Looking for some fresh air and the great outdoors? Bear Mountain State Park is a perfect family getaway less than two hours from NYC. Whether you stay only until evening or spend a few days, Bear Mountain has lots to offer. There’s plenty of space to explore and hike, gorgeous lake and mountain scenery (especially lovely in the fall), kid-friendly attractions and peace and quiet of the kind you simply can’t get in the city. Read on to learn the best things to do with kids at Bear Mountain!
What to Do with Kids at Bear Mountain State Park
Bear Mountain is more than just a pretty place to visit (though it's certainly that, too). The spot is ideal for families for its many kid-friendly activities and lots of space and fresh air to release some energy. Here are just some of the things you can do at this New York State treasure!
Insider tip: Since Bear Mountain is close to New York City and extremely affordable, many New Yorkers vacation here, especially on holidays. In fact, this past 4th of July, the mountaintop was so packed that they actually closed it off to more visitors! So while it's really nice to visit during the summer, be aware that holidays and weekends can get very crowded.
Visit the Trailside Zoo
This isn't your typical zoo. In addition to educational plaques set up all around the forest-like area, it houses local wild animals in the process of rehabilitation, including — you guessed it — some bears (as well as some vultures who stop by for a free meal). During operating hours, the entrance is unmanned and instead, visitors are encouraged to leave a small donation in the box as you walk in.
Have a Picnic
There's a wide open space by the lake designated for picnickers. Grab a bench or bring a blanket for an idyllic family meal al fresco. There are a number of public grills scattered around this area as well, but these fill up quickly if you don't get there early, so if you want to bbq, we recommend that you bring your own grill.
Insider tip! If you'd rather sit down indoors and eat, the Bear Mountain Inn has a excellent (though pricey) restaurant open to visitors.
Do Some Bear Mountain Hiking
The area has a number of official hiking spots, some more challenging than others. For an easy kid-friendly amble, you can walk the road between the Overlook Lodge and the Bear Mountain Inn. Although the spot is located on a mountain, most of it has clear and easy-to-follow trails, so even the smallest family members will have no trouble keeping up. For a more challenging climb, you can circle around to the other side of the lake. Or, check out more options here.
Check Out Perkins Memorial Drive and Tower
For breathtaking views of the park, the Hudson Highlands and Harriman State Park make your way to this elevated peak and lookout. The stone tower dates to 1934 and provides views in every direction. In the fall months, the foliage is spectacular. (The tower and the drive are open from April to late November, weather permitting.)
Ride the carousel
Open on weekends only, this beautiful wooden carousel is full of wild horses, bobcats, bears and more. Better yet, kids ride for just $1 and accompanying adults are free.
Paddleboat Out onto the Lake
You can rent a paddle or pedal boat and head out onto Bear Mountain's Lake Hessian, where you'll be surrounded by beautiful views.
Insider tip! The view from the lake is fantastic but there's no shade so make sure you don't go at the height of the summer heat, because that sun can be scorching.
Take a Dip in the Pool
The outdoor community pool at Bear Mountain is open all summer (weather permitting) starting in mid-June, from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. for a mere $2 per person. Bring a lock and get there early to avoid the crowds, because this is a popular spot. Be aware that there are usually a lot of kids at the pool so it does get loud and rowdy at times.
Insider tip! The lake might look inviting, but there's no swimming allowed! You are, however, allowed to fish in it, provided you have a New York fishing license.
Ice skate & Cross-country Ski
If you think the mountain is only fun to visit in the summer, the seasonal ice skating rink will change your mind! Open from November to March, the outdoor rink is only $5 for admission and another $5 for skate rentals. Note that the rink is closed to the public Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Those who brave the cold enjoy cross-country skiing throughout the park.
Special Events & More!
In addition to these activities, you can also play some ball on the basketball court, throw a frisbee around in the field, venture into a small children's playground, look for wildlife like bugs and birds, grab some ice cream at the Bear Mountain Inn cafe (try the raspberry cheesecake!), and so much more.
Ocktoberfest is big around here, and special events take place during the holidays.
Insider tip! Don't forget to drop by the gift shop for a picture with the friendly child-sized stuffed bear statue that greets visitors with open arms!
Although there are places that are close-ish if you don't mind making a trip, staying overnight at the mountain means one of three choices: The Overlook Lodge, The Stone Cottages or the main inn. Both the lodge and the cottages are a part of Bear Mountain Inn (you'll have to make a trip to the Inn to check in), and both are excellent choices depending on what you're looking for.
Insider tip! Both the lodge and the cottages are pet-friendly, for a fee. (Bear Mountain Inn is pet-free, though, and dogs aren't allowed in the main picnic area or the buildings.)
The Overlook Lodge is a cozy space with a rustic atmosphere and large rooms, as well as a spacious main area perfect for enjoying a morning cup of coffee in blissful peace. The lodge also has a balcony with a gorgeous view (an overlook, not surprisingly) over the Hudson glimpsed through foliage.
The price for a two-bed room ranges between $130 and $250 depending on the day and time of year, and sometimes even dips to below $90 in the colder months. It's the perfect choice for a small family.
The Stone Cottages are adorable single-story houses that come with six individual guest rooms and neat touches like a fireplace. You can book these rooms individually or rent out an entire cottage for a larger family group.
The rooms run a little more expensive for a smaller size — between around $160 and $260 — but come with the convenience of being closer to the main attractions of the mountain. They're great if you're traveling with friends or have a large family and can afford to rent out the cottage.
The Bear Mountain Inn (pictured) is the deluxe choice if your family likes traveling in style. There are 15 suites available for booking, at anywhere from around $170 to nearly $300 per night.
Insider tip: No matter where you stay, be sure to head over to the Bear Mountain Inn for the complimentary breakfast in the morning. It's fresh and delicious, with plenty of options the kids will enjoy, too.
Great news! You don't even need a car to get to Bear Mountain.
By train: Simply hop on the Hudson Metro-North line to Peekskill, a trip of about an hour and 10 minutes ($16.75/adult and $8.25/child during peak hours; $12.75/adult and $6.50/child during off-peak hours).
From there, you'll need to get a ride to the mountain — either Uber/Lyft over or call a taxi (you can find taxi numbers at the station or stop by at the deli across the street for a suggestion). This is only about another 10 minutes and will set you back no more than another $25.
Insider tip! There's a pretty narrow and bendy mountainside road you'll have to pass if you're driving, so if you don't feel comfortable with that, it's best to leave it up to the rideshare locals who are used to it.
By car: The Palisades Interstate Parkway is probably your best bet, but you can also take the Garden State Parkway, or I 78 North. Note that there is a $10 parking fee.
By bus via Coach for $28.70/adult and $14.35/child ages 5-11, though the specific daily departure time can be confining, especially when traveling with unpredictable kids.
feature photo: Yusuke Toyoda via Flickr