Background you can feel free to skip: The well-maintained trails around James Baird State Park travel through some beautiful woodland scenes, and in fall foliage season, this is a great place to visit. The only reason I wouldn’t put this stroll into the top tier of hikes in the area is that it doesn’t really have a destination. There’s no money spot where you might walk out onto an overlook, take a deep breath and say, “Dang, I wish I could yodel.”
No, this is just a pleasant stroll for the sake of taking a pleasant stroll. It also happens to be about ten minutes from where I live, so it’s a convenient way to get out into the woods without losing half a day. The trails also make a nice loop that doesn’t have any crazy inclines, so it’s a perfect place to bring visitors who aren’t looking to scale Mt. Everest. You will find a few decent hills here, though, so be prepared to burn off an éclair or two.
If you’re looking for some nice scenic overlooks, you should probably consider hiking elsewhere. If you’re jonesing for a stroll through some picturesque woods and you find yourself anywhere near Baird Park, though, an amble on these trails might be just the ticket.
1. You can print out a handy trail map from the official NY State Baird Park page. There are also a few maps posted around the park grounds, but as of this writing, they are mostly mangled, so you’d do well to bring your own copy.
2. From the parking lot in front of Mahoney’s on the Green restaurant, head across the street, near the cul-de-sac (Mahoney’s will be on your right) and look for the small map podium that marks the trailhead at the beginning of the woods.
3. Jump on the trail at the podium and head up the hill. It’s easy to miss the markers, but this trail is marked green.
4. In just a moment, the Green Trail dead-ends onto a gravel road. Take a left onto this road, then an immediate right (it’s a dogleg turn, if you will). If you look sharp, you can see the red marker for the right turn.
5. After taking just a few more steps, look for another right turn that heads uphill. Take this turn and start gaining some altitude. And have no fear: we’ll pick up some proper trail markers soon.
6. As you continue to head uphill, you’ll come to a very visible landmark. It’s either an old water tower or an ogre’s above-ground pool.
At the ogre’s pool, take a hard right uphill onto the Red Trail, which is marked with actual trail markers.
7. You’ll stay on the Red Trail for quite some time, wrapping around the southern end of the park and heading north again. You might catch an occasional (very seasonal) view of some hills in the distance, but otherwise, this is just a place to enjoy your immediate surroundings.
As the Red Trail heads north, it comes very close to the Taconic Parkway. You can’t see it, but you sure can hear it. Scoff at all the people going to or coming from work up there. And don’t worry – we’ll lose the road noise soon enough.
8. Exercise caution as the Red Trail crosses Baird Park Road – cars can be moving very quickly here as they come off the Taconic.
9. Shortly after you cross the road, keep an eye out to make sure you keep following the Red Trail markers. There’s one spot where the trail heads up a small bluff to the left, but there’s an unmarked section of trail that goes straight, next to a seasonal bog, and then ends, leaving you wondering why you’re not on the trail anymore. Follow the red markers and this terrible fate won’t befall you, like it did to, uh, my friend. Yes, my friend. Not me.
10. After a few minutes, a podium marks a trail coming in from the left. Stay straight on the Red Trail.
11. A few minutes more, and you’ll cross a surprisingly non-picturesque little footbridge. I think it’s the plywood ramp that kills the vibe. Still, better than walking in the mud.
12. About three minutes after the footbridge, you’ll come to a junction, marked by another podium, with the Blue Trail. Hooray! The Blue Trail is my favorite part of this park, and it’s the place you’ll most feel like you’ve gotten away from civilization. Turn right to hop on it. (A left here on the Red-Blue Trail would be a shortcut that knocks a little less than a mile off this hike, which could be handy if you’re short on time. Consult the Trail Map and jump down to Step 20 in this guide if you need to get back for a job interview or something.)
You’ll also see a blue wooden arrow pointing the way.
13. In just a moment, you’ll have a chance to leave the Blue Trail and follow the sign on your left to the Picnic Area. Ignore the siren call of the Picnic Area and head right to stay on the Blue Trail.
14. Follow the Blue Trail over some burbling creeks and much nicer little footbridges.
If you take a dip here, be sure to dry off when you’re done.
15. Keep an eye out for the Blue Trail markers as you wander here, as there are a couple of unmarked trails (little corner cutoffs, mostly) that might tempt you into wandering into uncharted territory.
16. Climb a few nice hills, and notice that you don’t hear the Taconic anymore. Ahhhhh.
17. At the top of the largest hill you’ve climbed yet, you’ll see a side trail leading off to the left, with a marker saying “Steep Trail.” I’ve always ignored this trail and stayed on the Blue Trail. The Steep Trail is just a slightly shorter cutoff that rejoins the Blue Trail in a minute or two. Let’s ignore it together now.
This junction is a nice spot to give any freeloaders who might be riding on your back a moment to stretch their legs.
Off to your right, you can just get a glimpse of a farmer’s fields in the distance. That’s about as close to an overlook as you’re going to get on these trails, so enjoy it.
18. Head down the hill on the Blue Trail, and in just a moment, you’ll pop out onto a gravel road, with the backside of another podium greeting you.
Go left on this road, then take another left on the paved road in just a few more steps. Off to your right, you can see the park’s golf course.
19. Ascend the small hill on the paved road to find a huge picnic area open up to your left. If you brought a picnic, now would be a good time to bust it out.
Take a left here to plunge back into the woods, rejoining our old pal Red Trail.
20. In about a hundred yards, you’ll head down a little hill to find a fork in the path. Take a right to stay on the Red Trail.
21. Follow the Red Trail as it meanders through the woods. Once again, be careful when the trail crosses the street.
22. This section of trail can be a little boggy at times, but some enterprising person has built a little log path to help.
(Side note: You’ll notice the Red Trail rejoining you from the right in just a second, even though you’re already on the Red Trail. This is because there’s a different section of Red Trail that crosses the street a little lower down. This confused me a bit at first, but I’m easily confusible. Just ignore this derelict Red Trail junction with itself and keep heading straight.)
23. Directly after you’ve crossed the street and braved the little boggy section, the official Red Trail splits off to the left. You want to go right here.
24. After you take that right turn to leave the Red Trail, you’ll see your new trail blazed with unofficial, knockoff Red Trail blazes. A different color choice might have been nice, but hey, this hike is free, right?
25. Follow the unofficial Red Trail straight through the next intersection. That trail heading off to your left is the one you took uphill towards the ogre’s pool about three miles ago.
26. When the knockoff Red Trail dumps you off back onto the gravel road, take a left and then a quick right, dogleg-style. Recognize this place?
27. Follow the trail down the hill to Mahoney’s on the Green and your car. There are plenty of worse ways to spend 3.2 miles, right?
Directions to the trailhead: From the intersection of the Taconic Parkway and Rt 55 in LaGrange, head north on the Taconic. In less than a mile, take the left exit for James Baird State Park (there’s also an exit from the southbound lanes). Merge onto Baird Park Road (unmarked) and follow the road to the first stop sign. Take a left, towards the restaurant. Park in the restaurant parking lot, in front of the white Mahoney’s on the Green building.
You can also get directions by checking out the Baird Park entry on the HiketheHudsonValley.com Google map.
Sorta nearby address for your GPS: The James Baird State Park Office gives its address as:
280 Club House Rd # 1
Pleasant Valley, NY
In Google Maps, this address points to a random spot on Baird Park Road that is very close to the parking area. Plugging this into your GPS should get you almost to the right place. Once inside the park, just follow the signs toward the restaurant.
GPS coordinates of parking area: 41.68593, -73.79198 (Clicking will open in Google Maps or the Apple Maps app, depending on your browser/device.)
Super-cool Google Earth flyover of hike route:
Google Terrain Map of hike route:
Related resources: If you’re looking for actual facts and/or useful information, visit these excellent resources:
- NY State Baird Park homepage
- Baird Park’s official trail map
- The Baird Park Wikipedia entry, written by someone who really, really liked the pool that’s not there anymore
- The New York – New Jersey Trail Conference Baird Park page
More James Baird State Park pictures from the hike’s Picasa album:
Want to support trails in the Hudson Valley? Here’s one great way: Visit the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference homepage and click on Volunteer, Donate, or Shop! (Then you can volunteer, donate, or shop, depending on your mood.)