Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Best Climbs and Rock Scrambles near NJ

Living in the so-called flat lands of the East Coast, it can be difficult to prepare for rugged mountain races. But if you look hard enough, you'll find plenty of steep and technical climbs within driving distance of the NY, NJ, PA area. Here are a few of my favorites, in no particular order, all within a 3 hour radius of northern/central NJ.

Rock Scrambles

These are not necessarily the steepest trails, but they'll show you the meaning of the word "technical."

Giant Stairs

: Palisades, NJ
Description: Boulder field at the base of the Palisades Cliffs on the Hudson River. Starts on a paved section of the Long Path, then descends down the Shore Trail. Once at the bottom of the cliffs, scramble over car sized boulders on a relatively flat trail. Then climbs a steep but well maintained trail to the parking lot.
Biggest climb: 504 ft. over 0.38 mi (25%)

Lehigh Gap

Location: Lehigh, PA
Description: Rocky section of the Appalachian Trail from the Lehigh River to the Kitatinny Ridge. Portions of the trail require the use of all four limbs. For extra fun, stick to the ridge line above the AT where the views are better, then follow a social trail to get back to the AT when the ridge levels off.
Biggest climb: 927 ft. over 0.97 mi (18%)

Bonticou Crag

Location: Mohonk Preserve, NY
Description: Short and sweet! Follow the well maintained Crag Trail to Bonticou Rd. The crag is a white cliff face which rises abruptly from the road. Scramble over a massive pile of giant rocks to reach the summit where you have spectacular views of the Catskills to the west. For more fun, follow the trail north to Table Rocks, to find giant crevices in the bedrock.
Biggest climb: 157 ft. over 0.09 mi (33%)

Lemon Squeeze

Location: Mohonk Preserve, NY
Description: Not for those with claustrophobia! From the Labyrinth Trail near Mohonk Lake, follow blazes through a boulder field climbing under several house sized boulders as you ascend the face of the rock. The trail is so narrow that you might be required to take off your pack and hold it in front of you.
Biggest climb: 219 ft. over 0.26 mi (16%)

Pyngyp Mountain

Location: Bear Mountain State Park, NY
Description: A short steep scramble up a series of rock faces from Palisades Interstate Parkway to the summit of Pyngyp Mountain. Unfortunately, there is no parking on the parkway, so you'll need to hike about 3 miles to get there.
Biggest climb: 623 ft. over 0.66 mi (18%)

Onoko Falls

Location: Jim Thorpe, PA
Description: A 1.3 mile loop following a waterfall up a steep rocky trail. In the winter, the waterfall can freeze and the trail will be covered in ice, so traction devices are a must. This trail is crowded in all seasons.
Biggest climb: 676 ft. over 0.62 mi (21%)

Breakneck Ridge

Location: Cold Spring, NY
Description: A series of rock slabs which climb from the Hudson River to the summit of Breakneck Ridge. The trail is always crowded on nice days, so expect to get stuck behind other hikers. Also note that the trail is scheduled to close for maintenance some time in 2019.
Biggest climb: 1,172 ft. over 1.05 mi (21%)
Trailhead parking

Anthony's Nose

Location: Garrison, NY
Description: Basically a smaller, steeper version of Breakneck Ridge. The trail makes a staggeringly steep climb up a rock face overlooking the Hudson River before joining the Appalachian Trail. This is just across the river from Bear Mountain, so it's easy to link up with other climbs.
Biggest climb: 703 ft. over 0.30 mi (44%)
Trailhead parking

The Beast

Location: Lock Haven, PA
Description: This is just over 3 hours from most parts of NJ, but it's worth the trip. The Beast is one of the largest and steepest boulder fields in the region, climbing well over 1,000 feet to the summit of Mt. Logan. Navigation is a little tricky, so it's best to follow a GPS track if possible.
Biggest climb: 1,126 ft. over 0.66 mi (32%)

Big and Steep Climbs

For those days when you want to get a ton of vertical change without moving horizontally too much.

Mount Tammany Red Dot Trail

Location: Columbia, NJ
Description: The Mecca for NJ area trail and ultra runners. The Red Dot trail is a steep, technical ascent of Mount Tammany from the Delaware River. Runners often opt to descend the Blue Trail which is slightly more runnable. On hot days, a quick dip in Dunnfield Creek is a nice way to cool off after a tough run.
Biggest climb: 1,039 ft. over 1.00 mi (20%)
Trailhead parking

Mount Tammany West Headwall

Location: Columbia, NJ
Description: A breathtakingly steep and faintly blazed social trail used by rock climbers to access the cliffs on the south face of Tammany. From the Dunnfield Creek parking area, follow a drainage ditch along Rt. 80. Look for faded green blazes on the trees leading up the steep embankment on your right. If you reach the boulder field on the south side of the mountain, you went too far.
Biggest climb: 1,115 ft. over 0.49 mi (43%)
Trailhead parking

Hunter Mountain via Becker Hollow Trail

Location: Elka Park, NY
Description: Really, I could have picked any climb in the Catskills, but this is one of the biggest. From the Becker Hollow parking lot, this trail climbs the east face of Hunter Mountain, eschewing switchbacks in favor of a more direct route. The trail is constantly wet and very rocky, making footing difficult. On the bright side, the view from the fire tower is amazing on sunny days. For extra fun, link up with the Devil's Path after summitting.
Biggest climb: 2,119 ft. over 2.03 mi (20%)
Trailhead parking

The Leg Destroyer

Location: Hamburg, PA
Description: They called it that for a reason! This is a gas pipeline cut that branches off from the Appalachian Trail at the Schuylkill Gap. The steepest section rises 339 ft. over 0.16 mi. (40%) and is covered in loose rock, which can make it difficult to stop if you descent this trail with a full head of steam. For more vertical, check out the AT on either side of the Schuylkill River. This area has a crazy amount of elevation gain per mile.
Biggest climb: 847 ft. over 0.61 mi (26%)
Trailhead parking

Mount Beacon Trail

Location: Beacon, NY
Description: A rocky but runnable trail that climbs from the town of Beacon to the fire tower at the top of Mt. Beacon. To maximize elevation gain per mile during hill repeats, turn around at the overlook, where you'll have a 180 degree view of the Hudson Valley.
Biggest climb: 1,011 ft. over 0.98 mi (20%)
Trailhead parking

Bear Mountain via Major Welch

Location: Tomkins Cove, NY
Description: Ascend Bear Mountain from the Hudson River by way of single track trail and steep rock slabs, then descend via the AT. Good views from the top, but these trails and the surrounding area are very crowded on nice days, making it difficult to descend quickly.
Biggest climb: 940 ft. over 0.90 mi (20%)

Camelback Mountain via Cliffhanger

Location: Tannersville, PA
Description: Climb Camelback Mountain on a double black diamond ski slope, then descend via the blue square Nile Mile, which is a gravel road in the summer months. Beautiful views from the top, but the slope is not maintained during the summer, so prepare to bushwhack a little, and check for ticks afterwards.
Biggest climb: 748 ft. over 0.55 mi (26%)

The Frozen Snot Course

Location: Lock Haven, PA
Description: Home of The Beast, this course was designed to pack the most elevation gain into the shortest distance possible. In the 11.4 miles of trail on this 14 mile course, runners climb and descend 5,650 feet, with multiple climbs and descents of 1,000+ feet. The steepest of these is Barb's Kiss My Ass, which rises 1,022 ft. over 0.47 mi (42%)!
Biggest climb: 1,126 ft. over 0.66 mi (32%)


  1. Have you hiked/ran up Hawk Mountain/Blue Rocks campground to the Pinnacle?

    1. Yeah that's a good one too. Not quite as long or steep as I would prefer for hill repeats, but there are a ton of trails in that area that I need to explore one of these days.

  2. Thanks for the strava and parking links on each!