Established in 1900, Harriman State Park is the second-largest state park in New York, spanning over 46,000 acres of forested mountainous terrain, with meadows, numerous lakes, bogs and streams in the scenic Hudson Highlands region of Rockland and Orange counties. It’s an easy 30-mile drive north of New York City via the Palisades Interstate Parkway, N.Y. Thruway or U.S. Route 17, or it can be accessed by Metro-North trains to Tuxedo Park. The park adjoins the popular Bear Mountain State Park and is near the West Point Military Academy.
With more than 200 miles of maintained trails, including about 16 miles of the Appalachian Trail, it’s easy to find solitude. Much of the park remains undeveloped, providing a natural habitat for a rich variety of wildlife.
The weather is typically a few degrees cooler than New York City, with four distinct seasons. Year-round, evening temperatures are generally 20º F lower than daytime highs. Still, expect some uncomfortable heat and humidity in the summer. Bring insect repellent as protection against mosquitoes and ticks.
Spring and fall provide comfortable, mild weather. There can be sudden thunderstorms, particularly in spring and summer, so take rain gear on longer hikes. Winter can bring subfreezing cold and chilling winds, so dress appropriately. Expect road closures and possible snow or ice.
I recommend a 12-24mm zoom for panoramas, a 60mm or 90mm true macro for forest details and a 70-300mm zoom to reach across lakes and valleys and for wildlife (a 55-200mm zoom may be too short).
Include circular polarizers to cut reflections off leaves and water and intensify colors, plus skylight or warming filters, lens hoods, a supplementary flash, blower brush, spare batteries and memory cards, and a sturdy full-sized tripod. Bring a split neutral-density filter to tame high contrast between the sky and shaded forest. One cautionary note: Stay clear of long-closed, abandoned iron mines, which can be hazardous.
Fall is the season for spectacular color photography, with an abundance of hardwoods turning to brilliant shades of red, orange and yellow. These colors are often set off against the contrasting colors and textures of pine, tall grasses, lakes and streams, rockfaces and boulders.
Harriman also lies within a major spring and fall flyway for migratory birds. In addition, a broad range of northeastern forest wildlife can be spotted, including deer and occasional black bears and bald eagles.
The best time of day is from just before dawn through midmorning and from late afternoon through sunset. Arrive early or stay late for gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, lake reflections, and morning frost or morning mist. Plus, you’ll have the benefit of more wildlife and fewer people.
Cloudy or overcast days offer softer light and lower contrast for revealing detail farther back in woodland photos, and rain deepens and intensifies colors.
Hikes to higher elevations offer mountain and lake views that belie the fairly low altitudes of these old mountains and the closeness to major population centers. While the grand scenics don’t approach the drama of some of our western parks, there are many good views from trail highpoints and overlooks.
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