Sterling Forest to Bellvale Mountain, Orange County, New York

Six of us met on Route 17A near the Mt. Peter Ski Area, then shuttled in an SUV 3.7 miles east on Route 17A, to a parking area inside Sterling Forest. There, around 11:00 a.m., we began hiking northeast on the Highlands Trail.

I have complained in the past that many of the trails in Sterling Forest are routed over old woods roads, which I do not like very much. This section of the Highlands Trail was for the most part a footpath, though it crossed a few roads. For the first mile and a half, the path ran parallel to Route 17A, and at a distance close enough to hear the traffic, which we did not appreciate. The path and road then diverged, as the road turned east while the Highlands Trail continued to the northeast.

11:48 a.m.: A small scenic view, not even noted on the map:

View from the Highlands Trail, Sterling Forest State Park, Orange County, NY

View from the Highlands Trail

11:58 a.m.: We walked through a small area that was blanketed with pine needles, which I thought was very nice.

Pine Forest, Sterling Forest State Park, Orange County, NY

Pine Forest

Mountain laurel was blooming! The sky was blue, coming just a couple of days after strong thunderstorms, and the temperature was warm, in the 80s at times.

Mountain laurel

Mountain laurel

12:47 p.m.: We intended to travel 3 miles on the Highlands Trail and then 5 miles on the Appalachian Trail. About 2.5 miles into the hike, we reached a small clearing that provided another scenic view.

View from the Highlands Trail, Sterling Forest State Park, Orange County, NY

View from the Highlands Trail

Another view:

View from the Highlands Trail, Sterling Forest State Park, Orange County, NY

View from the Highlands Trail

For a few minutes we followed yellow ribbons designating a new trail, but without any idea where it went, we backtracked to the clearing where we had the scenic view. We then somehow unintentionally began retracing our way southwest on the Highlands Trail, until after 1/3 to 1/2 mile I realized that we were going the wrong way — oops. We turned northeast again, and returned to the clearing and this time continued north on the Highlands Trail instead of being led astray by the yellow ribbons.

1:54 p.m.: This brought us to one final scenic view from the Highlands Trail.

View from the Highlands Trail, Sterling Forest State Park, Orange County, NY

View from the Highlands Trail

Soon afterwards, we reached the intersection with the Appalachian Trail, where we stopped for lunch. We saw four men pass through on longer hikes, though at 5 to 10 minute intervals. Three of them were hiking from Georgia to Maine, while one was “only” hiking about 100 miles. The first man mentioned that others would be along, so it’s possible that they were hiking “together,” if not that close together.

2:34 p.m.: After lunch, we turned left onto the southbound AT (which at this point meant we were traveling west).

Appalachian Trail, Orange County, NY

Appalachian Trail

2:46 p.m.: We reached a spot where two trees had fallen, almost seeming to clasp a tree in the middle that was still standing. The footpath was oriented toward the tree in the middle, and then turned sharply to the right to pass under the fallen tree on the right. It was a nice effect.

Fallen trees on the Appalachian Trail, Orange County, NY

Fallen trees

Jon could not resist the temptation to climb the fallen tree:

Climbing a fallen tree on the Appalachian Trail, Orange County, NY

Climbing a fallen tree

2:51 p.m.: I spotted a stone wall:

Stone wall on the Appalachian Trail, Orange County, NY

Stone wall

We were heading northwest toward Fitzgerald Falls, and the Appalachian Trail was joined by a nice stream. I thought it was odd that the map did not show the stream, which appeared substantial to me. The map showed Trout Brook that feeds the falls, but that enters the falls from the north, while we were heading to the falls from the southeast.

3:03 p.m.: Here, we had to cross the stream, and each of us picked a different route:

Crossing a stream on the Appalachian Trail, Orange County, NY

Crossing a stream

3:10 p.m.: About 1.25 miles from our lunch break, we reached the top of Fitzgerald Falls, where we saw a large trail crew working on the trail. This was the Jolly Rovers, an all-volunteer group that does heavy stone work. They were building a stone stairway on what had been a steep ascent/descent beside Fitzgerald Falls, creating a safer passage for hikers. Here’s a view from the bottom of the staircase showing some of their work, and their banner.

Stairway under construction, Fitzgerald Falls, Appalachian Trail, Orange County, NY

Stairway under construction

Here is Fitzgerald Falls:

Fitzgerald Falls, Appalachian Trail, Orange County, NY

Fitzgerald Falls

We lingered at the falls for a while, having our photos taken individually and as a group. The slow shutter speed blurred my waving right hand, but otherwise it’s not a bad photo:

Fitzgerald Falls, Appalachian Trail, Orange County, NY

Posing at Fitzgerald Falls

A closer shot of me:

Fitzgerald Falls, Appalachian Trail, Orange County, NY

Posing at Fitzgerald Falls

The group of six. A couple of people asked us what group we were, and we explained that we were not a group. I think if there are three or four hikers, or even five, no one asks if you are a group. Maybe six is the magic number that people begin to wonder if it’s an organized group.

Fitzgerald Falls, Appalachian Trail, Orange County, NY

The “Not a Group” Group at Fitzgerald Falls

We left Fitzgerald Falls and continued northwest. The AT soon crossed Lakes Road and returned to the woods on the west side. After another 0.5 mile (including an ascent of about 500′), the AT turned southwest.

4:27 p.m.: We had earlier heard cicadas without seeing them, but now finally got to see many of them, both flying around and also resting on trees. This is “Brood II” of the 17-year cicadas. Some think they are beautiful, others think they are hideous.

17-year locusts

17-year locusts

4:32 p.m.: Ascending Cat Rocks:

Cat Rocks, Appalachian Trail, Orange County, NY

Cat Rocks

Enjoying the view from the top of Cat Rocks:

Cat Rocks, Appalachian Trail, Orange County, NY

Cat Rocks

On top of Cat Rocks:

Cat Rocks, Appalachian Trail, Orange County, NY

Cat Rocks

4:54 p.m.: Ascending Eastern Pinnacles:

Eastern Pinnacles, Appalachian Trail, Orange County, NY

Eastern Pinnacles

The scenic view from Eastern Pinnacles, looking east toward Sterling Forest:

View from Eastern Pinnacles, Appalachian Trail, Orange County, NY

View from Eastern Pinnacles

We returned to where two of us had left our cars. I drove Rachel the 3.7 miles back to where she had left her SUV at the starting point of our hike.

Because of unintentionally backtracking a bit on the Highlands Trail, our planned 8 mile hike was probably closer to 9 miles. I didn’t think the scenic views were all that great, and the route (twice) crossed over a buried gas pipeline (with a wide cleared right-of-way) and also (twice) crossed under an electric line (with a wide cleared right-of-way). But Fitzgerald Falls was nice, and the company was nice, and everyone had fun. No one had ever been on this part of the Highlands Trail or Appalachian Trail before, and it’s especially nice to be able to see new sights, which was enabled in large part by being able to do the car shuttle and hike from point A to point B, instead of having to do a loop.

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