More than 75 miles of rail trails, flat walkways that follow unused 19th-century railroad beds, entice Valley walkers, hikers, runners, cyclists, in-line skaters, even horseback riders into the great outdoors. Offering sure footing — not to mention pastoral views of flora and fauna — the trails attract thousands of visitors from within the Valley and beyond each year. The crown jewel of this network, the Walkway Over the Hudson (pictured) connects separate trails on either side of the Hudson.
Wallkill Valley Rail Trail
Stretching through eastern Ulster County from Gardiner to the Kingston line, this 22-mile asphalt, cinder, and gravel trail follows the Wallkill River, winding through woods, wetlands, farms, and apple orchards. Scenic views seem to appear around every bend, the most dramatic of which is from the 143-year-old Rosendale Trestle, which extends more than 900 feet across the Rondout Creek. Grab a snack at The Water Street Market in New Paltz.
Dutchess County Rail Trail
This 13.4-mile trail was finally completed in 2013 with the opening of the 743-foot bridge that carries it across busy Route 55. The north-south route extends from Hopewell Junction into the city of Poughkeepsie, ending at the eastern entrance to the Walkway Over the Hudson. For most of the miles, a special crushed-stone path — perfect for use by runners — parallels the paved trail. Grab a snack at Lola’s Cafe & Catering; we recommend the to-die-for cranberry-oatmeal cookies.
Harlem Valley Rail Trail
This divided route passes through two mid-Valley counties, extending from the Wassaic Metro-North station to the village of Millerton in Dutchess, and from Hillsdale to the Taconic State Park in Columbia — a total distance of about 15 paved miles. An additional 13 miles are currently under development. If all goes well, outdoor enthusiasts someday will have 46 miles of trail to use. Grab a snack at Harney & Sons Teas in Millerton.
Hudson Valley Rail Trail
As Valley rail trails go, the HVRT is short — just four miles — but it packs a big punch. This pretty paved route passes by hardwood forests, under arched stone bridges, and through dramatic rock cuts (where columbine blooms in the spring). Just as important: This trail begins at the western end of the Walkway Over the Hudson, thereby connecting it with the Dutchess Rail Trail. The scuttlebutt is that eventually the trail will link up with the Wallkill Valley trail, creating a continuous route from Hopewell Junction to Kingston. Grab a snack at Walkway Cafe & Catering. Here, you’ll enjoy scratch-made breakfast and lunch fare just steps from the HVRT parking lot. Its chili took top honors at the trail’s 2014 Winterfest cook-off.
Orange Heritage Trailway
Popularly known as the Heritage Trail, this 11.5-mile asphalt and crushed-limestone walkway follows the main line of the Erie Railroad from Monroe to Goshen. Corn and wheat fields, a wildlife sanctuary, and a cemetery with tombstones dating from the 1800s are among the sights one encounters along the way. With few street crossings, this route is perfect for families with young children. Grab a snack at Allan’s Falafel in Chester.