Just slightly north of New York City is the lower Hudson Valley, one of the most beautiful regions of the state of New York- and hardly ever visited by the millions of tourists flocking to NYC throughout the year. This area features beautiful mountains, scenic river views, orchards, wineries, and all sorts of activities to keep you occupied throughout the year.
I should probably come clean at the beginning and confess that I grew up in the Lower Hudson Valley (Monroe-Woodbury in Orange County to be exact), so I may be a bit biased in saying that this is the best of the East Coast (even though it is). But, I’m happy to share with you the list of all of my favorite things that this incredible region has to offer!
- West Point (aka United States Military Academy). It may seem strange that my top spot in the Hudson Valley is a military base, but once you see it, you’ll understand why!
Founded at the beginning of the 19th century, the USMA is one of the most historic institutions in the US. Its history goes back to the Revolutionary War, where a great chain constructed in the picturesque bend of the river prevented British ships from sailing north into the rest of the colonies. Now, West Point is one of the top universities in the country, training and educating future army officers in exchange for military service. There is a visitor’s center outside the gates of West Point where you can learn about the academy, and a museum where you’ll find information about the base’s history. Visitors can enter the base to visit the historic Thayer Hotel, which serves up an excellent Sunday brunch and has a great rooftop restaurant/bar, Zulu Time. You may also take a bus tour of the base to learn about its incredibly interesting history, and to get an inside look of some of the incredible buildings. Alternatively, you can enter the base on your own to explore Trophy Point, the Cadet Chapel, and the West Point Cemetery where many famous Americans are interred. In the summer, be sure to check out the outdoor concerts at Trophy Point, or the shows and events at Eisenhower Hall from September-April.
The best time of year to visit West Point is most certainly the autumn when the leaves take on glowing red, yellow, and orange colors, there are Army football games to attend, and the mountains seem like something out of another world. Restrictions on entering the base are being tightened, so be sure to plan ahead if you do not have a DoD ID card; more information for visitors to West Point can be found here.
- Perkins Peak.This is a tough contender with West Point for my favorite spot in the Hudson Valley, but actually, the hiking trails at Perkins Peak butt up to West Point property, so we can almost consider it the same. The Appalachian Trail runs right through Perkins Peak, but you don’t need to do any strenuous hiking to get there if you don’t want to. This is a scenic overlook with incredible views of the Hudson River, and on a clear day, the Manhattan skyline. A lot of people will drive up (via Perkins Memorial Drive) to Perkins Peak just to climb the lookout tower and have a picnic lunch on the beautiful, flat rocks overlooking the river. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, you can hike a short loop of the Appalachian Trail (definitely worth doing), or one of the other many trails that run through the area. In my opinion, this is one of the most beautiful spots in the world. *Keep in mind that Perkins Peak is open only April-November.*
- Bear Mountain State Park. Located nearby to West Point, Bear Mountain is a gorgeous natural park with lots of activities to keep you entertained year round. There is the Bear Mountain Inn with a restaurant to visit, but also a ton of outdoor activities. Nearby to the Bear Mountain Inn is the Bear Mountain Ice Rink which is a beautiful place to skate outside in the winter. In the summer, there are a ton of hiking trails and outdoor events to explore. Sometimes you’ll also find Redhawk Native American pow-wows held in the park which are amazing events to attend- a good way to explore some of the native culture of New York! And as with West Point, the most beautiful time to visit is in the autumn months when the foliage lights up in beautiful colors. Be forewarned, this is also one of the most touristy parts of the year in the Hudson Valley, but seeing the beautiful mountain colors are more than worth a little extra road traffic!
- Warwick, NY. Warwick is a small town about 45 minutes from Bear Mountain State Park that’s full of beautiful farms, quaint restaurants and shops, and a lot to see and do. The main street in Warwick is full of cute shops and restaurants that make a great afternoon stroll, but there’s a lot happening outside the commercial center, too. In fact, I have so many top spots in Warwick that it justifies its own list:
- Masker’s Orchard. Found just outside the main streets of Warwick, this spot is a step outside the mountains I’ve been raving about. Masker’s Orchard is a massive orchard with hundreds of pick-your-own apple trees of all different varieties. My all-time favorite fall activity is visiting Masker’s with a picnic lunch and finding a spot to eat under an apple tree. You can spend as much time in the orchard as you’d like, and you pay for any apples you bag by weight on your way out (after taste-testing one or two in the orchard, of course!). Even after leaving the orchard, you’ll find a country store with local products (definitely try the apple butter), and a food stand selling all home-made apple products like apple cider, apple pie with vanilla ice cream, and apple donuts.
- Bellvale Farms Creamery. Located on one of the highest hills in Warwick, the Bellvale Farms Creamery has arguably one of the most beautiful views in the area, served up with what is most certainly the best ice cream I’ve ever had. Plus, you can go meet the dairy cows right at the bottom of the hill- it doesn’t get more fresh than that. This spot is nothing more than a local ice cream shop with a view, but it is absolutely worth a stop for the view and dessert!
- Warwick Valley Winery. There are many wineries in the Warwick area, but the Warwick Valley Winery tops my list because of its tasty wine, great scenery, and other amenities. Not only does the WV Winery grow excellent, local wine, but they also have their own cider and distilleries that offer great alcohols from almost any fruit you can imagine. In addition to their tasting room, they have a restaurant/cafe and outdoor patio where live music can be enjoyed in the summer months. This is a great place to spend an afternoon trying some local products and enjoying the adult beverages of the area.
- Walkway Over the Hudson. This a relatively new Hudson Valley attraction that has gained local interest very quickly. Spanning the Hudson River between Poughkeepsie and the New Paltz- area, it brings you a bit further north into the Hudson Valley, but well within the natural beauty of the region. While not directly in New Paltz, the New Paltz side of the bridge is close enough to the town to include on your Walkway itinerary. New Paltz, home to one of the State Universities of New York, is notoriously a “hippie town” with a beautiful and walkable main street, plus excellent shops and restaurants. There are also many important historic landmarks in New Paltz, most notably the Historic Huguenot Street. The Poughkeepsie side offers great restaurants and activities along the waterfront, making it a great end-point to your walk over the Hudson. The Walkway itself provides you with beautiful views of the river and surrounding scenery- it’s definitely worth a visit!
Even after traveling through so much of the world and visiting so many beautiful places, I can genuinely say that the Hudson Valley is still one of my favorite places to be. In my mind, nothing beats visiting Perkins Peak in autumn when the leaves are changing colors and looking out at the Manhattan skyline in the distance. Likewise, there are few better ways to spend a day than sitting in an apple tree at Masker’s munching on a fresh Delicious Red. I encourage anyone with a free weekend in NYC to make the trip up north to explore some of the great things that New York State has to offer; these are the things that make New York the Best of the East Coast.
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