Where to: New Paltz area

An 18th-century history enthusiast at Historic Huguenot Street in New Paltz. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

Dozens of day-trip or get-away weekend opportunities await off Thruway Exit 18 in New Paltz. There are hundreds of miles of trails and old carriage roads for runners, bikers, hikers, horseback riders and naturalists. There are cliffs for amateur, aspiring or seasoned rock-climbers, as well as a sky-diving ranch for those brave enough to take that plunge. There are historical and cultural venues including Historic Huguenot Street (oldest incorporated street in America), the Dorsky Museum of Fine Arts at SUNY New Paltz, scores of shops and galleries, and an abundance of farmstands and pick-your-own fruits, vegetables, pumpkins and flowers.


Mohonk and Minnewaska

As one enters New Paltz via Main Street, the views west toward the Shawangunk Ridge are spectacular. Perhaps the Shawangunks’ most popular outing is a hike to the crowning glory of the Mohonk Mountain House property adjoining the 6400-acre Mohonk Preserve. Sky Top Tower is the memorial erected for Albert K. Smiley, one of the Quaker brothers who purchased the Mohonk property in 1869 and developed the boarding house that eventually evolved into the unique present-day mountain house. The hotel itself, a Victorian castle built on spectacular cliffs above the deep blue waters of Lake Mohonk, has become a timeless favorite among New York State’s resorts. To learn more, visit www.mohonk.com. A climb to the top of the stone tower offers visitors a chance to enjoy 360-degree views of the Shawangunk Ridge, the mountain-house grounds and the mid-Hudson Valley.


The Mohonk Preserve, the largest non-profit nature preserve in New York, offers a visitors’ center with interpretive nature walks and exhibits, activities for children and a butterfly garden. It’s tucked just beneath the Shawangunk Mountain cliffs off Route 44/55 in New Paltz. You can visit for an hour, a day, or as long as you can stay and play,

The preserve has 70 miles of carriage roads easily accessible that can take visitors into woodlands, lakes, meadows, marshes, farm fields and astounding open vistas. There are multi-use trails for hikers, bikers, skiers, runners, bird-watchers, horse-back riders and those with gear slung over their back looking for just the right climbing route. And if rock-climbing is what you’ve come for, there are multiple climbing sites throughout the area. Better known as The Trapps, these climbing routes include everything from world-class treacherous overhangs to beginners’ routes. Because there’s a strong climbing community, several climbing guides are available to lead visitors through a route safely. Equipment can be obtained at Rock and Snow in downtown New Paltz. Another of the many magical places within the Mohonk Preserve is Split Rock, were two magnificent cliffs are split by a cascading waterfall, a swimming hole, and the Coxing stream. Slabs of stones to lie on, picnic or dry off from a fresh water swim. For information, log on to www.Mohonkpreserve.org.

Also situated in the dramatic Shawaungunk Ridge is New York’s Minnewaska State Park Preserve, rising almost 2000 feet above sea level and surrounded by rugged, rocky terrain. The park features numerous waterfalls, three crystalline sky lakes, dense hardwood forests, incising sheer cliffs, clear streams that cut into the valley, rock-climbing, bouldering, 25 miles of footpaths and 35 miles of carriage roads which often link to the carriage roads at the Mohonk Preserve. Visitors can pay a day fee and drive right up to Minnewaska Lake, where they can enjoy a dip and a walk around the skylake, or venture further into the heart of the park all the way to Awosting Lake. Castle Point and Gertrude’s Nose provide breathtaking views of the Hudson Valley. The 21,000-acre park is located on Route 44/55, five miles west of the intersection of Route 299 and Route 44/55 in Gardiner. For information visit nysparks.state.ny.us or call 255-0752.


Walking, biking and jumping

For a once-in-a-lifetime walk, head to the recently opened Walkway Over the Hudson — the longest elevated pedestrian bridge in the world — that takes visitors from Highland across the Hudson River to Poughkeepsie. The walkway was the dream of a not-for-profit group that conceived of the idea of turning an old abandoned railroad bridge into a pedestrian park. With the help of private and public funding partnerships, this dream became a reality in October 2009. Since that time a reported 500,000 persons have visited. The pedestrian walkway is free and open year round, weather permitting. For information about go to www.walkway.org.

If you don’t suffer from vertigo and have always had a hankering to drop thousands of feet in the air from an open door of a plane there is a skydiving ranch in Gardiner that provides brief lessons and professional guides to jump tandem for first-time thrill seekers, as well as jumps for avid skydivers and licensing programs for those who are more passionate about the sport. If you want to mark your first jump or special occasion, videographers are on hand to jump alongside you and record your adventure on tape for a special keepsake. To learn more visit www.skydivetheranch.com or call 255-4033.

If you’re not inclined to tackle the mountains or the sky, however, not to worry. The 12.2-mile Wallkill Valley Rail-Trail, a multi-use linear park that runs from the hamlet of Gardiner through this fall. The rail-trail can also take visitors to stores, restaurants and other attractions without their ever having to get into a car. Visit www.gorailtrail.org to learn more.

Just off the Wallkill Valley Rail-Trail in the center of New Paltz is Historic Huguenot Street, where visitors can take guided tours of the old stone houses, and learn about the rich Native American, European and African-American history and culture. Several of the restored and maintained stone houses date back to the seventeenth century. For information visit www.huguenotstreet.org.

One can also experience the beauty of the area by hiking or biking on another rail-trail. The Hudson Valley Rail-Trail in Highland connects to the Walkway over the Hudson. But before you begin your trek through the beautiful four-mile stretch of rail- trail, pick up a picnic lunch and trail accessories in the hamlet of Highland. You’ll find cafés, pizza shops, pubs, restaurants and antiques galleries.

The Hudson Valley rail-trail also connects to the Black Creek wetlands. The rail bed at Black Creek crossing is approximately 20 feet high, providing an extraordinary vista of Illinois Mountain. Black Creek is a protected trout stream. It is accessible via stairs to the creek. From the trail, look across at Illinois Mountain to see an original rail bed from the 19th century. If you’re feeling adventurous, head back up the trail and scramble down the embankment, following the old rail bed out into the bog for an exceptional view of the trail, the creek and Illinois Mountain. For more, visit www.hudsonvalleyrailtrail.net.


Arts, wine and bourbon

Within walking distance of the Trailways bus stop in downtown New Paltz is the Samuel Dorsky Museum on the SUNY New Paltz campus. The Dorsky, one of the largest museums in the SUNY system, boasts more than 9000 square feet of exhibition space distributed over six galleries. The Dorsky’s permanent collection comprises more than 5000 works of art, focusing on American art, with an emphasis on the Hudson Valley and Catskills region, plus photography and metals. There are a few art objects and artifacts dating back to ancient times. Exhibitions rotate on a regular basis. Go to www.newpaltz.edu.museum or call 257-3844.

Steeped in environmental, cultural and historical richness, the Hudson Valley is also American’s oldest wine-making and grape-growing region. Wine enthusiasts can enjoy more than a half-dozen southern Ulster County vineyards and wineries with tasting rooms. Each winery is unique and distinct, but they are tied together through the Hudson Valley Wine Trail, offering many collaborative events. To learn more go to www.hudsonvalleywinecountry.org.

If you’re looking for something to put a little more hair on your tongue, you won’t want to miss a visit to Tuthilltown Spirits and historic gristmill in Gardiner. Before Prohibition, more than 1000 farm distillers produced alcohol from New York grains and fruits. Tuthilltown Spirits is bringing the tradition of small-batch distillation back to the Hudson Valley, distilling whiskeys which were the first legally distilled and aged grain spirits produced in New York since Prohibition. New York’s first bourbon, Hudson baby Bourbon, is distilled from 100% New York corn. The handmade spirits, which start at the farm distillery as raw grain and fruit, are made without added flavor or color and are not chill or carbon filtered.

For 220 years Tuthilltown Gristmill, a landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places, used waterpower to render local grains to flour. In 2001 Ralph Erenzo and Vicki Morgan acquired the property and with the help of partner Brian Lee converted one of the mill granaries to a micro-distillery. Two and a half years later, Tuthilltown Spirits produced its first batches of vodka from scraps they collected at a local apple slicing plant. Today, Tuthilltown Spirits distills vodkas from apples grown at orchards less than five miles away and whiskeys using grain harvested by farmers less than ten miles away.

The farm distillery also produces rum, eau de vie, brandy, absinthe and infusions. And recently, Tuthilltown Spirits farm distillery has announced the impending release of its latest homage to Henry Hudson and his adventurous spirit with its Half Moon Gin. Infused into this gin are wheat and the valley’s ubiquitous apples.


Ending with apples

Speaking of apples, and let’s do that, Ulster County and the rest of the Hudson Valley will soon be imploding with apple blossoms, berries of all sorts, sweet corn and freshly grown flowers, cider, maple syrup and a splendor of many agricultural bounties. Several-generational family-owned-and-operated independent farms remain in New Paltz, Lloyd and Gardiner, including Dressel’s Farm on Route 208 in New Paltz, Moriello’s Farm on Route 32 South in New Paltz, Wright’s Farm in Gardiner, Hurd’s Farm in Modena, the Wallkill View Farm Market along Route 299 in New Paltz and Jenkins-Leuken Orchards, also on Route 299 in New Paltz as one winds their way up towards the Shawangunk Ridge.

Whatever your pleasure, there’s a little taste of everything in the Hudson Valley, including athletic and outdoor pursuits, culinary delights, historic homes, modern art, farm-fresh produce and a natural beauty that has made the region one of the hottest ecotourism destinations in the country.