Down the Trail: Going Nuclear (Lake)

Tom Quinn is in his 30th year as a geometry and calculus teacher at Northern Valley/Old Tappan High School. He was the Golden Knights’ girls soccer coach for 23 years, has been the boys golf coach for 11 seasons and is now back on the sidelines as the JV girls soccer coach. He took his first steps on the Appalachian Trail on January 1, 2019.

Quinn has logged a lot of miles since. He has walked the entire New Jersey and New York sections of the AT and has just about finished off Connecticut, too. He shares some of his experiences, tips and tricks in our semi-regular Down The Trail feature.

Nuclear Lake on the Appalachian Trail in Dutchess County, NY.

After walking over 350 miles of the Appalachian Trail, it is getting harder and harder to get to new locations on the famous track.  So, I rediscovered one of my favorites recently; a 7.5 mile hike from Route 55 (Poughquag, NY) to the Appalachian Trail Train station (Pawling, NY).  One still has to drive a bit (almost 90 minutes one way), but if you can get there, the dividends pay off handsomely on this one.

New York on the AT can be divided into two parts; the 40 mile Southern Part (south of the Bear Mountain Bridge) boasts many quick up and down rock scrambles which are really cool to traverse.  I have mentioned many of these highlights in the past.  In the northern part (the 50 miles north of the BM bridge), the trail provides more of the usual “walk in the woods” that one would think of when thinking about the Appalachian Trail.  The section I hiked again has a little bit of everything, and one I would highly recommend to everyone.

The hike begins at a postage-stamp sized parking lot along Route 55.  The first mile or so is a quiet, relatively flat, stream-hopping trail that puts you in the middle of nowhere.  The first highlight is walking around Nuclear Lake, which many AT thru hikers say is the nicest lake on the entire trail.  Google Nuclear Lake, it has a lot of history that is kind of “far out” and lends to the name of the lake.  Pick either the AT that goes left around the lake, or the Nuclear Loop Trail (Yellow blaze) that goes right around the lake.  I have done both.  Unfortunately, as remote as you seem to be, you will hike close to a shooting range popping of rounds in the distance; however, this is truly a neat part of the trail.

After another two miles of easy, relatively flat (slightly uphill) ambling through the woods, you get to the next highlight of the hike, the Cat Rocks.  I was here four years ago with my son, Joe, during COVID, and I got a chance to see the view again.  Looking to the east, the Connecticut mountains of the AT await while the view below has open farm fields and other bucolic settings that dots Dutchess County.  I have said before that Dutchess County has some awesome scenery.

The final third of the hike boasts a decent descent from the Cat Rocks down West Mountain, passing the biggest oak tree on the AT (Dover Oak), a walk along the sides of several farm fields, and a final stroll over a boardwalk, passing through the Pawling Nature Center.  The boardwalk is a neat way to end the hike; I am sure in the summer there are many bird species that live here, and I am sure this a hot spot for bird watchers too.

Did you remember I said the end of the hike is at a train station?  The Appalachian Trail train station is really small, but trains do pass through here every day, and I am certain many city dwellers use this stop as a brief getaway from the Big Apple for this particular hike.  If you choose, you can also hop off a train and hike north into Connecticut, or get on one and end up in NYC in about 90 minutes.