Scenic Hudson Valley Trails for Nature Photographers | Outdoors | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

The Hudson Valley is a paradise for photographers seeking to capture nature’s grandeur. Celebrated for its breathtaking vistas and diverse landscapes, our region offers countless opportunities to frame the perfect shot, whether you’re an amateur enthusiast or a seasoned professional: rolling mountains, gushing waterfalls, and, of course, the iconic Hudson River.

From the highest summit of Slide Mountain to the verdant loops of Ferncliff Forest, each of the following trails unveils a different perspective of the valley’s splendor. Breakneck Ridge’s rugged cliffs offer panoramic views of the Hudson River, while Giant Ledge provides sweeping vistas that are primal and spectacular. Meanwhile, Sam’s Point and the Verkeerderkill Waterfall reveal nature's intricate interplay between rock and water.

Especially during golden hour, when the low sun bathes the landscape in warm hues or the mist rises from the forest floor, the Hudson Valley transforms into a living masterpiece. So, pack your camera and prepare to capture the essence of a region that has inspired artists and adventurers for generations.

Slide Mountain

Trailhead Location: Big Indian, NY
Hike Length: 7 miles
Total Ascent: 1,900 feet
Time: 4-5 hours
Intensity: Moderate-to-challenging hike

Slide Mountain is the tallest mountain in the Catskills, which might sound intimidating, but it also happens to be one of the more straight-forward and easiest of the high peaks to hike. Most people run up and down the basic route, which leaves out several of the very best scenic views. If you know where to look, and you’re up for a bit of adventure, you’ll be handsomely rewarded with spectacular views of major and minor Catskills peaks arranged in distant layers. This loop route of Slide Mountain extends the most common hiking route to the summit to a scenic view that’s past the summit. The descent is steep and includes a wooden ladder (the only one in the Catskills). It’s a challenging extension, but a whole lot of fun, and your camera will capture views that most people never see.

Photo: Slide-Cornell-Witt-1839.JPG

Ferncliff Forest

Trailhead Location: Rhinebeck, NY
Hike Length: 2 miles
Total Ascent: 190 feet
Time: 1 hours
Intensity: Easy hike

click to enlarge Scenic Hudson Valley Trails for Nature Photographers
Sean O'Dwyer
View of theKingston/Rhinecliff Bridge and the Catskills, as seen from Ferncliff Forest Fire Tower

Ferncliff Forest, a hidden gem in Rhinebeck, offers photographers a serene woodland escape coupled with panoramic views after a short and almost effortless hike; Mount Rutsen measures just 335 feet tall. The trail through Ferncliff Forest leads past a pond and pavilion to a historic fire tower, which stands as a sentinel above the treetops. Climbing this tower rewards hikers with a breathtaking 360-degree view that stretches across the Hudson Valley to the majestic Catskills to the west.

Apart from the golden hours of sunrise and sunset, the view from Ferncliff’s fire tower is especially captivating during the fall foliage color change. It’s an ideal setting for capturing the timeless beauty of the Hudson Valley and its peaks.

Breakneck Ridge

Trailhead Location: Cold Spring, NY
Hike Length: 3 miles
Total Ascent: 1,300 feet
Time: 2 hours
Intensity: A challenging, sketchy hike

click to enlarge Scenic Hudson Valley Trails for Nature Photographers
Sean O'Dwyer
Looking south along the Hudson River, from Breakneck Ridge

Breakneck Ridge offers two distinct routes for hikers and photographers, each providing distinctive perspectives of the Hudson Valley. The classic scramble to Breakneck Ridge, known for its steep, rocky ascent, challenges hikers with a rugged climb that rewards them with sweeping, panoramic views of the Hudson River and surrounding highlands. This route is perfect for capturing dramatic, high-altitude shots of the Hudson River and the iconic Storm King Mountain.

A newer route that uses the Nimham Trail is shorter but still offers a challenging and very scenic hike. This path winds through wooded areas and gradual inclines, leading to several vantage points with expansive views of the river and valley below.

Both routes highlight the striking natural beauty of Breakneck Ridge, making it a favorite destination for photographers looking to capture the essence of the Hudson Valley. Breakneck Ridge delivers unparalleled photo opportunities.

Giant Ledge

Trailhead Location: Oliverea, NY
Hike Length: 3-4 miles
Total Ascent: 1,000 feet
Time: 2-3 hours
Intensity: Challenging hike

click to enlarge Scenic Hudson Valley Trails for Nature Photographers
Sean O'Dwyer
Fall foliage view from Giant Ledge in the Catskill Mountains

Giant Ledge, one of the most popular and picturesque spots in the Catskills, offers photographers an incredible view with relatively little effort. The hike to the main viewing ledge takes just about an hour, making it accessible for both early morning and late afternoon photo sessions. The trail, while moderately challenging, leads to a series of open rock ledges that provide expansive views of the surrounding mountains and wide Woodland Valley below. The panoramic view from each of them is truly breathtaking.

Photographers can capture the rolling peaks of the Catskills stretching out in all directions, with the valley and peaks often cloaked in mist during the early hours. This spot is particularly stunning during fall, when the foliage transforms into a vibrant tapestry of colors. Giant Ledge offers an unrivaled vantage point for capturing the majestic beauty of the Catskills.

Sam’s Point and Verkeerderkill Falls

Trailhead Location: Cragsmoor, NY
Hike Length: 6-8 miles
Total Ascent: 1,000 feet
Time: 3-4 hours
Intensity: Moderately challenging hike

click to enlarge Scenic Hudson Valley Trails for Nature Photographers
Sean O'Dwyer
A hiker enjoys Verkeerderkill Falls

The hike from Sam’s Point to Verkeerderkill Falls in Minnewaska State Park Preserve is a photographer's dream, offering diverse landscapes and stunning vistas. Starting at Sam's Point, the trail meanders through an otherworldly landscape of rare dwarf pine barrens, which provide special photographic opportunities with their gnarled shapes.

The path then descends for a long time before arriving at the highlight of the hike, Verkeerderkill Falls. This 187-foot waterfall cascades down a rugged cliff, creating a dynamic and powerful scene that’s perfect for long-exposure shots.

The trail is approximately six miles round trip and moderately challenging, but the varied scenery and the spectacular waterfall make it well worth the effort. Along the way, look out for wildflowers, wildlife, and the changing colors of the seasons, all of which add to the photographic subjects on this rewarding hike. You may even see a porcupine.

Honorable Mention: The Catskills Fire Towers

Photographers should not miss the chance to visit the six—soon to be seven—Catskills Fire Towers. These towers, strategically placed atop some of the highest peaks in the region, offer unparalleled 360-degree views of the surrounding landscapes. From these vantage points, you can capture sweeping panoramas of the rolling mountains, dense forests, and winding rivers. The fire towers at locations such as Hunter and Balsam Lake mountains provide some of the most breathtaking views in the Hudson Valley. Upper Esopus, Overlook, and Red Hill are the easiest to tackle.

Sean O’Dwyer hikes and photographs the Hudson Valley every week. He also produces, a hyper-detailed trail guide resource for Hudson Valley hikers.

Sean O'Dwyer

Sean O’Dwyer hikes and photographs the Hudson Valley every week. He also produces, a hyper-detailed trail guide resource for Hudson Valley hikers.
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