When I was a kid, there were two things I used to do pretty regularly with my dad. Whenever the weekend rolled around we’d either get up early for a nice bike ride or pack a lunch and head off to do some hiking. I loved them both, but hiking was definitely my favorite.
There’s just something about walking in the woods, smelling the trees and hearing the crunch of the leaves and branches underfoot. The coolest part, however, was finding the next blaze on the trail to keep you going. I guess I viewed it kind of like following a treasure map, only instead of a chest full of gold coins at the end, we’d usually find a pretty breathtaking view.
When I met my wife, she was a huge animal and nature lover, so hiking just became a regular part of our lives. (Just don’t ask her about the time I got us really lost on the way down from a much-longer-than-expected day of hiking at Camel’s Hump State Forest in Vermont.) Once we had kids, though, the hiking and nature activities slowed considerably.
Recently, we decided to do something about that. Sure it was like 45 degrees out or so, but that’s what coats, hats and gloves are for. So we all bundled up, hopped in the car and drove to the nearby Kakiat Park. We planned on doing just a short one mile trail or so, fairly easy.
Of course, things didn’t go according to plan…
Allie quickly went to the wooden map at the entrance to the park to point out the “simple” orange Mountain Trail we were going to follow, which flows right into the white Kakiat Trail.
By the way, she failed to mention the big honkin’ yellow CAUTION sign about rattlesnakes and copperheads…
Anyways, we crossed the beautiful wooden bridge to get to the start of our trail. No wildlife seen yet.
Had to take my first Hiking Selfie of the day. Be forewarned, those with a weak “selfie stomach” may get a bit of an overdose on this trip.
Okay, after taking a zillion selfies and deleting the worst of the bunch (too many chins spoil the pot or something like that), we made it to the start of the Mountain Trail! Huzzah!
Ryan was quick to find the next blaze on the trail. Things are so much nicer when there’s a blaze to follow, aren’t they? (Cue evil foreboding music here.)
Jason got in on the fun with the next blaze, doing his best Wizard of Oz Scarecrow impression (“It’s that way!”).
Seriously, if you don’t find anything magical (almost Hobbit-like!) about this natural path through the trees, you need to get out more!
Stopping for a quick
break photo-op on a blazed rock!
After a bit more trudging through the crisp Autumn foliage, we took our first fun family selfie!
For the most part, the trail was fairly easy on dirt with a few rock areas we had to cross. Ryan loved practicing his parkour every chance he got. (Yeah, even in nature with no electricity, Minecraft still rules the day.)
The best part of the Mountain Trail is the overlook that offers a breathtaking view of the lower Hudson Valley. On a clear day, you can actually see all the way to Manhattan! It’s just at the top of that huge rock area up ahead!
Before making the final stretch to the top, Jason had to lay claim to this rock.
“Yeah I’m still coming too.”
At last, we made it! Just check out these beautiful views.
You can see the local high school in the center there.
And thankfully it was a completely clear day so you could look out on the horizon to see the familiar NYC skyline! So glad we brought along our telephoto lens too!
I even panned all the way left to make out the George Washington Bridge!
I figured this was as good a spot as any to play around with the panoramic setting on my iPhone.
Found some really beautiful wildlife up here too!
Yeah, this is what hiking’s all about!
Now that we made it to the top we could simply follow the trail a bit as it loops around, flows into the white trail and we’re home in two shakes of a tail. Except, well… Allie wanted to cut through the woods a bit to cut some time off the trail… thus violating the terms of the trail as outlined by that Snake Warning at the park’s entrance. Hoo boy.
So we started walking and then heard a noise up ahead. It took me a few seconds to notice it, but there up ahead was a deer just hanging out on its own. It didn’t run but continued walking along and chomping away at any grass it found. (It’s in the upper left corner of the below photo.)
We thought it might be injured since it was out this early and all by itself but it seemed okay. We didn’t want to scare it, so we quietly kept walking and cutting through the trees.
We eventually found the orange Mountain Trail again and kept going. No sign of a white blaze though, so we kept going, hoping against hope that it’d be right around the corner.
The orange trail got steeper and steeper (lots of hand over hand rock climbing here) and seemed to go on forever. Luckily a few other hikers passed by and told us that the orange trail continues up ahead for a bit and then loops around and connects to the white trail. Great! So onward we went.
And while we kept seeing the orange trail and eventually started going downhill, there was no sign of the white trail. Even worse, now that the clocks had been turned back, it was starting to get dark a lot sooner than normal. Sunset was scheduled for roughly 4:36 and it was nearly 4 o’clock now. So yeah, we started getting just a “little” bit antsy.
At one point, Allie and I decided to just follow this large clearing rather than continue up the trail. It was a pipeline area so we knew it’d go straight down and eventually get us to where we needed to go. Only problem was, it was fairly steep and full of lots of small loose rocks. So we went really slowly. Allie fell once (right at the bottom, of course) and Ryan slipped once or twice too. Thankfully, nothing serious.
Once it flattened out to straight flat grass, Allie decided to trip on… absolutely nothing. She just went down. For no reason. Look, here’s proof of her footprint and not a rock or twig nearby.
With nothing but pride hurt, she got up, laughed and we continued on. Fear still gnawing away at the outskirts of our minds, really only because of the sunset. I knew we’d make it to the bottom and we were heading the right way, I just wanted to make it all the way before it got dark. That would’ve been really bad.
At this point, our 20 minute hike had become roughly a 2-hour hike due to all this detouring and blaze searching. We no longer saw an orange blaze since we left that trail and just prayed we’d run into the long-desired white blaze. It didn’t help that Allie continually pointed out that snakes love to hide under rocks and leaves.
But then, birds started to chirp. Rainbows filled the sky. And bunnies danced across the meadow. At least that’s what happened in my head. Because… Allie found the white blaze!
Once we found the white blaze, our spirits were lifted and we quickly found our way moving down the rest of the mountain until we came to a fork in the road. We could keep on with the white trail or take the blue blaze, which we’ve taken a zillion times. It goes past an old mill and then leads right to the park entrance.
Without telling the kids that the blue trail is a little longer than the white one, we decided to finish our quest in the blue.
One of my favorite photos of the day came on this small wooden bridge right near the mill.
Once we made it to the mill, one of the boys (can you guess which?) pretty much had it.
We kept going another five or 10 minutes and eventually made it to the entrance just in time to see some guy playing fetch with his dog in a huge open field. He was actually hitting a tennis ball with a baseball bat, and then the dog would race to chase it. I smell a movie in the making…
Overall it was really an amazing day. And thankfully we never saw a single poisonous snake! (Or non-poisonous for that matter!) Sure it went a little longer than we expected and we were all wiped out, but it was a good kind of tired.
We had shared the beauty of nature and the thrill of finding our way though the trails despite getting a bit off the beaten path. The kids may’ve complained a bit near the end, but the next few days, all they kept talking about was our hike. To us and to their friends.
No matter how stressful your day job is, whether you’re in a big city or local suburb, there’s just something about hiking out in the woods that can help melt all that away. Remind us that we’re here on a planet, a living planet that we’re just along for the ride. I’m so glad we have an amazing park like this literally down the road from us.
Natural parks are such an important part of this country and that’s why I’m happy to share my story and join the movement to protect #OurLand. The Trust for Public Land is a wonderful organization working with communities nationwide to help save so many gorgeous places for many generations to come.
I even made a virtual postcard on their site!
You can easily make your own too, showing off why nature matters to you! Click here to go make your own virtual postcard!
The Trust for Public Land believes everyone should have a healthy connection to nature through nearby parks, working lands, and wild places. Since 1972, we’ve protected three million acres and completed more than 5,000 park and conservation projects. Yet the fact is, open space in America is disappearing at a rate of 6,000 acres a day. Together we can reverse this decline – for the health of our families, our communities, and our future. Help protect our precious lands — and keep this land our land. Share why nature matters to you at tpl.org/ourland.
Because we all need a place to dream.