Dutch Doctor Shelter from Johnsontown Rd: A Good Place to Begin
Blog by Marlon Smith / Hike Live Love Adventures & Urban and Outdoor Survival
Photos by Explore Harriman
I knew another great hike was in store as the autumn air greeted me when I stepped outside my front door. Sometimes you just need to pause for a moment to breathe and appreciate what you have, that makes these outings all the better. I headed up Interstate 287 to Harriman State Park. In the Village of Sloatsburg, I stopped in to Spring Street Deli North for a quick BEC breakfast sandwich before my hike. You can call in your food here to expedite pick up. This is a good spot to get some provisions, especially if you’re planning to camp out and forgot a couple of items.
Today I planned a beginner’s outing to Dutch Doctor Shelter. The parking area for today’s approach is a roundabout at the end of Johnsontown Road in Sloatsburg. Most of my group members arrived early which is the only way to get a spot on the majority of weekends. Make note, parking is only allowed on the outer ring. Parking on the inside ring may get your car ticketed or towed, so be mindful.
A quick head count and radio check and off we went. I’m diligent with these checks to ensure the safety of the group — no one gets left behind and we can maintain communication with each other along the trail.
The trail starts with an incline, a short 100 yards that makes up the first leg of our hike before the White Bar Trail (white horizontal blaze) reveals itself. Fall was in full swing as leaves were dropping non-stop with the slightest breeze. We did some slow-mo videos of the falling leaves — Instagram worthy reels.
On the left, we passed the Kakiat trail and shortly after came to a fork where going left is a woods road that branches out though can lead one to Claudius Smith’s Den. We went right where there’s a gentle incline with some small twists and turns for approximately half a mile to this hike’s high point. This is a family-friendly type of hike. Certainly, beginners can find the love of hiking and the outdoors when doing this trail.
I always come across interesting areas on trails. I pointed out a large opening to the left of the trail. On some maps it’s marked as a lake and on others as a marsh area. However, I’ve never seen water or anything that resembles marsh land there. It’s always just overgrown.
Not far up from here the trail splits. Left will take you down the Tuxedo Mountain-Ivy Trail (red horizontal bar on white) which officially brings one to Claudius Smith’s Den and right keeps you on the White Bar Trail. We came to a birch tree which had a wide ring of bark removed, little doubt stripped for fire starter. It is important to note, only harvest birch bark in the spring time when the sap is running through it and do not remove bark from the entire circumference otherwise it can cause serious damage to the tree.
Another 50 meters up from here you can see the roof of the Dutch Doctor Shelter, built in 1935, and named for John Frederick Helms, the “Old Dutch Doctor” who lived nearby from 1874 to 1892. He was known for raising medicinal herbs. It’s just up a short but rocky incline so watch your step so you don’t turn an ankle here.
We stopped for a second and I had the group make a mental note. Just to the left of this point is one of the only water sources that can be found in this area. This is very important for the campers who choose this area as their site for a night or two. Remember to always use a filter on water sourced from streams and lakes. My favorite is the Katadyn BeFree Water Filtration System 1.0L (katadyngroup.com) . If you want to be 100% sure on the quality of your water, bring it to a rolling boil for 2 mins, this should eliminate any water borne pathogens.
Now, up at the campground just beyond the shelter, we paused for a quick bite. These breaks are some of my favorite moments. We take the opportunity to listen to one another’s outdoor adventure stories. Our group members have developed a healthy amount of camaraderie as I have many repeat hikers. And as always, I thank my group members for trusting me to lead these outings — for a couple of them on this outing, it is their first hike in the woods.
With packs back on, it was time to head down the way we came in. At this time of day you can almost guarantee spotting overnight enthusiasts with extra gear strapped to their larger-sized packs making their way to the campsite.
Now, at the halfway point, the usual lunch discussion comes into play. There’s a nice line up of restaurants to choose from in the Village of Sloatsburg. And a spot really worth mentioning is Sushiville! This is not only great sushi but loading on a balanced combination of complex carbohydrates and about 15-25 grams of lean protein is a great way to refuel the body for muscle repairs.
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