Through the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, railroads shaped the Hudson Valley, carrying its bounty south to the city and returning laden with visitors out for a fresh-air spree. When the highway system took over, abandoned tracks fell silent for years.
But nowadays, where once the chug of the steam engine and the moan of the whistle reigned, you’ll hear chatter and laughter and birdsong amid the trees.
Since the 1980s, people have been realizing that these wide and mostly level lengths of land make awesome playgrounds for hikers, bicyclists, dog walkers, horseback riders, and community get-togethers of all sorts.
Nowhere are these trails put to better use than in this scenic and fun-loving region.
The jewels in the crown are the trestles. Running from Highland to Poughkeepsie, the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park is a favorite spot for locals and visitors alike. Creative leadership has crafted amenities at both ends (picnic spots and bike racks) and in the 212-foot-high middle, where your cell phone can connect you to a self-guided tour. There’s no better spot from which to grasp the personality and beauty of the river, with the city of Poughkeepsie sprawling to the east and the Catskills providing a painterly backdrop to the west. People are forever gathering on the Walkway to do something fun, whether it’s breaking a Guinness world record, watching fireworks, viewing art, or just marveling at the spectacular skies in every season. Handicap accessible and pet friendly, everyone should see this park once — and once probably won’t be enough.
The Dutchess Rail Trail is our 13-mile multi-use linear county “park” that runs through the middle of the county along the former Maybrook Rail corridor, including the towns of Poughkeepsie, LaGrange, Wappinger, and East Fishkill, with a direct link to the Walkway Over the Hudson and the regional trail network.
To the west, the Walkway also connects you to the Hudson Valley Rail Trail, which offers a blacktopped nature walk through the Black Creek wetlands, a relaxing three miles with strategically placed benches for maximum marveling and a picnic pavilion. Like the Walkway, the Hudson Valley Rail Trail (HVRT) is made lively and welcoming by the energy of its volunteers. A Winterfest with a chili cook-off, chainsaw-carving demos, and other family fun helps over a thousand people shake off cabin fever every February; there’s also a benefit run for Wounded Warriors, running instruction for beginners, and a gala weekend in the fall that brings dozens of vendors and hundreds of families.
The rail trails have mile after mile of gorgeous views and sheltering forest, offering everything from a great workout to a leisurely ramble.
One day not too far off (volunteers hope), the Hudson Valley Rail Trail will connect directly to the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail (WVRT), a much longer gem. Beginning in Gardiner and heading south, the WVRT has mile after mile of gorgeous Shawangunk views and sheltering forest, offering hikers, joggers, bikers, horseback riders, and all other non-motorized pleasure seekers their choice of a great workout, a leisurely ramble, or a combination of the two. Except for a short section in New Paltz, this one’s not paved, making it a bit less wheelchair or stroller-friendly but retaining a more rustic feel. One of the outstanding things about the WVRT is the places it goes. The downtowns of Gardiner, New Paltz, and Rosendale all beckon from a stone’s throw away, offering refreshment and fun. This summer, chances are you won’t even have to leave the trail for gourmet fare; there are plans in the works for a Rail Trail Café just south of Rosendale.
In Rosendale, a spectacular treat awaits in the form of the renovated and reopened Rosendale Trestle spanning the Rondout Creek and Route 213, offering a chance to gaze down on a stunning little hamlet or the wilder lands to the west from a 150-foot high perch. The extension made possible by the newly reopened trestle will soon make it possible to bike or hike traffic-free all the way from Gardiner to Kingston.
To the west of the WVRT, you’ll find another gem to explore. The Hurley Rail Trail stretches from just south of Kingston to the quaint and quirky hamlet of High Falls, offering six miles of Rondout Valley beauty as it leads you through thick forest and alongside farmlands and wetlands. The part nearest Kingston is paved.
With lively crews of volunteers working hard on everything from improvements to event planning and grant-seeking, the future of these historic lifelines has never been brighter.
Still further west, stretching all the way from Ellenville to Kingston, the D&H Heritage Corridor offers a variation on the rail trail theme, encompassing the historic locks and tender’s paths of the old Delaware and Hudson Canal, as well as the former Ontario and Western Railroad. The Shawangunks to the east, the Catskills to the northwest, and the centuries-old stone houses of Stone Ridge and Hurley are some of the highlights. Rondout Valley Business Association president Richard Traverse says that ultimately, the plan is to open up more of the former O&W rail bed. “We are working toward a day when visitors will be able to walk or bike from the Sullivan County border in the south to Kingston in the north,” he says. “That would make an amazing journey through historic points of interests and some of the most beautiful scenery you’ll find anywhere.”
If you’d like to know more about how they rails were originally created, visit the national conservancy at railstotrails.org. With lively crews of volunteers working hard on everything from cleanup and improvement to event planning and grant-seeking, the future of these historic lifelines has never been brighter. Plans to expand the entire network are moving forward, a gleam in the eyes of rail trail lovers at this point—just as the world-famous Walkway was not so long ago. But they’re already some of the most user-friendly, soul-soothing fun the area has to offer, which is saying something. So plan your next visit with a rail trail ramble in mind; you’ll be glad you did.
If you’re visiting without a bike, you’ll find rentals available in Gardiner, New Paltz, Rosendale, and Kingston at cycle shops offering service with a smile and a wealth of local knowledge.
If walking is not your thing, don’t worry—you can view still view the rail trails by train! The Catskill Mountain Railroad allows you to step back in time to when train travel was the only way to access the Catskills. The Catskill Mountain Railroad Scenic Train is a five-mile round trip between Mt. Tremper and Boiceville along the Esopus Creek, famed for its scenic beauty. You may even spot bald eagles, blue herons, hawks, deer, and other wildlife along its banks. Or you can check out the Kingston City Limited train rides throughout historic Kingston—opening day is April 16 with a special Easter train. For more information, visit their website at catskillmtrailroad.com. The choice is yours: run, bike, hike, horseback ride, or do it the old-fashioned way, and view the rails by train!
SEE OUR ROSENDALE TRESTLE VIDEO AT: