Hiking in the Hudson Valley
A walk in the woods: Hiking is one of our ultimate outdoor adventures in 2013
View of the Catskill Mountains from the Ferncliff Forest fire tower
The word “hiking” strikes fear into the hearts of some people; for them, it conjures up the idea of a long, arduous scramble up a slippery and rock-strewn mountain slope. And to be sure, there are sections of our region — the Catskills and Mohonk Preserve come immediately to mind — that are filled with trails more suited to mountain goats than humans. (Check out our July 2011 issue online for more on these and other great hiking locales.)
But not all hikes require Ironman fitness to enjoy. Here are five treks that are relatively easy to negotiate — and offer interesting topography, plus great views, along the way.
Franny Reese State Park, Highland
A newcomer among the region’s state parks — it was dedicated in 2009 — this 250-acre site is managed by Scenic Hudson and sits on the river’s western bluff, just south of the Mid-Hudson Bridge. Comprised of old carriage roads and footpaths, the three marked trails take hikers through a densely wooded area replete with stone walls and the ruins of a 19th-century estate. The white trail loops along the ridge-line, offering glimpses of Poughkeepsie to the east. But the quarter-mile blue trail leads to an overlook that offers an unparalleled view of the city, the bridge, and the Walkway Over the Hudson. Feeling energetic? Follow the yellow trail to the Walkway Loop Trail, and you can hoof it all the way onto the Walkway itself (www.scenichudson.org/parks/frannyreese).
Ferncliff Forest, Rhinebeck
Billing itself as Rhinebeck’s number-one free attraction, this 200-acre preserve occupies land once owned by John Jacob Astor — whose daughter-in-law, Brooke Astor, donated it the local Rotary in 1964 with the stipulation that it remain forever wild. In the 19th century, the land was part of a working farm; hikers along the 11 trails that traverse it can see remnants of cisterns, hand-dug wells, and building foundations. One of the Valley’s best old-growth forests, the area is rife with hemlock trees, rocky outcroppings, wildflowers, moss, and ferns. But the big draw is the steel observation tower, which was brought from its original home in South Carolina and erected in 2007. Brave the dizzying climb up the narrow stairway, and you’ll be rewarded with a seemingly limitless view of the Hudson and Catskill Mountains (http://ferncliffforest.org).
Wallkill Rail Trail, Rosendale
A popular spot for walkers, runners, bikers, and even horseback riders, this 12.2 mile converted rail bed in Ulster County runs from Gardiner to Rosendale — and, as of this month, well beyond. As we go to press, the Rosendale trestle — a 940-foot long, 190-foot high span that crosses Route 213 and the Rondout Creek — is set to reopen on or around June 29. Built in 1895, the bridge has been closed since Conrail discontinued use of the rail line in 1977 (a decision made, in part, due to concerns about the trestle’s stability). In 2009, the Wallkill Valley Land Trust and Open Space Institute bought the bridge, and began raising funds for its renovation — now just about complete. Besides offering sky-high views of Rosendale, the Shawangunk Ridge, and Binnewater Lakes region, the trestle connects to the undeveloped rail trail on the opposite side of the Rondout — and in so doing, it doubles the length of the current trail, making it possible for hikers to go all the way to Kingston (www.wvrta.org).
Green Pond/Boston Mine Loop, Harriman State Park
Described as “moderate to strenuous” by the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, this 4.3 mile loop is sure to get the blood flowing — but the one-of-a-kind sights you’ll see along the way are well worth the effort. Start at the Elk Pen, an area that at one time held elk imported from Yellowstone National Park in 1919. Follow the Nurian Trail over a wooden footbridge and past several rushing waterfalls; soon you’ll reach the Valley of Boulders, a vast area strewn with gargantuan rocks. Take the Dunning Trail to a ledge that overlooks remote Green Pond, one of the few lakes in the park that is not man-made. The trail then continues to the watery entrance of the Boston Iron Mine, which was last worked in 1880. Island Pond Road leads you down the mountain, past stands of hemlock trees and mountain laurel, and back to civilization (http://nysparks.com/parks/145 or www.nynjtc.org/hike/green-pondboston-mine-loop).
High Falls Conservation Area, Philmont
Got kids? Introduce them to hiking at this Columbia Land Conservancy property. Download the CLC’s Nature Quest Passport, a combination nature guide and treasure hunt game that points out the area’s flora and fauna — along with some historical facts — in rhyming couplets. The hidden box at the end of the trail contains a stamp pad; stamp your passport at all nine of the CLC’s properties, and win a prize. Even if you don’t have little ones in tow, this 47-acre site is worth visiting to get a glimpse of High Falls — at 150 feet, it’s the county’s tallest waterfall. The two miles of trails also lead hikers through a deciduous forest, past meadows, and along the banks of the Agawamuck Creek (http://clctrust.org/public-conservation-areas/high-falls).
Novice hikers can check into one of the region’s many hiking clubs, most of which organize treks to locations both near and far.
Mid-Hudson Chapter, Adirondack Mountain Club
This club offers midweek and weekend day hikes and paddles. Their High Hopes Hikers group goes shorter distances on easy-to-navigate terrain.
Hudson Valley Hikers
Recent hikes organized by this group include early morning treks at Storm King Mountain and Mount Beacon, and a sunset jaunt on Breakneck Ridge.
Rip Van Winkle Hikers Club
Outings in the Catskills and Taconics — as well as in the Valley — are this group’s focus. Their monthly schedule includes treks appropriate for novice, intermediate, and advanced hikers.
Catskill Mountain Club
Hikes, paddles, and other outdoor activities are held regularly by this club in the Catskill Park.
Catskill 3500 Club
Founded in 1962, members of this exclusive group have climbed all 35 of the Catskill High Peaks at least once, and four of them at least twice (one time during the winter).