Mike Todd | HiketheHudsonValley.com
HiketheHudsonValley.com contains 62 step-by-step trail guides (with more to come) of the best hikes in the Hudson Valley, organized by location east or west of the river and concentrating on Ulster and Dutchess counties. In creating the site back in 2011, hiking enthusiast Mike Todd says he meant it to be useful for hikers of all experience levels, from people who’ve done a lot of hiking before to those who might be just getting into it. “I found that a lot of the hiking resources online were for 10- to 15-mile hikes, and that’s great for some people, but that’s not what a casual day-hiker is generally looking to do. This is really designed so that a complete beginner — if you didn’t know anything about the area or about the hike or location — will have everything they need to know to successfully navigate the hike and hopefully have a great day out there.”
A custom Google map with color-coded pins dropped on all the trailheads — red for the toughest hikes, yellow for intermediate and green for the easiest — is a quick way to get a thumbnail view of a particular hike and situate it within the larger landscape. But the best way to start is to go straight to “The Hikes” and choose which side of the Hudson you’re on. An alphabetical listing of each hike is charted along with its scenery rating (on a scale from “one to five cameras”), a difficulty rating from one to ten, the distance the hike covers and a brief description of what’s encountered on the hike. One can figure out quickly here that while Millbrook Mountain offers five-camera scenery and Kaaterskill Falls is listed as a four-camera destination, the former’s difficulty rating of “9” versus the latter’s “5” may determine the choice of which to hike if looking for great views but a less strenuous experience.
Todd says his five-camera scenery rating system is admittedly “highly subjective;” just his opinion on which hikes have the best views, or if there’s a waterfall, which is the most beautiful. “Any of the hikes that have five cameras are like the quintessential Hudson Valley hike,” he adds. “They’re the ones that people might want to start checking off their list first.”
Once a hike is selected from the chart, the play-by-play begins with a weekly weather forecast for that area and other extras like a link to a Google Terrain map and a Google Earth flyover of the hiking route. A personal review from Todd compares the hike to ones with similar attributes or provides information that might be helpful from the start, like whether it’s too steep for your dog or whether little kids will be able to stay the course. The actual trail guide follows all of that, including lots of photos and sometimes videos, and then the opportunity for hikers to weigh in with their comments after taking the hike. Todd often updates the guides as people write in, especially if the signage or trail conditions have changed since he was there.
His most popular trail guides, he says, are the ones for Breakneck Ridge (five cameras, a “10” difficulty rating, 3.7 mile loop with “insane views”) on the east side of the river and Mohonk Mountain House: Labyrinth & Lemon Squeeze on the west (five cameras, a “9” difficulty rating, 5.5 mile loop with “great views, crazy rock labyrinth and Skytop Tower”).
For something less traveled, Todd says the Taconic Mountains in the northeast corner of Dutchess County offer truly gorgeous views, with Brace Mountain (click on “Brace Mountain II”) at the highest point offering a five-camera, “9” level difficulty, 3.8 mile hike with “amazing views, an open field at the summit and a waterfall”).
The easiest hike is the Walkway Over the Hudson, which has a wheelchair-accessible elevator to get visitors up to and down from the deck. There are also several hikes rated a 2 or 3 that are not as arduous as the rest. (In Todd’s explanation of how he came up with the difficulty ratings, a “4” is listed as “the last safe number on which to bring friends who don’t like hiking.”)
The website is written in a very approachable manner, friendly and jargon-free. Mike Todd also writes a weekly humor column — “It’s a slice of life kind of thing, sort of a poor man’s Dave Barry,” he says — published in the Roxborough Review and several other newspapers outside Philadelphia, where he grew up. The column is called “Just Humor Me” in most of the papers (one calls it “Over the Top”), and Todd maintains a blog at www.justhumormeweekly.wordpress.com that serves as a repository for those columns after publication.
Todd started hiking after moving to Poughkeepsie in 2000. Not knowing anybody in the area and looking for something to do after work “that didn’t involve a PlayStation2,” he bought some trail guides at the local bookstore and started exploring the region. When his employer, IBM, was looking for someone to coordinate outdoor activities for new hires, he volunteered to lead a weekly hike after work every Thursday. In the Hudson Valley, says Todd, “You can start your hiking day at 5 p.m. in the summertime and have so many great choices of places to hit and still get back to your car by sunset.”
But after five years of leading the hiking group, he was no longer a new hire and his family began to grow. Hiking went on the back burner until his oldest son, Evan, who is now five, was around a year old. “If he was having a fussy day in the house, teething, whatever, I had this hiking backpack and I would put him in it. He could sit in that thing all day long and be perfectly happy, so we’d give my wife what we called her ‘moment of Zen,’ and I would take Evan and the dog and we’d clear out of the house.”
And that’s when Todd had the idea for HiketheHudsonValley.com. “I just started taking my son on all these different hikes around here and exploring new places that I’d never been. And there are a lot of great web resources out there for hiking in the Hudson Valley, but I couldn’t find one that had all my favorite spots on it, that would tell somebody who didn’t know anything about these places how to get there, where to park, what trails to take, what can you expect to find, the viewpoint… so I thought doing this website would be a fun project.”
Todd and his wife, Kara — also employed as a manager at IBM — met at Penn State, where they both went to college. (In a classic “meet cute” scenario, they both happened to be sick on the same day and skipped the same class to go to the health services building, where he struck up a conversation with her.) The couple has a second son now, Zack, who just turned three. “So at the moment, I can pretty much do any hike that a three-year-old can do,” says Todd. “When I’m walking and his older brother is walking, he doesn’t want to be in the backpack; he wants to get down and walk with us. So I haven’t been getting out quite as much this year, but as the kids grow, we’ll get there soon with all of us getting out there. Evan did Storm King Mountain when he wasn’t even four years old, and that’s a pretty decent hike.”
Todd plans to keep adding to the website. “It took a lot of work to set it up, and at first I wondered if anybody was even going to use it and were the guides going to be useful. But it’s gotten really good, positive comments and a ton of traffic and feedback. People seem to like having a lot of detail and pictures. It takes me a long time to put a new guide on there, but I just try to spend a few minutes a day on it, after work.”
Todd’s latest trail guides are for Red Wing Recreation Area in Billings (near Lagrangeville), a relatively easy “4” difficulty, three-camera trail loop of two miles, and the more challenging five-hour, 7.5 mile loop of “Gertrude’s Nose” at Minnewaska in Gardiner. “That’s a five-camera hike,” he says. “I took a friend visiting from Philadelphia there and spent the whole time saying, ‘This might be the nicest hike in the Hudson Valley.’ It’s at least toward the top of the list.”