Even though I grew up in northern New Jersey, my family would more often than not find us spending more time in the historic Hudson Valley of New York.
All of these years and hundreds of miles removed, I still find myself gravitating to its beautiful mountain scenery for vacation, the valley — that stretches from just north of New York City to the state capital, Albany – having been cut centuries ago by the wide Hudson River as it flows southward to New York City and the Atlantic Ocean.
Fall is my favorite time to visit when the air is crisp, the sky a cloudless deep blue, and the leaves blaze their fiery colors and reflect on the river. To be honest, there is so much to do and see in the valley that it doesn’t matter when you visit. You will fall in love with the area’s quaint villages, history, and outdoor recreation.
I’d like to introduce you to five of my favorite experiences in the Hudson Valley listed in no particular order. Trust me, there are many more. Check out the Travel Hudson Valley website for more experiences.
1. Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome
It’s living history with a twist at the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in Red Hook. For over 60 years, Rhinebeck has presented a fascinating look at the history of aviation through air shows and at the country’s first flying museum of antique aircraft.
The museum traces the evolution of those daring early days of flight with vintage aircraft and memorabilia.
However, what sets Rhinebeck off from any other historic site is the living history. Actual vintage airplanes take to the skies to put on spectacular air shows and demonstrations. Air shows take place every Saturday and Sunday from June through October with a special show that hasn’t changed much since I first visited all those years ago — the World War I Dog Fight Spectacular featuring period tanks, automobiles, and cars as the good guys try to rescue the heroine from the clutches of the Black Baron of Rhinebeck. They even blow up a sausage factory.
Pro Tip: There is nothing like experiencing the thrill of riding in an open cockpit biplane and you can do it at Rhinebeck. Rides in a 1929 biplane are available weekdays by reservation on a first-come, first-served basis. Weekend rides are first-come, first-served.
Museum, air show, and biplane ride tickets are available online.
2. Walkway Over The Hudson
In 1889, one of the area’s many bridges that allowed residents and cargo to cross the wide Hudson River was opened — the Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge. After a series of fires and decay, the bridge was shut down. In 2009, it was reopened and today is the centerpiece of Walkway Over the Hudson, a series of interconnected walking paths through the historic town of Poughkeepsie, along the river’s waterfront, and of course, spectacular views as you walk across the bridge itself.
The bridge is a 1.25-mile (one-way) stroll featuring incredible 360-degree views of the river, mountains, and surrounding villages.
The Walkway Over the Hudson organization is a non-profit that maintains the walk and hosts many fun events throughout the year on the bridge including the Walkway at Night, Walktoberfest Farmers Market, and Starry, Starry Night where you are invited to sample delicious local cuisine, desserts, and beverages before taking a nighttime walk across the river.
Pro Tip: Be sure to download the official Greater Walkway Experience brochure to map out other walks through the historic district and identify parking options before arriving.
3. Bear Mountain State Park
Located along the western bank of the Hudson River in Bear Mountain, New York, we find the spectacular Bear Mountain State Park.
Every year, travelers from around the world flock to the base of the mountain to begin a variety of outdoor adventures on the park’s many lakes and its miles and miles of hiking trails.
Then, there are the extra amenities that make Bear Mountain extra special including its trailside zoo that’s located next to the world-famous Appalachian Trail, swimming in the Olympic size pool in the summer, ice skating in the winter, taking a ride on the gorgeous hand-painted carousel, and more.
Overnight accommodations at Bear Mountain range from rustic to elegant.
Bear Mountain Inn was constructed in 1915 and built with reclaimed river and mountain stones from old, abandoned buildings in the area as well as cedar timbers that were cut and milled on-site. The inn was declared the “finest example of rustic Adirondack architecture in America” by American Architect magazine.
The inn features 15 fully appointed deluxe guest rooms that are described as being the “quintessential romantic Hudson Valley destination.”
For something a little more rustic, Bear Mountain also has several stone cottages that were built in the 1930s, each cottage has six cozy rooms all connected to a common area with a large stone fireplace. Each room is outfitted with queen size beds, a private bath, cable TV, a refrigerator, and has a wide porch that overlooks the beautiful Hessian Lake, the perfect place to start the morning with a hot cup of coffee.
For dining, grab a quick meal at the Hiker’s Café where they serve up quick American fare. For something on the opposite side of the scale, dine at Restaurant 1915 and Blue Roof Bar. As its name implies, it was opened in 1915 and serves some of the most delicious and creative global cuisines you’ll find anywhere.
Pro Tip: Make reservations to stay at the Bear Mountain Inn early. Lodging options can be limited.
4. West Point Military Academy
West Point was considered to be one of the most strategic locations during The Revolutionary War by George Washington where his generals could have a commanding view of the British navy as they plied the waters of the Hudson River. Washington ordered the construction of a fort on the point complete with gun batteries and redoubts.
In 1802, President Thomas Jefferson established the U.S. military academy at this location and the West Point Military Academy has been producing the nation’s finest military officers ever since.
You can visit West Point and take a tour of the Academy’s storied history. Two tours are offered: the 90-minute West Point Story Tour takes you to many of the historic buildings, museum, and spectacular views of the river via bus and walking tour.
The History and Tradition Cemetery Tour is a two-hour stroll through the historic cemetery where guides recount the lives and achievements of those buried there. The cemetery tour is seasonal, so visit the West Point website for dates and times.
Pro Tip: You must reserve your place for a guided tour in advance by purchasing tickets online.
5. Bannerman Castle
In 1900, Scottish businessperson Francis Bannerman was looking for a place to store his wares for his store in Brooklyn, which included a large number of munitions. One of Bannerman’s family members, David, was canoeing the Hudson in the valley near Beacon, New York, and came across a small island.
The Bannermans thought the island would make a perfect location for a storehouse and began constructing a replica Scottish castle and warehouse from that time up until it was turned over to the Taconic Park Commission in 1967, the island and Bennerman’s Castle has had a fascinating history.
Today, the “tiny jewel in the Hudson Highlands” is a favorite destination for tourists where you can tour the remains of the castle (due to the condition of the castle, you can’t go inside) and its gardens.
In addition to the tours, the Park Commission hosts many events including theatrical presentations under the stars and movie nights.
A wonderful, but limited access event held each year is a hosted dinner featuring the eleven-course meal that was served to first-class passengers aboard the Titanic. Seating is limited to 24 people.
Pro Tip: You can access the island by riding the Estuary Steward tour boat or paddle to it with your own kayak or canoe (rentals are not available). The walking tour of the island is 90-minutes in length.