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Hudson Valley Travel Guide

Weekend Getaway

Hudson Valley
History, Hiking and Proud Towns

by Michael Dolan

Shawangunk Ridge visible from near Mohonk Mountain House
Shawangunk Ridge visible from near Mohonk Mountain House
Hudson Valley visible to the left

The Hudson Valley is an area of land in upstate New York that reaches from Westchester County northward about 120 miles to the cities of Albany and Troy. Though very rural in places, it boasts an efficient highway system that makes it simple to travel through the small towns, which are all a short drive from one another. This section of New York is filled with towering mountains, evergreen forests and small towns overflowing with art and culture, which are compact in size and pedestrian friendly. The close proximity to Manhattan has attracted hundreds of artists, craftspeople and offbeat entrepreneurs who provide an exciting counterpoint to the outdoor activities that abound in the area. The opportunity to hike, rock climb, bike and swim, followed by a gourmet meal that same evening, has been attracting travelers to the area for more than a hundred years.

Built in the 19th century, the Mahonk Mountain House features its own high-end spa: The Spa Solarium
The Spa Solarium at Mohonk Mountain House

Remember to keep in mind that the Hudson Valley is spread out, so a car is necessary. But with that said, do take your time! Explore the famous town of Woodstock; settle in for a few days at the fortress-like Mahonk Mountain House or try the quaint 1832 Hyde Park Bed & Breakfast in Hyde Park — a town which is filled with attractions ranging from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA).


Just a short drive or bike ride from any of the wonderful local hotels, in the quiet Wallkill River Valley, is New Paltz — a funky town that brings together abundant natural beauty and hip urban niceties, just 90 miles north of New York City. It's common to see State University of New York (SUNY) students, rock climbers, dreadlocked artists and retired Manhattan bankers sharing beers at one of the local watering holes or heading off to one of the dozens of hiking trails that criss-cross the area. New Paltz's cultural centers along a two-mile strip of Main Street make it a great place to walk or bike from site to site.

Downtown New Paltz is a popular hangout for students, artists and foodies
Downtown New Paltz

Head on over to the popular Main Street Bistro for a hearty breakfast; if you're indecisive, get the 59 main express: a breakfast burrito stuffed with eggs, bacon and cheddar cheese. Or get the zoo canoe: eggs, bacon, and tomato stuffed inside a hunk of walnut citron bread and topped with cheese and hollandaise sauce.

Afterward, walk off that breakfast by strolling through Main Street, the main drag in New Paltz. It's a popular hangout for students, foodies and shoppers looking for unusual art and antiques, so don't expect to find any chain stores around here. You will find a lively commercial strip loaded with unique opportunities to browse items you won't find anywhere else. Being a college town, New Paltz is a book lover's paradise with new, used and rare books for sale in five excellent book stores. Barner Books offers new paperbacks at a big discount, with a nice selection of new and used fiction. Esoterica Books has an excellent collection of tomes on spirituality, eastern religion and exotic art, along with a solid selection of world music CDs, crystals and jewelry. The friendly staff can point you towards readings on the local legends and rich lore of the Hudson Valley. Make certain to pick up a book on the 400-year-old history of the town to peruse at lunch before heading over to Huguenot Street. It's easy to spend an entire day visiting the shops here, and you'll be surprised with something new at each one.

One of the original Huguenot Houses that was built nearly 400 years ago in the Hudson Valley
A Huguenot House

And if you've walked (and shopped) off that breakfast, it means it's time for lunch. Plunk yourself down at Bacchus, a fun restaurant/bar housed in a building from the late 19th century. The kitchen serves up Southwestern fare with a worldly flare, so you'll find exotic dishes like the zesty Tex-Mex eggroll, the mountainous nachos topped with popcorn shrimp or the flavorful chipotle barbecue pulled pork quesadillas.

Ready for more strolling? We thought so. Head to the opposite end of Main Street to visit Huguenot Street, which locals claim is the "Oldest Street in New York." Along the way you'll find many opportunities to window shop and observe the New Paltz locals enjoying their day. Huguenot Street is a historical experience that combines the beauty of nature and man. Visitors are able to see and explore six historic homes set on several wooded parcels of land. The oldest stone home dates back to the late 1600s, when Belgian Huguenot refugees arrived in the area and negotiated the purchase of 40,000 acres from the native Esopus Indians. They quickly began constructing permanent homes, which are now open to the public. The 1717 Stone Church is a brilliant example of early Colonial architecture and has been restored to excellent condition. A pleasant walk through the nature preserve will lead you to Locust Lawn, a gentleman's farm with a gorgeous Jeffersonian mansion. Huguenot street also offers guided tours, historic reenactments and seasonal special events, so be sure to inquire about what events are going on during your visit.

Locust Lawn features a gentlemen's farm and an authentic Jeffersonian-style mansion
Locust Lawn

The Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, located on the campus of SUNY New Paltz, has a wonderful collection of paintings by Hudson River School artists. The museum's focus on local art makes this a must-see for the artistically inclined touring the Hudson River Valley. Bone up on your knowledge of local scenery by viewing portraits of famous local spots by a wide range of artists. SDMA has more than 1,300 contemporary photos by local, national and international artists and a strong collection of metals (some of which date to the time of the buildings on Huguenot Street). After getting your fill of culture, take some time to explore the SUNY New Paltz campus and admire the excellent landscaping around the ponds — a popular hangout for students.

A short drive will bring you to one of the many entrances of the Mohonk Preserve, which is dotted with miles of wooded trails and scenic outlooks. Surrounded by the Shawangunk Mountains, it is a popular destination for hikers, picnickers, bikers and rock climbers. Several local businesses like Rock and Snow can arrange rock climbing lessons for beginners and experts, or provide you with maps and trail guides.

The Mohonk Preserve is surrounded by the Shawangunk Mountains
Trapps cliff at Mohonk Preserve

After an afternoon of hiking and working up an appetite, drive back into town to Gadaleto's Seafood Market and Restaurant. As the name suggests, seafood is the main thing on the menu here. The crab-stuffed trout, topped with a caper brown butter sauce, is a culinary marvel and the stew-like cioppino is perfect for a chilly day. Can't decide on a particular dish? Then stick your fork into the massive captain's platter, which features a cornucopia of tasty sea critters. Or if you fancy something even heartier, drive just out of town to the Mountain Brauhaus Restaurant for some meaty Teutonic grub such as the schnitzel topped with a fried egg, the traditional wurst or the herring filet in cream sauce.

While you may want to check out some of the great nightlife after dinner, be aware that New Paltz is definitely an up early, to bed early, outdoorsy town. There are a few college bars spread throughout the town, but we recommend an early-to-bed early-to-rise policy to allow you to see more sites during the day.


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Bannerman Castle, a historic ruin on the Hudson

* Valley and Trapps cliff at Mohonk Preserve images by Jarek Tuszynski, Downtown New Paltz, Huguenot House and Locusat Lawn images by Daniel Case; The Spa Solarium courtesy of Mohonk Mountain House

(Updated: 06/14/13 JDM)

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