Once upon a time there was a magnificent and quite magical place that people from far and wide would visit. They’d come to hike and frolic atop snowcapped mountains during the cold winter season. They’d ice-skate on ponds and lakes summoning to mind the scenes of a Hans Christian Anderson novel. They could don their snowshoes to trek across landscapes that would awaken in spring with floral abundance. Or go sledding, snow tubing, and downhill skiing on the many mountain ranges, hills, and fields these environs offered.
This enchanting winter-wonderland is the historic Hudson River Valley—the unrivaled habitat that’s imbued with history—the go-to place for cold-weather activities for centuries.
And now, with winter upon us the Valley is beckoning for those who possess fervor for adventure, action and activity.
Let’s talk hiking…
Imagine a nighttime ramble, gazing up at a chaste spectacle of stars as they brightly reflect across snow-covered paths. At Frost Valley in Claryville you can do just that at their Night Awareness Hike, or spend a weekend at their winter camp and enjoy all that the 6,000 acres deep in the Catskills imparts. Your winter wanderlust is satiated with cross-country skiing and many winter-themed activities for all ages and abilities on miles of backcountry trails or skiing beside pristine streams.
Trekking by Snowshoe or Cross-County?
When it comes to snow-shoeing, cross-country skiing, ungroomed backcountry skiing, or hiking—picture yourself in heavenly environments on acres and acres of snow-covered hills and slopes at Lake Minnewaska State Park, Mohonk Preserve, or Mohonk Mountain House.
While at Mohonk Preserve soak in the serenity of the snow-icing on the branches of the winter woods or the natural ice-flow sculptures cascading from the rocks into the streams. Whether you are an experienced or novice hiker you can choose a journey from over 100 miles of carriage roads and trails in the Shawangunks that link onto the adjacent lands of Minnewaska State Park Preserve and Mohonk Mountain House resort. You’ll marvel at the untarnished magnificence of these preserved lands with its diverse scenery ranging from open snowfields to valley views. So don’t forget to take your camera.
The Mohonk Mountain House also offers the epitome of old-fashioned skating with a pavilion set amidst spectacular scenery—you’ll almost feel as if you should have brought a 19th-century fur muff with you as you glide across an award-winning 9,375-square-foot refrigerated ice rink. Afterward, a perfect combo warm-up would be to drink a cup of hot chocolate while toe-warming before a 39-foot tall stone fireplace.
If you’re into cross-country skiing and snowshoe treks, the Mountain House is the place to explore over 30 miles of the finest groomed trails in upstate New York while soaking in the sweeping views of distant mountain summits. And if you’re a snowshoe bunny, strap on a pair and discover the many trails that are too difficult to reach on skis. You’ll discover miles of unchartered skiing territory and gorgeous views.
Another virtue of the Valley is the Hudson River Valley Greenway Trail System, which boasts the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail that stretches 12.2 miles south from the New Paltz/Rosendale town line to the Gardiner/Shawangunk town line. This is a not-to-miss, multi-use trail for hikers, snowshoers and cross-country enthusiasts. And not too far from the rail trail is Franny Reese State Park in Highland that’s known as “the mother of the modern environmental movement.” Not only are the 250 acres of impressive ridgeline perfect for snowshoe or cross-country ski invigoration, but you are close to a fantastic “after-event” at the Walkway over the Hudson. With entrances in Highland on the Ulster County side or in Poughkeepsie on the Dutchess side, the Walkway offers breathtaking dramatic views of the Hudson River from a 212-foot elevation. Plus it’s the longest elevated pedestrian bridge in the world at 1.28 miles long.
Heard of Winter Disc Golf?
Okay—so golf is your bag and it’s winter. Well, keep on those snowshoes as there’s a whole new mountaintop game at Mohonk called Disc Golf. It’s like golf—sans the clubs, balls and holes, but it’s an 18-hole, or basket as it were, course that progresses through the woods with scoring just like typical golf. A fun time for every age.
Now, if you’re a serious winter-warrior infatuated with the downhill thrills of skiing and snowboarding, the Belleayre Ski Center has it all. Along with having the only Catskills Cat-access skiing and snowboarding, their mogul trails range from intermediate to expert bumps with extensive glade skiing. And when it comes to entire family adoration of downhill and winter-wonders—go to the Sawkill Family Ski Center in Kingston with its super carpet lift, a fabulous snow-tubing run, and 55 trails of parks and glades with eight lifts—including the new High Speed Quad. But be advised you have to rent snow tubes at this venue and cannot bring in your personal tubes.
When it comes to sledding, snow-tubing and tobogganing, there are so many “unofficial” hills in the Valley—so we suggest checking out the locals to see if they’ll share their favorite hints on the hills, such as Woodstock’s Slide Hill on Route 212! Just drive around and you’ll be sure to find many of these local hot spots for cold weather fun. However for official places in Ulster County, remember Highland’s Rocking Horse Ranch during warmer seasons? Well winter opens up this ranch for skiing, snow-tubing and ice-skating, so bring your sleds and snow tubes. Plus it won’t be hard to convince everyone to get aboard a horse-drawn sleigh for a ride over snow-glazed terrain. You know how it goes: “Oh what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh!”
Challenging Ice Climbing
The art of ice climbing in the Valley is definitely for the most adventurous winter explorer. It’s one of the most challenging winter escapades—as one ascends inclined ice formations such as icefalls, frozen waterfalls, cliffs and rock slabs covered with iced-over water flow. Both Alpine ice and water ice climbing are available in the mountain ranges of the Shawangunks, the Catskills and the Trapps at Mohonk Preserve. However these excursions are best accompanied with an accredited guide service with trained professionals and instructors. See Alpine Endeavors listed below for information.
Hills and History
In Dutchess County you can transform sledding and tobogganing into both an historical and physical activity by going over the river and through the woods to the majestic properties of the famed estates along Route 9W. The descending hills on the back lawn offer a sensational sweep at The Mills Mansion at the Staatsburgh State Historic Site while treating guests to an incredible view of the Hudson as you jettison down the hills on this 192-acre estate. To note: sleds with metal runners are not permitted. For other famous mega-mansions, the numerous trails that thread through the combined 1,000 acres of the Ogden Mills, Ruth Livingston Mills Memorial State Park, and Margaret Lewis Norrie State Park in Staatsburgh are ideal for fabulous winter hiking, cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing with a backdrop of the Hudson River. And for a warming touch to the end of your cold-weather fun, visit the gift shop for hot chocolate or coffee. Pleasure-seekers should also check out Burger Hill in Rhinebeck. It’s part of the Scenic Hudson Park system with a 550-foot hill that rises up to swag and brag panoramic vistas of the Shawangunk Ridge, Catskill and Taconic mountains, Stissing Mountain, and the Berkshire Mountains. Heading south? Lower Dutchess County is the location of the 14,086-acre Clarence Fahnestock State Park in Carmel with fantabulous hills summoning sledders to slip, slide and glide across their Winter Park on sleds, snow tubes and toboggans. Note: no sleds with metal runners.
The days may be short, but the list of wintertime bliss in the Hudson Valley is long. Check out more information, hours of operation, schedules, fees and special events at these winter-wonderful venues:
Alpine Endeavors, guided ice climbing tours/equipment, Rosendale | alpineendeavors.com; 845-658-3094
Belleayre Winter Snow Park, Highmount | belleayre.com; 845-254-5600 or 845-254-5601
Franny Reese State Park, Highland | scenichudson.org/parks/frannyreese; 845-473-4440
Frost Valley YMCA, Claryville | frostvalley.org; 845-985-2291
Minnewaska State Park Preserve, Kerhonkson | nysparks.com/parks/127; 845-255-0752
Mohonk Mountain House, Gardiner | mohonk.com. 845-255-1000
Mohonk Preserve Visitor Center, New Paltz | mohonkpreserve.org; 845-255-0919; 845-255-1000
Rocking Horse Ranch, Highland | rockinghorseranch.com; 845-691-2927
Sawkill Family Ski Center, Kingston | sawkillski.com; 845-336-6977
Walkill Valley Rail Trail, New Paltz | gorailtrail.org
Walkway Over the Hudson, Highland and Poughkeepsie | walkway.org; 845-454-9649
Burger Hill, Rhinebeck | scenichudson.org/parks/burgerhill; 845-473-4440
Clarence Fahnestock State Park’s Winter Park, Carmel | coldspringonhudson.com; 845-225-7207
Ruth Livingston Mills Memorial State Park, Mills Norrie State Park, Ogden Mills, in Staatsburg | firstname.lastname@example.org; 845-889-4646
Staatsburgh State Historic Site at The Mills Mansion, Staatsburg | nysparks.com or on Facebook at StaatsburghSHS for updated info; 845-889-8851
Important Safeguards for Winter Outings:
Health: If the winter expedition includes youngsters—most parents are painfully aware that if the kids are not happy, this will hinder everyone’s enjoyment. Often forgotten is to make sure to keep a child hydrated by offering plenty of fluids. Warm, winter clothing causes children to sweat, and youths and the elderly are particularly prone to dehydration even in the frigid temperatures of winter.
Safety: Some facilities require helmets for children when skiing or snowboarding. Even if the venue has a “helmet-optional” rule—it’s a good idea to protect kids with helmets. Also make sure the location is safe. Avoid hills close to streets or bodies of water that are too icy or steep, and try to locate a sledding area that provides a good stretch of flat ground at the hill-base for slowing down.
Attire: Wear temperature-appropriate, waterproof clothing. Hypothermia and frostbite are risks in extremely cold weather. Layering clothing is a good rule of thumb, which safeguards the entire family, and also provides a “cushion”. Wear coats, sweaters, long-sleeved T-shirts, and don’t forget thick socks, boots with breathing room (this circulates body heat), hats, earmuffs, and gloves or mittens. Many facility directors can attest to the fact that if a child is cold and miserable there’s less of a chance that everyone will have a thoroughly enjoyable day.
Adult Supervision: When taking young children it’s critical to keep an eye on your youngster at all times. Keep older children on different paths than the younger ones and make sure they stick to the rules. Most of all—educate your children on sledding safety and what to do if there is a mishap.