One of my favorite springtime hikes follows part of the Appalachian Trail (AT) in eastern Dutchess County to an overlook known as Cat Rocks. Only 30 minutes from Poughkeepsie, this hike boasts numerous points of interest and delivers a robust but forgiving workout, perfect for lifting the spirits of the winter-weary.
Cat Rocks is most commonly reached by a short, steep jaunt beginning at a trailhead on West Dover Road, three miles north of Pawling’s Main Street. If you park in the dirt pull-off beneath the massive Dover Oak (a landmark in its own right) and cross the street toward a set of steps leading into the woods, you’ll arrive at Cat Rocks in one mile. Casual hikers should be able to tackle the 600-foot ascent in a half hour or so, but if there’s one hike you don’t want to rush through, this is it.
While the expansive views from Cat Rocks are gorgeous any time of year, the journey there really shines during the spring months. Wooden boardwalks keep your feet dry while you traverse lush wetlands in the early part of the hike. As the trail ascends, you’ll continue to pass seasonal creeks and small waterfalls, flowing most prodigiously during the springtime’s snowmelt and rain showers. Wildlife abounds, with brilliantly colored red efts scurrying near your feet, sometimes by the dozens. Later in the spring, carpets of trilliums, yellow forest violets, and other wildflowers are in bloom
The east-facing vista makes this a prime spot for watching the sun come up, and on cool spring mornings, the valley below often traps dense fog that appears as a tranquil sea of clouds from the mountaintop.
Shortly before reaching the top, you’ll pass the Telephone Pioneers Shelter off the left side of the trail. This formidable structure dates back to 1988 and provides a glimpse into life on the AT. After the trail turns right and levels out, you’ll notice several unmarked but well-trodden side trails on the right; pick one and follow it just a few yards until you find yourself gazing out over farms and rolling hills. The east-facing vista makes this a prime spot for watching the sun come up, and on cool spring mornings, the valley below often traps dense fog that appears as a tranquil sea of clouds from the mountaintop. Such a cloud inversion is possible if the temperature and dew point are nearly the same at sunrise, so check the forecast and plan ahead—or just leave work a couple hours early and enjoy an impromptu nature outing on the next mild day. If you take any great pictures along your hike and post them to social media, consider tagging the Harlem Valley Appalachian Trail Community, which is a group dedicated to promoting and supporting this section of the AT. Happy trails—and happy spring!