It’s always a good time to strap on your hiking boots and get in touch with nature.

But if you want to bring the kids along for the trip, remember that not all hikes are created equal. Steep climbs, rocky terrain and interminable trails may be a great escape for the granola-chomping expert, but for adventurers with a couple of kids in tow, those kinds of destinations probably aren’t ideal.

As the author of “Best Hikes Near New York City” (FalconGuides, 2011), Ben Keene knows a little something about the subject. A trail guide for Discover Outdoors, he has been hiking trails close to New York City since he was a kid. Although he has conquered terrain in Europe, Asia and Central America by foot, bike and boat, he still sees great value in the parkland just north of the Big Apple.

“I really think [the Hudson Valley] is one of the most beautiful areas in the Northeast,” he says. “There are so many parks. You can park-hop all the way to Albany and beyond.”

The sheer volume of parkland also makes for a variety of hiking experiences for people of all ages and skill levels.

“[Hiking] is a great way to get a little exercise without being too regimented about it,” he says. “Another thing that makes hiking so great: You don’t need any special, expensive equipment.”

Focusing on Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Dutchess and Orange counties, Keene selected a top trail in each region that should appeal to hike lovers of all ages. He says most of the following parks are groomed well enough that a pair of comfortable, rugged sneakers and a water bottle are all each hiker should need. And these five destinations are just a starting point.

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“You could go to a different park [in the Hudson Valley] every weekend, all summer long,” Keene says.


Where: Ward Pound Ridge Reservation
Info: Route 35 and 121 South, Cross River, 914-864-7317,
Hours: 8 a.m. until dusk
Fact: The county’s largest park features wooded trails, picnicking, camping, fishing and cross-country skiing.
Keene’s take: With a variety of well-groomed, well-maintained trails, Ward Pound provides plenty of easy, gentle walking without steep ascents or descents. Trails are wide, so kids can run off ahead of their parents and remain in view for about a quarter of a mile. Because of the size of the trail network, hikers can easily visit this park three of four times and traverse different loops. There’s a nice view of the Cross River Reservoir, and also a nice nature museum on the premises, perfect for a post-hike perusal.
Trail maps: Free upon request at the park
Cost: Per vehicle: $10, $5 with Westchester County Parks Pass (weekends and Memorial Day through Labor Day); free on weekdays in offseason


Where: Rockland Lake State Park
Info: 299 Rockland Lake Rd., Valley Cottage, 845-268-3020,
Hours: Dawn until dusk
Fact: Bike paths, gorgeous river views and swimming make this a prime summer destination for families in and near Rockland.
Keene’s take: Adjacent to Rockland Lake State Park, which has a swimming area with a little bike trail, “Hook Mountain is cool because you get up right over the river and it’s one of the best places anywhere in the Hudson Valley for bird-watching.” You are almost guaranteed to see red-tailed hawks, and there has been an increase in sightings of bald eagles. After about a third of a mile of steep trail, the path hits a plateau and opens up, and you have “sweeping, phenomenal views, up and down the river.”
Trail maps: No maps available
Cost: Parking is $8



Where: Hudson Highlands State Park
Info: Route 9D, Beacon, 845-225-7207,
Hours: Dawn until dusk
Fact: Stretching across Putnam County from Peekskill to Beacon, this nearly 6,000-acre preserve is a great place for fishing, boating, hiking and more.
Keene’s take: If you’re looking for a hike offering more than just nature, there are many quaint towns near Hudson Highlands where you can pop by and get lunch. In addition to views of the Hudson River, one of the nice things about this park is that it has a rich history. There’s an old stone quarry and late lead magnate Edward G. Cornish’s abandoned mansion estate, which is slowly crumbling, providing for some “kooky, strange-looking ruins.” At the top of the peaks called Bull Hill, on a nice, bright sunny day, there are great views of the Hudson River toward West Point.
Trail maps: None at the park, but free via download from the park’s website
Cost: free


Where: Fahnestock State Park
Info: 1498 Route 301, Carmel, 845-225-7207,
Hours: Dawn until dusk
Fact: Spanning Dutchess and Putnam counties, this 14,086-acre park features hiking trails, a beach, picnic areas and campgrounds.
Keene’s take: The Appalachian Trail cuts through Fahnestock, one of the biggest parks in the area. Ranging from two miles to 10 miles, there are close to 20 hiking path lengths. There’s a lake perfect for summertime swimming and a pedestrian beach. Hikers will go over little streams and ravines and because it’s such a big park, especially if you go early in the day or late in the afternoon, you have a better chance of spotting wildlife.
Trail maps: free via download from the park’s website
Cost: Parking is $7


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Where: Black Rock Forest
Info: 129 Continental Rd., Cornwall, 845-534-4517,
Hours: Dawn until dusk
Fact: Based in Cornwall, this 4,000-acre span is more than just parkland; it’s a nature reserve that’s a field station for scientific research, education and conservation. As a private forest preserve, although trails are open to the public, hiking is self-guided and only the parking lot and trails are available for public use.
Keene’s take: With a total lack of foot traffic, if you’re looking for peace and quiet, this is your spot. There are many hills and low mountain peaks, at least a dozen different summits total, plus a number of ponds. Swimming is permitted, so that’s fun for the kids in the summertime.
Trail maps: sometimes available for free near the parking lot
Cost: free