Schunemunk Mountain Loop

Although the terrain is the star on this mostly moderate hike over both of Schunemunk Mountain’s ridges, this long and challenging route includes the base of Moodna Viaduct, The Megaliths, and many excellent Hudson Valley views.

Hike Length: 9.5 miles (15.29 km)

Total Ascent: 1,800ft (549m)

Intensity: Difficult Hike

Route Type: Lollipop

Includes: Blazed Trail, Road Walk, Stream Crossing

Parent Schunemunk

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giant boulders

The Megaliths on Schunemunk Mountain

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 A moderate lollipop route with one difficult section at the far end.

Schunemunk Mountain far exceeded my expectations. This hike over its two long ridges was amazing on two fronts. First, it was even more fun than I imagined. Second, it was even tougher than I expected.

Many people hike Schunemunk regularly to visit the Megaliths (and maybe the summit). The basic out-and-back trail route for that hike is apx 7 miles with 1000 ft of elevation gain. It’s a little steep and a little challenging. But it’s a moderate intensity hike.

The long loop described below is apx 10 miles with 1800 ft of elevation gain. It will bring you well past Schunemunk’s summit, then switch back to the western ridge via a steep and sketchy descent into Taylor Hollow. The hike out is wild and rugged and scenic.

For its length, exposure, navigational challenges and sketchiness, I have marked this route difficult. This is Type II fun hike.

Special Considerations for Hiking Schunemunk Mountain

On a hot day, most of this route is over scorching conglomerate rock and there’s a lot of exposure to the sun’s rays. If you imagine Schunemunk as a giant pizza stone, you are just a little slice of pepperoni trying your best to not turn into a little slice of charcoal.

Bring more water than you usually would. I suffered from electrolyte loss on the second half of this hike. I really felt it. I was so glad I had a resupply with me.

Also, considerate dog owners will think carefully before hiking their little buddies over long stretches of hot open rock. (See Hike Your Dog Safely in the Heat.)

Of more concern, perhaps, is the fact that Schunemunk is lavish with rattlesnakes.

On this hike, which was done on a cool summer’s day, I saw zero snakes. But Schunemunk’s ridges and hollows are excellent rattler habitat — there are some copperheads, too — so you should keep a keen watch. Read the rattlesnake page linked above and asses your tolerance for risk.

 Warning! In warmer months, this hike includes potential exposure to rattlesnakes.

Schunemunk Mountain Trailhead & Parking

I used I-87 Exit 17 (Newburgh) to get to Jackson Avenue, then turned right onto Otterkill Road.

Pass under the Moodna Viaduct. If you’re lucky, you might be able to grab one of the few spots right by the trestle. If not, continue on 2/10 of a mile and pull into the very large public lot on the right. (Do not park along the road, anywhere here. Heed the town signs warning not to do this.)

This is the view looking back at the viaduct; Schunemunk Mountain is out of frame, to the right.

cars parked below viaduct in distance
Otterkill Road parking area

In winter, this parking area may not be plowed so check online before you go, and/or bring a snow shovel.

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Schunemunk Mountain Hike

To navigate this hike, I used the fantastic NYNJTC West Hudson Trails map set which includes a dedicated map of Schunemunk. (The NYNJTC make the definitive trail maps of the entire Hudson Highlands, and they’re available for download as digital maps too. See how to use them with Avenza in 12 Best Hiking Apps.)

My maps show two trails entering the woods on the south side of the road. Below is the first one. There is no sign, but this is the start of the white blazed trail aka the Trestle Trail. The second entrance is nearer the viaduct. Both trails connect very quickly inside the forest. It doesn’t matter which one you take at the start.

roadside woods entrance
Enter here, white trail

Follow the white blazes uphill. Very quickly, you will reach a turn and notice a her path leading off trail. It leads to an underview of the trestle soaring high above.

looking up at the viaduct from directly underneath
Under the Moodna Viaduct

Return to the trail and, again, follow the white blazes to the first junction. On a tree, you’ll see two white blazes plus three red blazes which mark the start of the Otterkill Trail. Ignore that trail. Turn right here and continue following the white blazes uphill.

The first section of this hike is a bit of a huffer. Once you gain the first ridge, though, things ease up considerably.

Bench View

At 900’ or so, on the right side of the trail, there’s a modest scenic view with a sweet bench. The plaque on the bench reads…

In loving memory of

Sharon Guilfoyle

Sweet Dreams Sharon

30th April 1957 – 22nd October 2007

The forest here is a mix of chestnut oak, hickory, striped maple, with an understory of fern and a lot of what is either blueberries or black huckleberries — I’m not sure which and I didn’t know how to differentiate blueberries from huckleberries until I got home and looked it up.

Pass through a stand of large boulders.

The trail then heads diagonally up the side of the ridge; notice the talus on the left as you go.

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The trail flattens out a little and enters an area rich in pitch pine trees. These pines, growing out of the bare rock, are old and amazing. Schunemunk has a lot of amazing pitch pines. There are hardly any pitch pines in the Catskills, so I’m always happy to see them here or in the Taconics or Shawangunks where there are many. Pitch pines are currently under threat from the invasive species Southern Pine Beetle. (I’ll have a post about this soon.) A rocky outcropping on the right leads to this stand of pitch pine an oaks.

pine trees growing on bare rock on schunemunk mountain
Pitch pine trees

Return to the trail and then keep an eye out for a view on the left of the Hudson River and Storm King Mountain.

Junction

At this junction, notice the three white blazes, marking the end of the white trail. This junction connect with the red-dot-blazed Jessup Trail which runs in two directions: right/west to the Western Ridge trail and left/east to the main part of the Jessup Trail. Take a mental picture of this junction. You’ll pass through it again later…

trail junction on schunemunk mountain
Junction: looking forward

However, do not take the left shown above as it leads down an overgrown old trail. Instead, turn around and look back down the trail you came up to see the turn you should use.

Coming up, you passed by this small ledge, which marks the start of the Jessup Trail.

trail junction unmarked on schunemunk mountain
Junction: looking back

Jessup Trail

Climb up on the ledge and head east. You’ll eventually spot some white/red-dot blazes to follow.

A good view almost right away…

Pass under this wonderful pitch pine…

twisted old tree on schunemunk mountain
Twisted pitch pine

Not long after the junction, there are some great views of Storm King Mountain and Breakneck Ridge.

Walk along the top of a cliffy section, and then begin a steep and rugged descent into the hollow between the two ridges.

Cross the brook perpendicular and keep an eye out for the Jessup Trail South trail sign on the far bank. Follow the trail uphill. It’s a moderate climb, much easier than the rugged descent you just did.

trail sig on tree trunk
Jessup Trail signpost

Now begins the open ridge section of the hike, over long stretches of conglomerate rock

open ridge on schunemunk mountain
Conglomerate ridge

At about 1400’, turn around to look back. This is the view to the north, with the Hudson River on the right flanked by the East Hudson Highlands, and Snake Hill on the west side of the river, but you can also just make out the large flat area and runways of Stewart Airport.

scenic ridge view from schunemunk mountain
Scenic view

Continue on, heading southwest. Up here, on the ridge, there’s lots of exposure to the sun and elements. I met at least one runner coming down the mountain and it strikes me as a pretty fun ridge for hill runners.

Cairns

I first noticed the cairns about 700ft before the megaliths. I think, by the end of this hike, I must have seen at least 500 cairns. I’m not normally a fan of cairns, but on Schunemunk, which is not always brilliantly blazed, they are sometimes necessary. Not 500 necessary, but I was definitely grateful for them several times.

The Megaliths

The turn downhill to the Megaliths is pretty obvious but, even if you manage to skip past it, keep looking down on the trail and you’ll see this sign on the rock…

words scratched on bare rock on schunemunk mountain
The Megaliths

This large area of open rock on the right side of the trail, heading downhill, leads to The Megaliths. There are some distinctive rock formations. It’s pretty obvious if you’re paying attention.

open rock with boulders
Turn right/downhill here

There were already two people in the first part of the Megalith bank so I went to the far end, were the largest boulders are, to explore. In the photo below, you can just about make out the other hikers on the ledge in the distance, which gives a sense of scale.

giant boulders on schunemunk mountain
The Megaliths on Schunemunk Mountain

Considering this is excellent rattlesnake territory, I decided not to explore the cracks and crevices between the boulders. I stayed on the open rock and kept watch for the danger noodles.

Schunemunk Mountain Summit

After climbing back to the main trail, I turned right and continued along the Jessup Trail. Very quickly, the trail turned left and headed up a little higher until I came into another large area of open rock.

Oddly, there was no cairn at the summit, but I did eventually find this 1664’ elevation marker which I took to be the summit.

summit marker on schunemunk mountain
Summit of Schunemunk Mountain

In the winter, this would be impossible to find.

Continue on?

Here is where most people probably turn around. You can now head back to your car the way you came. My planned route continues on past the summit and then switches ridges for the return.

Not far after the summit, on the right, you’ll see a trail heading west. This is the blue-blazed Ridge-to-Ridge trail. On my contour map, it looks less steep a descent than the route I ended up taking but I haven’t used this trail, so I don’t know the terrain. It’s just another option for a return journey.

Adventure Time

The terrain past the summit is much the same as before, except maybe more winding and more grown in, and a little tricker to navigate.

open rock trail
Conglomerate terrain

The number of cairns increases exponentially, like gremlins that got wet.

cairns on open rock
Cairn trail

A small hairpin turn opens onto a nice panoramic view toward the Hudson Highlands and points south.

There is some slightly sketchy clambering to be done…

rock chimney
Sketchy clamber down

Very fun, but be careful.

There is a great view southwest toward the communication towers.

Eventually I came to the four-way-junction with the Long Path and the Western Ridge Trail. There are a lot of junctions and trail switching on this mountain. You need to keep your eyes peeled.

Here, I turned right/northwest.

Western Ridge Trail

I followed the orange blazes along this apparently not-much-used trail. It’s very grown in and also poorly blazed; at times, difficult to follow.

Very Steep Section

A second sketchy climb down marks the beginning of the most difficult section of this hike…

sketchy rocks to climb down
More sketchy descent

This section caught me by surprise. It’s very steep, which you can see from the contours on your map, but it’s a talus field that hasn’t settled — strewn with loose rock and boulders that come loose underfoot. A fall here would be very bad news.

loose rocks on steep ridge
Steep lose rock

Mercifully, the descent quite short. Still, it took almost 10 minutes to pick my way down. (Honestly, it felt much longer. I went into feeble-old-man mode and took my sweet time; it was that sketchy.)

This is the view from the bottom, looking back up…

tricky rocks
Bottom of steep descent

After this, the flat section that follows is a welcome relief.

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Schunemunk Mountain Western Ridge

Cross Perry Creek and head up Schunemunk’s western ridge. Look for a small cairn and turn right/uphill.

Schunemunk’s west ridge is not as high as the east ridge but it is considerably wilder.

Continue following the orange blazes (when you can find them) along this lovely trail.

mossy woods trail
Beautiful trail

rock trail and trees
Western Ridge Trail

I saw no snakes on this hike but I did pass two enormous ant hills. I’d never seen anything like it…

ant hill
Large ant hill

Here’s some video…

Within a minute, I found a the second one, which was even larger. Yikes! Absolutely amazing, though.

There are nice views along the way, both of the Megalith escarpment and looking north to the Hudson Valley…

scenic view
Scenic view of Hudson Valley

From the above location you can also see (in the opposite direction) the Callahan & Nannini shale quarry. You can see it in this video…

From here, it took about an hour to get back to the parking lot.

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Last Navigation

At this junction, turn right…

trail markers on tree
Trail terminus

…and begin following the white/red-dot blazes up over the rocky knob until you come back down to the junction with the Jessup Trail that was so difficult to spot at the beginning of this loop…

trail junction unmarked
Jessup Junction

Here, turn left and follow the white-blazed Trestle Trail out to the road.

Similar Hikes

With its pitch pines and conglomerate, Schunemunk reminded me of the Shawangunks where I hiked many years ago, long before hiking became a thing for me. I need to revisit those hills.

The parent mountain for this hike is Schunemunk.

If you do this hike, let me know how it went in the comments below. Your feedback makes this site better.

Trailhead Info for this Hike

Large popular trailhead 1000 ft west of the Moodna Viaduct

Google Maps Location: 41.425584, -74.101628

The map below shows the exact topographic location of the trailhead

Cell Service

Pretty good throughout, except for down in Taylor Hollow between the two ridges. My network is Verizon. YMMV.

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