
27. Tricky trail junction alert! As you walk along the gravel road, in about 10 minutes or less (it took me 12, walking at toddler pace, with one stop for putting the toddler back in the backpack), you’ll see some boulders lining the left side of the road as the road bends to the right (this spot is almost exactly half a mile from the big oak tree). Between two of those boulders, you can see a faint trail heading into the bushes. You want to be on that trail.
Take the short, unmarked trail between the boulders to arrive back at the Yellow-and-Teal Trail, right at the spot near the “Highlands Trail” marker from earlier in the day. Find the trail? Awesome.
28. Take a right to head back down the Yellow-and-Teal Trail toward the reservoir.
29. In about two minutes, be careful not to head straight at the junction with the White Trail. Turn right to continue downhill on the Yellow-and-Teal Trail.
30. If you’d like, take another stop to check out the reservoir when you get there. This is a good spot to let the freeloader on your back throw a rock or two into the water.
31. Head back over the little bridge at the bottom of the spillway. Standing on that bridge, do you see the unmarked trail straight ahead, departing to your left? That’s where you want to go. This trail saves you lots of gravel-road trudging, and discovering it has made my Black Rock hikes much more enjoyable. (UPDATE June 2015: Thank you again, Morgan, for your comments with an updated photo of this spot. There’s apparently a new staircase and trail at this junction. If anyone explores the new trail when it’s ready, do tell us what you find there! Otherwise, you can ignore the stairs/trail and continue with this guide as it’s written.)
32. I have some reservations about recommending an unmarked trail, just because it’s tough to verify that you’re still headed the right way. But this is a very well-used path with some nice views and no tricky junctions. It’s as easy to follow as any of the other trails you’ve been on today. Take a deep breath and head into the woods, following the Trail with No Name.
33. Nice trail, right? We’re walking around Honey Hill right now. Enjoy the views off to your left as the trail heads over some rocky stretches, different from anything else you’ve seen today.
34. In about twenty minutes, the Trail with No Name dead-ends into the blue-blazed Reservoir Trail. The creek that runs under Mailley’s Mill Bridge is straight ahead (the bridge itself is just uphill), and you can just make out the Black Rock Forest buildings from the beginning of the hike through the trees. There’s also a crazy water-pipe-aquaduct-looking thing here. Turn left on the Blue Trail to head downhill along the creek.
35. Follow the Blue Trail for about .4 miles downhill, enjoying the burbles and drops of the creek beside you. If you ask me, some of those drops should count as waterfalls. Since nobody’s named ‘em yet, feel free to go ahead and name them after yourself.
36. In about 10-15 minutes from your turn onto the Blue Trail, you’ll come to Ben’s Bridge, a nice little wooden creek crossing. Head over the bridge and then immediately look for the start of the red-blazed Duggan Trail straight ahead, where you’ll take the right-hand option at the fork with the Blue Trail. Say goodbye to the Blue Trail as it departs to your left.
37. Follow the Red Trail as it gently ascends the final .5 miles to your car. You’ll see some nice trail work in the form of rock walls and stepping stones as you go.
38. And then, finally, the three blazes marking the end of the Red Trail and the kiosk just outside the parking lot. Your car! Wouldn’t it be awesome if you left yourself a candy bar in there? Go check the glove box.
39. After this hike, how could you not consider Black Rock Forest to be a friend? You could even make it official.
Directions to the trailhead: From Newburgh, head south on Route 9W. About 5 miles south of Newburgh, you’ll cross under the overpass for Angola Road, then you’ll begin climbing a large hill. 1.7 miles after theAngola Road overpass, while you’re still climbing that hill, turn right from Route 9W onto Reservoir Road, which is also marked with a small wooden “Black Rock Forest” sign.
When Reservoir Road comes to a T in just a moment, turn right. The well-marked Black Rock Forest parking lot is on your right, just before a gate that is almost always closed. Park here and let the good times rock.
You can also get directions by checking out the Black Rock Forest entry on the HiketheHudsonValley.com Google map.
Sorta nearby address for your GPS: The intersection of Reservoir Road and Rt 9W in Cornwall, NY is less than a mile from the trailhead. Turn southeast onto Reservoir Road (a right turn if you’re heading south on 9W), then right when Reservoir Road hits a T, and you’ll be there in a few seconds. (My old-ish Garmin Nuvi lets me put in an intersection as a destination, so hopefully yours does, too.)
If you’re looking for actual facts and/or useful information, visit these resources:
- The very informative Black Rock Forest Consortium homepage (and thanks for the sweet forest, dudes!)
- The official Black Rock Forest trail map (which isn’t as nice as the one you can buy from the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, but it’s free, so that’s pretty awesome)
- The impressively thorough Black Rock Forest Wikipedia page
- A nice alternate write-up from the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference
- This dude’s Black Rock write-up for a completely different 10.5-mile hike
- Another good alternate write-up from NYCdayhiking.com
More Black Rock Forest pictures from the hike’s Picasa album:
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