SYNOPSIS: Imagine sitting on a driftwood log on a small sandy beach surrounded by big, beautiful mountains. Off in the distance a seemingly endless freight train goes by. When the tide is low enough, you walk across a sandbar to a small island with a small solitary tree. After that, you grab a flashlight and go spelunking in an old quarry cave. Someplace far away? Actually, it’s Little Stony Point State Park, just two miles north of Cold Spring on the eastern bank of the mighty Hudson River. Part of the Hudson Highlands, this small park is one of my favorite places in Putnam County.
(scroll down below slideshow for more info)
APPROXIMATE TIME: 30 minutes will get you around the loop, but give yourself two or three hours to take in the scenery.
DIFFICULTY: Easy, but watch your head in the cave, and keep the kids and pets away from the cliffs.
DIRECTIONS: On Route 9D, just north of the intersection with Route 301, there is a sign on the western side of the road marking the park entrance. There is parking on both sides of the road, but be careful because this is a main road and cars fly by.
THE HIKE: The trail starts with a bridge over the Metro-North train tracks. Looking north, you can see Breakneck Ridge off in the distance. Shortly after you cross the bridge, the trail splits into two major branches. (There is a third, narrow trail straight ahead that I will discuss later.) You can go either way because the trail through Little Stony Point is one big loop. I would recommend going right because I think it gives you a more dramatic introduction to the park. The loop walk is wide, fairly flat, and well-trodden. Beginners rejoice, because it is pretty much impossible to get lost – the park is sandwiched between the Hudson River and train tracks.
After a short walk, the trail will open up onto a long sandy beach. The view is spectacular, and there is a picturesque arrangement of driftwood along the beach. The driftwood logs make for a good snacking site, or just a place to sit and take in the scenery. Swimming is technically not allowed since there are no lifeguards, but there were a few people in the water when we were there. There were people sunbathing or reading, and a few recreational boats were anchored a short distance offshore.
If you look a little north, there is a small island with a small solitary tree. We were there during low tide so we were able to wade out to the island on a sandbar that was no more than six inches below the water level.
Get back on the mainland and head south along the beach. Just before the beach ends, turn inland to pick up the trail again. Continue walking downriver a short distance and you should reach a kiosk that sits on a small bluff that is the westernmost point of the park.
As the trail leads away from the kiosk, there is a long straight path through some brush. Another 100 to 200 feet past that straightaway you will find the cave! Bring a flashlight if you plan on exploring the cave because once you get about 15 feet in it is pitch black. Consider yourself forewarned about the crickets you may encounter.
Leave the cave and continue on the loop trail for a few more water-access points. A short distance later the trail turns left and heads up a small hill which brings you to the beginning of the loop. Turn right to return over the bridge that crosses the train tracks. Or, if you are still feeling adventurous, you can head up the narrow trail across from the bridge. This trail heads up the hill to the highest part of the park for a beautiful panoramic view of the Hudson.
The loop is only about one mile, so you could do it in a few minutes, but to get a full appreciation for the park my recommendation is that you allow yourself enough time to visit the main beach, the cave, a few of the other water access points, and take the trail to the top of the park. We made the mistake of spending too much time at the main sandy beach so by the time we got to the cave the kids were pretty much done for the day.
HISTORY: Little Stony Point was an island before a mining company filled in the channel separating it from the mainland. Once a quarry, this property almost became a wallboard factory in the late 1960’s. In 1970 it became part of Hudson Highlands State Park.
MAP & ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Our last visit was in August 2010, but we have been there several times. Pets are allowed if on a leash no longer than 10 feet.
For more info, visit www.littlestonypoint.org or www.nysparks.com. On the state website, Little Stony Point State Park is not listed separately. Rather, the trails for Little Stony Point are included in the section for Hudson Highlands State Park, on the “North Trail Map”.