Difficulty: 7 out of 10 (steep climb)
Highlights: Sweeping views, steep climbs, abandoned quarry
Distance: 3.6 miles, up-and-back
Approximate roundtrip time: 3 hours
Total ascent: 1,350 ft
Max Elevation: 1,276 ft above sea level
This hike is for you if: You want to climb a mountain (don’t let the “Hill” part of the name fool you – this is a mountain) to see some of the best views in the Hudson Valley.
Background you can feel free to skip: It’s easy to forget about Bull Hill, with its more popular sibling, Breakneck Ridge, less than a mile up the road. You can almost picture Bull Hill stomping its foot and saying, “Breakneck, Breakneck, Breakneck!” in the same way Jan Brady complained about Marcia.
But this is a hike that shouldn’t be missed. It’s not a rock scramble like Breakneck, just a good old-fashioned climb with several fantastic views and points of interest along the way.
It’s also directly across the street from Little Stony Point, which is a perfect place to wind down after you return from conquering Bull Hill. (Bull Hill is sometimes referred to as Mt.Taurus. If I was Bull Hill’s publicist, I’d probably advise it to go by Mt.Taurus all the time, but it’s more commonly referred to by its somewhat wimpier-sounding bovine appellation.)
Whatever you call it, this is a beautiful spot, and a choice place to watch the sun dip behind Crow’s Nest and Storm King Mountain on the other side of the river (assuming you have a good flashlight and a sense of adventure to attempt the rocky descent of Bull Hill at dusk, which someone with good sense probably wouldn’t try.)
The town of Cold Spring is blessed with several awesome hikes just outside of town. Whenever I visit this hike, my itinerary goes something like this: Bull Hill, Little Stony Point, Cold Spring Pizza. Perhaps there’s a better way to burn half a day. Perhaps not.
1. From the parking area directly across Route 9D from the Little Stony Point parking lot, begin your ascent on the white-blazed Washburn Trail. Check out the trail map box or snap a picture of the posted map before you begin. If you’re the planning type, you could also print out a Hudson Highlands trail map before you come here. (If you snag a map from the box, it’s good karma to put it back at the end of the hike.)
2. You’ll immediately come to a well-marked junction with the blue-blazed Cornish Trail. Stay right on the White (Washburn) Trail.
If you wanted to make a 7-8-mile loop out of Bull Hill, you could come back to this junction via the Cornish Trail later in the day. If you’d like to try that beast of a hike (we’re hitting most of the highlights on our shorter stroll today), you can check out the very nice New York-New Jersey Trail Conference write-up of that hike (which calls it a 4.8-mile hike – that seems low to me, but if I were you, I’d trust the NY-NJTC over me, too), or plot it out for yourself using the nice online Hudson Highlands park map (Washburn Trail-> Notch Trail -> Brook Trail -> Cornish Trail). Wait, this Localhikes write-up gives that same hike as 7.5 miles. That sounds closer to me. In any event, if you’re tackling that hike, enjoy it, crazy person!
3. Ascend through a deciduous forest for about ten minutes as you approach an old abandoned quarry. It’s about .4 miles and 150 vertical feet from the parking lot to the quarry.
4. Emerge into the old quarry and take a look around. The low grasses and small trees make this place feel like a savanna. I always expect to see gazelles hopping around in here, but so far, my search for the elusive Bull Hill gazelle has yielded only disappointment. Good thing it’s such a cool place otherwise.
Right at the entrance to the quarry, the trail takes a hard right (almost a U-turn), while an unmarked trail heads into the quarry. Turn right here to continue ascending on the White Trail.
5. Now the serious climbing begins. Our next point of interest is Table Rocks, at which we’ll arrive in another .3 miles and 297 vertical feet. It took me about ten minutes to get there. (Per Kelsey’s comment below, it can be easy to lose track of the trail markers in this section – they are spread a little thin here, and the correct trail itself isn’t always obvious, as the White Trail has been rerouted here and it’s easy to step off onto an old unmarked section of trail. You’ll want to very carefully play a game of “Find the Next White Blaze,” keeping the quarry close — but not too close — on your left while you head uphill. Per Jeff Kent’s helpful comment below, you can also “look for a pipe on the right side of the main trail…follow the pipe off to the right and you’ll stick to the white trail.”)
As you ascend, keep an eye on your right for the rocky outcropping that affords a very nice view of Cold Spring, West Point and the river valley beyond. If you’re feeling lazy, nobody would blame you if you decided to make this your final destination. Table Rocks would qualify as a grand finale anywhere else.
6. From Table Rocks, we’ll continue climbing around the quarry, eventually heading past it and up the hill beyond. It’s .6 miles and nearly 600 vertical feet to our next milestone: the junction with the yellow-blazed Undercliff Trail. Happy climbing! Keep following those white blazes, and we’ll see you at the junction with the Yellow Trail.
7. When you arrive at the White Trail and Yellow Trail junction, you’ll find it marked with blazes and spray-painted arrows. You are standing close to some very awesome views. Take a left on the Yellow Trail to start checking ‘em out. (We’ll be coming back to this junction in just a few minutes.)
8. Stroll along the Yellow Trail as some river views open up to your left. We’re going .3 miles from the junction with the White Trail.
Keep walking until you come to a rocky viewpoint that lets you look up the river to the north. This is your turnaround spot. Stop here and soak in the view for a moment.
If you find the trail bending hard to the right, heading back towards Bull Hill and away from the river, you’re going too far.
9. After you’ve checked out the views, retrace your steps back to the White/Yellow junction.
10. Turn left to head uphill on the White Trail. The best viewpoint on Bull Hill is .21 miles and 180 vertical feet up the trail. I promise, it’s worth the climb.
11. READ THIS STEP CAREFULLY OR YOU’LL MISS THE WHOLE POINT OF CLIMBING BULL HILL! The trail doesn’t take you to the best viewpoint on Bull Hill if you aren’t looking for it. You have to wander about 30 feet or so off the White Trail to get there.
It’ll take just shy of ten minutes to reach the viewpoint from the White/Yellow junction at a casual pace. Keep a lookout on your left for some boulders that you can’t see past. That’s where the action is.
On my most recent trip here, I hadn’t been to Bull Hill in a few years, and I walked right past the viewpoint. After much cussing and befuddlement, I had to circle back later in the day to find it (I did a longer loop hike, and I learned that I like the shorter up/back version of Bull Hill that we’re doing today much better.)
I watched several other hikers walk past this spot without stopping, not realizing that the most money spot on Bull Hill was just a few feet away. I wonder how many people come here and don’t know that they just walked right past one of the best viewpoints in the Hudson Valley. My point: keep a close eye out here or you’ll miss the spot altogether.
One hint that you’re getting close: you’ll see a white arrow painted on a rock in the middle of the trail. From here, it’s just a couple more minutes up the hill – you can almost see your destination through the trees.
When you get to the boulders on your left just a minute after that arrow, climb up on top. Get ready to plop down and enjoy the sweet fruit of your labor, and feel super awesome that you found a spot that so many people stroll right past.
12. Look south to see the Hudson winding its way towards New York City, where the shad enter the river from the sea and dead mobsters enter from various bridges. This is one of my favorite views in the Hudson Valley.
Straight across the river, the western Hudson Highlands smile back at you.
To the north, find more rivery awesomeness, with Breakneck Ridge plunging to meet the water.
**UPDATE September 2013: If you’re feeling adventurous, you could follow Brittany’s comment below to ANOTHER unmarked money spot on Bull Hill. Get out, right? I’ve never been there myself, but I’ll be on the hunt for it next time I’m here. The elusive Bull Hill money spot can be harder to find than the elusive Bull Hill gazelle.
13. Once you’ve sufficiently soaked it all in, follow the White Trail back downhill all the way to your car, where you can scour under the seat for a well-deserved candy bar. If your legs have anything left in ‘em, head across the street to Little Stony Point and listen to the water lap on the beach for a little while. Really, you should check out Little Stony Point.
14. Time for some pizza!
Directions to the trailhead: From Beacon, head south on Route 9D. In less than five miles, you’ll pass under a tunnel at the trailhead to Breakneck Ridge. About one mile after that tunnel, you’ll see the well-marked parking area for Little Stony Point on your right. Park in the spacious lot directly across the street, on your left heading south. If you enter the village of Cold Spring, you’ve gone just a few hundred yards too far.
You can also get directions by checking out the Bull Hill (Mt. Taurus) entry on the HiketheHudsonValley.com Google map.
Sorta nearby address for your GPS: The intersection of Fair St and Route 9D in Cold Spring, NY is directly south of the Bull Hill parking area (the parking area is immediately north of that intersection, on the east side of Route 9D). My old-ish Garmin Nuvi lets me put in an intersection as a destination, so hopefully yours does, too.
Related resources: If you’re looking for actual facts and/or useful information, visit these resources:
- The informative Bull Hill Wikipedia page that gives an interesting explanation for how this mountain got its name
- A nice write-up for a longer loop hike on the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference Bull Hill page (pretty sure that 4.8-mile estimate is a lowball, though)
- The longer loop hike detailed on Localhikes.com, with plenty of user reviews
- This dude’s page where he posts a nice 12-minute video of his Bull Hill hike. If he planted the camera by himself in all those places, he must have walked 20 miles that day. Also, he missed the money spot, just like I warned about in Step 11! The trail should really take you directly there. Oh well, you’ll feel cooler when you find it now, like those nightclubs in LA with no signs.
- A nice write-up for the longer Bull Hill hike on NYCdayhiking.com
- Another nice write-up for the longer hike, on which they also appear to have missed the money spot.
- People seem to dig making videos of this hike. Here’s another one. Watching now to see if they find the money spot. Watching….watching…They missed it! “There’s nothing going on on this hike.” Unless you know where the awesome money spot is! It really should be marked. I strolled right past it the first time, too.
- Blammo! Jeremiah didn’t miss the money spot! Check out his very cool video of a beautiful winter hike at Bull Hill, complete with panorama of the money spot beginning at about 2:18.
More Bull Hill (Mt. Taurus) pictures from the hike’s Picasa album:
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