Bear Mountain Inn, Bear Mountain, New York
The best fall getaways in 2013: Historic lodge revitalized
It’s the most iconic hotel in the region. Sure, there are several other standouts, including the majestic Mohonk Mountain House and the historic Thayer Hotel at West Point. But the Bear Mountain Inn, the glorious 1915 Adirondack-style stone lodge built at the foot of its namesake mountain amidst the stunning Hudson Highlands, seems to have a stranglehold on the hearts of generations of New Yorkers. “At least a dozen times per day, someone will walk into the inn and want to tell you their story. There are really a lot of great memories in that building,” says Liz Morris, the director of sales and marketing for Guest Services, which manages the inn.
The inn reopened last year after a $15 million, seven-year renovation. “The reaction has been mostly very positive,” says Morris. “The trick was to honor this historic property while bringing it into the 21st century.” In my opinion, they’ve succeeded in spades. Previously, the three-story inn housed 30 tiny, dorm-style guest rooms. Now, there are 15 spacious and super-comfortable guest suites, complete with über-modern bathrooms, and lots of little green touches (rates run from $129 to $219).
Also added to the hotel is a small spa (which is open to the public), a gift shop, and an updated restaurant. Built in the area that was formerly a beloved public sitting area — with the famous oversized stone fireplace as its centerpiece — Restaurant 1915, with about 100 seats, is a grand space indeed: As I sat there drinking a glass of red wine, I felt transported to a different time that I had only read about in history books. But the menu, under the direction of the award-winning culinary whiz Michael Matarazzo, is decidedly modern, with a focus on organic and local produce. The famous Sunday buffet brunch is still available, now for $19.15. At the attached Blue Roof Tapas Bar, which has a patio overlooking Hessian Lake, there is a mix of sophisticated small plates and comforting pub grub. On Thursday nights, the Blue Roof transforms into a retro-style piano bar. There is a list of different entertainers who perform on a rotating basis, but one constant is the open mic — so bring your sheet music and a shot of courage. “We got the idea from the big band dances that used to take place at the inn,” says Morris. “We’re bringing music and life back to the inn.”
The Bear Mountain Inn’s enormous dining room, circa 1923. The recently renovated space (below) retains the rustic-but-elegant nature of the original design
Of course, one of the most unique and endearing parts of the hotel is that it sits smack dab in the middle of the 5,000-acre Bear Mountain State Park. This means it’s a bustling place with a wide variety of people — from bedraggled hikers to bus-loads of kids from the Bronx — coming and going. It’s also why you can be sitting in this newly gussied-up hotel and see broken cement paths and drives right in front of you. Still, there’s lots to do, including checking out the charming merry-go-round — with its 42 hand-carved seats that depict native animals — a small zoo, an ice-skating rink, an oversized swimming pool, and paddle-boat rentals on 45-acre Hessian Lake.
There are also miles of hiking trails; in fact, the Appalachian Trail runs right up the east side of 1,306-foot Bear Mountain. It’s a steep and rugged hike up to the top that begins with more than 700 stone steps. You can cheat and drive up Perkins Memorial Drive (although this road is closed in the winter). Either way, you’re rewarded with glorious panoramic views at the Perkins Memorial Tower, constructed by hand during the Great Depression.
History buffs will also be titillated by all that’s gone on at the inn in the past century. Two presidents have slept there and it was once the spring training home for the New York Yankees. In fact, Babe Ruth signed his contract with the team here in the 1920s! The park also had the largest ski jumping facility in the U.S. before Lake Placid was developed in the 1960s.
“It’s a great walking park,” says Morris. “You can see a lot just on your own two feet. It has a nice, old-fashioned feeling. It’s fun, it’s educational, you’re outdoors. Really, there’s nothing else quite like it.”
IF YOU VISIT
55 Hessian Dr., Bear Mountain. 845-786-2731; www.visitbearmountain.com
Accommodations are available at the inn; at nearby Overlook Lodge; and in four Stone Cottages, each of which has six bedrooms.
WHAT TO DO
If you’re looking for some exciting things to do during your stay at the Bear Mountain Inn, you needn’t travel far. Bear Mountain State Park hosts its annual Oktoberfest, complete with authentic German food and beer, live entertainment, and craft vendors. Visitors looking to experience the splendor of autumn in the Valley are invited to take a boat ride around Hessian Lake or stroll the park. Sept. 14-Oct. 27. Sat.-Sun. 12-6 p.m. 845-786-2731; www.visitbearmountain.com
History buffs can make their way to one of the area’s numerous historic sites including Stony Point, West Point, and Fort Montgomery. Aside from the countless monuments and historic structures nestled on these grounds, the sites host a number of exciting events this month.
Experience the Valley’s beautiful bird population with the Rockland Audubon Bird Walk. Both first-time and expert birdwatchers are invited to take a guided tour of Stony Point’s grounds and its diverse array of bird habitats. Be sure to bring your binoculars! Sept. 14. 7:45-10:30 a.m. 845-786-2521; www.palisadesparksconservancy.org
Fort Montgomery hosts Twin Forts Day, commemorating the 1777 assault on Forts Montgomery and Clinton, complete with drills, demonstrations, and battle reenactment. Oct. 5. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. 845-446-2134
FALL FOLIAGE REPORT
Drive the twists and turns of Rte. 218 (Storm King Highway) for unparalleled views of the Hudson Highlands. But be sure to keep your eyes on the road, for its course is built into steep cliffs high above the river. Take our motorcycle tour of the Storm King Highway here.
For more historic photos of the inn and park, see the photo gallery below. Read my editor’s letter for more about my trip to the inn.