The Hudson Valley has some of the United States’ best and most accessible hiking, with popular trails and gorgeous peaks just a short walk from major towns, cities, and train stations. The summer months find our trails packed, and anyone who has gone on more than a few weekend jaunts will remember running into people unprepared for and outmatched by a particularly tough hike they were told would be a ‘fun time.’
Though this might result in a great story or a few choice words, the outcome can be far more dangerous: hikes in the Catskills and Highlands are deceptively treacherous, with rock faces, sharp drops, and scrambles that don’t even take wildlife and weather conditions into account.
In addition to having the proper gear and provisions, it’s crucial to know just what you’re getting into. Here are several hikes that are perfect for beginners, as well as those looking for a little challenge that nonetheless won’t put them in any danger.
Distance: 1.5 miles
Description: The tallest waterfall in Columbia County drops 150 feet into a pool at the center of this 47-acre conservation area. The trails here weave in and out of one another, with bridges, dells, and trees guiding walkers to the falls. It’s ideal for kids.
Distance: 1.5 miles
Description: Straddling the New York/Massachusetts border, Bash Bish leads along a flat trail – or, for the adventurous, a flowing streambed – from the New York lot to the falls in question, which crash into a massive pool fit for swimming and soaking on hot summer days. This trail also hooks up with the larger Mount Washington State Forest, an MA park that leads out along the Taconic ridge both north and south and provides fantastic views of the Catskills, Berkshires, and, on clear days, the Greens.
Distance: 2 miles round trip
Description: A fairly steep – though nothing compared to nearby Breakneck Ridge – hike, Mount Beacon follows the bed of the former Beacon Incline Railway. Numerous observation platforms set along the stairway provide both rest breaks and gorgeous views. Up top you can explore the old railway’s powerhouse, visit the monument to the signal fire beacon that gives the city its name, or walk a easy mile along the ridge to the restored Mount Beacon fire tower.
Distance: 2 miles
Description: These winding trails are part of Scenic Hudson’s attempt to preserve fallow farmland as heritage grassland, meaning it is a field birder’s delight. Great views of the river, a sometimes muddy ravine, and a gorgeous, found-wood gazebo are some of the many highlights of this dog walker’s favorite.
Distance: 2 miles
Description: Stissing is a serious ascent, rising almost 1000 feet over the course of a mile. After ascending the steep incline at the base, take a right at the first fork and follow the signs for a more gradual ascent to the peak. The reward is one of the best views in the Hudson Valley, with a restored fire tower providing a panoramic view of the Catskills, as well as one of the better views of the Taconics to the east.
Distance: 7.5 miles
Description: Perhaps the easiest high peak, Windham is a fairly straight climb from the Route 23 trailhead, shady and without significant scrambles, ledges, or muddy conditions. Anyone can do this hike with the proper footwear, and all will be rewarded by astounding views from the northern escarpment, with Albany and Vermont to the north and the whole jumble of the Catskills to the south, a view impossible from anywhere else.
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Distance: 2.5 miles
Description: Storm King is not the easiest hike, and definitely demands water, good shoes, and a willingness to balance on sun-baked rocks. But it’s very doable even for a novice, climbing up several scrambles and past ruins to a breathtaking view of Beacon, Newburgh, and the Eastern Highlands – the exact reverse view of the crowds who struggle to ascend Breakneck Ridge every weekend.
Distance: 12.5 miles of trails
Description: This sprawling state park weaves between lakes and forests, with mostly easy, rolling trails connecting up to many roads, parking places, and a lifeguarded beach. Visitors can even hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail as it passes through the Hudson Valley. It’s perfect for families.
Distance: 2 miles
Description: Following the red and yellow blazes, walkers pass through fields of mountain laurel, dense forests, and the remains of an old ski area. Be prepared for a variety of terrain; old carriage roads, streams, and slopes are all in the bargain. It’s important to keep track of the trails, too. All the turns make it possible to get lost, though a good map and a sharp eye will make it easy enough to navigate back to the beginning.
Distance: 3 miles
Description: Starting at the Lake Minnewaska parking area, this trail leads along carriage roads to a series of rock ledges affording incredible views to the north and east. It circles back around Minnewaska, a slot lake set below incredible white cliffs at the center of the Shawangunks.
Distance: 5 miles
Description: Overlook is one of the most popular hikes in the Catskills, and for good reason; it provides the one of the region’s best views for one of the least effortful climbs. After driving most of the way up to the mountain, park in the DEC lot near the KTD Tibetan monastery or a recently constructed overflow lot down the road, and head up the stony maintenance road for 2.5 miles to get to the Overlook fire tower, which affords an incredible view both east to Massachusetts as well as of the Southern Catskills and Ashokan Reservoir. Head close to dawn or dusk to catch the incredible play of light over the ridges, and make sure to spend a little time in the ruins of the never-completed Overlook Mountain House.
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Distance: 5 miles
Description: Huckleberry shares a lot with Kaaterskill High Peak and Kaaterskill Falls, accessible in the summer months by the rickety but gorgeous Kaaterskill Clove Road (but please take it slow – bikers, walkers, and others take advantage of a road that can often be barreled down). This marked trail passes through plentiful forest, turning off through streams before coming to a series of rock ledges with an unparalleled view of the Devil’s Path and the Clove itself, which is an obscure and hard-to-vantage location that rewards attention. But take caution – bears, snakes, and other wildlife can all appear along the paths.
Distance: 8 miles
Description: This long, largely flat loop trail starts outside of North-South Lake state park, passes by Kaaterskill High Falls, and heads out along the extensive ridge line of the outer escarpment. The key here is stamina, as hikers will be spending close to five hours just walking and, even if the grades aren’t particularly tough, the fatigue adds up. With enough food and water, however, everyone can take advantage of incredible views of the Hudson Valley all the way up to Albany, with many ideal break spots.