Carpenter's 8 Hike in Palisades Interstate Park

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Getting back in shape all started with walking for me and it's something I still do. During the summer it's mostly hiking and one hike I try to get in once a week is what I call Carpenter's 8 at Palisades Interstate Park in Fort Lee, NJ. It's a combination of Carpenter's Loops I & II where I go up Carpenter's Trail twice creating a sort of figure eight.

The hike is easy for me to get to and it combines a wide variety of scenery as the trail goes along the banks of the Hudson River and along the wooded area on top of the cliffs.
In total, the hike is about 8 miles and takes me roughly 2.5 hours to complete. Most of the trail is fairly flat along the Shore Trail and Long Path but Carpenter's Trail is a 0.2 mile long, 300' climb on old steep stone steps. This really gets my heart rate up as if I was jogging. It's a pretty tough climb but a good workout. Sometimes I'll jog for parts along Shore and the Long Path.

I remember reading that stair climbing is a great workout for your butt and since I spend a lot of time with my butt sitting in front of a computer, I decided to include Carpenter's Trail twice in my route.

In this post I'll describe the route and include some photos.

Hike Overview/Preparation

In total the hike is about 8 miles long and includes a 0.2 mile long 300' steep stair climb TWICE! You're not mountain climbing but this isn't exactly a casual stroll through the park. I manage to do the whole circuit in about 2.5 hours averaging a little more than 3 mph. Leave plenty of time to complete it at your own pace including any breaks so that you're done before it gets dark.

Dress appropriately for the weather. In the summer it gets hot and many parts of the trail will be exposed to the sun so wear sun screen.

You'll be walking through nature. Real nature, not Astroturf and perfectly planted foliage. There will be bugs so use insect repellant.

Wear good, comfortable, close toed shoes and good socks to keep your feet comfortable and blister free.

Bring a small first aid kit, some alcohol wipes, bandages, etc and throw in some blister bandages and moleskins just in case. A cell phone for emergencies is a good idea too.

Bring plenty of water. In the summer it gets very hot and walking that distance is going to make you sweat a lot. You'll need to re-hydrate. A sports drink might be better. I usually make my homemade green tea/orange sports drink. One bottle isn't enough for the trip. I also bring a bottle of water. On very hot days I'll have three bottles with me.

Bring lunch or a snack. Don't depend on any of the picnic areas having anything. Sometimes vending machines go out-of-order or are empty or other places may be closed. You're not going to run across a Starbuck's every other block. I usually grab one or two Cliff Bars to bring with me.

Tell someone where you're going and when you expect to be back, especially if you're going alone.

Don't litter! Anything you bring with you should be consumed, or disposed of properly. Don't spoil the experience for others by chucking your trash on the trails. Carry it with you until you reach a picnic area with garbage cans. Carry a plastic bag with you to keep your trash in.

Getting To Palisades Interstate Park

Palisades Interstate Park is part of a park system that runs from the Fort Lee/Edgewater border up into NY along the Palisades that overlook the Hudson River. It was created in the early 1900's to preserve the landscape and prevent miners from destroying the beautiful cliffs. It was a spot for relaxing, exercising and even bathing (if you can believe that!)
Today it consists of picnic areas, hiking trails, cross-country ski trails, marinas and boat launches as well as some historic sites.

If you're driving into Fort Lee, the easiest thing to do would be to park at the Fort Lee Historic Park and Museum on Hudson Terrace. There is a $5 parking fee.

The park is just south of the George Washington Bridge on the NJ side so whatever the best way for you to get to the bridge is, use it. Just don't cross into NY :)

From Fort Lee Historic Park to the Beginning of Shore Trail

There are two parking areas near the Museum. Near the northern lot look for a black asphalt or macadam path on the west side of the lot. Follow this path south. It should quickly lead down a wide set of stairs and sidewalk along the road you drove up into the parking lot (if not and you're going deep into the woods you're going the wrong way).

When you get to the entrance of the park road on Hudson Terrace, turn left and cross in front of the guard-house (do not cross Hudson Terrace).

This will lead you to a asphalt/macadam (I don't know the difference they look the same to me) shared sidewalk. This path is used by hikers, joggers and cyclists. It's fairly steep so try to be cautious of bikes heading down fast behind you and mindful of cyclists huffing and puffing their way up the hill. Try to stay on the right side and keep alert. If you're in a large group try to stay single or double file so you don't hog the whole width of the path and keep an eye on your kids or dog if you bring them. As I said the path is steep and cyclists will be going pretty fast.

Start of Shore Trail
After about 0.5 miles you'll reach 2 green posts and the entrance road into Palisades Interstate Park, Henry Hudson Drive. Cross the street and on the right side of the stone wall will be a narrow gravel path. This is the beginning of Shore Trail.

Make sure you take the gravel path and not the paved road just to the right of it which is a private road for Edgewater Colony and don't take the paved Henry Hudson drive.

Along Shore Trail To Carpenter's Trail

The Shore Trail is marked with white blazes. Blazes are small white rectangles nailed or spray painted on trees or rocks to mark the trail. There is only one path you can walk through so it's not hard to find even though the blazing is sparse.

Shore Trail starts off as a mild grade, gravel path. After a short distance you'll encounter a few steps and the path will now be stone paved switch backs with stairs that lead you down to the river. The stairs and path are in good shape and have recently been restored by Edgewater Colony (this part of the trail is actually on their property.) Be careful of leaves or water, especially if it has rained recently as the stones can get slippery when wet. There are no handrails and the steps can be quite steep.

Base Of Shore Trail
When you get to the bottom you'll be at a small gravel covered area along the bank of the Hudson River.

There are some benches and stone blocks for seating.

Continue through this area onto a dirt path leading north. There's a bit of gravel defining the path but it's mostly dirt and weeds.

After about 0.4 miles you'll reach the Hazard Boat Ramp. Walk through the parking lot underneath the George Washington Bridge.

In the parking lot there are trash cans and a couple of porta-john's. If you need to use the bathroom you can take a little detour to the Ross Dock Picnic Area which you will see ahead of you along the path. There are restrooms and vending machines.

As you leave the parking lot you'll continue walking along a paved road that runs along the river.

Carpenter's Trail

Base of Carpenter's Trail
After you travel about 0.5 miles along the road, keep an eye on your left for a set of stone stairs leading up into the woods. This is the start of Carpenter's Trail which is marked with Blue Blazes.

Carpenter's Trails is about 0.2 miles long and climbs 300' from the base of the Hudson River to the top of the cliffs.

It's steep, it's old, some of the stones are missing, there's no hand rail so be careful. Keep an eye on your heart rate and pause every once in a while to keep it from going too high. There are some nice views so it won't hurt to take them in, take some photos, have a sip of water.

The start of the trail is a bit overgrown but a short distance up you'll be in a clearing with a short dirt path in a wooded area facing a 40' tall stone retaining wall for Henry Hudson Drive.

Carpenter's Trail Tunnels
OK, short level area is over and another short but steep climb up stairs and through 2 tunnels that pass under Henry Hudson Drive and the approach road for Ross Dock Picnic Area.

After you exit the second tunnel, the path turns right and up another set of stairs and emerges right next to Henry Hudson Drive. You're about 40% complete with the climb here. This is your only opportunity to get off this trail and continue taking a different route if you feel you can't complete the stair climb unless you decide to stop and turn around down the stairs.

Don't feel bad you're trying and the more you do the easier it gets. The first time I tried it I didn't think I'd make it and I do some type of cardio at least 3-5 times a week. If you want to keep hiking, walk to the circle behind you and down the road to Ross Dock, pick up Shore Trail, up Dykman Road in Englewood Cliffs and then continue back along the Long Path if you feel up for it.

OK, your legs are starting to burn and you're sweating but you decide to continue. For the rest of the climb, it's about half moderate stairs that weave back and forth through the cliffs and then half steep stairs. Remember to keep an eye on your heart rate, pace yourself and take breaks to let your heart rate come down if you need to. Sip some water to keep you cool.

When you reach the top you'll need to duck under one fallen tree and step over another. You're now at the intersection of Carpenter's Trail and the Long Path. If you've had enough, turn left onto Long Path and head back towards the Museum which is about 0.8 miles away. Otherwise continue (right) on the Long Path.

Long Path to Dykman Trail

Stop, catch your breath, have some water. You're now on the aqua blazed Long Path. This is a 347.4 mile long hiking trail that goes all the way up to Altamont, NY. Don't worry, we won't be going that far :)

The Long Path starts off as a mainly dirt trail. It's fairly level for the most part and a nice trail to jog on. It can be a bit uneven so keep an eye out for that as well as rocks and roots.

GWB and Ross Dock from Cliffs
As you head North keep an eye out for some small foot paths leading east. They bring you to little fenced off areas at the edge of the cliffs with some great views of the river, the George Washington Bridge and Manhattan.

It's a small detour, only a few yards off the Long Path and there are usually rocks that you can sit on if you want to stay a bit longer and take in the scenery.

At the start of the path to one of these lookouts you'll also find the mounting of an old Revolutionary War canon that was used to defend the area. The canon itself has been moved to the Fort Lee Historical Park and Museum.

Keep following the aqua blazes north through the woods. At this part of the hike you'll be able to hear cars from the Palisades Interstate Parkway but won't be able to see them.  On hot days the tree cover helps shade you from the sun and there are plenty of nice spots to stop and take photos. But don't dilly dally, you're not here to be Ansel Adams today you're here to get your hike on and your weight off :)

About 0.6 miles North of Carpenter's trail you'll pass a gas station with convenience store on your left if you need to get extra water or forgot to bring a snack.

Allison Park/St Peter's College

About 0.8 miles from starting on the Long Path you'll be at a downed green iron fence that leads into Allison Park. The park is open to the public so feel free to walk along its paths. It has some nice views of the river, benches and lots of bunnies.

Exit Allison Park and you'll be on Allison Park Road. Turn right and head North.

At the end of Allison Rd. (0.2 miles) the road will turn left and there will be the private entrance road for St. Peter's College.

On the corner of this intersection you'll see a post and some wooden steps leading back into the trail.

Continue on the Long Path for about a little less than a half mile. You'll pass some small streams and one larger stream until you end up at some small steps that lead you back out onto the street.

Down Dykman Hill Trail

After emerging from the woods, turn right (East) towards the entrance of the park. It's time to work our way back down to the Hudson River through the yellow blazed Dykman Hill Trail.

When you get to the park entrance, cross the street so you can walk on the sidewalk. Keep an eye out for cars from both directions.

I have to admit, I'm not very fond of this trail. It is not in the best shape and I don't like going down steep slopes with no handrail and where some of the stairs are missing so except for one time I take the road down for the most part.

It's a shame because there are some nice views but it does appear that they are working on it. There was one section with missing steps that was steep and I had to get down low using my hands to feel safe crossing it.
Update 7/6/2014: Thanks to the Park Commission and NY/NJ Trail Conference the steps on Dykman Hill Trail have been repaired and was safe to go down last time I was there. I've avoided this trail for years because of how bad some of the stairs were so I'm not sure how long it's been like this. Now that it's safe, it's a much nicer way to go down towards the Englewood Cliffs Boat Basin than using the sidewalk.

Dykman Hill Waterfall
But the coolest part of Dyckman Hill Trail can still be traveled safely. Not too long after you start down the sidewalk, you'll start to hear running water and soon after that the stone wall on your left will have an opening with stairs leading down.

Follow down the stairs and you'll be in a nice stone walled area with a small waterfall. As far as waterfalls go it's a trickle that gets more volume after a rain but it's still pretty to look at and the area is cool and refreshing.

When you're done admiring the waterfall, continue through the stone tunnel.

On the other side of the tunnel turn left and you'll see two paths. One a concrete sidewalk on the left and another path leading down the cliffs on the right. In the past I used to continue on the sidewalk down along the road but now that the stairs have been restored I use the trail.

Turning right and taking Dykman Hill Trail you'll be decending old stone stairs down through the cliffs. The whole way down you'll hear the rushing water and pass by the waterfall a couple more times.

Whichever path you choose, you'll wind up at the Englewood Cliffs Picnic Area.

Englewood Cliffs Picnic Area and Shore Trail back to Carpenter's

This is about the half way point in the hike and a good place to stop and rest. There are restrooms, supposedly vending machines somewhere but I haven't found them, picnic tables, a marina and the Snack Shack that's open in the warmer months until around 5pm I think. They serve lunch and breakfast and have an assortment of drinks.

Shore Trail
When you're ready to continue, head South along the Hudson River past the picnic tables and you'll see the Shore Trail ahead of you. Along this section it's mainly dirt with the trees rising up into the cliffs on your right and the Hudson River just a few feet to your left.

Along the way you'll see some stone steps leading down into the river. In the past there were beaches that were popular with bathers.

At one point you'll see a little garden area and park bench.

After about 1 mile you'll be at the Ross Dock Picnic area. This area has recently been redeveloped. The large structure in the middle of the parking area is where the restrooms and vending machines are. During the day in the summer there's even an ice cream shop. The vending machines take coins and bills. There's one for drinks and one for snacks.

Once you leave the Ross Dock Picnic area follow the road along the river. After 0.1 miles you'll be back at the base of Carpenter's Trail. Follow it back up as explained earlier.

If you don't feel up to going up Carpenter's again you can continue up through Shore Trail which isn't as steep or just walk up Henry Hudson Drive.

Carpenter's Trail, Long Path Back to Parking

Second time around, that didn't seem so bad :) We're back at the top of Carpenter's Trail where it meets the Long Path.

Follow the aqua blazes left (South) to head back towards the Fort Lee Historical Park and Museum. It's about 0.6 miles.

Along the way feel free to take some of the side paths on your left for better view of the cliffs and river.

The path is mostly dirt but fairly wide in most spots. If I'm not feeling too tired I'll jog the rest of the after I've caught my breath from the stair climb.

About 0.4 miles from Carpenter's Trail you'll see an opening in the woods that leads to civilization. There's a fenced in stairway that you take down to Hudson Terrace.

On Hudson Terrace turn left and continue South until you reach the entrance to Fort Lee Historical Park.

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