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Roaming Through Rockland: The Grand History of High Tor State Park

by Evie Toland

High Tor State Park is a 618-acre stretch of forested ridge separating the towns of New City and Haverstraw, NY. Located on South Mountain, the park hosts the highest peaks in the Hudson Palisades, High Tor (~800 ft) and Little Tor (~600 ft), and visitors of this park are rewarded with some of the most outstanding views in the lower Hudson Valley. 

The park sits on the homelands of the Munsee Lenape peoples, who lived between the shores of the Hudson and the hills of the Catskills for thousands of years. After the settlers arrived, the land’s history varied, most notably including as a signal point during the American Revolution and as the site of an air raid watch during World War II. An aircraft beacon was also once located on the High Tor summit, and the anchors of the beacon are still visible to visitors today. 

The land was sold in a grant from George III before the Revolution to the forebears of the Orden family, who owned the land for generations until 1942. The owner at that time, Elmer Van Orden, staunchly opposed letting the land be mined for quarry purposes (the mountain’s diabase or “trap-rock” composition had been eagerly eyed by quarry operators for years). When Orden died in 1942, local conservation groups, led by the Hudson River Conservation Society and the Rockland County Conservation Association, rallied together and raised $12,000 to buy the property, which was later turned over to the Palisades Interstate Park Commission for long-term protection. At the same time, Archer Huntington also decided to donate his bordering 470-acre estate, which included Little Tor, to the newly created park.

This conservation story brought the land into the limelight. In 1937, Maxwell Anderson wrote a fantasy play, called High Tor, about a man who engages in a battle to save his beloved crag from a trap-rock crushing company. The play became well-known, and later became the basis for the 1956 movie, High Tor, with Bing Crosby and Julie Andrews.

78 acres of the Orden estate was also bought by Everett Crosby in 1949, a writer turned wine-maker, who turned the land into one of the east’s most prominent wineries, High Tor Vineyards. After decades of notorious wine-making (Crosby even wrote a book about his famous endeavor), the vineyard was acquired by The Scenic Hudson Land Trust and added to the state park.

What To Do

High Tor State Park now hosts a swimming pool, a large picnic area, and hiking trails, most notably a 3.5 mile stretch of the Long Path and the Spur Trail, 

The Long Path skirts along the northern rim of the park ridge and is marked by aqua-blazes. The western entrance of the trail can be accessed at a trailhead parking lot on Central Highway, and the eastern entrance of the trail starts off of Route 304 near the intersection of Ridge Rd (parking is available on Ridge Rd). During summer months, the trail can also be accessed at the park’s main entrance on South Mountain Road. This Long Path stretch is characterized by well-marked, gentle ambles through mixed hardwood forest, rocky streambeds, and a short, but steep climb to the summit of High Tor. There are many incredible view points along the trail, including the summit of Little Tor. However, the most spectacular view comes at the summit of High Tor, where visitors can see the towns of Haverstraw and Stony Point to the northeast, the Hudson River to the east, Lake DeForest and the Manhattan skyline to the south, and the Harriman hills to the north and west. This trail climbs over 600 vertical feet from the trailhead to summit.

The other trail in the park, the Spur trail, is marked with white blazes and starts in the center of the park, and runs directly north as a shoot off of the Long Path. It takes visitors for about 2/10 of a mile through the woods, ending at the ruins of the Youmans-Van Orden House. An informational sign sits at the trail’s end with history about the property.

Both hikes are well-marked and easily traversed with a few challenging areas (the steepest parts being just before the summit). The park attracts a fair number of visitors year-round, and is accessible to people of all ages. Pets are permitted on a leash and biking is not allowed.

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The state park entrance, where visitors can access the swimming pool and picnic area, is only open June 19 – August 14. Day-use and vehicle fees are required upon arrival.

What To See

The park features a wide variety of trees including maple, birch, oak, tulip, and hickory. Shrubs of elderberry, blueberry, blackhaw, and wineberry can be found flowering and fruiting in spring and summer, and dozens of herbs and ferns line the forest floor including wild geranium, wintercress, aster, motherwort, Indian pipe, chickweed, mullein, and violet. White-tailed deer, gray squirrel, coyote, and wild turkey are also known to live in the park. Many species of birds can be seen year-round including flicker, chickadee, nuthatch, blue jay, turkey vulture, and woodpeckers. Look out for warblers and flycatchers in the warmer, breeding months!

Rockland County Tourism

Roaming through Rockland covers outdoor destinations to walk, bike or hike in Rockland County.
Sponsored by the Rockland County Tourism.

 

Roaming Through Rockland includes:



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