Are you looking for lots of great hikes near you? The Hiking Committee for the New York-North Jersey Chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club has plenty of options for you, whether you prefer ascending lofty peaks or learning the history of neighborhoods in New York City. This page is designed for new members who are not sure how to choose a hike or walk to match their ability level or what to bring for a day in the outdoors, and for special considerations during winter hiking.
The New York-North Jersey Chapter lists hikes every weekend, so it’s important for new hikers to be honest in your self-assessment — we want you to enjoy yourself! Check AMC’s Activities Database for upcoming hikes.
How to join AMC hikes and walks
Q: What is the difference between a hike and a walk?
Walks will generally be on streets and relatively flat trails and paths in urban parks and nature preserves, while hikes will generally be on more rugged trails. For most walks, sneakers or comfortable walking shoes will be sufficient, though the leader’s instructions should always be followed. For example, leaders may want walkers to have traction aids such as microspikes if ice is expected.
In addition, it is not necessary to bring as much emergency or extra gear for a walk as for a hike. Minimum equipment for walking is a knapsack or fanny pack, lunch (unless a restaurant stop is planned), water (two quarts on a hot day), and a jacket (waterproof if there is a significant chance of rain). Additional handy supplies are high-energy snacks, tissues, small plastic bags, bug spray, sunblock, Band Aids, and a map.
Hiking gear, including footwear, is discussed further below.
Q: Who can participate in an AMC hike or walk?
AMC hikes are intended for adults (18 years and over) unless otherwise noted. All participants must be physically able to participate in the activity described in the schedule and they must also be equipped with appropriate clothing, gear, and supplies for a day in the woods. Non-members are also welcome on our hikes.
Q: How do I decide which hike or walk would be best for me?
Hikes and walks are rated as Accessible, Relaxed, Easy, Moderate, Vigorous or Strenuous mainly by their mileage and elevation gain. For further details, see the AMC Activity Rating System. The approximate mileage will also be mentioned in the hike description, which should also mention faster or slower than normal pace, as well as easier or more rugged terrain. If you are a new AMC hiker, start with a slower, easier hike rather than a faster, more difficult one. Never choose a hike solely because of its location!
For information about hikes and other activities offered by the various chapters and committees, please consult the AMC Activities Database which will include all AMC hikes. Also, in many cases, new hikes and changes / cancellations to hikes are announced on the AMC New York-North Jersey Meetup Group and the AMC New York-North Jersey Google Group.
Q: Where can I find trail descriptions of AMC hikes?
There are many guidebooks available, including the New York Walk Book and the New Jersey Walk Book, which are considered classics. Harriman Trails: A Guide and History by Bill Myles offers detailed information about trails inside this 50,000-acre treasure, and historical information about its past, its people, and its archeological sites. Another very good hiking guide is 50 Hikes in the Lower Hudson Valley by Stella Green and H. Neil Zimmerman.
The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference website has a wealth of information about area hikes and offers a discount on guidebooks purchased in combination with trail maps, and discounts on all purchases to Trail Conference members.
Q: Do I need to register for AMC hikes and walks?
Many hikes and walks are “show and go,” which means that registration is not required and you meet the group at a designated time and place. Please familiarize yourself with the ratings and read the hike description carefully so you can avoid calling the leader for information that is readily available to you. Only call or email if you have a question that is not answered in the event description, or if the leader requires registration. Some events require registration by contacting the leader or by registering at another site such as Meetup. Some require registration using an account (no membership required) and filling out an electronic form, including a waiver.
Except when you register using an electronic waiver, when you join an AMC event, you must sign the liability waiver at the meeting place and give an emergency contact name and phone number. This is for your own safety.
Getting to AMC hikes and walks
Q: Do I need a car to get to AMC hikes and walks?
No. Many hikes and walks meet at locations accessible by bus or train, and public transportation is included in the hike description, or provided upon registration. The Getting to Your AMC Activity (Tranportation Codes) page gives the most commonly used public transportation options, but may not always be up to date. The event description or leader’s information takes precedence.
Q: Where in the Port Authority Bus Terminal can I buy a bus ticket?
See the ticket counter locations on the Getting to Your AMC Activity (Transportation Codes) page. You can also buy your ticket in advance for some transportation methods via an app. Buy a one-way ticket because most leaders try to match bus riders with drivers for the trip back. If you have never taken the bus before, ask the driver to announce your stop. You can also ask other hikers if they are getting off at the same stop.
Q: Where can I buy a train ticket?
Metro-North’s MTA Etix and NJ Transit’s apps allow you to buy your tickets in advance on your phone. Most Metro-North and NJ Transit stations have vending machines. Some stations have both ticket agents and vending machines. Arrive at your station early enough to purchase your ticket before boarding the train because there is a substantial surcharge on tickets purchased aboard. Buy a one-way ticket because most hike leaders try to match train riders with drivers for the trip back.
Q: Are there any fare discounts which hikers can use?
Metro North offers a 10-trip off-peak ticket which saves 15% off the one-way off-peak fare. Seniors 65 and older, people with disabilities, and Medicare recipients can save up to 50% off the full one-way peak fare. You must have proper documentation available.
Short Line Bus Seniors 62 and older receive a fare discount of up to 50% between Orange, Rockland or Bergen Counties and New York City.
NJ Transit Rail Seniors 62 and older receive a fare discount of 50%.
Q: If I am driving, where do I meet the group?
Drivers should plan to arrive at the meeting place in the hike description or leader’s instructions at least ten minutes before the bus or train arrival time so you can don your boots and be ready to go when the train or bus arrives.
Q: Where do I get driving directions to the meeting place?
You should consult your road atlas, online maps, or GPS to find the town. Please read the directions carefully because if you park in an off-limits area you are likely to get a ticket or be towed. And please do not call the leader for travel directions unless you have tried all possible ways of finding the location and still have questions.
Q: If I get a ride back to the city, should I offer to share the cost of gas and tolls?
On trips where no public transportation is available, participation depends upon having a car or arranging a ride in someone else’s car. No one acting on behalf of the AMC or any of its Chapters or Committees shall do anything concerning such transportation beyond acting as a bureau of information as to the name of car drivers desiring to take guests and persons desiring rides; the Club assumes no responsibility concerning transportation. It is appropriate for all members of a car pool, including the driver, to share the cost, including mileage, tolls, and parking (for guidance only, the current IRS rate for mileage is 58.5 cents per mile).
What to bring on your hike or walk
Q: Can I wear my jeans and a sweatshirt?
Cotton is not recommended except in very hot weather, and jeans are not comfortable for hiking. In the cooler months, we still get very hot and sweaty while hiking. When stopping for breaks, we cool down quickly and wet cotton clothes can cause hypothermia, posing a risk not only to the hiker but to the group as well. Most hikers wear synthetic clothes, in layers, because they wick moisture away from the skin and dry quickly. You will also need a water-resistant windbreaker with a hood in case of a sudden rainstorm. If you don’t own one, you can get an emergency poncho in many large drugstores. In cold weather, a fleece or wool hat is needed or a fleece or wool headband if you get too warm in a hat. It’s also a good idea to pack a fleece vest, a windbreaker, two or more extra pairs of gloves in case the first pair gets wet, an extra shirt to change into for the ride home, and always, an extra pair of hiking socks. A leader can refuse a hiker if he/she deems the hiker is not attired in a manner appropriate to the conditions. Also see our Winter Hiking 101.
Q: Do I need hiking boots or can I wear sneakers?
Hiking boots are probably more important for new hikers than for seasoned pros who nimbly hop among rocks and across ledges! It’s more important to have a properly fitted boot and good socks than to make a fashion statement, so go to a sporting goods retailer who knows how to fit boots. There is much to choose from, so take your time, and do check out sale items. A good boot fitter can also make suggestions about socks. Most hikers would agree that good hiking socks are just as important as properly fitted boots when it comes to preventing blisters and foot pain. A leader may refuse a hiker who does not have appropriate footgear.
Q: How do I choose hiking boots that will be right for me?
If you are a beginner, and planning to hike in the spring, summer, or fall on trails, you probably should get mid-height day hiking boots. With some experience, you may do better with low hiking shoes. Waterproof boots, such as Gore-Tex, will cost more and may not work well in the summer as they won’t allow sweat from your feet to escape easily. However, waterproofing, as well as higher boots, is important for winter hiking. You may need more rugged boots if hiking off-trail or in mountainous terrain.
For most winter hiking, though, a mid-weight waterproof boot with a good tread, a wicking polyester sock liner worn under your wool or synthetic socks, and a pair of waterproof gaiters will probably suffice when paired with some sort of cleats or creepers to prevent falls on ice.
The first step in choosing hiking boots is to determine what kind of hiking you’re most likely to be doing. Then go to a retailer known for expertise in fitting boots such as Campmor, REI, or EMS. Since feet swell during the day, it is best to be fitted for boots late in the day. A good boot fitter will measure your feet and take note of any conditions, such as pronation, that might require a supportive footbed in order to get the best possible fit. Take along the socks you like to wear for hiking, along with inserts or orthotics if you use them. Be patient, and if you don’t think the selection is broad enough, go to another store. Some stores that offer expert boot fitting will even take returns on boots that have been worn if the boot turns out to be a bad fit.
Q: How can I tell if the boots are properly fitted?
The boots should be snug at the heel but roomy enough for you to wiggle your toes. One way to test for a good fit is to move your foot forward in the unlaced boot so that your toes touch the front of the boot. There should be just enough room for your forefinger to fit between your heel and the back of the boot. If you are an in-between size, have the boots fitted to your larger foot and try using a more cushioned insert, or heavier socks, in the boot for your smaller foot. Sporting goods stores that cater to hikers will have a slanted ramp that you can walk up and down to test the boots for comfort when walking up and down hills. In particular, make sure that your toes don’t hit the front of either boot when walking down the ramp. You may also find that orthotic inserts such as Superfeet will work better than the thin inserts sold with new boots.
Q: Do I have to break in the boots before wearing them on a hike?
Before you wear a pair of new boots to hike over hilly, rocky terrain, you might want to wear them around town for a day to be sure they fit comfortably. Unless you have bought heavy-duty, full-grain leather backpacking boots, which will take several wearings before they lose some of their original stiffness, most boots will begin conforming to your foot after a few miles of walking. On your first outing with new boots, take along some extra socks of different weights in case you need to make adjustments for a more comfortable fit.
Q: How can I prepare for winter hiking?
Traction aids such as Stabilicers or microspikes may also be necessary, particularly in icy conditions. Some of our leaders require that hikers have them. See the individual hike description or contact the leader if in doubt. These items can be purchased at Campmor, REI, and EMS. Learn more from Winter Hiking 101.
Q: Are there any discounts available to hikers who need to outfit themselves from head to toe?
Q: How much food and water should I bring for a day hike?
Bring lunch, trail snacks, fresh or dried fruit, a minimum 2 quarts of water (3 quarts when the temperature is over 80 degrees), and in cold weather, a thermos of hot tea or soup in addition. Never skimp on water because it is your responsibility, not the leaders’ or any of the other hikers, to have enough. After you have hiked various distances in different weather conditions, you will have a better idea of how much water and food you need. You should always carry some extra food, such as high-energy bars, in case you experience a delay or if you feel hungry on the trip back home. Learn about AMC’s 10 Outdoor Essentials.
Q: What else should I bring?
- ID card
- Insect repellent and topical benadryl during bug season
- Small first aid kit with Band Aids, Ibuprofen, moleskin for blisters
- A few feet of duct tape rolled onto a ballpoint pen (for everything from kit repairs to blister first aid)
- Small amount of toilet paper
- Hand sanitizer
- Plastic bags for carrying out your trash (including toilet paper)
- Trail maps and compass
- Headlamp or small flashlight
- Foam pad to sit on during breaks
- Mylar “space blanket” – takes up little space, useful in case of downpour or emergency
On the trail with AMC
Q: What is the role of the leader and the co-leader?
It’s the leader’s responsibility to plan and organize the hike and to guide the group, from the designated meeting place until the time of departure. The leader’s decisions about the route and group conduct are final. Some hikes have a co-leader who assists the leader. Some leaders also bring a particular expertise to their outings, such as orienteering, natural history, geology, botany, local history, etc. AMC leaders are volunteers who want to provide an enjoyable day in the woods, so it is important to follow their guidance and to observe all park regulations and Club rules. Keep in mind that hiking involves a certain element of risk and that your personal safety is your responsibility, not the leader’s, and that lack of preparation on your part can adversely impact the group as a whole.
Q: What is the role of the sweep?
The leader may appoint a “sweep” before the hike begins. It is this hiker’s role to remain at the very end of the group so he or she can make sure that nobody is left behind. For the safety of the group, the weakest or slowest member of the group should never be appointed sweep. Always stay in front of the sweep. If you need a separation break before the leader calls one, shout ahead to request that leader stop. Never leave the group for a solo separation!
Q: What if I want to go faster than the group or if I can’t keep up?
It is best to remain with the group even if you feel that the pace is too slow. If you do go ahead, the leader will assume that you have left the hike, and will note the sign-in sheet accordingly. If you find that you cannot keep up with the group, it is best to turn back at the very beginning of the hike, after notifying the leader. Remember to read the hike descriptions carefully so you can choose a hike appropriate for your ability.
Q: What is a separation?
Literally, separating the group by gender for a bathroom break in the woods. Usually one group goes ahead, then calls back to the other when ready to resume the hike.
Q: What is “low-impact hiking”?
Low-impact hiking practices help preserve the trails and woodlands we enjoy on hikes, so please stay on trails and on rocks where possible to avoid trampling the vegetation. During a separation, stay at least 50 feet away from a water source and at least 10 feet away from the trail. Bring a plastic bag to carry out whatever you pack in, and please carry out what others have carelessly left behind.
Q: Can I bring my dog on AMC hikes?
No, unless the description specifically states that the hike is “dog friendly.” On those hikes, it is required that the animal be on a leash at all times in compliance with the rules and regulations of the park.
Q: Can I use my cell phone on a hike?
No, cell phone usage is not allowed except in the case of an emergency or special situation in which case it should be used away from the group. Otherwise cell phones should be turned off. Learn more about AMC’s essentials of trail etiquette.