A Karen Brown Recommended Itinerary
New York’s Hudson River Valley: Great
Estates, West Point, Mountains & Lakes
ITINERARY AS EXCERPTED FROM KAREN BROWN'S GUIDE: Just as New York City is the gateway to the country, so the Hudson River is the gateway up the valley to the northeast sector of New York State. When first discovered by Henry Hudson in 1609 it was thought that this river might be the way to China but when that turned out to be a false hope, the river turned into a strategic means for the movement of supplies and armies. The consequences of this were twofold: New York City became the foremost trading port of the nation and the Hudson Valley became a vital part of the Industrial Revolution. One of the loveliest itineraries in New York State follows this river north from the city of New York or from any of the airports that serve the greater New York metropolis. Wherever you start from, the pace and the frenzy of New York City quickly evaporates as you begin to feel the tranquility of the countryside, see the green trees, and visit the bed-room communities where the com-muting executives of the great city sleep
between their mega-transactions. The attractions along both banks of the Hudson reflect many of the significant events and people in America's history-visiting them will give you insight into their lives and their many accomplishments as leading statesmen. Many of the more interesting historical places to pause at along the way are south of Albany, the state capital, while much of the state's natural beauty is found in its mountainous regions-the Catskills and the Adirondacks.
Recommended Pacing: The itinerary's pace could be leisurely, with probably two days of driving interrupted by a further two to four days of seeing the sights along the way, depending on your particular interests. When you reach the Adirondacks, you can then continue north into Canada and the city of Montreal; travel west along the St. Lawrence Seaway; and return by the fastest route, the New York State Thruway, to New York City and its airports. If your interest in antiquing is passionate, you can wander to the east just over the borders into Massachusetts and Connecticut and follow Route 7 from town to town and shop to shop (with The Green Guide to Antiquing in New England in hand, of course). If you elect to follow the latter path, you should add another day to your itinerary.
There are many routes northward and your choice depends on the time you have available and your destination. The New York State Thruway (I-87) most quickly moves you upward toward Albany; the Palisades Interstate Parkway and Route 9W follow the west side of the Hudson River; the Henry Hudson Parkway and Route 9 lead you along the eastern bank of the Hudson; and the Saw Mill River and Taconic State Parkways provide you the most scenic and winding route on the east side. The Saw Mill River and Taconic State Parkways were designed years ago when cars did not go so fast, when travel was more to be enjoyed than to be completed quickly, and when there was great appreciation for the plantings of trees and shrubs which in and of themselves made a trip on these parkways so pleasurable.
Whichever route you choose to follow, you'll find rolling countryside with farms, charming towns, and great inns for an overnight stay. To the west are the Catskill Mountains with their resorts attracting honeymooners into heart-shaped spa tubs, and to the east lie the Taconic Mountains with their beauty most especially striking in the autumn when trees color and leaves fall to the ground.
A good start to this adventure on the Hudson would be to follow the signs for the Saw Mill River Parkway north from New York City. (For sightseeing suggestions in New York City, see the New York Itinerary.) In no time at all you will arrive in Yonkers and Sunnyside, the home of author Washington Irving, whose contributions to American writing include the stories of Rip van Winkle and Ichabod Crane. The tales he wove of life in Sleepy Hollow country and the home he built here are part of the history of this area. His home contains elements of Scottish, Dutch, and Spanish influence, reflecting his travels around the world. (Sunnyside: 914-591-8763.) Nearby in Tarrytown (take the I-87 exit from the Saw Mill River Parkway to Route 9) is a Gothic Revival castle with turrets and towers called Lyndhurst, designed by architect Alexander Jackson Davis whose reputation for design of this style made him famous in his time. This home, run by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is worth a visit to see the several Tiffany windows, elaborately decorated rooms, art, and landscaped gardens. (914-631-4481)
An hour north of the city and not far from Lyndhurst is yet another National Trust property, KyKuit, the most famous of several homes built by the Rockefeller family along the Hudson. It too is located on Route 9, north of I-87 by 2 miles. The original house, built for John D. Rockefeller, has been modified into the grand home that exists today. Nelson Rockefeller was its resident at a time when his interest in art, particularly modern art, came to the fore and the house has famous paintings by the most important of the modern artists. The collection of outdoor sculpture on the grounds of the estate enhances the landscaping and the views across the Hudson River. (914-631-9491)
Another of the attractions of Route 9, just north of Kykuit, is the Union Church of Pocantico Hills, which contains the only set of stained-glass windows created by Mark Chagall for an American church. The rose window was designed and created by Henry Matisse. (914-332-6659)
Farther north, in Garrison-on-Hudson there is an example of the finest of American Federal architecture, interiors, and furniture-Boscobel, whose contents have been meticulously assembled to show the influence of the period of the Adam style. Of particular note is the freestanding stairway in the front hall-the grace of this architectural detail sets the tone for the rest of this lovely home. (845-265-3638)
Continuing north on Route 9, in Hyde Park you come to the home of Franklin Roosevelt and the Franklin D Roosevelt Library, which contains the papers and mementos of his presidency and his collection of books on naval history (800-337-8474). Here also is Valkill Cottage, the home to which Eleanor Roosevelt moved after the death of her husband (845-229-9422). In Hyde Park you also find the Vanderbilt National Historical Site, a 50-room Beaux-Arts mansion displaying the wealth and elegance of life at the end of the 19th century. This is a mansion of incredible opulence and reflects the lifestyle of the times when the privileged classes entertained in a grand way. (845-229-7770)
On Route 9G in Hudson you come to the Olana State Historical Site. This mansion bears much of the style and feeling of Sunnyside and has within its walls many paintings by Frederic Edwin Church, the original owner, who in its construction was influenced by the places he and his wife had visited in their worldwide travels. (518-828-0135)
Farther north, on I-90 east of the river in Old Chatham (exit B2), is the Shaker Museum and Library, an exceptional museum reflecting a way of life and a style of living. This museum houses the largest collection of all things Shaker displayed in several different buildings. After the days of Victoriana the Shaker lifestyle was much simpler, as is reflected in the design of furniture, working tools, and textiles. (518-794-9100)
On Route 9W on the west bank of the Hudson River you find yet another series of interesting historical places to visit. If you have started your journey up the east side of the river, you can join up with Route 9W by crossing over to the west bank on the Bear Mountain Bridge, 5 miles north of Peekskill. Traveling north, you come to West Point Military Academy on its spectacular site with views of and across the Hudson. West Point was established as a fort in 1778 and not until 1802 did it become a training academy for the army. (For tours, call: 845-446-4724.) A visitors' center explains the history of West Point and offers tours of the Cadet Chapel (845-938-2638), Fort Putnam, the military museum, and various monuments, all of which are worth seeing.
The Catskill Mountains are one of the diversions to which many are attracted while following the Hudson River Valley. The Catskills are easily reached from New York City and since 1900 this has been the area to which New Yorkers have come to escape the heat of the city. The heyday of the Catskills was in the period from 1920 to 1970. Many of the major resorts that were so popular then have closed in favor of smaller hotels but some still carry on with traditions established decades ago. Among the things to do in the area is to climb to the site of the Catskill Mountain House, long since gone, from where you can enjoy incredible vistas made famous by artists of the 19th century. This is an area of many vacation homes and much recreational activity of every form including swimming, boating, rafting, skiing, golfing, bicycling, fishing, horseback riding, and snowmobiling. This is also a great area for climbing and many of the trails have been in use for more than 150 years. A visit to the Catskills can be just a few hours' diversion on the way north or you can make it into an overnight stay.
Entrance to the Catskills, an area of great beauty, is through the town of Kingston, which sits on the west bank at the edge of the Hudson River and the Catskills. With the town dating back to the 17th century, there is much to be enjoyed in strolling through the historic district-many of the old houses built of stone can still be seen. From Route 9W in Kingston take Route 28 into these mountains and explore the winding roads and beautiful scenery.
While in the area, consider taking the time to travel south and west of Kingston to visit the Delaware and Hudson Canal Museum, 17 miles away via Route 209 south and Route 213 east. This small museum recounts the history of the canal and its role in hauling coal from Pennsylvania. There is a walking path along the now dried-up canal and locks. (845-687-9311)
Albany, the state capital, sits on the Hudson River in central New York and was in its earliest years the gateway to western New York, traveling the Erie Canal to the Great Lakes. The Capitol Building looks for all the world like a château and the grand and large plazas in front of it serve all the more to reinforce its grand image. (518-474-2418)
North of Albany and easily accessible from I-87 (the New York State Thruway) is the town of Saratoga Springs, a town of Victorian homes with wide wraparound front porches and great character. Between 1865 and 1900 Saratoga Springs was the summer resort to which all the "right" people made journeys. With its large hotels and a race track, this was a place of great entertaining and sport but perhaps it was best known for its healing mineral-water baths. The old casino closed in 1907 and with it a change took place in life in Saratoga Springs. Now this is a place to come to enjoy its shops, antique stores, and the numerous bed and breakfasts that have replaced of many of the large hotels. There are 900 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places here and you can obtain information on locations and self-guided walking tours at the Saratoga Springs Visitor’s Center & Heritage Area (518-587-3241).
The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame with its collections of the highlights of the world of horses is a mecca for those interested in thoroughbred horse racing. Information about the museum is available at 518-584-0400.
Other attractions in Saratoga Springs include the National Museum of Dance, the country's only museum devoted to dance (518-584-2225); the Saratoga National Historical Park, which focuses on the battles in the late 18th century between the French and the Americans (518-664-9821); and the Hyde Collection with its exquisite collection of paintings by such well-known artists as Botticelli, da Vinci, Rubens, Rembrandt, El Greco, Renoir, Van Gogh, and Picasso (518-792-1761).
The collection of paintings is housed in an Italian Renaissance villa built in 1912 where a central courtyard of sculpture and plants is particularly attractive. If you are an opera buff, you may want to visit the Marcella Sembrich Memorial Studio where mementos of her coloratura soprano career in Europe and the United States are displayed. (518-644-9839)
The Adirondacks, only a little north of Saratoga Springs and accessed easily from I-87, are without doubt a very special part of New York State. Located in the northeast corner of the state and covering more than 6 million acres, the Adirondacks offer travelers the opportunity to enjoy the mountainous terrain and to participate in all the sports that mountain and water alike make possible. About the size of New Hampshire, they are larger than the national parks of Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, and Yosemite combined, encompassing more than 4,000 lakes, ponds, swamps and bogs, 2,000 mountainous peaks, and 21,000 miles of rivers, streams, and brooks. This is an area of great scenic beauty-there is nothing like having a day to quietly explore the winding ways of this part of the Mid-Atlantic. Much can be enjoyed as you drive within the Adirondacks but there is also much more to be experienced if you can take the time to hike the mountains, follow a trail through the woods, or enjoy water sports on the lovely clear lakes.
In the early 1930s the Adirondacks became famous when Lake Placid, reached by taking Route 73 from I-87 north (the New York State Thruway), hosted the Winter Olympics, as it did again in 1980. The Olympic Stadium, with its four ice-skating rinks, is available for touring by appointment (518-523-1655 or 800-462-6236). As well as offering a variety of sports activities, the village of Lake Placid (actually on Mirror Lake) is today a very upscale place for shopping and eating in great restaurants.
Among the various things you might do while visiting in the area would be to drive the Whiteface Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway, open sometime between mid-May and June depending on the melting of the winter snow. To reach this highway take Route 86 in Lake Placid to Route 431 at Wilmington-follow the signs for 3 miles to the tollbooth.
Whiteface Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway is a two-lane highway leading to one of the peaks, from which on a clear day you can see for 110 miles from Lake Placid itself to Lake Champlain. (518-946-2223)
In the village of Blue Mountain Lake, at the junction of Routes 28 and 30, is the Adirondacks Museum, a compound of buildings, galleries, and exhibit halls, which is thought of as the Smithsonian Museum of the Adirondacks. It is unfortunately open only from Memorial Day to mid-October but it is well worth a visit to see the boat museum, homes built in the finest Adirondack style of architecture, the 1907 schoolhouse, exhibits on logging and mining, and the art museum. The Road and Transportation Building is especially impressive with its 45,000 square feet of exhibit space displaying sleighs, buggies, wagons, and a private Pullman car. Outside, you can tour a 1900 steam engine and passenger car. (518-352-7311)
Seasonally available for the visitor is Great Camp Sagamore, summer home of the Vanderbilt family, which was once able to provide accommodations for more than 100 guests. Today it is a National Historic Site and guided tours are provided. The camp is located 4 miles south of the town of Raquette Lake, off Route 28 and west of Blue Mountain Lake. (315-354-5311)
On the eastern edge of the Adirondacks, east of I-87, is the Champlain Valley, which slopes down from the mountainous terrain to the lake itself. The "must-see" site in this area is Fort Ticonderoga. To reach the town of Ticonderoga, take Route 8 east from I-87 to Route 9N and then drive north into town. The fort was an important military post in the 18th century and known as "the key to a continent" because of its strategic position on the waterway connecting New York and Canada. It was held at different times by France, England and the USA but was abandoned after the Revolution. It was not until the early 20th century that the fort was purchased by a wealthy merchant, which led to its preservation. (518-585-2821)
Other interesting things to see north of Ticonderoga on Route 9N include the Crown Point State Historic Site (518-597-3666), the ruins of Fort Frederic, which was built in 1737 by the French, and the Kent-Delord House Museum in Plattsburgh, with its vast collections of art, furniture, and accessories (518-561-1035). Also worthy of a visit in Plattsburgh is the Alice T. Miner Museum, whose collections are wider and more eclectic that one can possibly imagine. (518-846-7336)
This itinerary ends in the Champlain Valley. Options are to continue north into Canada to visit Montreal (less than two hours away); to drive east into Vermont and to connect with one of the itineraries outlined in our New England guide; to travel along the Saint Lawrence Seaway; or to return swiftly on the New York State Thruway back to New York City. If your point of origin was the New York area and you need to return there to fly home, the most interesting and varied route south would be to travel down Route 7 through Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.
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