Walt Whitman, bard of the great outdoors, knew a picturesque path when he saw one. Today, if you venture to Bear Mountain, in New York’s Hudson Valley, you’ll find a statue of the poet and a bit of verse encouraging hikers trekking along the Appalachian Trail to celebrate the journey through the fresh air.
The statue, made by sculptor Jo Davidson, depicts Whitman ambling along mid-stride, shifting his weight from one foot to the other while his coat flaps in the invisible wind. He clutches a hat in his hand and tilts his chin toward the sky, as though captivated by something in the canopy or clouds.
The work debuted at the World’s Fair in 1939 and was installed in the park in 1940. Positioned atop a rock in the park’s Trailside Museums and Zoo, an outdoor route that winds past a black bear enclosure, geology displays, and more, it feels like a paean about the very act of strolling through nature, awestruck and exuberantly aware.
A nearby plaque recites a few lines from Whitman’s poem, “Song of the Open Road,” included in the collection Leaves of Grass:
“Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.”
Though it’s spent decades there, held in place in the woods, the statue feels as vivid and energetic as the natural landscape around it. As the poet Louis Simpson put it in his own homage, a poem titled “Walt Whitman at Bear Mountain,” “Even the bronze looks alive.”
Know Before You Go
To help you navigate to the statue, download a map before you arrive, or grab one when you get there.