Taking the kids out for a hike or walk in the woods is one of the nicest things you can do for them. You’re teaching them a simple, inexpensive way to relax, exercise, learn, and appreciate the natural beauty around them. It’s an opportunity to slow down and more closely examine the simple offerings of life—interesting trees, bugs, leaves, and signs of seasonal change. Through their eyes, you’ll notice things you’d never see otherwise, or have seen many times but maybe weren’t as excited about as a child can be. Conversations happen easily and naturally on the trail, and kids can burn off a good amount of energy and let their imaginations run free.
As soon as they can toddle without tipping over—or earlier if you get a baby pack—get into the wandering habit with some of our shorter and easier suggestions, especially those with an amazing destination. Long before kindergarten, little ones can carry their own small pack filled with water, snacks, and a sweater. Long into their teens and beyond, they’ll have a relationship with the outdoors that will enhance their lives and overall well-being. Here are some local favorites that are family-fabulous.
minnewaska state park preserve
5281 Route 44-55, Kerhonkson
Little Ones: Lake Minnewaska Loop Trail
From the parking lot, you can set off on a 1.9-mile walk around the lake along an easy carriage road with outstanding Gunks and Catskills views. Head east, and reward yourselves with a dip in that crystalline water at the beach at walk’s end. As your kids grow, you’ll find the park has plenty of scope for longer excursions, with 35 miles of carriage roads and 50 miles of footpaths. Try on the 3.1-mile hike to Lake Awosting for size, or get up early enough to snag a parking spot at Sam’s Point Nature Preserve for a three-mile there-and-back hike to the ice caves, or a five-mile hike to Verkeerder Kill Falls.
Walkway Over the Hudson
Their level, broad surfaces make Hudson Valley rail trails perfect for a family hike or bike ride. The Walkway—an elevated bridge that spans the width of the Hudson—is the most spectacular spot; the walk across and back is about 2.5 miles, and there’s a fun elevator on the Poughkeepsie end.
But don’t overlook the rest: The Hudson Valley Rail Trail that connects to the Walkway offers another couple of miles through the Black Creek Wetlands to Tony Williams Park, where you’ll find restrooms, pavilions, and ballfields.
Then there’s the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, a 23.7-mile linear park that connects New Paltz, Gardiner, Rosendale, and Kingston, with the Rail Trail Cafe, Rosendale Trestle, and Snyder Estate as bonus features in the Rosendale zone. The O&W Rail Trail stretches from Kingston all the way to Mountain Dale in Sullivan County, crossing through the Rondout Valley and showcasing the region’s historic canal.
Mt. Rutsen Road, Rhinebeck
Just minutes from Rhinebeck’s bustling center lies the enchantment of Ferncliff, a 200-acre old growth forest and game refuge. It’s laced with walking trails. Just 1.4 miles in, there’s an 80-foot fire tower with glorious Hudson Valley views. (Bonus: Rhinebeck has amazing ice cream and pizza for treats afterwards.)
36 Sunnyside Road, Beacon
Fishkill Ridge is the place to go if you’d like to see the Hudson Highlands from the east. These aren’t toddler hikes, but older kids will thrive. Connectors link you up with Mount Beacon, which features a summit fire tower with views that stretch from Albany to Manhattan on a clear day.
hudson highlands nature museum
hhnm.org, 120 Muser Drive, Cornwall, 845-534-5506
Little Ones: Grasshopper Grove The Outdoor Discovery Center of the Hudson Highlands Nature Museum in Cornwall has lots of easy and stroller-friendly walking paths. Bonus: it’s set up by very smart experts who understand the whole kids-in-nature thing. Grasshopper Grove (open on weekends) offers guided, nature-themed, hands-on activities, and the nearby Wildlife Education Center has animal programs.
storm king state park
parks.ny.gov/parks/152, Mountain Road, Cornwall-on-Hudson, 845-786-2701
Take the trail up Butter Hill to panoramic river and mountain views. There are steep, scrambly parts, but frequent rewards along the 2.5-mile loop, and, hey, it’s downhill on the way back. For more of a strolling experience in the same region, head over to Storm King Art Center for the afternoon. Gravel pathways lacing the 500-acre site lead you through meadows and viewsheds while you drink in world-class sculpture.
mohonkpreserve.org, 3197 Route 44-55, New Paltz, 845-255-0919
Little Ones: J & S Grafton Sensory Trail At Mohonk Preserve Visitor Center, you’ll find the Visitor Center Trailhead, a gateway to many marvels. A great one for even the tiniest apprentice hiker is the quarter-mile J & S Grafton Sensory Trail, where interpretive exhibits engage all senses and a parent can feel like a natural genius explaining things. (And the Visitor Center has restrooms!) But that’s just the beginning of the opportunities at the Preserve, whose hikes and cliffs are legend. Stroll the Trapps to see world-class climbers in action, or take on the Bonticou Crag from the Spring Farm Trailhead (with or without rock scramble).
franny reese state park
parks.ny.gov/parks/192 Johnson-Iorio Park, Haviland Road, Highland
This is a pleasant 2.5-mile loop of historic carriage road, perfect for ambling and enhanced with the ruins of a mansion. There’s a connector to the Walkway, or you can simply gaze down on Route 44/55 and feel sorry for the folks stuck in cars.
dover stone church
townofdoverny.us/Stone_Church.cfm 3128 Route 22, Dover Plains 845-832-9168
Park at the elementary school (when it’s closed) or the Freshco 22 Plaza (when school’s open) and walk a quiet block of sidewalk, till you see an enticing gravel lane heading uphill to your left. The Stone Church is a 1.2-mile walk. At the end, the path leads into and through a cave, and on the other side is a waterfall. You may have to help the little ones with the sometimes slippery rocks, but the magic is more than worth the effort.