Originally dubbed the greatest playground in the world by New Yorkers in the early 1900’s, throngs of tenement dwellers weren’t the only visitors here looking to escape the City’s summer heat. J.P. Morgan and the Rockefellers stayed over and entertainment headliners Harry James and Tommy Dorsey made their appearances. Throughout the 1930s and 40s, the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, and the New York Knickerbockers basketball team used the park’s extensive field as their training headquarters.
Today, Bear Mountain State Park‘s attraction is just as compelling and easy to find by either following the Palisades Parkway north until it ends or during Sept-Oct., taking Circle Line’s 42nd Street ferry from Manhattan up the Hudson River to the park’s very own dock.
Whether returning annually or making your first visit, Bear Mountain State Park’s nearly 44 miles of hiking trails will have you covering new ground for years. A great place to start is a portion of the Appalachian Trail which cuts steeply up the east side of 1,306-foot Bear Mountain on a stone dust 700 stone step trail leading to Perkins Tower with panoramic Hudson River and New York City skyline views.
For those preferring less of a wilderness escape, a zoo filled with indigenous animals, paddle-boating on 45-acre Hessian Lake, riding a historic hand carved carousel, and seasonal swimming & ice skating await exploration. Right at the center of it all is Bear Mountain Inn.
Now on the National Register of Historic Places, the inn’s design is based on turn-of-the-century Adirondack Great Camp architecture. Its wide sweeping roof overhangs, dormers, and open porches are similar to period buildings found in state and national parks across the country from Yosemite to Yellowstone Park. Bear Mountain Inn has gone through many phases over the years since park employees first laid the foundation using on site stone and timber.
Rooms multiplied, were periodically modernized, and in 1933 a centrally heated annex now known as the Overlook Lodge was built featuring 54 single and 24 double rooms. The Federal Works Progress Administration also constructed 4 Stone Cottages at the north end of Hessian Lake.
Finally after being shuttered for 7 years starting in 2005 with a grand reopening in 2012, a $15 million renovation eliminated outdated interior finishes like 1970s-era mirrored walls, turquoise Formica, and peeling back dated facades restoring the inn’s original rustic splendor. Now much of it is original with exposed chestnut beams, stone fireplaces large enough to stand up inside, and light fixtures fabricated from native birch and hand-hammered iron. The Inn currently features 12 guestrooms and 3 suites.
Before 1914, the only dining option at Bear Mountain State Park was packing your own lunch. But soon a rustic shelter was retrofitted into the park’s first restaurant in what today is the main inn. Seasonal until 1922 with the installation of steam heat, aground floor cafeteria opened while on the second floor, waiters served a la carte meals from an expanded menu.
Today, Bear Mountain Inn’s 2 primary on site dining venues are Restaurant 1915 and Blue Roof Tapas Bar adjacent and interconnected by the main hallway leading into a grand foyer with a notable quote from former park commissioner Perkins superimposed on the glistening wood floor.
To your left is the decidedly more casual Blue Roof Tapas Bar with patio seating overlooking Hessian Lake during warmer months. Here you get a pub atmosphere with menus featuring assorted tapas utilizing local ingredients when possible like baked brie & lingonberry and potato Parmesan gnocchi.
To your right is the grand dining room of Restaurant 1915 with it’s walk-in stone fireplace and exposed beam ceiling with wrap around windows that make you feel as though you’re dining in an elegant lodge. Many of the appetizers are crossovers from the Blue Roof menu but with entrees more substantial like grilled lamb chops girded with root vegetable hash, Moroccan spiced eggplant, smoked tomato romesco, and pan flashed spinach.
Photos courtesy of Steve Mirsky and Bear Mountain Inn. Coverage made possible by participating in a partially sponsored trip.