May 2006: Palisades Interstate Park


Fort Lee, New Jersey

If millions of Americans didn't already live in the area by the time we got around to setting aside land for parks it is not hard to imagine the 500-foot sheer cliffs of the Palisades being a national park right now. The cliffs formed 200 million years ago when molten volcanic material cooled and solidified before reaching the surface. Subsequent water erosion of the softer sandstone substrate left behind the columnar structure of harder rock that exists today.

The hard stone, known locally as traprock, was enthusiastically quarried for buildings and roads in the New York area until 1900 when governors Theordore Roosevelt of New York and Foster Voorhees of New Jersey created the Palisades Interestate Park Commission to save this dramatic Hudson River landscape.

Today's park meanders about 12 miles along the river - never more than a half-a-mile wide - and preserves 2,500 acres of wild Hudson River shorefront and uplands, including some of the most impressive sections of the Palisades.

Two long-distance trails - the aqua-blazed Long Path atop the Palisades and the white-blazed Shore Path along the river - traverse the length of the park. Occasional, and very steep, connectors (sometimes using steps) connect the two that enable canine hiking loops. Every now and then the Long Path touches on the edge of the impressive cliffs and there are spots an overly-curious dog could squeeze under the fence, so be careful. On top of the Palisades the going is mostly easy but does roll through varied woodlands that will distract you from the spectacular views at times. You can also find extra trail time for your dog on cross-country ski paths if you don't want to walk for miles along the cliffs.

The iconic hike at Palisades is "The Giant Stairs" located beneath State Line Lookout. The Giant Stairs are massive boulders that have piled up at the foot of the cliffs from thousands of rock slides over millions of years. You need to scramble for over a mile to complete a 3.5-mile loop at the north end of the park. Unless your dog is light enough to lift DO NOT attempt this with your dog. Is it possible? Yes. Is it fun. NO. In addition to being a difficult traverse for dogs there are hundreds of hiding places in the rocks for venomous copperhead snakes and dogs have been bitten at Palisades Interstate Park.

Along the Shore Path there are small beaches - some sand and some pebbly - that allow great access into the Hudson River for doggie aquatics.

Anchored in the southern area of the park is the two-level George Washington Bridge, one of the world's busiest bridges. Designed by Othmar H. Ammann, the GWB sits comfortably in any pantheon of spectacular river spans. If you bring your dog to the Palisades on non-religious national holidays you can see the world's largest free-flying American flag. The flag, which is located under the upper arch of the New Jersey tower, drapes vertically for 90 feet.

From I-95 take the exit for Fort Lee / Palisades Interstate Parkway (Exit 72, after the last toll on the New Jersey Turnpike). Turn left at the light at the top of the ramp. Go through several lights in succession, then the entrance to the northbound PIP is on right.