Having lived in the Hudson Valley for almost my entire life, I can tell you that while there are things about it that aren’t so great, the options for hikers is not one of them. We have a wide variety of trails, ranging from the easy stroll to strenuous hikes up the mountains. We have places to camp, swim, climb rocks, geocache or just sit and admire the view. Especially now with the recent construction of the Dutchess and Ulster County rail trails and the Walkway Over the Hudson, the options are seemingly endless.
But which trail is right for you? In this article, I will cover a few factors that I consider when looking at trails: How hard is it? Will I want to bring my kids along? Do I want to learn about history while I’m there? Am I in the mood for some spectacular views? What else do i want to do while I’m there? I hope that my discussion here will help you choose the right trail for you.
There is a wide variety of high quality, fun walks and hikes in the area, from the flat, paved Walkway over the Hudson to the famously difficult Lemon Squeeze in New Paltz.
- Walkway over the Hudson — One of the area’s great successes in “recycling”, this used to be a railroad bridge that was destroyed by fire. It has since been paved over and restored for use as a pedestrian walkway. It’s a fun experience, walking over the Hudson River, with nice views (I also think it’s fun to watch all the people with their kids and their bikes and their dogs. There really is a cool communal aspect to this path.)
- Rail Trail — Similarly, old railroad tracks throughout Dutchess and Ulster County have been paved over in order to create a network of walking trails. They’re still working on it, but eventually they’ll all be connected. Well maintained, wide and paved these are excellent for an easy stroll or a bike ride, and they’re everywhere!
More difficult hikes:
- Breakneck Ridge (Beacon) — In the Hudson Highlands
- Labyrinth Trail (Shawangunk Mountains) — Includes the infamous Lemon Squeeze. Lots of scrambling up rocks, ladders and crouching under rock outcroppings involved. A challenge, but well worth it!
As I’ve said before, if the kids are tagging along (especially if they’re very young), it changes everything. Some things to consider:
- Difficulty — What you consider easy probably isn’t so easy to a child. Always keep this in mind.
- Proximity to bathrooms
- Picnic areas — Kids always seem to get hungry at the most inopportune times. Being able to easily get to a picnic area or snack bar is ideal.
- Other attractions nearby — Is there a playground on the property? Bowdoin Park, for instance, has some nice wooded trails but also has a fantastic playground with turtle shaped sprinklers that always has giggling children running through it in the warmer months. I’m not saying that kids don’t enjoy the hike, but it’s nice to have the option of sliding down the slide and getting wet in the sprinkler after what to them can be a bit of an arduous journey.
So keeping these factors in mind, which hikes are fun to do with younger children?
Bowdoin Park — In addition to the 4 miles of trails, there is (like I said) a really nice playground with sprinklers as well as picnic areas and sports fields
Bear Mountain State Park — In addition to its trails, Bear Mountain has a ton to do. There’s an ice skating rink, boat rental, playground, zoo, pool and merry-go-round.
Interested in History?
The Hudson Valley is absolutely full of history. There’s the Roosevelt and Vanderbilt estates in Hyde Park (as well as Eleanor Roosevelt’s home, Val Kill). There’s Samuel F.B. Morse (the inventor of Morse Code)’s home. There are trails leading to ruins of hotels and railroads and entire ghost towns. You can often incorporate a history lesson into your hike. Are you interested in this? If so, you have a couple different options:
Hikes on Estate land — The cool thing about a place where lots of rich people used to live is that we can still visit their estates. Many of them have beautiful trails to walk on (many right down by the river). You can thus couple your hike with a visit to (and tour of) the estate. A couple of my favorites:
- Locust Grove (Samuel F.B. Morse Estate) — Tours of the estate are offered. Also known for its beautiful gardens and events like the local library’s holiday book sale, concerts and the like. The three miles of trail are easy and relaxing.
- Springwood (F.D. Roosevelt’s home) — The estate is very interesting and the tour worth taking. The trails are easy, picturesque and connect the Roosevelt estate with other local historical locations. You can even get a badge for completing them! (As a side note: Ooh! I want a badge!)
- The Mt. Beacon Incline Railway — There is actually a group of people who want to restore the Mt. Beacon Incline Railway (link
goes to their site). For now though, it is not operational. The hike follows the tracks up the mountain to the summit, where you can find the ruins of the powerhouse, hotel and casino that were on site in the early 1900s.
- Overlook Mountain House (Woodstock) — This once fancy hotel was among a few built in the 1800s for the enjoyment of the wealthy. It hasn’t been functional since 1923, but an impressive amount of its foundation, walls and stairs still survive. The hike is pleasant and the house itself is very fun to explore. More in-depth history is located at the link above (a site dedicated to Hudson Valley Ruins, in fact). It’s a good read, especially if you intend to visit this historic location.
One of the benefits of being in this area is that it could never be accused of being flat. There are hills and valleys and mountains and at the very center of it all is the Hudson. Ok, it’s not the prettiest body of water in the world. I’ll give you that. But it looks cool from a distance at least. If awesome views are something you look for in a hike, there are plenty of places you can go. For example:
- Overlook Mt Fire Tower — Fire towers are an obvious choice when it comes to selecting a hike with a great view because they’re really, really tall and they’re on top of mountains! 😀 This one, you can hike to at the same time as you do the Overlook Mountain House.
- Mount Beacon Fire Tower — This one is also cool and can be done when you do the incline railway, if you want. In clear skies, you can see 75 miles into the distance, and even when the skies are less than clear, the view of the river is pretty amazing. No photograph can adequately capture it (in my humble opinion!)
- Stissing Mountain — The NYTimes lists it among the best five hikes for views in the Hudson Valley. You have options for either a very strenuous hike or one that is a little less taxing. There are also trails along the bottom of the mountain if you don’t feel like tackling the elevation. 🙂
One more thing to consider is what you’d like to do while you’re there.
- If you’re into art and haven’t visited the amazing Dia:Beacon, I recommend doing a hike in the Beacon area.
- If you’re into rock climbing, you definitely want to go out around New Paltz and the Shawangunks.
- If you are into geocaching, you can take a look at geocaching.com to get an idea of where the good caches are. There are a lot clustered along the rail trail though, I’ve found, which is fun.
- If you want to go out and eat some good food…well, I’m happy to say you have a few good options. In New Paltz: the Karma Road Cafe is pretty delicious for a place that’s so healthy. In the Poughkeepsie area: Akari Sushi has the best specialty rolls in the area. If you’re in Beacon, you can drive to nearby Fishkill for Tanjore, which in my opinion is the best Indian food in the area. These are just a few ideas. I could go on and on about restaurants in the area. Maybe some other time I will!