With dozens of peaks, world-class rock climbing, parks, preserves, and countless lakes and creeks, the Hudson Valley is a gateway to outdoor adventure. While almost every local town boasts nearby hiking trails, here are a few highlights to seek out this summer.
There is no white water on the lower Esopus Creek below the Ashokan Reservoir, so the Esopus Bend Nature Preserve makes for a peaceful paddling spot. Canoe or kayak at your own pace; stop on a sandbar to go for a swim; or perch and watch for turtles, herons, ducks, and maybe even an eagle. The nearby Saugerties Lighthouse on the Hudson River is an easy addition to your visit. Its unusual house-like design has made it popular with visitors, and it now operates as a popular B&B (book months in advance).
The 200-acre John Burroughs Sanctuary is named for the naturalist who built his retreat, Slabsides, here in 1895. The Sanctuary has no admission fee and offers 4.5 miles of hiking and walking trails. The Ridge Trail takes you on a boardwalk through the celery swamp and up a stone stairway. For a longer hike, Chodikee Trail connects to the adjacent Black Creek State Forest.
The Harlem Valley Rail Trail was built on the footprint of an old train line (New York and Harlem Railroad) in Dutchess and Columbia County. You can still access the trail by train, taking the Harlem line of the Metro-North to the Wassaic station with your bike. The initial section, starting at Wassaic and heading north, is paved, while other sections of the rail trail are currently under development.
Located on the highest part of the Shawangunk Ridge, Sam’s Point features the white quartz conglomerate stone and scrubby dwarf pitch pines that help give this renowned rock-climbing area its distinct character. Sam’s Point is also notable for ice caves located at a natural fault line, as well as for Lake Maratanza (actually a reservoir that supplies drinking water for the town of Ellenville). For an easier hike, try the three-mile loop around the reservoir. Another popular hike is the Verkeerderkill Falls trail, which leads to a waterfall by the same name. Sam’s Point is now part of Minnewaska State Park, and—for a longer day—you can hike into the rest of Minnewaska. For a nearby bite, make your way to New Paltz or to the Mountain Brauhaus (expect to wait for a table).
The Mount Beacon Fire Tower rises above the higher south summit, crowning what is easily one of the best hikes around. Standing in the fire tower looking west, you will see the Hudson River, the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge, and the cities of Beacon and Newburgh. At 1,610 feet, this is the highest peak in the Hudson Highlands, taller than the better-known Breakneck Ridge (which you can see if you face south). If you are willing to walk 30 minutes from the train station, you can access this hike without a car. If the walk seems daunting, consider fortifying yourself with a hot fresh doughnut at Glazed Over (315 Main Street).
Clarence Fahnestock Memorial State Park is a 14,000-acre preserve with 50 miles of hiking trails and a large lake open for swimming, fishing, and boating, easily accessible from the Taconic. The sandy Canopus Beach offers rowboat rentals, or you can obtain a license for your own boat. The Appalachian Trail even makes its way through Fahnestock immediately to the west of Lake Canopus for endless hiking opportunities. Or, just east of Canopus, Pelton Pond offers a short, rocky, one-mile loop that can feel surprisingly remote and uncrowded.
Ooms Land Conservancy is a 180-acre park in the town of Chatham in Columbia County. The property features 2.9 miles of hiking trails that loop around the 35-acre Sutherland Pond. From a gazebo at the high point of the park, you can look out west at the Catskill Mountains. With no arduous ascents, this a welcoming place for families with young children. Swimming is not permitted, but you may fish. Leashed dogs are also allowed.
Rhinebeck’s Ferncliff Forest is a 200-acre park featuring old-growth forest, four miles of hiking trails, and a steel tower with sweeping 360-degree views of the Catskills and the Hudson River. Unlike the region’s fire towers, which were once used to observe forest fires, Ferncliff tower was built for hikers. It replaced an earlier structure that was allegedly used as an observation tower to maintain the security of FDR’s home. Camping, mountain biking, and fishing are all permitted within the park.