**EXTREMELY IMPORTANT UPDATE posted May 8, 2020!!**
You can’t do this hike anymore!!! I received an email update today from a New York State Parks trails planner (thanks, Chris!), who asked me to post this warning:
“Attention Jessup, Sweet Clover and Otterkill Hikers: the Metropolitan Transportation Authority forbids crossing its rail corridor in Schunemunk State Park. Trespassers may be fined or subject to arrest by MTA police. There are currently no trail connections within the park between the east and west sides of the tracks. Please utilize the Otterkill Road parking lot to access the west side of the park.”
Unfortunately, with this update, the trail guide below is now obsolete. You need to cross the tracks to do this hike as written. Apparently, hikers have actually been getting tickets for the crime of crossing the tracks. (Boo, MTA! I thought we were friends.) There’s a very helpful map posted to the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference Trail Alert on this closure – you can work out a different route from the Otterkill Road parking area to get to the Megaliths, but I’ve never done it. I’ll put it in my medium-term plans to get back out here and check it out. In the meantime, please don’t attempt this hike as written! They are apparently closing the Taylor Road parking area entirely (the NY-NJTC trail alert says that the lot will remain open for meadow walks, but Chris says the lot is shutting down altogether.)
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. Stay safe out there, everyone!
Background you can feel free to skip: A climb to the megaliths at the top of Schunemunk Mountain will take you across so many different types of terrain, you’ll feel like you’ve just completed five different hikes. Stroll through open meadows, dense deciduous forests, boulder fields and open rock ridges dotted with spindly pines. Wait, that’s only four different hikes. Still, you get the idea. Oh, you’ll pass some cascading streams, too. We’ll call that five.
My most vivid memory from our old hiking group’s trip to Schunemunk several years ago is of our small crew sitting on the megaliths, taking in the view, as this Russian guy named Mike, who joined us for a few hikes, sat in silence next to me. I looked over to see that my buddy Jim was standing on Mike’s outstretched hand with all of his weight.
“Jim, dude, you’re standing on his hand,” I said.
“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry,” Jim said, jumping back.
“It’s okay,” Mike said, without moving his hand. I think he would have sat there all day in silence while his hand was getting crushed. My takeaway from that experience: don’t mess with Russian dudes. In any event, I hadn’t been back here since about 2005, so when I visited this hike again last spring, I kept thinking, “Why haven’t I come back here sooner?”
This is a gorgeous hike from start to finish, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a nice climb to an excellent payoff. That being said, this is a tough hike, and you should come prepared to do some sweating. Schunemunk doesn’t baby you by having a parking area halfway up the hill like some hikes around here. You park near the base of the mountain and walk a mile or so through a beautiful open meadow (you’ll need to ignore I-87 off to your left) to approach the ascent. You might even be sweating before you step foot on the mountain.
But if you tackle this climb, you’ll be rewarded with one of the most awesome panoramic views in the Hudson Valley, as well as some other nice viewpoints and sights along the way. Also, if you visit the megaliths and decide to let someone stomp on your hand at the top, make sure that you’re Russian first. Otherwise, it might hurt.
1. From the parking area on Taylor Road, cross the street to hop on the yellow-and-white-blazed Jessup trail. You’ll also see teal-and-white trail markers for the Highlands Trail.
2. The Jessup Trail heads across a beautiful open field, dotted with huge trees. You’ll see trail markers on many of the trees, and also on posts that have been placed along the trail.
**UPDATE 2019** According to several comments from recent visitors, the meadows coming up in the next section are often quite overgrown. Here’s the relevant snippet from fellow hiker Jacki Spinelli’s comment from 9/2/2019 (and thank you for the heads-up, Jacki!)
The fields are very overgrown – with beautiful wildflowers – but still overgrown. The path is visible but the flowers, at this time of the year, were armpit high. If you are not wearing long pants then wear high socks. Not only are there ticks, as a previous comment mentioned, but I saw poison ivy in places and just the continuous lashing of the thistle and other thick stems against your ankles and calves makes for some lasting welts.
Good thing you didn’t listen when people made fun of your tube socks — time to hike ’em up!
3. When the trail makes a T into a wooded area with a house to your left and a shed and an old rusty gate straight ahead, turn right to stay on the well-worn trail.
4. Don’t forget to look back across the field you just crossed. What a beautiful place. Even having I-87 rumbling just a few hundred yards away can’t ruin it. Also, dang, putting a polarizing filter on your camera really brings out the blue in the sky. That was a good purchase.
5. About ten minutes into the hike, the Yellow (Jessup) Trail and White (Sweet Clover) Trail part ways. You want to turn left, onto the white-blazed Sweet Clover Trail.
6. Make your way across yet another beautiful meadow as Schunemunk looms to your right, daring you to bring some hiking noise. If you have any freeloaders riding on your back, this is a good place to let them romp around for a moment. When the trail passes a giant tree (marked with a white blaze) in the middle of the field, continue straight to stay on the White Trail as it ventures closer to I-87 — don’t be lured onto the unmarked road that departs to your right.
7. The White Trail plunges you into the woods with I-87 buzzing to your left. Shortly thereafter, you’ll come to a fork with an unmarked woods road leading off to your right. Take the left fork to remain on the White Trail.
8. In just a moment, you’ll pop out into a clearing where you’ll have to cross a set of MTA railroad tracks. THESE TRACKS ARE VERY ACTIVE AND THE TRAINS GO REALLY, REALLY FAST. Sorry for yelling, but I wanted to make sure you’ll exercise caution here as you cross the tracks.
9. Re-enter the woods on the far side of the tracks, and turn left to follow the White Trail, which is very briefly joined by the Red (Otterkill) Trail. In just a few more steps, the White Trail doglegs to the right. Take this right turn to stay on the White Trail and continue climbing.10. “Sweet Clover Trail” sounds so friendly and harmless, right? Well, it doesn’t want to be your friend anymore. Keep climbing, and the terrain seems to change with every step, except for the fact that it is going up. That part doesn’t change.You’ll see some places where the trail route has been changed, and branches are laid across the old trail to keep you on the new section. Just keep an eye out for the white blazes and you’ll be good to go.
11. About 15 minutes after the railroad tracks, the trail skirts the edge of a ravine that drops off to your left, and you can hear a burbling creek below. If you squint, you can pretend that you’re climbing up the edge of a canyon out west somewhere. In just a few more minutes, the terrain changes again, and a field of small boulders seems to whisper, “‘Sweet Clover Trail’ sounded so easy, didn’t it?”
12. Enjoy your first real views as you continue climbing. When you cross the seasonal cascading stream with a tiny waterfall, you’ll have gained about 750 feet in elevation from the parking lot, to just about 1,000 ft. The highest point on the hike is 1,650 feet. You’re closing in on it, right?
13. From the railroad tracks, it took me one hour to reach the well-marked Sweet Clover Junction, where you’ll say goodbye to the White Trail and turn left on the Yellow (Jessup) Trail. At this point, you’ve knocked the toughest mileage off your journey, and it’s only very slightly uphill from here to the megaliths.
14. After Sweet Clover Junction, the landscape is dramatically different than anything you’ve seen so far, and really quite different from anything else in the Hudson Valley. The Schunemunk Wikipedia page calls the odd pink conglomerate under your feet “Puddingstone,” but I think “God’s concrete” sounds cooler. Unless regular concrete is already God’s concrete, in which case I’ll have to come up with another name.
In any event, carefully follow the yellow-and-teal trail markers across the wide open expanses of funky rock. There are many small cairns (fancy talk for rock piles) to keep you headed the right way. It would be easy to get turned around out here, since there’s no well-worn trail to follow across the rock. Be sure to actively search for the abundant trail markers to make sure you stay on the Yellow/Teal (Jessup) Trail.
15. I walked right past this spot without noticing it, but once you stroll a half-mile past Sweet Clover Junction, you’ll come to Dark Hollow Junction, where the White/Black (Dark Hollow) Trail begins to your left. You’ll come back to this spot later to take the Dark Hollow Trail down the mountain, but for now, we’ll just stroll straight past, staying on the Yellow/Teal Trail on our way to the megaliths. If you’re sharper than me and notice this junction, fantastic. If not, no worries, it’s easier to spot coming from the other direction anyway. Just keep staying the course on the Yellow/Teal Trail.
16. From Dark Hollow Junction, it’s about 10-15 minutes to the megaliths. Can you stand the suspense? Keep an eye out for two larger-than-normal cairns, which mark the start of the very short spur trail to the megaliths. If you miss the cairns, there’s also the word “MEGALITHS” painted on the ground, with an arrow pointing to your right.
**UPDATE September 2019** According to several recent comments, the MEGALITHS painting on the rocks pictured below is either super-faint or totally non-existent now. The cairns are a better guide to look for. (You can also click to the “Resources” section below and find the Google Terrain Map there — click the icon in the top-right corner of that map to open the Google Maps app and show your progress against my GPS trace of this hike. The Avenza app is also a great way to trace your progress against the official NY-NJTC maps.) Keep a sharp eye out for those cairns leading you downhill to your right – you’ll stroll right past the megaliths if you miss those cairns!
**UPDATE March 2020** According to Nicole’s helpful comment below, there’s a nice new sign, in yellow painting on the rock, clearly pointing the way to the Megaliths. Great news! Thanks, Nicole!
Take this right turn to head down the spur trail to the megaliths.
17. The spur trail takes you down an open rock face, then plunges you into the woods. In just a few more feet, you’ll pop out onto one of the most remarkable places in the Hudson Valley. The megaliths. You made it! Go on with your megabad self.
18. Relax and take in the view of the Catskills, the Stewart-Newburgh Airport and lots of other stuff that looks really, really tiny from up here. Exploring down in the megaliths looks like a pretty nice way to get yourself maimed, so I recommend beholding them from your safe perch up on top. You can do some pretty serious beholding from up there, too.
19. When you’re done taking it all in, go back up the spur trail and take a left to head back the way you came on the Yellow/Teal Trail. Your destination is Dark Hollow Junction, which is about .3 miles back down the trail (it took me 13 minutes to get from the megaliths to Dark Hollow Junction.)
20. The Dark Hollow Trail, which departs from the right and has odd black-square-on-white-background markers, can be tough to spot. But there is a nice big “Dark Hollow Junction” sign on the left side of the trail to keep you from strolling right past it.
**UPDATE September 2019** That nice big sign is apparently not there anymore! Sigh. Here’s another update from Jacki Spinelli and her epically helpful comment from 9/2/2019:
The Black Trail is indeed hard to find – both ways. We ran into several people as we were on our way out on the yellow trail, who had passed it and were searching. We found it easier to see the first time (and even knowing where it was – or where we thought it was – we missed it ourselves going back). They have placed some rocks at the entrance (the three black dots are on a tree around the corner and the sign you mentioned is no longer there) that almost look like they are blocking the pathway to it but upon further inspection are I guess supposed to be an entrance way.
Check out the big rock that my dog is standing on in the second picture below — that’s the one you’re looking for! You can see the Dark Hollow Trail heading downhill from that rock. I think that’s why so many people miss it — the junction really takes place on that rock, so it’s easy to miss the dirt trail heading downhill from that rock.
Keep a sharp eye out, and when you spot it, take a right turn to hop on the Dark Hollow Trail.
21. You found it! Hooray! You’ll take the Dark Hollow Trail all the way down the mountain, past some very nice views and across some small creeks.
22. Two unmarked trails join the Dark Hollow Trail from the right as you keep heading down the hill. Just ignore them and keep following the black/white blazes. You’ll be on the Dark Hollow Trail for about 1.4 miles. It took me 45 minutes to get from Dark Hollow Junction to the end of the Dark Hollow Trail, back at the railroad tracks.
23. When you see the railroad tracks again, make a U-turn to your left to hop very briefly on the Red (Otterkill) Trail.
**UPDATE September 2019** If you prefer to turn left here on the train tracks (and will be very careful not to get run over), you can walk briefly down the tracks to a right turn back onto the White Trail, and pick up with this trail guide again on Step 26 below. Some commenters prefer this route as being a little less hilly and a little less complicated. Life’s full of choices! Please choose not to get run over by a train, whichever path you choose.
24. Follow the Red Trail as it hops across the creek below some nice cascades.
25. Shortly after the creek (less than two minutes), you’ll pass the dogleg turn that you took earlier, with the White (Sweet Clover) Trail departing to your left. If you want to do the whole loop to the megaliths again, have at it! Otherwise, let’s go back to the car. In a few more feet, turn right to rejoin your old friend, the white-blazed Sweet Clover Trail. (UPDATE March 2019: Friendly hiker Chris reported getting lost at this step, never seeing the White Trail departing to his right. This turn happens almost immediately after the creek crossing – less than two minutes. After turning right, you’ll immediately cross the train tracks, which are also quite close to this junction. Thanks for your comment, Chris, and hope this clarification is helpful to future adventurers!)
Ahem. Mee mee meeeee. Now that my voice is warmed up: BE CAREFUL CROSSING THE TRAIN TRACKS!
26. Retrace your steps from earlier in the day, when your legs weren’t nearly as tired. You’ll follow the White Trail through the woods and across the meadow. Turn right at the intersection with the Jessup Trail, then left when you come to the rusty old gate again. Tromp across the other beautiful meadow and boom! You’re back at your car.
27. You have earned the right to consume at least half a large pizza — now would be a good time to see about cashing in on that. And don’t even try to tell me that you’ve seen nicer megaliths recently.
Directions to the trailhead: From Newburgh, head south on Rt 32. Four miles after the intersection with Rt 94 (Blooming Grove Turnpike), turn right onto Pleasant Hill Rd (County Rd 79). Take your first left onto Taylor Road. You’ll have to make a right in just a moment to stay on Taylor Road, then you’ll follow Taylor Road over the I-87 overpass to the trailhead parking, on the right, just after you pass Creekside Lane. (There’s also room for three cars on the opposite side of the street, a few feet closer to the trailhead.) On a nice weekend afternoon, expect some company here.
You can also get directions by checking out the Schunemunk Mountain entry on the HiketheHudsonValley.com Google map.
Sorta nearby address for your GPS: The Mountainville Post Office is just around the corner from the trailhead.
7 Ketcham Avenue
Mountainville, New York 10953
From that post office, head northeast on Station Drive for a few yards, then turn left on Taylor Rd. The large trailhead parking area is just on the other side of I-87, on your right, just past the intersection with Creekside Ln.
GPS coordinates of parking area: 41.40753, -74.08164 (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 resources:
- The very informative Schunemunk Wikipedia page
- Some nice Schunemunk hikes and trail descriptions from the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference
- A longer Schunemunk hike from nycdayhiking.com
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.)