Hiking to Cat Rocks and Nuclear Lake on the Appalachian Trail

New Yorkers looking for a weekend in the woods will really enjoy this backpacking adventure. This post includes some details on Cat Rocks, Nuclear Lake and the Telephone Pioneer Shelter. Here’s how to enjoy a weekend on the Appalachian Trail by way of the Metro-North.

Grand Central Station  –> Appalachian Trail Stop 

Start at Grand Central Station and jump on the Metro-North Harlem Line. Don’t forget to check the train schedules because the train only stops here on weekends.

In about an hour and a half, you transfer at Southeast, going in the same direction. When you get on this train, you have to walk to the last car. It’s the only place they let you off. Then continue onto the Appalachian Trail stop in Pawling, NY.

On the Trail

Once you get off, you cross the tracks and head southbound toward a boardwalk that takes you through marshes. Then you keep walking and see things like this.

Information at the Appalachian Trail stop on the Metro-North.
The train tracks. Cross this to go southbound.
The Adirondack chairs will tell you which direction you’re headed. The other one says Maine.
The trail.
This field made a great Instagram photo.
Dover Oak.
There is a rock that you will have to climb.

There’s a great step-by-step guide of the hike on the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference. I thought it was pointless of me to repeat such a thorough description of the trail.

Cat Rocks 

The view from Cat Rocks.

If you head back to the white path, you’ll rejoin the Appalachian Trail. Take this hike for about half a mile and you’ll arrive at Cat Rocks. BTW – If you type in Cat Rocks into Google Maps, it will take you somewhere in Monroe, NY. This is not that place.

Here’s what it looks like from the open field below.

When you see the white gazebo, look up. That little rock is where you are going.

Nuclear Lake

Continue on the trail for about two miles and you’ll arrive at Nuclear Lake. We didn’t stay long, so only got a few pictures from lunch.

If you hike around to the other side of the lake, there is an area where you can swim out to a little island. The whole loop is about 1.1 miles.

Telephone Pioneers Shelter

View from the tent at Telephone Pioneers Shelter.

Some of you may think that you can take the 5 mile hike to Nuclear Lake and make camp there, but you can’t. And there are people policing the area and kicking out campers. Even in the middle of the night.

Your best bet is to spend the night at the Telephone Pioneer Shelter. To get there, follow the white path until you see the blue path — which will lead you to a sign that says “shelter.”

Three things to know about this camp: There is a privy (outhouse) that is pretty gross. Your water source is a creek that I’ve seen people bathe in. So, make sure you bring a shovel and water filtration system. And there are not many flat areas, so you may be sleeping on a slope.

Staying Hydrated 

Just keep boiling…

A notice on the shelter said to boil and treat the water because no one is monitoring the quality of the water at the creek. We boiled our first batch of water. The alternative was to drink out of a LifeStraw, which I bought from REI for about $20. The water tasted much better going through the straw. Now, I only drank boiled water through the straw. My friend drank creek water through the LifeStraw and seemed to be fine. A northbound thru hiker I met was content using water filtration tablets. He seemed to have no issues.


This is a great weekend backpacking trip for city dwellers — even for beginners. There are some strenuous parts of the trek, but it’s completely doable. Just make sure you pack enough food, water and camping supplies. But if you are a slacker, there’s a nursery behind the train stop that sells water and ice cream to AT hikers. You can also shower and camp there. They’re super friendly.

This trip was taken over July 4 weekend in 2015, so do your research to make sure the info is up-to-date.

Happy trails.

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