Background you can feel free to skip: Of all the trails in the Hudson Valley, you’re most likely to bump into me on this one. We found out about this hike early last year and went back six times before winter. It’s nice and close for Poughkeepsie-folk, and a relatively easy hike for people who don’t want to tackle a big ol’ mountain. But it still manages to offer a pulse-quickening hike to a beautiful overlook.
This trail has the added coolness factor of being part of the Appalachian Trail, which lets you go home after a 2-mile walk to tell everyone that you hiked the Appalachian Trail today. Not the whole thing, but maybe about half.
If you go on a pleasant weekend afternoon, expect some company. You might even pass some through-hikers on their way to Maine. I’ve rarely seen this place crowded, but there’s a good chance you’ll have a chance to chat with another hiker or two at the overlook.
About ten minutes into the hike, just before a wooden footbridge over a seasonal creek, turn around and notice the flat little straightaway you just walked through. This is the exact spot where I tripped and smashed my face while wearing a baby on my back. I wrote a newspaper column about the experience (I write one every week, with varying degrees of success) – if you have nothing better to do and/or you’re at work right now, you can read that column here.
I’d have no idea that this hike existed if it weren’t for the excellent Cats Rock write-up at Berkshirehiking.com, which extends its range into eastern NY and western CT. I’ve found BerkshireHiking.com to be a terrific resource that accurately documents some really great spots in the area, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in hiking around here. (Update 2/23/2016: For several years, I inadvertently carried over a typo in the name of this place from BerkshireHiking.com — the official name is Cat Rocks, not Cats Rock, as I’d initially written it up. That actually makes way more sense. Apologies to anyone who still calls it Cats Rock in their heads, like I do.)
If you’d like to make a longer hike out of Cat Rocks, check out the Berkshirehiking.com Cats Rock entry for some different ideas – the hike I’m documenting below is just a short jaunt, but you can extend it if you’re looking for more.
1. From the parking area on the shoulder of County Route 20 (West Dover Road), underneath the giant oak tree, carefully cross the street and head down a few stairs to begin the hike, following the white Appalachian Trail blazes. (UPDATE 9/28/2013: Make sure you head into the woods on the opposite side of the street from the giant oak tree, or, per Alex’s comment below, you may find pizza, but you won’t find Cat Rocks.)
(Also, I just stumbled upon a trail guide that calls this oak tree the Dover Oak, and claims it’s the biggest oak tree on the Applachian Trail. I have no idea if that’s true, but it’s pretty cool if it is.)
2. The area at the bottom of the stairs might be a little marshy, but this is the only spot on the trail that you’re likely to find any mud. Some nice wooden walkways are provided to help you keep your feet dry.
3. The trail turns uphill and stays pointed that way for the remainder of the hike, including one very steep, rocky section just as the trail turns uphill (a comment below reports a dog having trouble at this spot. My medium-sized dog has scampered right up here many times, but this is not everyone’s experience – be prepared to give your dog a boost, if you have a canine companion with you. This is the steepest spot on this hike, and the only place that might give your dog pause.)
**UPDATE December 2020** There’s apparently an unmarked route around the steep spot if it’s too much for you or your pooch. See Liz’s comment below if that interests you (and thanks, Liz!)
After ten minutes, cross a wooden footbridge over a seasonal stream. Another 10-15 minutes after that, you’ll come to the only trail junction on this hike, an intersection with the short spur trail to the Telephone Pioneers Appalachian Trail shelter.
4. Optional: If you’d like to check it out, the AT shelter is a few hundred yards off to the left, down the Blue Trail. It’s kind of cool to think of people walking all the way from Georgia to Maine camped out right here.. When it’s in full effect, too, the stream running across the Blue Trail on the way to the shelter is picturesque, with some small cascades further up the hill. Check it out if you’d like – but if you see people there, you might want to give them some peace. The roundtrip would be less than 10 minutes.
5. Back at the junction with the Appalachian Trail and the Telephone Pioneers spur trail, keep heading uphill on the white-blazed Appalachian Trail. (A right turn if you didn’t visit the shelter, straight if you did.)
6. You have about another 10-15 minutes of climbing to get to Cat Rocks. Just keep following the white blazes. When the trail flattens out, keep a sharp eye out for the unmarked trail leading through the bushes to your right. There are actually a couple of unmarked trails heading down to Cat Rocks. They’re easy to spot, but if you weren’t paying attention, you could miss ‘em.
7. Follow the unmarked trail maybe 100 feet down to Cat Rocks. Plunk down and enjoy the view.
There are plenty of bigger views in the Hudson Valley, but for a two-mile roundtrip, it’s tough to beat this one. Relax for a while and soak it in.
If you hear a yowling sound, you’re probably being surrounded by the pack of feral cats that gives this place its name. You’ll want to hide any balls of yarn you might have in a nearby tree. Actually, I have no idea why it’s called Cat Rocks, but it’s a cool name for a cool place. You’re actually sitting on the summit of West Mountain right now, but Cat Rocks is way catchier.
8. When you’re done lounging on the rocks, retrace your steps along the Appalachian Trail back to your car, under the huge oak tree.
You’ll be forgiven if you decide to tell people that this hike is the cat’s meow.
Directions to the trailhead: Coming from Poughkeepsie, take 55 East past the intersection with Rt. 82 to a left turn onto Bruzgul Road (County Route 21). Stay on County Route 21 as it changes names 17 times for no good reason. Just past the bottom of a really big hill with hairpin turns (you’ll know it when you drive it), hang a right onto County Route 20. After maybe five minutes, you’ll see a big red barn on the left with a giant American flag painted on it.
Slow down after that barn. The trailhead is coming up soon on the left, just after you pass a yellow pedestrian sign that is pretty much your only indication of the trailhead. Park under a huge oak tree, on the left shoulder of the road.
You can also get directions by checking out the Cat Rocks entry on the HiketheHudsonValley.com Google map.
Sorta nearby address for your GPS: The intersection of Blackberry Road and West Dover Road in Pawling, NY, is about a mile north of the trailhead parking (the parking is on West Dover Road, more prominently known as County Route 20). My old-ish Garmin Nuvi lets me put in an intersection as a destination, so hopefully yours does, too.
GPS coordinates of parking area: 41.60316, -73.61145 (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:
More Cat Rocks 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.)