Where to Go Hiking With Kids in the Hudson Valley

Six short hikes with big views.


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Photos by Mike Todd

As I became a family person and started bringing my kids on outdoor adventures in the Hudson Valley, I found that hiking with kids is very similar to hiking with rational human beings. Everyone loves big payoffs on their hikes, and with kids it’s especially important to show them something memorable before they get too tired to enjoy it.

Fortunately for us, the Hudson Valley has an astonishing variety of short hikes to big payoffs: waterfalls, fire towers, panoramic vistas, craggy caves. If it’s not the best place on Earth to show your kids the wonders of the natural world, the Hudson Valley must be somewhere high up on the list.

My kids have both graduated from the old backpack that used to carry them, mercifully carrying their own weight these days. But some of the best memories of my life (and hopefully theirs, too) revolve around that old backpack. I still can’t bring myself to part with it.

If you’d like to take your own little ones on some awe-inspiring, memory-making adventures (whether they’re walking on their own or hitching a ride on your back), here’s a short list of some of our family’s favorites.

 


The Morgan Stewart Trail Shelter at Depot Hill gives weary Appalachian Trail adventurers of all ages a place to stop and rest.

 

Depot Hill

Poughquag (Dutchess County)

www.hikethehudsonvalley.com/hikes/depot-hill/

 

Distance and time: 3.0 miles, 2 hours
The payoff: Views across the Hudson River Valley after a short trek along the Appalachian Trail (AT)
Level of difficulty: Moderate
Recommended ages: 5 and up (rocky, uneven terrain with some elevation gain)

 


Writer/photographer Mike Todd with his son Evan (who is now 10) and their dog, Memphis.

 

While families with children will probably choose to forego hiking the entire 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail (just think how many soccer games you’d miss!), the Hudson Valley has several great spots to hop on the AT for a quick respite from civilization. Depot Hill offers a pleasant stroll through the woods, past an Appalachian Trail shelter to a nice overlook of the Hudson Highlands, Shawangunk Ridge, and Catskill Mountains. The west-facing view is also a great place to catch a sunset and hustle back to the car before dark (and bedtime!).

 

 

Dover Stone Church

Dover Plains (Dutchess County)

www.hikethehudsonvalley.com/hikes/dover-stone-church/

 

Distance and time: 1.2 miles, 1 hour
The payoff: Cathedral-like cave with a waterfall in the back
Level of difficulty: Easy
Recommended ages: 3 and up (easy, flat stroll, sometimes requiring careful stepping on wet stones)

 


From inside the Dover Stone Church, the silhouette of the entrance can look like a coyote howling at the moon.

 

Dover Stone Church sure feels like it belongs somewhere remote and exotic, like Scandinavia or Middle Earth, but it’s right here in Dover Plains. The toughest part of this hike is locating the trailhead, which doesn’t have its own parking (local businesses and a school graciously share their spots). Once you locate the short path to Dover Stone Church, though, it’s an easy amble to one of the coolest natural features in the Hudson Valley. The trail leads right into the cave, giving your kids the chance to let out their inner spelunkers.

 


The memories you’ll make at Bear Hill Preserve are priceless. But entering the preserve has a price: $7 per hiker (kids are free).

 

Bear Hill Preserve

Cragsmoor (Ulster County)

www.hikethehudsonvalley.com/hikes/bear-hill-preserve/

 

Distance and time: 1.5 miles, 2 hours
The payoff: Clifftop views and cave-like features to explore
Level of difficulty: Easy
Recommended ages: 4 and up (easy stroll, but must be mindful of drop-offs)

 

 

If there’s an easier hike with a bigger payoff than Bear Hill Preserve, I’m not immediately calling it to mind. The trail is a flat gravel road, making it an easy amble out to some amazing Shawangunk Ridge views. Without breaking a sweat, you can walk out onto a clifftop that offers an open panorama, interesting rock formations, and deep crevices that your hardy little hikers will enjoy exploring (provided that you stay very close to them — the cliffs here demand a deep respect for gravity).

 

Croton Gorge Park

Croton-on-Hudson (Westchester County)

www.hikethehudsonvalley.com/hikes/croton-gorge-park/

 

Distance and time: 2.1 miles, 1.5 hours
The payoff: Views of the New Croton Reservoir from a bridge spanning a gorgeous waterfall and spillway. Plus, there’s a playground!
Level of difficulty: Easy
Recommended ages: 4 and up (short stroll on a dirt road)

 


The pedestrian walkway over the Croton Reservoir at Croton Gorge Park gives you a bird’s eye view straight down on a roaring waterfall and the spillway that feeds it.

 

The roar of the waterfall greets you the moment you drive into Croton Gorge Park. A short hike then takes you past a playground (bonus points!) up to the top of the New Croton Dam, which is said to be the third-largest hand-hewn stone structure in the world, right behind the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Great Wall of China. From the top, you can look straight down on the roaring waterfall and spillway. A favorite haunt of local photographers for its unique and easily accessible sights, Croton Gorge Park may become your family’s favorite haunt, too.

 

Red Hill Fire Tower

Claryville (Sullivan County)

www.hikethehudsonvalley.com/hikes/red-hill-fire-tower/

 

Distance and time: 2.8 miles, 2.5 hours
The payoff: Awesome views from the easiest-to-reach Catskill fire tower
Level of difficulty: Moderate/difficult
Recommended ages: 6 and up (small mountain to climb)

 


The view-to-calorie ratio at the Red Hill fire tower hike is among the best in the Hudson Valley.

 

The Catskill Mountains feature five fire towers scattered throughout the range, each offering unique and beautiful views: Hunter Mountain, Balsam Lake Mountain, Mount Overlook, Mount Tremper, and Red Hill. Most require a substantial 5-to-6-mile hike to visit, putting them out of reach for the littlest hikers. The notable exception is Red Hill, which has the distinction of being the easiest Catskill fire tower to reach. By the time your kid starts thinking about whining — boom! They’re already at the tower, which also has a nice picnic area where you can reward your little tower-conquerors with some fruities.

 


Gorgeous views across the Hudson River greet adventurers intrepid enough to climb the tower at Ferncliff Forest.

 

Ferncliff Forest

Rhinebeck (Dutchess County)

www.hikethehudsonvalley.com/hikes/ferncliff-forest/

 

Distance and time: 1.4 miles, 1.5 hours
The payoff: Awesome fire tower with views of the Hudson River and Catskills
Level of difficulty: Easy
Recommended ages: 3 and up (easy stroll through the woods)

 

 

Strolling around the bustling village center in Rhinebeck, you wouldn’t suspect that you’re just minutes away from an awe-inspiring, panoramic view. Two miles from the village center, though, you’ll find Ferncliff Forest, which features some beautiful woodland trails leading to an 80-foot fire tower that gives sweeping views of the Hudson River, Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge, and the Catskills. After your little hikers brave the steps to the top of the tower, they will have certainly earned a stop in Rhinebeck for some ice cream on the way home.

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