Fun on the River
With the weather heating up, it’s time to head down to the Hudson. The river is cleaner than it’s been in decades, so there’s even more to do. You can hike along the shore, take a cruise, hook a striped bass, visit an old lighthouse, or even plunge into the water at a sandy beach
by Renee Samuels
Taking a Dip ==
The good news: the Hudson is safe to swim in from the northern tip of Manhattan to just below Albany. The bad? There are only three beaches in that stretch. Fortunately for those of us in the mid-Valley, two of them are in Ulster County.
Ulster Landing County Park, in the town of Ulster, is a great all-purpose recreation area, with shady trees and a big parking lot, picnic tables, and a pavilion. Dad can motor off from the boat launch in quest of a seafood dinner while the kids play baseball in the large grassy area that slopes gently to the shore, or dog-paddle in the shallow water. Located on Ulster Landing Road (off Route 32), it’s a favorite spot for locals and gets pretty busy
on summer weekends.
If your beach experience isn’t complete without sand, you’ll love Kingston Point Beach, at the foot of Delaware Avenue. Passing freighters leave a big enough wake so little ones can body surf, while the mighty wind that’s always blowing is perfect for windsurfing and kite-flying. Hydrophobics can have fun, too: there are volleyball courts and a jogging trail. You can even rent a boat and make your own wake. The historic trolley that cruises the city makes stops there, too.
Keep a lookout for bald eagles while doing the backstroke at Croton Point Park, just off Route 9 in Croton-on-Hudson, Westchester County. It’s a haven for the great raptors and a prime destination for birders. (They’re the folks staring intently at the heavens in broad daylight.) Make it a memorable excursion by pitching a tent and spending the night, or show up during one of the many special events (such as the Clearwater Great Hudson River Revival on June 17-18). Youngsters will get a kick out of the Croton Point Nature Center.
Okay, so it’s not on the Hudson, but Saugerties Village Park does have a beach on Esopus Creek, not far from where it flows into the Hudson. It’s not quite idyllic — a bridge carrying Route 9W across the creek passes almost directly overhead — but as far as convenience to amenities is concerned, it’s unsurpassed, especially if you have a sweet tooth. Krause’s Chocolates, one of the Valley’s great confectioners, is right across the street. There’s a boat launch, a small grassy area with picnic tables, a swing set and slide, and it’s only a short walk to the village.
Parking Zone ==
The Hudson’s shoreline parks come in all sizes and shapes, and offer a variety of pleasures, both active and passive. It’s not easy to choose favorites, but we’ve given it a shot.
Little Stony Point State Park Cold Spring, Putnam County. Just a few minutes’ walk from the antiques shops on Main Street lies this refuge for hikers, beachcombers, and naturalists. Climb to the top of the point for incredible views of the Hudson Highlands. Standing out over the river, with the mountains looming on all sides, you’d swear you were on the prow of a ship. Youngsters will want to explore the cave, actually part of an old quarry, that extends 25 yards into this rocky monolith. There are charcoal grills for picnicking and a small, sandy beach. Although signs prohibit swimming, don’t be surprised to see a crowd in the water. There is minimal parking on Route 9D.
Piermont Pier Piermont, Rockland County. During World War II, the Piermont pier was called “Last Stop USA,” because for the hundreds of thousands of soldiers bound for battle in Europe it was their last contact with American soil. Today, a stroll to the end of the mile-long, tree-lined pier is a great way to spend a summer afternoon. The breezes will cool you off, and there are plenty of benches on which to take a siesta. The fishermen are chatty, and the view from the pier’s end, in the middle of the river, is unparalleled. In fact, it’s like being on a boat without worrying about getting seasick.
Manitou Point Preserve Garrison, Putnam County. Thanks to Scenic Hudson, Outward Bound, and the Open Space Institute, this 19th-century riverfront estate once owned by the Livingston family is now open to the public (though the house, the national headquarters of Outward Bound, is off-limits). Meandering through Manitou Marsh and its surrounding wooded uplands are four miles of hiking trails. The best of these — and one of the most exciting in the Valley — hugs a rocky cliff right above the water. When you want to take a gander, stop and plant your feet; otherwise, you might wind up in the drink. The preserve is on Route 9D, about two miles north of the Bear Mountain Bridge.
Riverfront Park Cornwall-on-Hudson, Orange County. When you’ve had your fill of shopping in Cornwall’s quaint downtown, grab an ice cream cone and head to this gem of a community park, where the kids can play ball while you picnic, read, or snooze. Large trees shade generous parts of the grassy verge that runs along the water. Directly across the river loom the gorgeous Hudson Highlands.
Mills/Norrie State Park Staatsburg, Dutchess County. There’s so much to do in these two contiguous parks — and often quite a crowd — but amazingly, they remain pristine. Drive down to the Norrie marina with your kayak or motor boat, camp in your tent or in a cabin, fish, bike on designated paths, or picnic. Play a round of golf, walk on a spectacular trail hugging the river, learn about ecology at a nature center, or explore a boarded-up mansion in the woods (as well as the un-boarded-up Staatsburgh, one of Stanford White’s beaux-arts confections). But for a real get-away-from-it-all experience, grab your canoe or kayak and paddle out to Esopus Island, which you and the cormorants will have all to yourselves. The park is on Old Post Road (off Route 9) three miles south of Rhinebeck.
Catskill Point Park and Dutchman’s Landing Catskill, Greene County. Catskill Point, at the foot of the village’s rejuvenated Main Street, is another park where you feel you’re in the middle of the water. That’s because it sits on a small peninsula where Catskill Creek meets the Hudson. The farmers’ market on Saturday mornings through October draws quite a crowd. So does a regular lineup of special events; in the past, these have included everything from a performance by the Temptations to an herbal medicine festival. Dutchman’s Landing across the road is a more traditional park, with a gazebo, picnic tables, and grills, as well as a playground and boat launch.
Clermont State Historic Site Germantown, Columbia County. The Georgian-style seat of the Livingston family graces this meticulously landscaped park that features 200-year-old locust trees, seven miles of trails, and lots of grass on which to enjoy a picnic while admiring the magnificent views of the Catskill Mountains across the river. The Lilac Walk, planted in the 1820s, may have finished its display of color and scent by now, but there are still two formal gardens to enjoy — a walled garden in the Italian style and a wilderness garden. Chancellor Robert Livingston, who lived here, helped draft the Declaration of Independence, so this is an appropriate place to spend the Fourth of July (celebrated on the third this year). Festivities will include 18th-century music, food, and a great seat for Saugerties’ fireworks display. The park is on County Route 6 off Route 9G.
Schodack Island State Park Schodack Landing, Rensselaer County. Approximately seven miles of Hudson River and Schodack Creek shoreline abut this 1,052-acre site, where visitors can stroll along the river and picnic at tables with nearby grills. The park shelters a state Bird Conservation Area that gives sanctuary to bald eagles, cerulean warblers, and blue herons, while eight miles of multiuse trails wind through a variety of ecological environments. There’s also a bike trail, volleyball nets, horseshoe pits, and a kayak/canoe launch site. The park is on Route 9J.
Corning Preserve Albany. Getting to the capital’s great riverfront park from downtown is part of the fun: the lampposts on the pedestrian bridge that spans I-787 feature delightful trompe l’oeil scenes depicting slices of life in the city from the 17th century onwards. Once you reach the preserve, there’s plenty to do: swing at the playground, have an umbrella-studded drink at the floating bar, catch a concert in the amphitheater, or take off down the waterfront pathway to Watervliet, 4.5 miles away.
Paddler’s Paradise ==
The Hudson may not be the best place to canoe — it’s windy, the current is strong, and there are too many motorboats — but the marshes and creeks alongside it are perfect spots to lose yourself and commune with nature.
Along with your life vest and sunscreen, it’s mandatory to bring a pair of binoculars when paddling through the 270-acre Constitution Marsh Audubon Center and Sanctuary in Cold Spring, Putnam County. This failed attempt to create a rice paddy has been designated a Bird Conservation Area by the state and an Important Bird Area by the Audubon Society. From a put-in spot on the Hudson (near the Metro-North station), you can follow the small channels on your own or let a naturalist help you identify plants and wildlife on a two-hour educational canoe trip (reservations required, call 845-265-2601). Back on dry land (on Indian Brook Road, two miles south of Cold Spring), there’s an education center with a 500-gallon aquarium and a boardwalk that leads out into the marsh.
Picture prehistoric man paddling alongside you as you shove off from the Kowawese Unique Area off Route 9W in New Windsor, Orange County. Archaeological evidence indicates that Plum Point has been inhabited since time immemorial. Perhaps our forebears were also attracted by the spectacular views: the great expanse of Newburgh Bay to the north and Cornwall Bay to the south. From the put-in spot, head south along the river’s shore (perhaps running into some sandy shoals) until you reach the mouth of the Moodna Creek estuary, where you want to head upstream. You’ll catch a glimpse of the historic homestead of one of George Washington’s lieutenants as well as lots of wildlife.
At Tivoli Bays in Dutchess County, a series of reedy waterways wends through a 1,700-acre region that has changed little over the last 1,000 years. You can paddle out to Goat Island, site of a famous Indian sneak attack, or just cruise along the shore in your kayak or canoe looking for muskrats, snapping turtles, and red wing blackbirds. Access South Bay, a shallow wetland cove with exposed mudflats and Eurasian water chestnuts floating by, from Blithewood Road on the campus of Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson. Or take Cruger Island or Kidd Roads off Route 9G to parking lots where you can get to North Bay, a cattail marsh with a network of tidal creeks and pools.
Co-owned by Scenic Hudson and the National Audubon Society, the 480-acre RamsHorn-Livingston Sanctuary in Catskill, Greene County, is the Hudson’s largest tidal swamp forest and a prime feeding area for heron, waterfowl, and migratory birds. It also makes for a great circular trip: put-in is at Catskill Point on Catskill Creek. You can wend your way through a serpentine tributary, pop out into the Hudson, and paddle back to the creek. Parking is on Dubois Road, off West Main Street.
Getting acquainted ==
Need a little help getting comfy in your kayak? The River Connection in Hyde Park, Dutchess County (845-229-0595, www.the-river-connection.com), offers guided tours on the Hudson as well as instructional programs and private lessons in basic to advanced techniques. Their programs all include use of a kayak and related equipment, and are taught by certified instructors. Some of the sites you may visit are Norrie Point, Esopus Island, and Tivoli Bays.
Hudson Valley Pack and Paddle in Beacon (845-831-1300, www.hvpackandpaddle.com) sells kayaking supplies, but if you want to try before you buy, they hold demo days throughout the spring and summer where you can test the equipment on the Hudson. They also rent kayaks and offer lessons.
If you want to join a group paddle, check out Atlantic Kayak Tours in Saugerties (845-246-2187, www.atlantickayaktours.com), which offers a wide variety of programs. In June, they’ll be leading trips at Catskill, Tivoli, New Windsor, Staatsburg, Rhinecliff, Cortlandt Manor, and Cold Spring. AKT promises one guide for every four to five paddlers in beginners’ sessions, and an elaborate Web page with dozens of links for experts to refresh their knowledge for the coming season.
Ships Ahoy! ==
Let someone else do the driving when you cruise on one of the ships that ply the river. Some are purely for sightseeing; others have a complete schedule of dance parties and events. If you want to host a bash of your own, most are also available for charter.
All aboard the last vessel that served the U.S. Navy in World War I! Built in 1917 and listed on the International Register of Historic Ships, the Commander (845-534-SAIL, www.commanderboat.com) cruises on the river weekdays and the first Sunday of each month through October. From the open deck or a picture window below, enjoy the sights on several tours: from West Haverstraw to West Point, West Point to Bannerman Island, or West Point to West Haverstraw. On the last Saturday of each month, a three-hour cruise north to West Point departs from Peekskill’s Riverfront Green Park.
If the glorious Hudson Valley scenery isn’t enough for you, hop on the Rip Van Winkle (845-340-4700) during one of its myriad theme trips. For the entire family, there are Kids’ Kruises (July 14 and August 11), Leaf Peepers trips (October 17 to 29), and a Kreepy Kids’ Kruise (October 28). Adults can unwind during the hour-and-a-half “Sip and Sail” cruises (July 12 and 26, August 9 and 23), or dance to bands such as SoÃ±ando, Thunder Ridge, and Hot Rod on Friday nights throughout July and August. And those with a little larceny in their hearts will want to set sail during the Saturday-night murder-mystery dinners featuring the Coach House Players. All trips leave from the Historic Rondout Waterfront in Kingston.
Several ships shove off from Newburgh’s waterfront. The River Rose (845-562-1067, www.riverrosecruises.com) brings a touch of the Mississippi to the Hudson. This original New Orleans stern-wheeler offers a host of on-the-water opportunities, including Fourth of July and Labor Day family cruises, a Halloween party, brunches, dinners, and even a Male Revue once a month. The ship has an al fresco upper deck and an enclosed, air-conditioned lower deck. The Pride of the Hudson (845-220-2120, www.prideofthehudson.com) offers two-hour cruises Wednesday through Sunday past Bannerman Castle, Storm King Mountain, Breakneck Ridge, and (if the tides are right) West Point. Board its sister ship, the Pollepel, for a trip to Bannerman Island, where you’ll get a walking tour of the fascinating ruins.
Special Cruises ==
For a sail with a purpose, charter the one-of-a-kind Clearwater, America’s environmental flagship. Kids — and even adults — will have a blast hauling in the sloop’s sails while learning about the river’s history, biology, and environmental concerns. For more information, call 845-454-7673, ext. 107.
And for cruises on the cheap — but still lots of fun — take a trip on one of the two ferries that cross the river during commuting hours. One makes the round trip from Haverstraw to Ossining, the other travels from Newburgh to Beacon and back. For info on the former, log onto www.nywaterway.com/ haverstraw_ossining.html; for the latter, visit www.mta.nyc.ny.us/mnr/html/ raillink/newburghferry.htm.
Going to blazes ==
Once there were 13 lighthouses on the river warning ships of dangerous shoals and other hazards. Today, eight remain (including one that everyone forgets about — the Statue of Liberty). The oldest is the Stony Point Lighthouse, erected in 1826; the baby is the Jeffrey’s Hook Light, beneath the George Washington Bridge, which began operating on the Hudson in 1921. (It was moved there from a post in Sandy Hook, New Jersey.)
All but one of the lights are open to the public. (Esopus Meadows Lighthouse, off Ulster Park, is in the process of being restored so it can also welcome visitors.) The best way to start on a tour of them is by picking up the brochure “Follow the Hudson River
Lighthouse Trail,” which is available at many visitor centers. It gives a concise history of each beacon and contact information about tours.
The largest of the Hudson River beacons, the brick Rondout Lighthouse was built in 1913 and continues to operate. The interior has been restored to show what living conditions were like for lighthouse keepers and their families. The windswept views from the top are superb, as is the 10-minute boat ride down the Rondout from the Hudson River Maritime Museum (845-338-0071; www.hrmm.org), where tours originate.
You can walk to the Saugerties Lighthouse, which sits on a spit of land at the mouth of Esopus Creek. (The half-mile trek, which traverses a nature preserve, is possible only at low tide.) And if you’ve made reservations (845-247-0656; www.saugertieslighthouse.com), you can spend the night in what has to be the Valley’s most unusual bed and breakfast. The stately 1869 light — with a comfy bedroom, magnificent views, and a small nearby beach — is all yours, and the feeling of utter seclusion is sublime. (The rest of the light has been restored to its early 20thâ€“century appearance for daytime visitors.)
Other beacons worth visiting are the Hudson-Athens Lighthouse (518-828-5294; www.hudsonathenslighthouse.org), from which there are grand views of the Catskills and ships come thisclose; and the Lighthouse at Sleepy Hollow (914-366-5109), a cast-iron squirt in Kingsland Point Park in Westchester. ■