While outdoor enthusiasts were relieved when it was announced that New York State parks would remain open during New York on PAUSE, this freedom became a double-edged sword. As people from all over the Tri-State area came flooding into the Hudson Valley, residents wondered where they could go to practice safe social distancing.
But there are still ways to enjoy these state parks as well as Scenic Hudson’s properties (most of which also remained open). One suggestion is to go early on a weekend or practically anytime on a weekday. Another is to find more off-the-beaten trails and gardens in these parks and on the grounds of our state and national historic sites. Here are some of our favorites.
Clermont State Historic Site was the home of the politically and socially prominent Livingston family for seven generations. The most notable resident was Robert R. Livingston, Jr. whose accomplishments included drafting the Declaration of Independence and negotiating the Louisiana Purchase. While the mansion is closed and tours are suspended, the grounds — which include 500 acres of landscaped gardens, meadows, and woodlands — are open.
There are five miles of trails, including Riverside Trail, which offers views of the Saugerties Lighthouse across the Hudson River, and the Formal Garden Trail, which takes you past the gardens tended by Alice Livingston. The South Spring Garden has gorgeous views of the Hudson River and the Walled Garden was influence by similar green spaces in Florence, Italy.
Located just north of Hudson, this six-acre Scenic Hudson park’s ridgetop location is the perfect spot to take in a view of the Catskill Mountains. The surrounding meadows support a wide variety of birds, including the park’s namesake: the Northern harrier hawk. The park is co-managed with Columbia Land Conservancy and has a connection to Greenport Conservation Area.
While Frederic E. Church’s magnificent home is currently closed to the public, you can walk along the carriage roads on the property and take in the magnificent views of the Hudson River and Catskill Mountains. Scenic Hudson has worked with partners to conserve more than 2,000 acres of forests and farm fields surrounding Olana.
Located along 16 miles of the Taconic Mountain Range, this state park shares a border with Massachusetts and Connecticut. And while best known for Bash Bish Falls (which was closed at press time), the abundant camping facilities, and extensive trails, the hidden gem is the historic Copake Iron Works (the entrance is just down the road from the park’s entrance).
The Friends of Taconic State Park can be thanked for preserving and stabilizing this site, one of the most intact examples of 19th-century industrial ironmaking in the Northeast, which was designated as a National Heritage Area in 2016.
If you’re looking for a peaceful, pastoral walk with a superb view, this is the one to take. Upon entering the park, an old red barn serves as a reminder that this 76-acre park is part of the historic Bronk farm, which operated from the mid-19th century through the mid-20th century. The wildflowers that bloom in the former pastures attract dragonflies, butterflies, and birds. Views include those of the far-off Berkshires (hence the name) and the Hudson River from the shoreline.
Scenic Hudson was founded in 1963 to halt an industrial project from defacing iconic Storm King Mountain in the Hudson Highlands. The organization’s successful 17-year campaign is considered the birth of America’s modern grassroots environmental movement.
Since then, the organization has protected more than 45,000 acres of land — world-class views, globally important habitats, and more than 120 productive family farms — and created or enhanced 44 parks and preserves from Westchester to Albany County. Many of these parks replaced contaminated industrial waterfronts, transforming them into magnificent places to connect with the Hudson River’s majesty and power.
Scenic Hudson also continues leading efforts to halt irresponsible projects that would increase pollution and block access to the river, and it has developed innovative natural solutions for confronting the climate crisis.
“We’re delighted so many people have relied on our parks for recreation and solace throughout this crisis. It’s a great testament to the importance of our mission and the healing power of nature.”
—Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan
For Scenic Hudson parks COVID-19 updates go to www.scenichudson.org/viewfinder/covid-19-update/
Although the buildings on these National Historic Sites are closed, the grounds — part of the Hyde Park Trails system — are open. The HPT system has more than 34 miles of trails, including ones within the properties of these three sites, which are also U.S. National Parks.
If you want the kind of view one of the most notable families of the Gilded Age could afford, take the Vanderbilt Loop, which is a moderate 2.5-mile loop walk on park roads, featuring a few steep hills. Other trails include Roosevelt Woods Trails (3.3-mile round trip), Roosevelt Farm Lane Trail (3.6-mile round trip), Eleanor’s Walk (1.0-mile loop), and Top Cottage Trail (2.0-mile round trip).
Together these two state parks comprise more than 1,000 acres, filled with numerous trails and breathtaking views of the Hudson River, which runs along the parks’ western border. At Mills Memorial State Park you will also find Dinsmore Golf Course, campsites and cabins, and Staatsburgh State Historic Site. The mansion was closed at press time, but the grounds are open and visitors are encouraged to take a peek inside the former country home of Ruth and Ogden Mills through a new Virtually Staatsburgh page on the Friends of Staatsburgh’s website (see sidebar).
While Mount Beacon, one of Scenic Hudson’s most popular hiking spots, has been closed for several months, one safe bet in Beacon is Long Dock Park. Located steps from the Metro-North station, it is not exactly hidden, but rather taken for granted. Here, you can take a riverfront stroll through wetlands and meadows, fish, kayak, and even enjoy art. You can also find Scenic Hudson’s River Center in a historic 19th-century red barn. This 19-acre park is on the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference’s “less traveled” list and connects to Denning’s Point State Park.
“New Yorkers are turning to our parks for exercise, stress relief, and a healthy nature break in these difficult times. To keep these places safe and healthy for everyone, we need to adjust the ways we enjoy our parks. Keep visits short and local, avoid crowds, and practice physical social distancing.”
—New York State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid
For the safety of all visitors and staff, please wear a face covering when you cannot maintain social distance. to Learn more about State Park operations during COVID-19, visit parks.ny.gov/covid19
Comprising nearly 22,000 pristine acres, this park has many lakes, streams, and hiking trails. It is also a great place for fishing, birding, and hunting. One less-traveled moderate hike is the 4-mile Doris Duke Trail, which traverses through the Doris Duke Wildlife Sanctuary, a section of the park where hunting is not permitted. You’ll pass by cliffs, a marsh and climb to a panoramic view. Sterling Forest State Park is also where the Great Chain across the Hudson was forged.
If you grew up in the Hudson Valley, chances are you came here on a field trip to tour John Ellison’s 1754 Georgian-style house where Major General Henry Knox established his military headquarters several times during the Revolutionary War. What you probably didn’t get to do was take a walk along the stream on the property where the Ellisons operated an important mill for most of the 18th and 19th centuries.
It’s a peaceful, easy (yet sometimes slippery) trail that has a stone arch bridge, boulders, traces of the mill, and of course a babbling brook.
This 14,086-acre park (which extends into Dutchess County) features many hiking trails, most of them moderate. Parking has been a bit difficult on weekends, but once you get into the park, the trails are not crowded.
We recommend taking the Three Lakes Trail/Appalachian Trail Loop from Dennytown Road. You’ll see the remains of an old iron mine, pass by a lake and waterfall, and follow the Appalachian Trail along a forested ridge. Fahnestock is also home to the Taconic Outdoor Education Center and has camping and swimming (check current swimming situation on the NYS Parks website).
This 126-acre preserve was once home to a branch of Hudson Valley royalty: the Livingston family. The park is still privately owned, but Scenic Hudson’s agreement with the landowner allows public access to the preserve. The four miles of trails can be narrow and rocky as you hike Manitou Point’s rugged terrain and the rocky Hudson River shoreline. Highlights include Manitou Marsh (an important nursey for striped bass) and Copper Mine Brook (featuring picturesque cascades).
The country estate and summer home of Bewitched star Elizabeth Montgomery was purchased in 1998 by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and turned into this 1,133-acre park offering 8.6 miles of marked trails, including historic bridle trails around the lake.
The park serves to protect the Great Swamp, one of the largest wetlands in the U.S., and the Highlands Trail, when completed, will extend more than 200 miles from the Connecticut border to the Delaware River, which passes through it. History buffs will appreciate that 16-year-old Revolutionary War hero Sybil Ludington lived in the vicinity.
This 700-acre park on the Rockland /Bergen County border is the southernmost component of the Palisades Interstate Park system in New York State. Although this park is on the New York & New Jersey Trail Conferences list of “less-traveled trails,” the hike with the best view, the Hudson River Overlook Trail (a 4.3-mile loop), tends to be heavily trafficked. We advise going early or on weekdays if you plan to do this one. There’s a great pool at the park, but it was not open at press time.
It was at this site that Brigadier General Anthony Wayne led a midnight attack on the British, seizing the site’s fortifications and ending British control of the Hudson River. Although the museum — which offers exhibits on the battle and the Stony Point Lighthouse — was not open at press time, and interpretive programs were on pause, just walking on the historic grounds and a chance to viewing the oldest lighthouse on the Hudson River make visiting worth the trip.
If you’re looking for something both kid- and dog-friendly, it’s hard to beat the 2.1-mile loop trail at this Scenic Hudson park. A somewhat steep uphill climb at the start has big payoffs: a suspension bridge that spans the creek and a rocky beach on the Hudson River shoreline that’s great for skipping stones. There’s plenty of chances for birding, too, at the 130-acre preserve, including blueback herring and bald eagles.
This 149-acre Scenic Hudson park has outstanding views of the Catskills, waterfalls, and a bit of history — the Mulford Ice House, which held 10,000 tons of harvested ice destined for shipment to New York City. We recommend the Waterfall Overlook via Riverside and Upland Trail Loop. This 2-mile, moderately trafficked trail features a waterfall, is good for all skill levels, and is dog-friendly.
Although it is now a New York State park, this 251-acre preserve’s bluff-top forest was conserved by Scenic Hudson, which also maintains its 2.5 miles of forested trails. We suggest parking in the Macks Lane parking area. Here, you can take the .87-mile Yellow Trail, which goes under the Mid-Hudson Bridge, with a steep flight of stairs leading to Johnson-Iorio Memorial Park and the pedestrian lane of the bridge. Continue to the White Trail (aka Ridgeline Trail), which offers magnificent views of the bridge, the Walkway Over the Hudson, and the Hudson River.
If you head north from the parking lot, you can connect to the 3.6-mile Walkway Loop Trail, which takes you over the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Site. As for the Walkway, according to park manager Eric Hoppe, attendance has increased slightly for this time of year, but patrons are wearing masks and adhering to social distancing.
This Scenic Hudson park is a huge preserve (more than 900 acres!) filled with wildflowers, woods, a waterfall, magnificent rock formations, and plenty of wildlife. The views (stretching to the Hudson River and Catskill Mountains) and rugged terrain make this a popular spot for hikers, mountain bikers, and trail runners. The 1.6-mile Hudson River Overlook via Red Trail Loop is moderately trafficked and good for all skill levels. Shaupeneak Ridge is maintained in cooperation with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the West Esopus Landowners Association.
In 1842, the Croton Aqueduct opened, providing fire- and epidemic-ravished New York City with a much-need supply of fresh water. The aqueduct traveled 41 miles from the Croton River in Westchester to two above-ground reservoirs in New York City on the present sites of the Great Lawn in Central Park and the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue.
Now, 26.2 miles of the original aqueduct are part of this state park, which was awarded National Historic Landmark Status in 1992. You can access this park through many locations, including Rockefeller State Park Preserve, Croton Gorge Park, and in various Westchester Rivertowns. The top bridge of the Double Arch bridge in Ossining carries the aqueduct over the Sing Sing Kill. (The Sing Sing Kill Greenway is also a nice place to take a peaceful walk.)
In prior, non-Covid-19 times, the Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct conducted tours of the Old Croton Aqueduct Weir on the Double Arch Bridge.
Although this park has been crowded and parking was at 50% capacity at press time, there are ways to enjoy the 1,773 acres that were donated to the State of New York by the Rockefeller family in 1983. No narrow trails here; instead you’ll find wide scenic carriage roads providing enough space for social distancing. On a recent holiday weekend, we were able to get a good parking spot on Route 448 near Stone Barns and do the Ridge Trail and Rock Wall Loop without any problems.
If you want to get a sense of what it was like to live like American royalty, visit the Rockwood Hall area, just off Route 9 in Sleepy Hollow. It was here that the 202-room summer estate of William Rockefeller once stood. What is left are the massive rock walls around the estate, grassy fields, and majestic trees — and, of course, unparalleled views of the Hudson River and Palisades. Weekdays are a better option for this section, as the small lot fills up quickly on weekends.
Palisades Parks Conservancy
National Park Service
Department of Environmental Conservation
Hike the Hudson Valley
Friends of Fahnestock and Hudson Highlands State Park
Friends of Clermont
Friends of Mills at Staatsburgh
Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct
Friends of the Rockefeller State Park Preserve
Friends of Sterling Forest
Friends of Taconic State Park