By Eve Fox and Olivia Cambalik
After a spectacularly cold and snowy winter, spring has finally sprung, and it’s time to reestablish your connection with the wonderful world outside your home. And there’s no better way to do it than dining al fresco. We’ve scoured the Hudson Valley to bring you these three perfect picnics in some of the region’s most beautiful spots with some of the Hudson Valley’s tastiest homegrown fare.
Before you set out, we’ve got a few suggestions to help ensure that your picnic goes off without a hitch.
Family fun in Ulster County
Park your car in the lot just past the U.S. Coast Guard’s station on Lighthouse Drive and set off for an easy, half-mile walk over sandy areas, stretches of regular ground, and wooden boardwalks that span the many swampy areas and streams alongside the mighty Hudson. Between the birds, the river, and curiosities like the strangely beautiful, spiky, black water chestnuts that wash up along the shore, there’s plenty to see along the way, but the best is definitely last: the trail ends in tall reeds at the picturesque, red brick lighthouse. Built in 1869, the light is still in use, and the building now serves as a bed and breakfast — there’s a long waiting list for one of its two bedrooms. Stroll past the lighthouse and across a short, narrow, wooden bridge to a series of wooden decks overlooking the Hudson. You’ll find several large picnic tables; a large mulberry tree, which produces tons of sweet berries in season; and a killer view of the Hudson River. Kids love watching the Amtrak trains go past on the opposite bank, tracking the river traffic, and climbing down the two sets of wooden stairs to wade in the water and throw rocks. There are no garbage bins, so be prepared to carry any trash back out with you.
Where you’re going: Saugerties Lighthouse, 168 Lighthouse Dr., Saugerties
When you’re going: The walk is beautiful in all weather, but be sure to check the tides as portions of the trail are underwater at certain times. The riverside deck picnic area at the lighthouse is only open on weekdays and is closed to the public on weekends, so plan accordingly.
What you’re eating: Because this is such a great destination for families with young kids, we’ve carefully selected a menu designed to appeal to the Hudson Valley’s pickiest eaters.
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Related: 6 Hudson Valley Lighthouses to Visit for History and River Views
A romantic rendezvous in Dutchess County
Step back into the Gilded Age at the summer home of Fredrick and Louise Vanderbilt (it may be hard to believe, but it’s downright small in comparison to the palatial homes built by his relatives in Newport and Asheville). The expansive, beautifully manicured lawns offer ample places for a perfect picnic. When you’re done enjoying your meal, you can stroll through the magical Italian gardens or put your picnic stuff back in the car and do the moderate 2.5-mile loop hike with beautiful views of the Hudson River. Or, if you’re interested, you can pay $10 (free for children 15 and under) to tour the mansion — the guides are excellent.
Where you’re going: Vanderbilt Mansion, 81 Vanderbilt Park Rd., Hyde Park
When you’re going: The grounds are free and open every day from sunrise to sunset. Tours are offered Thursday through Monday (closed Tuesday and Wednesday) 10 a.m.-4 p.m. (No 12 p.m. tour).
What you’re eating: Savor the luxury of the romantic surroundings while you enjoy a sumptuous old world-inspired picnic that’s perfect for two.
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Park in one of the lots — at $10 per vehicle, parking is one of the only things that is not free about the experience — and head down to Hessian Lake, where you can eat your perfect picnic and enjoy the views. You can also rent a boat and walk around the entire lake. Head back up the trail to check out the merry-go-round and the Trailside Zoo — home to a wide range of native species including coyotes, bald eagles, foxes, beavers, and black bears that have been either injured or orphaned; those that can make it are returned to the wild once they’re well. Admission is a suggested donation of $1.
If you’ve got energy to burn and are in good shape, try the four-mile loop hike that begins on the Major Welch trail and takes you over some fairly challenging terrain (including areas of rock scrambling — the hike is not recommended for children) up to Perkins Memorial Tower at the top of the mountain. You can catch your breath there while you gawk at the 360-degree view that stretches as far as the NYC skyline. When you’re ready to head down, you do so via a shorter, gentler trail that is actually part of the Appalachian Trail. Or, if you’re too tired to try this roughly three-hour hike, you can also drive to the top to experience the views.
When you’re going: Start early and plan to spend the whole day. If possible, visit during the week — the park tends to get very crowded on weekends.
Where you’re going: Bear Mountain State Park, Route 9W North, Bear Mountain
What you’re eating: There’s a whole lot to do at Bear Mountain, so this perfect picnic is meant to fulfill hearty appetites. But it can also go a couple of ways — you can assemble individual pasta salads or treat it as more of a mezze, tearing off chunks of the focaccia to dip in the pesto and making little sandwiches with the delicious mozzarella and the sundried tomatoes. Since the theme is Italian, these fantastic biscotti above make a fitting finish to the meal.
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