Public service announcement: The National Park Service offers fee-free days to everyone on select occasions throughout the year. The next one is on November 11, followed by Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, the first day of National Park Week, and the National Public Lands Day.
“National parks connect all of us with our country’s amazing nature, culture, and history,” says National Park Service Deputy Director Michael T. Reynolds. “The days that we designate as fee-free for national parks mark opportunities for the public to participate in service projects, enjoy ranger-led programs, or just spend time with family and friends exploring these diverse and special places.”
While New York is home to many national parks, here are a few to get you started in the Hudson Valley.
Thomas Cole National Historic Site
Thomas Cole, the famous 19th century artist, started his career in 1925 when he took a boat up the Hudson River to the scenic Catskills. He began to sketch, then paint small scenes of the Catskill landscapes that got noticed by elite New York City artists. He later opened a studio in Catskill, where the historic site is now located. Visitors can see his works on display, take a guided tour, watch a film about the Hudson River School, and even engage in a multimedia exhibit called The Parlors. The exhibit brings Cole back into the house he once lived in by giving a voice to his private journal, essays, and letters. While the voiceover is playing in the background, viewers can take in video installations where the Hudson River School of landscape painting began. Nature lovers, meanwhile, can take a hike to see the views in Cole’s paintings.
218 Spring St, Catskill
Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site
Franklin D. Roosevelt is most famously known for his New Deal programs and for being the only president to serve more than two terms. But did you know that this iconic figure in American politics was born in Hyde Park? His estate is now a popular destination for visitors near and far who want to take a guided or self-guided tour of his home and visit his expansive library and museum. The museum features a variety of interactive exhibits and artifacts that tell the story of the Roosevelt era in an immersive and intriguing way.
4097 Albany Post Rd, Hyde Park
Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site
Not only does Franklin D. Roosevelt have a historic site in Hyde Park, but his wife Eleanor does too. It was FDR who purchased the land that would later be home to Val-Kill cottage, which originally intended as a spot for the couple to relax. Today, a permanent exhibit called “Eleanor Roosevelt and Val-Kill: Emergence of a Political Leader” resides in the Stone Cottage. Visitors to the exhibit get a glimpse into Eleanor’s world and learn about the people she worked with to create a political plan during the New Deal programs. The exhibit also showcases her legacy and the immense impact she had on racial injustice and women’s right issues.
106 Valkill Park Rd, Hyde Park
Martin Van Buren National Historic Site
Did you know that the eighth president of the United States lived in Columbia County? Anyone who stops by the longstanding property in Kinderhook can register for a guided tour at the visitor center. Tours start at 10 a.m. and run on two-hour intervals throughout the day. Inside, visitors can explore the interior of the home and discover the history of the Van Buren family. Hiking trails are also open from 7 a.m. to sunset for those visitors who want to take in the scenery of the park.
1013 Old Post Rd, Kinderhook
Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site
For almost 200 years, Hyde Park has been home to elite New Yorkers. One of those is Fredrick Vanderbilt, the successful businessman that ran 22 railroads during his lifetime. His former home now provides visitors with a glimpse into what it was like to be a millionaire in the Gilded Age. Locals can take a guided tour of the mansion that passes through the first and second floors and even portions of the basement. Anyone who wants to walk the grounds can take a hike on The Hyde Park Trail and visit Bard Rock along the way to score a spectacular view of the Hudson River. In December, the mansion hosts holiday themed events including open houses, galas, special tours, and a Christmas lighting celebration.
81 Vanderbilt Park Rd, Hyde Park