It’s early November, and you’re walking quietly through a canopied forest. Peering upward, you spot the sun sneaking light through the half-bare mid-autumn trees. A turkey vulture, or red-tailed hawk…it’s difficult to determine which in the afternoon glare…circles above at an ominous height and lends a bit of character to the luminous sky. And then suddenly, the path veers off to the right, the brush clears, and you are on a precipice hundreds of feet elevated observing a mile-wide river thundering south bracketed by ridges and bluffs similar to the platform on which you are perched.
It sounds exotic, but it simply defines the trails along the Hudson River in Hyde Park and Staatsburgh, New York, and a mid-autumn travel option worth considering.
The great benefit of these trails is that many of them originate and conclude on acres and acres of property once owned by the obscenely wealthy and prominent in 1800’s New York…the family of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Vanderbilts, Ogden Mills, etc. Now historic sites, the land is uncluttered with the exception of trees, rolling hills, and oh yes, a mansion or three. They are also not crowded (pristine, really) and provide miles of walking and hiking trails.
Clearly, this is not the Appalachian Trail in terms of difficulty, but there is something here for all hikers – those seeking the leisurely promenade and others looking for a more challenging, longer, hilly trek. We started on the Vanderbilt property, heading south along the river. After a couple of miles, you pass the mansion, which sits majestically on top of the hill overlooking, well, everything. You feel dwarfed by its size viewing it from river level, and if you let your mind wander back 150 years or so, you can almost see the 60 servants scurrying about attending to every Vanderbilt need. If you are so inclined, and not exhausted from the hike, you can return to the mansion for a spectacular tour of days-gone-by opulence.
After several miles, if you feel adventurous, you exit the Vanderbilt property and spill out onto a road which closely hugs the Hudson on the way toward the Roosevelt property, a couple of miles further south. Along this road is the old Hyde Park train station, now a mini-museum, protected as a landmark, an instant jolt back in time. Eventually, the road ends and the woods begin…and do they linger. This portion of the hike seems endless and more isolated as you continue on. It is increasingly hard to believe you are not that far removed from the bustling over-busy Route 9, but that’s the particular charm of this hike…convenient but detached, accessible but deserted. It is here, the path provides an option to veer off to the right and deposit you on the bluff overlooking the magnificent Hudson. A rest here is recommended, if not a nap.
Once you reach the Roosevelt home, you are escorted very suddenly and firmly back to civilization, with the residence, the presidential library, gardens, FDR’s burial plot, and other tourist attractions beckoning. Retracing our steps, we walked back to Vanderbilt, then took a slightly different route enabling us to pass and visit the famous Vanderbilt Formal Garden, a perfectly manicured setting with thousands of flowers, reflecting pools, statues, and paths before heading to the vehicle for a trip further north to the Mills property in Staatsburgh.
The Mills residence, one of the most opulent and elegant of the Hudson River estates, is an 1896, 65-room Beaux Arts mansion on 1,600 acres and was the country home of Ogden and Ruth Livingston Mills. This portion of the hike provided a completely different experience as trails led astoundingly and spectacularly close to the water’s edge and then through various portions of the Mills expansive property which included abandoned buildings, home to any number of servants and other Mills employees, and barns, once in use but fallen into terrible disrepair. The latter invites access, and whisks you quickly back to a time when families actually had stables on their property.
After 15 miles on foot, it’s your mouth that needs attention, and restaurants are easy to find. One compelling option is 10 minutes further north on Route 9 in the village of Rhinebeck, home of the oldest operating inn in the country, the Beekman Arms. Legend has it that the Continental Army drilled on the lawn and townspeople took refuge there when the British burned the state capital at Kingston, across the river. The Beekman Tavern, where George Washington himself must have imbibed, is spectacular. Of course, the added bonus for the weary traveler is the “inn” part of Beekman…because after walking, eating, and drinking, you won’t want to move so terribly far.
October and November are the best months to take to the trails, and there are few better places to visit than the Hudson Valley.