Even during this mild winter, there is on occasion enough snow on the ground for a little snowshoeing in the Hudson River Valley. And Bull Hill, just north of Cold Spring, N.Y., makes for an especially tranquil outing. Also called Mount Taurus, it's as pretty as any of the peaks that Thomas Cole, a founder of the Hudson River School art movement, painted in the early half of the 19th century. It's also relatively close to several bars, where any late-winter outdoor activity should end. (Hey, I don’t make the rules.)
If a recent storm means there will be snow on the ground, rent a pair of snowshoes from Eastern Mountain Sports before leaving the city, then take Metro North to the Cold Spring stop. If you get there early on a Saturday morning, you can stop at the Farmers’ Market before heading to the trail. (Walk up Main Street to Route 9D, make a right at Whistling Willie’s, and walk two blocks to the old hospital on Paulding Avenue.) Grab some bread and cheese for later ” I recommend the sheep’s milk cheese from Old Chatham Sheepherding Company ” then go north along 9D for about a half mile, until you arrive at the parking lot for the Washburn Trail.
Start down the Washburn Trail, past the blue-blazed Cornish Trail, and continue on until you reach a large quarry. Opened by the Hudson River Stone Corporation in 1931 and abandoned in 1967, the quarry is surrounded by huge cliffs and is worth pausing to take in. Then follow the trail up the steep ascent. After less than a mile, you'll reach a resting stop. It has no markers or picnic benches, but the rocky outcropping, which is directly off the trail and on the edge of a cliff, provides the first overlook. The view of Cold Spring, the Hudson, and the Hudson Highlands is extraordinary. It's also a perfect spot to take a breather and eat some of that bread and cheese.
Keep on the Washburn Trail for another two miles, to the top of Bull Hill. The rest of the hike up is moderate to strenuous, but the crisp air will keep you going. Bull Hill summit is actually higher than its two more famous neighbors, Breakneck Ridge and Storm King Mountain, and, if the trees aren’t overgrown (which they shouldn’t be this time of year), you’ll be rewarded with sweeping views of the Hudson and Breakneck Ridge. Finish off the rest of your bread and cheese and start thinking about that post-hike beer.
There are two main ways down: you can either backtrack or continue on, to complete what is a five-mile loop. The loop is beautiful, peaceful and less than five miles ” and who likes to backtrack, anyway? So keep along the white-blazed Washburn Trail until it comes to a dead end at the Nelsonville Trail and the Notch Trail. Take the Notch Trail, marked with blue blaze, back down to 9D, where the trail and road will join forces for about three quarters of a mile. You’ll eventually reach Breakneck Brook, where you’ll want to turn left on the Brook Trail, marked with red blaze, and follow an old, flat carriage road along the river. When you reach an abandoned concrete building, take a left, on the Cornish Trail, marked with blue blaze, and descend back down to 9D, and the parking lot.
Back in town, head to Whistling Willie’s for its veggie burger, sweet potato fries and a pint of IPA. On your way back to the Metro North station, stop in Cold Spring Apothecary for a wide array of handmade sprays and lotions by the ex-Brooklynite Stacey Dugliss Wesselman. Your fellow Metro North passengers will thank you.