(total time 40-45 minutes one way- plus time driving to the pillars)
” The greatest show on earth!” . It’s hard to think about a circus and not think about the Ringling Brothers. But it was here in Bergen County that John Ringling met and married Mable (ne’ Burton) and built a huge mansion on the cliffs of the Palisades which they called Gray Crag. Built in 1918, and nestled on roughly one hundred acres, it would be their summer escape for a number of years.
For a little over a decade John and Mable lived and entertained in their glamorous, summer escape on the Cliffs of the Palisades, overlooking the Hudson. The twenty room mansion even sported an elevator (of which ruins are still present). Large parties were common and the Ringling’s were known for their hospitality .
Mable died in 1929 at the age of 54. Shortly afterwards John would loose much of his fortune during the collapse of the stock market in the early 1930s. The house was eventually torn down in the 1950s. All that remains are the ruins which I will detail below.
Start by parking at the Palisades Interstate Park Commission in Alpine. There are some designated Parking spots for hikers which are free but limited. Once you are in the parking lot head for the trail. If you are facing the police department, you will head to your left. The trail is clearly visible from the lot. I’ve time stamped POIs below.
As you walk keep your eyes to your right and you will come across this odd tree with a concrete block in it. I have since learned that concrete was often poured into rotting trees to keep them from dying. This tree quite possibly may have been one of the Gray Crag estate trees.
Continue walking and as a point of reference you may see this tree to your LEFT. I use the word “may” because it was still standing when I went (12/2020) but may not when you embark on this trip. But if you see this tree, look to your right, and some of the ruins will come into view. It will be about a twenty minute walk from the parking lot. You will start to see clear evidence that there was once something more than just woods.
Pipes and cement foundation blocks
Rotor wheel for an elevator. The elevator was documented to have been at the mansion. All that stands now are these ruins.
Continue walking and be vigilant of the right of the trail. In a few minutes you will see an unmarked trail that veers towards the water. Take this trail heading for the Hudson.
In a few meters you will come across the Bridge.
Cross at your own risk. I do not recommend it as the chasm is steep.
The view did not include the Tappan Zee but must have been just as spectacular.
If you are interested in finding the entrance gates to the estate’s property please keep reading. As mentioned above, the estate was well over one hundred acres and I don’t have directions on how to walk to the entrance although it is entirely possible . The entrance is actually located on the other side of the Palisades Parkway and off of Route 9W north. Remember, the parkway did not exist at this time and would have been a wooded area. I may add walking directions in the near future since there are some foot bridges that would make it a very long yet doable endeavor. For the sake of this blog, return to your car and navigate towards Rt. 9W North in Alpine.
Finding the gates was a comedy of errors for my friends and I and we were left with driving up and down 9W until we saw it. Sadly, there are no landmarks to give you however a friend’s I-phone pinged the GPS area below.
If you drive slowly, heading northbound in Alpine, you will see it on your right, a mere 5 yards from the road and easily visible from the shoulder.
A hidden history of years gone by. Looks large enough for a herd of Elephants. Don’t you think?
I hope you enjoy the walk, enjoy nature, and most of all RESPECT OUR HIDDEN HISTORY.
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