The Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Brooklyn Bridge and Central Park are all famous landmarks synonymous with New York City.
However, ask any local cyclists for their pick and they will most probably mention Bear Mountain. Although, it is not technically within the city limits, it is perhaps the best known peak that’s accessible to all New York City cyclists. Located approximately 50 miles north of the city amongst the highlands of the Hudson River valley, it is within reach when a big day is on the schedule.
During the American Revolutionary War, the Hudson River valley was considered a strategically critical area. Gaining control of the river meant controlling supplies, men, and materials between the New England states and those further south.
Remnants of the battles fought, such as the famous Battle of Forts Clinton and Montgomery, can still be seen scattered within the bounds of Bear Mountain State Park. Nowadays, the park is mostly frequented by folks trying to escape the city – cyclists included.
There are a few ways to reach Bear Mountain. One way, which many locals consider the scenic route, is entering the park through the north side by way of Seven Lakes Drive. As the name implies, this route will take you through seven beautiful lakes within Harriman State Park on roads mostly devoid of car traffic. During summer days, a dip in one of the lakes is a must! The views, however, do come with some added miles and climbs before reaching Bear Mountain.
The most direct route – and the one that counts on Strava – is entering the park through the south entrance by the 9 West Highway or 9W as the locals call it.
At its peak, Bear Mountian is just shy of 1,300ft in elevation on a 4.5 mile stretch of beautiful paved road - a tiny mole hill compared to some of the world’s most famous climbs. However, what it lacks in grandeur makes up for having some of the best views of the Hudson highlands.
From the south entrance, the first mile to the roundabout gets quite steep compared to the rest of the climb – kicking up to about 9%. Follow the roundabout north to Seven Lakes Drive and the road eases down to about 5-6%. After 2.5 miles take the right to Perkins Memorial Drive – named after the man who helped create the state park.
During most of the winter, this road is closed off to car traffic – perfect for those hunting KOMs - but be wary of hikers as the Appalachian Trail crosses through Bear Mountain. Once on Perkins Memorial Drive the climb steepens to about 10% as the road opens up revealing the view of the Hudson Valley. The final narrow section then returns to a steady 5-6%, waiting to be attacked if you've saved enough for one final effort.
Once you’ve reached Perkins Memorial Tower, you know you’ve made it to the top. From there, you are rewarded with an incredible view. In fact, you can see four states from the top of Bear Mountain – New York (obviously), New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. And on a clear day you are able to see the skyline of Manhattan and see how far you’ve come!
And the distance is what makes Bear Mountain a challenging climb – there’s anywhere from 50-60 miles to get to the start of the climb. It doesn't take a mathematician to know that the out on back from the city will make it a 100 mile day.
Perhaps, the best thing to do is to ride over to the other side of the Hudson and take the train back to the city from Peekskill. But make sure to grab a cold one to enjoy on the train back home.