An Upstate State of Mind

There’s more to New York than the city of eight million. Hit the road for a week to discover the hiking, climbing, boating, and beauty of the Empire State.
By Oriane Delflosse
  |  Gorp.com
Bear Mountain State Park in fall
A BRIDGE TO FIND: Bear Mountain State Park, a blissful hour-long drive from the Manhattan Bridge (Joe Sohm/Digital Vision/Getty)
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The five boroughs definitely have their allure, but visit on the weekends and the avenue canyons of Manhattan seem more like a ghost town than a thriving metropolis. That's because everyone gets out of the city for those 48 hours. But if you make like a local—and give the region a full week—you'll discover a New York you never imagined.

DAY 1: THE HUDSON HIGHLANDS (95 MILES)

On the Road
You can get out of Manhattan all sorts of ways, but the Palisades Interstate Parkway, which hugs the west side of the Hudson River, is one of the most scenic. The verdant route—especially in the spring and summer—makes for a pleasant hour-long drive to Bear Mountain State Park and adjoining Harriman State Park, the parkway's terminus. Though it's insanely popular, with more annual visitors than Yellowstone, use this green space to get out and stretch your legs. A short drive up to Perkins Memorial Tower rewards with spectacular views of the park, the Hudson Highlands, and Harriman State Park. From Bear Mountain, head north through the 16,000-acre West Point Military Academy campus, located on a high point above a narrow curve in the Hudson River. This strategic position was coveted during the American Revolutionary War as it allowed for control of critical river traffic (the plot to surrender this fort to the British was Benedict Arnold's claim to fame). Just north of West Point, pass through Storm King State Park, an undeveloped tract of land whose centerpiece is Storm King Mountain. Take the Quaker Ave exit to the Storm King Art Center in Mountainville.

A Bit of History
Home to mountain laurel, scrub oak, and much wildlife, the Hudson Highlands have long been valued both by nature lovers anxious to preserve its natural state and industrialists desperate to develop the land. And, as usually happens, attempts to protect the land were largely unsuccessful until wealthy people put in their literal two cents. In this particular instance, the proposed relocation of Sing Sing prison to Bear Mountain in 1908 triggered the much-needed intervention. Mary Avrell Harriman, wife of the recently deceased railroad baron E. H. Harriman and area property owner, struck a deal with the state: In return for halting the prison relocation plans, she donated 10,000 acres of land and raised a large sum of money for the establishment of a state park. In 1913, Bear Mountain-Harriman State Park was born; ten years later, the park was the site of the very first section of the Appalachian Trail.

Highlight: Storm King Art Center
This open-air museum sits on 500 acres of fields and woodlands, offering one of the most unique ways to experience the beauty of the Hudson Highlands. Founded in 1960 by Ralph Ogden and H. Peter Stern, the center has taken the idea of a sculpture garden to the macro level, with the features of a hillside and the views of mountains in the distance serving as the walls or windows of an exhibition space. Contemporary sculptures have been positioned on the sweeping hills and valleys so as to illuminate and draw visitors into the surrounding landscape. For the past ten years, the center has been actively reintroducing native plants into the open fields around the massive sculptures that make up the permanent collection. Mowed walkways create lovely islands of wildflowers, buckwheat, and alfalfa between the artwork. A tram stops at designated spots if you want a speedier mode of transport, while a network of trails weaves through wooded areas. Sculptures on view are from 1960 to the present and include work by Alexander Calder, Henry Moore, Louise Nevelson, and a permanent collection of David Smith pieces, which inspired the idea for the museum.

Highlight: New Paltz
From the Art Center, backtrack to 9W, a scenic byway that continues along the west bank of the Hudson River. Then drive 40 minutes to New Paltz, a quaint college town with an outdoors vibe due to its proximity to spectacular rock climbing. Exploring the town doesn't take long. Head down Main Street, which is lined with cute shops and restaurants and conveniently ends at the Gilded Otter Brewing Co. Before you settle in for a beer on the back deck, check out Huguenot Street, just off the main drag, which showcases seven well-preserved French Huguenot stone houses that date back to the early 1700s. Though a little pricey, The Harvest Café has good food and great views from the deck. The budget traveler is in luck—the New Paltz hostel is located on Main Street. Those with more stretch in their wallet should try for reservations at the historic Mohonk Mountain House.


Published: 17 Jun 2008 | Last Updated: 16 Jan 2013
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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