Saturday, March 10, 2012

Try a Discover Outdoors Guided Day Hike in NYC

Two weekends ago, I finally accomplished one of my big goals for the winter: Bring friends on a day hike.

It happened quite by accident. Back in January, I received a Vital Juice email advertising a Sunday hike and organic farm tour.

Farmers market veggies
It may be important to mention that my second love, after the great outdoors, is farm-fresh food. On any given Saturday, you will find me at the closest farmers market. I've been a member of a community-supported agriculture (CSA) group for two years, and I've loved every minute and every vegetable of it. Sometimes, during particularly stressful moments of New York City living, a small part of me even dreams of running away to join the WWOOF program.

So, I jumped at the chance to combine two of my favorite things. The hike and farm tour was being offered by Discover Outdoors (formerly known as Outdoor Bound), a New York company that leads day trips, weekend excursions, and international adventures. I booked my ticket online and sent an email to my friends. My dear friends, always up for trying new things, reserved the last spots on the trip. I was thrilled!

5 miles and feeling good
The Hike
Everyone met at Union Square at 9 a.m., and we piled into a van: 12 hikers and 1 Discover Outdoors guide. It was a beautifully sunny, if bitingly cold, day.

The van took us up to the Reeves Meadow Visitor Center at Harriman State Park, N.Y. (map) From there, we did a 5-mile loop to Pine Meadow Lake. The lake served as our halfway point, where we stopped for a picnic lunch.

The trail was well-worn and fairly flat. The only challenging bit was a stretch of moraine that had us picking our way around boulders and over loose rocks. We finished our hike before 1 p.m., and we piled back in the van for the next leg our trip.

Decomposing compost heats
the pipes on these
seedling tables
The Farm
Next, we headed over to Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Tarrytown, N.Y., a 25-minute drive across the river (map). Stone Barns was originally a dairy farm owned by J.D. Rockefeller—in a response to milk pasteurization, Rockefeller wanted a private source of raw milk for his family. (The debate over pasteurized milk versus raw milk continues today.) Now, Stone Barns is a four-season sustainable farm and educational program; it is also a direct supplier to the famous Blue Hill Restaurant. We took a tour of the farm, seeing everything from rotating animal fields to compost-fueled heating systems. Best of all, we had time to grab fresh snacks from the farm cafĂ©.

The van got us back to Union Square by 5:30 p.m. By that point, I think we were all ready for a hot and hearty dinner and a good night's sleep.

Recommendation: Perfect first adventure
While the Discover Outdoor programs can be pricey, they provide excellent opportunities for first-time hikers. There's no need to worry about transportation, planning, or getting lost. All you need to do is pack a lunch and get yourself to the meeting point in New York City! Discover Outdoors also does a great job of explaining what to wear and what to bring. Grab a friend and check out one of their upcoming adventures.

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