Looking for a fun and easy day trip with the kids or a place to escape for a long weekend in nature? Summer hike or fall day trip? Bear Mountain State Park is still the perfect family getaway less than two hours from NYC, and offers plenty of things to do, including hiking, boating, getting up close with zoo animals and more. There are some closures due to COVID-19 precautions, but many, if not most attractions and activities are open. Read on to learn the best things to do with kids at Bear Mountain!
What’s Open at Bear Mountain State Park
Visiting Bear Mountain State Park with Kids: What to Know
First thing's first: if you're planning on going to Bear Mountain State Park with the kids, leave sooner rather than later in the day. To encourage social distancing and help stop the spread of COVID-19, parking may have been reduced by as much as 50 percent and there are several road closures in effect. Popular parks can fill to capacity by noon and close early to incoming visitors and traffic. So rise and shine!
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.
The Pool at Bear Mountain
Yes, the outdoor community pool at Bear Mountain is open! It's open 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 historically, there are a lot of kids at the pool so it can get loud and rowdy at times.
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.
If your family likes to fish, you can fish in the lake at Bear Mountain (Lake Hessian), but you need to bring your own bait and gear. (No rentals.) You also need a New York State fishing license.
Current staffing issues make the availability of boat rentals inconsistent, but when they're open, you can take a pedal boat or rowboat out on to the lake. In addition, there are no rentals Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Do it if you can, the view from the lake is fantastic!
Insider tip!: There's no shade, so bring some hats and make sure you don't go at the height of the summer heat, because that sun can be scorching.
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. Check out many more options here and here, and here.
FYI: One of the most popular spots in the park is the Perkins Memorial Tower and overlook. You can't drive there right now due road closure, but you can hike. The easier trail (which does have many steps to climb) is the Appalachian Trail. Find the route here.
There's Even a Playground
And if all of that isn't enough, you can hit a playground at Bear Mountain State Park. You'll find it along Seven Lakes Drive south of Hessian Lake parking.
Ice-skating & Cross-country Skiing
File this away: 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 as well as ice fishing!
What’s Closed at Bear Mountain State Park
Perkins Memorial Drive and Tower
Perkins Memorial Drive, leading to the Tower, is currently closed to traffic. But you can hike to the top for the view via this trail.
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.)
The carousel is currently closed until further notice.
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.
Dining at the Bear Mountain Inn
A cozy, lodge-like space, the Bear Mountain Inn's restaurant is currently not open for dining.
Pre-COVID, numerous special events took place at the park on and around holidays, and the park hosted an annual Ocktoberfest. For now, those are on hold.
Where to Stay at Bear Mountain State Park
Overnight accommodations are open again at Bear Mountain State Park.
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!: If you're feeling super weary (who isn't), take note that the Spa at the Bear Mountain Inn is open again as well, with COVID-19 precautions in place. Call or e-mail for an appointment; online booking is very limited at this time.
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 train: Take 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.
feature photo: Vicky T. via Yelp