Explore wild forests, scale panoramic peaks, cross world-renowned bridges and marvel at historic ruins – the Hudson Valley is a hiker's heaven with trails to suit all experience levels.
There's a reason Thomas Cole and his Hudson River School artists preserved the region in their 19th-century paintings: the highlands, rivers and meadows here are part of an Arcadia that dazzles in all four seasons. Whether you're taking a day trip north of New York City or spending a weekend exploring the area's quirky enclaves, an outdoor adventure should be top priority for your Hudson Valley itinerary.
Best day trip from NYC
5.4 miles roundtrip; 3-4 hours; moderate
It's no wonder the Bull Hill (also known as Mt Taurus) full loop is one of the Hudson Valley's most popular treks. Located 50 miles north of NYC near Cold Spring, this outdoor excursion is an easy-to-reach day trip for hike-hungry urbanites. It's also a visual crash course in Hudson Highlands history.
Begin on the Washburn Trail and end on the Cornish Trail to explore scenic overlooks and mysterious ruins that attract crowds year-round. The hike starts across the street from Little Stony Point, a Hudson River green space, and quickly ascends to Mt Taurus Quarry – an industrial operation abandoned in the mid-20th century.
An arduous haul over bare rocks and patchy thickets leads to several awe-inducing lookouts with views of Storm King Mountain, the Hudson River and on clear days, the NYC skyline.
After the summit, the hike becomes a gentle forest stroll. Squirrels rustle in the underbrush, birds flit among tree branches and a gurgling creek becomes a meditative soundtrack. The highlights of this section are stone remnants of the Cornish Estate, built in 1910 and deserted after a fire in the 1950s. Peer inside ruins sprinkled along the trail to conjure images of Gatsby-era grandeur before finishing the loop.
Plan an early start – parking spaces fill fast and overflow to the road by mid-morning.
Storm King Mountain
Best introductory hike to the Hudson Valley
2.4 miles roundtrip; 1-2 hours; easy to moderate
Summit Storm King's 1300-ft-high crown to see why this mountain deserves its monarchical title. Rocky outcroppings scattered around the trail act as nature-made thrones above the Hudson Valley – take a seat on one of the overlooks to see the Hudson Highlands undulating to the east or the Catskills rising to the west.
The region's eponymous river swirls like a ribbon below; the century-old bones of Bannerman Castle – an abandoned artillery fort – rests to the north on Pollepel Island.
The hike begins at the parking lot off Route 9W, located on the Hudson River's west side, and follows orange trail markers going clockwise around the path. After a steep climb with several simple rock scrambles, yellow and blue markers lead through a grove filled with maple, oak and sycamore trees.
The first peak you'll reach is Butter Hill, serving a taste of vistas yet to come. Continue north until the hike's most awe-inducing panoramas reveal themselves. After admiring the kingdom below, follow white trail markers through the woods and back to the parking lot.
On weekends, arrive early to beat the crowds. Consider heading to Storm King Art Center to make this an all-day outing. The famed outdoor sculpture garden is located 15 minutes north near Cornwall.
Best full-body workout
3.2 miles roundtrip; 3 hours; difficult
Hop on the Breakneck Ridge-bound train at Grand Central Terminal and you'll be in good company. On warm weekends, hordes of car-free hike heads take the 90-minute trip from Manhattan to brave the East Hudson Highlands' most challenging trail. This short-but-strenuous slog is best suited for experienced mountaineers – rocky scrambles and near-vertical ascents call for sure-footed climbers unafraid to use their hands.
Visitors can choose from multiple trail options, but for the classic route, follow the white trail to the red trail, then continue down the yellow path to complete the loop. Keep your eyes peeled for views of Storm King Mountain's round mound across the Hudson River. Bull Hill makes an appearance to the south.
This Hudson Highlands hike probably won't break your neck, but it'll surely make you break a sweat. To avoid the former, wear closed-toe shoes with proper grip and don't hike in wet or icy conditions. Bring water and a snack to refuel throughout the adventure.
Best things to do in the Hudson Valley
Walkway Over the Hudson
Best ADA-compliant trail
1.28 miles one way; 1 hour; easy
Stroll or roll across the bridge connecting Poughkeepsie and Highland for bragging rights: at 6768 ft long and 212 ft high, the Walkway Over the Hudson is the longest elevated pedestrian bridge in the world. It's also one of the region's most accessible trails. A 21-story glass elevator in Poughkeepsie leads to a smooth path, and mobile audio tours are offered in multiple languages.
The bridge began its life as part of a bustling train network built in the late 19th century, but the declining use of commercial railroads and a 1974 fire turned it into a ghostly reminder of the Hudson River's industrial golden age.
Today, it's hard to imagine the years of disuse. In summer, dog walkers, joggers and families with strollers glide across the cement while boats and barges race cormorants in the water below. In spring, dogwoods sprout delicate petals along the riverbank, and in autumn, a blaze of color ignites surrounding forests. Even a winter visit is worthwhile – the bridge offers expansive vistas of the Hudson Valley's snowy scenery.
For those who'd like a more challenging journey, consider following the 4.4-mile Walkway Loop Trail, which crosses the bridge before winding through historic villages and handsome parks along the waterfront.
Mt Beacon Fire Tower
Best for 360-degree views
4 miles out and back; 3 hours; moderate
The breathtaking hike to Mt Beacon Fire Tower is the best-kept secret on Route 9D. While crowds clamor to climb nearby Bull Hill and Breakneck Ridge, in-the-know locals take this less-congested path for the region's best 360-degree views.
Scale the 1600-ft peak to see the Catskills, Shawangunks and Hudson Highlands rolling out in all directions. On clear days, the Manhattan skyline appears like a distant mirage. Graffiti scribbled atop the 60-ft fire tower says it best: "This sight is beyond a dream."
The hike is easily divided into two sections. The first follows a 200-step staircase and loose-rock path, tracing the former Mt Beacon Incline Railway (1902 to 1978) – once the world's steepest passenger funicular.
Ruins from the railway and an early 20th-century casino await, with splendid views of Beacon below. For even better views, continue upward to the fire tower. In summer, birch, hemlock, oak and maple trees create a shady canopy for fern-filled forests.
If the final climb to the mountain's rocky ridge doesn't make your heart race, the fire tower ascent certainly will. Pack a snack, bring plenty of water and enjoy this bird's-eye view as falcons and eagles soar overhead.
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Best hike in the eastern Hudson Valley
3.6 miles out and back; 3-4 hours; difficult
Join daring paragliders on the highest peak in Dutchess County as they sail above the Hudson Valley's eastern border. This is Brace Mountain – a 2311-ft peak along the southern Taconic Range.
The rugged hike to Brace Mountain begins on Quarry Hill Rd, north of Millerton. Wind through red oak trees, bound over boulders and pass creeks feeding photogenic waterfalls. Upon reaching the cairn-marked summit, spin around to see the Berkshires, the Catskills and miles of Hudson Valley farmland below.
Keep your eyes peeled for a diversity of wildlife along the way. Skittish black bears and curious deer occasionally make appearances, and timber rattlesnakes are common in summer. In July, blueberry bushes near the top provide a sweet treat after a challenging trek.
If this heart-pumping trail isn't enough of a workout, include Mt Frissell as part of the journey. This combined hike traverses the borders of New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut, and it passes a stone pillar identifying the tristate marker.
Bear Mountain State Park
Best for diverse hiking options
3.8 miles; 3 hours; easy to moderate
Bear Mountain State Park is a 5205-acre antidote to urban living, which makes seeing Manhattan's skyline from its 1303-ft peak particularly mind-boggling. NYC might be 50 miles south, but this sylvan landscape seems light-years away.
With more than 50 trails catering to all types of hikers, choosing the right Bear Mountain journey may seem Sisyphean – unless you want to see the Big Apple's silhouette. If that's the case, follow the scenic route from the Major Welch Trail to Perkins Memorial Tower (1936) and descend on a section of the Appalachian Trail. This counter-clockwise loop might not be as daunting as the Appalachian through-hike from Georgia to Maine, but it's still a remarkable journey.
The hike begins along Hessian Lake before turning into an oak forest and mounting rocky terrain lined with blueberry bushes. At the peak, step inside Perkins Memorial Tower for unobstructed views in all directions. Finish the circuit by descending more than 1000 hand-cut granite steps and zig-zagging along a well-maintained woodland trail.
If nature's Stairmaster sounds stressful, consider driving to the summit instead. Cars can access the same vista along Perkins Memorial Drive between April and November. Turn this into a full-day event by taking advantage of the park's seasonal activities. Boat, swim, cross-country ski, visit the zoo, or dine at the rustic Bear Mountain Inn – there's something on-site for all tastes.
Best waterfall hike
1.4 miles roundtrip; 1 hour; easy
Nature newbies will fawn over the hike to High Falls – this short trail offers sizable rewards for minimal effort. On weekends, a mix of young families, Brooklyn hipsters and flannel-wearing locals from nearby Hudson trek through the shady hemlock forest searching for Columbia County's tallest cascade.
High Falls drops an impressive 150 ft, and the trails winding through this conservation area's 47 protected acres lead to two must-see viewpoints. Begin by heading to the overlook for a picture-perfect shot of the waterfall. From here, it's possible to see a dam at the precipice – a 19th-century remnant of the area's milling history. Next, weave down to Agawamuck Creek and walk upstream. A smaller waterfall appears a few minutes from the main cascade's base.
This hike is open year-round, but High Falls is most impressive in early spring or after a storm. Both occasions make the path muddy, so don proper footwear and plan to get dirty.
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