Storm King Mountain rises dramatically from the Hudson River shoreline a few miles north of West Point. The round mountain offers vigorous hikes with excellent views of the valley below.
Of course, another good reason to go to Storm King is the excellent name that it has. Nineteenth-century writer Nathaniel Parker Willis gets credit for the name. Willis said the mountain was the tallest in the area and that storm clouds would first gather around its slopes when a storm was on its way. Before this, the mountain was called Butter Hill, apparently because locals thought it resembled a big lump of butter. (Today, a nearby summit is still called Butter Hill.)
There are a few different numbers found online for the summit elevation. The U.S. Geological Survey lists an elevation of 1345 feet. Of course, the mountain’s impressiveness is more about its steep slope on the riverside than an absolute height measurement.
Storm King can be explored pretty well in an afternoon. I began my hike at a small parking lot on Mountain Road about 0.7 miles north of Route 9W. I followed the yellow blazes of the Stillman Trail to the summit, most of the way accompanied by the teal blazes of the Highlands Trail.
The beginning of the hike uses old smoothly-graded roads, including very nice stone bridges.
Near the first junction with the blue-and-red blazed Bluebird Trail, some ruins are viewable. It looks like it was some sort of spring house. If I get the time to look it up in a local library, I’ll try to find out more.
The ground around the building was wet, and there was water in the little cylindrical stone structure.
Ascending the Stillman Trail offered great views to the north and east. Pollepel Island can easily be spotted and its ruins scoped out with some good glass.
Surprisingly there were a few patches of snow and ice on this April day with temperatures reaching seventy degrees.
The trail rounds a bend to a cool outcrop with southward-facing views.
However, the best view was from a rocky area shortly before the summit. Clear northward views let you see upriver past the end of the Hudson Highlands, the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge, and even a hint of the Shawangunk Range and the Catskill Mountains.
Across the river, Breakneck Ridge and Sugarloaf provide a nice backdrop for Pollepel Island.
Near the summit there are some stones that look to be from some kind of ruin.
The yellow-blazed Stillman Trail does not loop back to the parking lot, so after climbing the mountain I continued west along the Stillman Trail until its second intersection with the blue-and-red Bluebird Trail. I turned right (NNW) at the cairn and took the Bluebird back down to its lower intersection with the yellow trail.
It seems like it is popular to take this route in the opposite direction (getting on the blue-red trail on the way up at its lower junction with the yellow), but I enjoyed climbing along the precipice of the northeast face. It is not a quiet ascent, mainly because both sides of the river see train traffic.
The trails I used are actually found on Google Maps, but it seems like a number of the close switchbacks are not illustrated on Google. Also Google names trails incorrectly, and the full route of the Highlands Trail is not illustrated. An excellent map of the area is published by the The New York – New Jersey Trail Conference.
Storm King has long been admired for its striking features. Several Hudson River School painters depicted the mountain in the mid-nineteenth century. It was an excellent model for their depictions of raw and powerful natural settings.
A century later, Storm King was the focus of a crucial environmental dispute. In 1962 the Consolidated Edison Company announced plans for a massive electric generation project. The plans called for a pumped storage plant at the base of Storm King fed by a 260 acre reservoir to be constructed in nearby Black Rock Forest. In November 1963, local citizens formed the Scenic Hudson Preservation Conference to oppose the project. They argued that it threatened the local water supply, the Hudson River fisheries, and the scenic beauty and historic significance of Storm King Mountain. A number of environmental organizations and municipal governments joined Scenic Hudson in their legal fight against Consolidated Edison.
After numerous court battles the case was settled in December 1980. Numerous precedents in environmental law were set, including the participation of local citizens in environmental disputes and greater consideration for environmental impact in the construction approval process. Consolidated Edison terminated its plans for Storm King and pledged to reduce fish kills at power plants along the river and to establish a research fund for the Hudson River ecosystem. In return, the power company would not have to install closed-cycle cooling towers at existing plants.
Another episode in Storm King’s history was opened by a forest fire in 1999. Firefighters encountered explosions in the forest, and it was determined that the explosions were from artillery shells tested by the West Point Foundry over a century ago. The park was closed to the public. A subsequent investigation revealed that artillery shells from nearby West Point Military Reservation may also have been buried in the park. Following a lengthy cleanup of unexploded ordinance, the park was re-opened in 2003.
Long admired for its powerful figure above the Hudson River, Storm King is an easily recognizable feature that offers hikers a chance to get an excellent view of the valley below.
Explore Pollepel Island at Head First .
Dunwell, Frances F. The Hudson: America’s River. Columbia University Press, 2008.
Environmental Pioneering – Storm King Mountain. Hudson River Virtual Tour, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
Feature Detail Report for: Storm King Mountain. U.S. Geological Survey, Geographic Names Information System.
Flad, Harvey K. “Places and Cases: Storm King,” in Environmental History of the Hudson River, ed. Robert E. Henshaw, SUNY, 2011.
The Scenic Hudson Decision. Marist Environmental History Project.
Stillman/Highlands/Bluebird Trails Loop from Mountain Road. New York-New Jersey Trail Conference.
Storm King. SummitPost.org 2006 page by Rob A.
Storm King Mountain, New York. Peakbagger.com
Storm King State Park. New York-New Jersey Trail Conference.
The Hudson River: Storm King. Questroyal Fine Art.