Trailside Museum and Zoo at Bear Mountain State Park

[3000 - 3008] Seven Lakes Pkwy Appalachian Trail
Bear Mountain NY 10911
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Bear Mountain State Park has long been a popular destination for residents of New York City, northern New Jersey and the Hudson Valley. But while the park's status as an ideal location for hiking, boating and picnicking is well known; one of its most unique features remains hidden through a tunnel that leads under Route 9W. The Trailside Museums and Zoo, so named because the Appalachian Trail passes through it, features local animals that were either orphaned or injured and could not survive in the wild on their own. Trailside allows visitors a chance to get acquainted with the Hudson Valley's native wildlife including bears, foxes, owls, snakes, coyotes and even a bald eagle. 

How to get to Trailside Museum and Zoo at Bear Mountain State Park​
Bear Mountain State Park is located right off of Route 9W and the Bear Mountain Bridge, in Highland Falls, NY. The closest parking lot to Trailside in the park is at the Bear Mountain Inn, but it's still about a ten minute walk alongside the lake and under Route 9W to get to Trailside from the Inn. If you're parked near the carousel and ice skating rink, plan on about a 15 minute walk to reach Trailside. 

Best and worst times to go to Trailside Museum and Zoo at Bear Mountain State Park​
Some say that the real zoo at Bear Mountain State Park is the swimming pool that's located near Trailside. On summer weekends the pool is so packed that there's barely room to move, and eventually the chaos and crowds make their way over to Trailside. For a more serene experience, visit any time from late Fall to early Spring. You might have the entire zoo to yourself. 

Admission to Trailside Museum and Zoo at Bear Mountain State Park​
Admission to Trailside is via a suggested donation box. There is a cost per vehicle to enter the park itself; Empire Pass holders get in for free. Trailside only closes on Thanksgiving and Christmas; Otherwise it's open every day from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. 

Must see/do at Trailside Museum and Zoo at Bear Mountain State Park​
No visit to Bear Mountain is complete without seeing the black bears that are Trailside's star attraction. On special occasions such as Earth Day, Halloween, and Christmas, visitors can help make special treats and gifts for the bears to enjoy. The newly constructed Coyote Den offers a chance to watch the zoo's coyotes frolic in their natural habitat.

Other places to visit near Trailside Museum and Zoo at Bear Mountain State Park​
As long as you're here, why not take in the rest of the park? The aforementioned pool offers a chance to cool down in the summer, as long as you don't mind crowds. Alongside Hessian Lake there's a playground and picnic tables. The lake can be fished, and both row boats and paddle boats can be rented. There's an ice skating rink open from November through March, and a gorgeous indoor carousel that's open every weekend. The historic Bear Mountain Inn features accommodations, dining, a spa and a gift shop. Finally there's the mountain itself: it's a 2.5 mile hike to the top via the Major Welch Trail, and the views from the Perkins Tower at the summit stretch as far as New York City.

Insider tips for visitors to Trailside Museum and Zoo at Bear Mountain State Park​
The lowest point in elevation along the entire 2,160 mile Appalachian Trail is right in front of the bear pit: Just 124 feet above sea level. Make sure to take the oft-overlooked Geology Trail that's also across from the bear pit. There's no animals along the way (which is why it's often ignored) but it leads to an observation platform overlooking the Hudson River featuring a telescope. 

Author's bio: Brian PJ Cronin is a freelance journalist who lives in Beacon and writes about the Hudson Valley for numerous publications. You can find him online at brianpjcronin.com and on Twitter as @brianpjcronin.