Late spring is the perfect season for hiking, before the sweltering summer heat takes hold. While you can certainly go on hikes in local city parks, it doesn't deliver the same sense of adventure as exploring a sprawling, bucolic upstate New York green space as a family.
The beautiful Hudson Valley is home to five massive New York State Parks that offer tree-lined trails, stunning panoramic views and lots of special non-city sights like waterfalls and mountains. Of course these parks are so big and challenging, it's hard to know where to start. That's why we turned to the experts, Cheryl and William de Jong-Lambert, local parents who regularly blog about their family excursions at the Appalachian Mountain Club's Kids Outdoors New York City, a FREE online community for families filled alfresco activities in the NYC area. They've tackled all five of these Hudson Valley hikes personally with kids in tow so they have lots of great tips. All of these hikes are just a quick day trip away from NYC or southern Westchester.
Bear Mountain State Park
For an easy walk with a stroller or a toddler, take the paved trail along the shores of Hessian Lake. Stop at the Trailside Museums & Zoo on the east side of the water (there is a restroom near the underpass that takes you there), where you'll find a variety of rehabilitated wild animals including mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds. At 1,300-feet, the park’s namesake mountain is a fairly strenuous hike for young children (on a recent visit, however, we passed four adults with toddlers in child-carrier backpacks so it's doable). But for families with tweens and up, the peak offers spectacular views of the Hudson Valley and, on a clear day, Manhattan approximately 40 miles away. At the peak, the Perkins Memorial Tower relates the history of the park and surrounding region through beautiful tile mosaics. If you’d like to visit the summit with small children, you can drive to the tower from April through December. Once you’ve finished your hike of choice, head to the antique merry-go-round, a must-do for children of any age. If you’re visiting in summer, take a row- or pedal-boat out on Hessian Lake. From October to March, there's an outdoor ice-skating rink. The historic and beautiful Bear Mountain Inn reopened in 2011 following extensive renovations and has restrooms, provisions and treats galore.
Harriman State Park
At more than 46,000 acres, Harriman State Park is enormous and offers hikes of every variety, from flat, well-worn trails around various lakes and reservoirs (it has 31!), to steep and strenuous mountain climbs, including 18 miles of the Appalachian Trail. To get the lay of the land, stop at the Reeves Meadow Visitor Center for a map. From there, embark on the Pine Meadow Trail and take lefts at the next three trail junctions—Stony Brook Trail, Hillman-Torne-Sebago (HTS) Trail and the Tuxedo-Mount Ivy (T-MI) Trail—to reach the shores of Lake Sebago in about 2 miles. This larger lake is a good place to go on your inaugural visit if you enjoy paddling. It has a comfort station with a first-aid clinic, bathrooms and vending machines, plus a campground with tent sites and cabins nearby.
Minnewaska State Park Preserve
From the park office, follow the Awosting Falls Carriage Road for 1.2 miles to Lake Minnewaska. The carriage road inclines steadily the whole way but is doable with a jogging stroller or young children as long as you are not in a rush. Bicycles are also permitted. Once you reach the lake, you can enjoy a small beach and use the comfort station. If the hike to the lake is too rigorous, park near the office and head downhill to visit Awosting Falls, just a quarter mile away. Or pick your own route along the 35 miles of carriage roads and 25 miles of footpaths. Save for the wide gravel carriage trails that lead up to Lake Minnewaska, it’s hard to tell that Minnewaska State Park Preserve was a resort for the well-heeled in the 19th century. The densely forested park covers 18 square miles of forest on the Shawangunk Ridge. Keep in mind that there are no concessions or trash cans in the park so you'll need to carry out your own garbage.
Rockefeller State Park Preserve
This preserve is manicured, austere and inviting. The Rockefeller family donated the land for the creation of a public park in 1983. Forty-five miles of hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing trails crisscross its 1,400 acres. From the park office, take the easy, sand-and-gravel Brother’s Path around Swan Lake (1.1 miles) to spot wetland wildlife. If your family is up for a moderate grade, head up the 0.7-mile Overlook Trail for a panoramic view of the lake below. The National Audubon Society has designated the park an Important Bird Area since more than 180 different species can be found here. You can also fish for bass on Swan Lake and brown trout in the Pocantico River, or go horseback riding (permits are required for both).
Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park
Once the longest railway bridge in the world, the Walkway Over the Hudson is an ingenious repurposing of this decommissioned structure. Built in 1888, the 1.28-mile-long bridge was closed after a fire in 1974. Thanks to the advocacy of its namesake nonprofit group, it reopened in 2009 as a spectacular pedestrian thoroughfare that stretches 212 feet above the Hudson River. It is perfect for bicycles, scooters, strollers and toddlers. Plaques chronicle the history of the bridge and surrounding area, making it a fascinating stroll through the past for visitors. There are portable restrooms and picnic tables at both ends of the bridge, as well as food vendors, and benches throughout to take in the scenic views.
About the authors: Cheryl and William de Jong-Lambert live with their two children in New York City. Cheryl is a writer at NYU Langone Medical Center. William is an associate professor of history at Bronx Community College, City University of New York.
Find other great weekend getaway ideas in our Day Trip Guide.
Creative Commons image credit: Mike Barlow