The easy-going highways and scenic back roads of the Hudson Valley have practically become destinations in themselves. Whether it’s covered in wildflowers in the summer or blazing gold and auburn in the fall, it’s hard to find a town in the region that isn’t worth stopping by. But most travelers, especially those from New York City, rarely venture north of the cities of Kingston and Hudson. Those who don’t are missing out on some of the coolest parts, including growing, under-the-radar towns and villages in the upstate.
The Hudson Valley covers 10 counties and stretches from Yonkers in the south to Albany in the north. The Lower Hudson Valley consists of the counties of Rockland and Westchester. Mid-Hudson Valley, New York’s most popular weekend part, with easy access along the commuter train, includes Ulster, Dutchess, Orange and Putnam counties. Many guides and publications focus on these two sections of the Hudson Valley; some even consider them to be the all valley.
As a resident of the Upper Hudson Valley for 25 years, I’d like to put this misconception to bed and show you some of the best reasons to visit.
The often overlooked Upper Hudson Valley takes the hilly landscapes of its southern sisters and takes them up a few notches. Within the borders of Greene, Columbia, Rensselaer and Albany counties you will find the Catskill and Taconic mountain ranges, the beginnings of the Erie and Champlain canals, miles of wild eastern deciduous forest and spectacular scenery. that frame the Hudson River – the same vistas that inspired the Hudson River School of Painting. It is also home to fantastic outdoor recreation, a thriving food scene, and a number of unique cultural venues.
A small hamlet in the city of Shandaken, Phenicia is located in a “triangle” formed by the bases of Mount Tremper, Romer Mountain and Sheridan Mountain. But don’t be fooled by its small size. Phenicia is teeming with sights and activities, including summer music and art festivals, within a radius of less than 1 square mile.
The village offers several scenic hikes, ranging from simple walks to difficult climbs. The best are found on Mount Tremper and Mount Tobias. During warmer seasons, go fishing or tubing on Esopus Creek, or hit the pedals on a Rail Explorers tour.
In the small town center, catch a show at the Phenicia Playhouse open year-round. You can also visit a handful of shops and galleries, and stop for lunch or dinner. The adorable Phenicia Diner gets nothing but praise, but it’s often crowded with tourists. I prefer the slower pace of Danielle’s Pizza Shop, a staple in an area where it’s hard to find a good pie. Follow up with a pint at Woodstock Brewing or dessert at Maeve’s Place artisan bakery.
You may have heard of Windham Mountain, one of the upstate’s premier ski and snowboard destinations, with 1,600 feet of vertical drop on more than a dozen trails. In summer, the resort opens its 18-hole golf course and adrenaline-pumping downhill cycle paths.
But that’s not all there is to do in this historic town, which dates back to 1798. Hike, bike or cross-country ski in Elm Ridge Wild Forest; the lower trails are the easiest. In the city center, between the independent boutiques on Main Street, stop at Windham Fine Arts to browse the gallery or purchase original works of art for your home. You can also book an organic facial treatment at Windham Spa.
Windham has several restaurants to choose from for lunch and dinner. My picks: fresh, simple foods at Windham Local and wine-focused meals at Ze Windham Wine Bar. The latter offers a cleverly curated list of 100 international wines, light bites and platters of cheeses and cold meats. During the warmer months, sample your selections in the lantern-lit sommelier’s secret garden.
Once a powerhouse for shipbuilding, brick making, and ice harvesting (a popular occupation in the pre-chilling of the Hudson Valley), Athens overlooks the west bank of the Hudson River. HG Wells’ 2005 film adaptation War of the Worlds used a few places in town, including the famous ferry scene, touring on the Hudson.
Filled with ancient Victorians, brown stones and Italian-style architecture, Athens is now home to an eclectic community. Artists, artisans and small business owners are behind the city’s resurgence. Visit the Athens Cultural Center, an exhibition and performance space, which also offers live lessons, on Second Street. A short walk away on Second and Water streets are a cluster of shops and restaurants. Do not miss Bonfiglio & Bread, supplier of excellent pastries.
Athens Riverfront Park is a great place for a picnic or just to relax with a view of the Hudson. In summer, visit the Second Empire-style Hudson Lighthouse in Athens or visit the annual street fair. Unwind with one of dozens of beers on tap, along with light snacks and sandwiches, at the rustic-chic Crossroads Brewing Company.
4. Kindergarten crochet
Cultured Kinderhook is one of the oldest towns in the Hudson Valley, founded by Dutch settlers in the early 1600s. Remnants of its long history have been left in an impressive array of historic buildings, including a farmhouse Netherlands where notorious traitor Benedict Arnold took refuge while recovering from injuries sustained during the War of Independence.
Begin with a walk along the Albany Hudson Electric Trail, which is part of the new, fully accessible 750-mile Empire State Trail. Near the start of the trail in the village, take a break to appreciate the Colored People’s Cemetery, where about 500 free blacks and slaves are buried – on just a quarter of an acre of land.
Plan to spend a few hours at the huge The School | Jack Shainman Gallery. Located in a converted elementary school, this 30,000 square foot gallery is one of the best places in New York City – including the city itself – to admire provocative contemporary art. Then take a stroll down the street for a shopping and sipping spree, including the brand new Kinderhook Knitting Mill. It houses a specialty cafe and retail store, home goods store, soda counter, perfumer and wine store. Enjoy lunch at The Aviary, the new Southeast Asian restaurant from Manhattan chef Hannah Wong.
Pro tip: The Upper Hudson Valley offers such a variety of outdoor recreation and cultural stops that you’ll want to pack for all eventualities. Bring sturdy walking shoes, hiking boots if you plan to hike the trails, and casual dress for dinner. Also, pack lots of diapers. Daytime temperatures can be 30 degrees warmer than nighttime temperatures, and you’ll appreciate the ability to warm up or cool off as needed.
On the way to Philmont, you might be wondering what there could be to see and do in this quiet old railway town. Then you turn onto Main Street. Nestled in its handful of shops and cafes is one of the most sophisticated restaurants you will find in the area. Local 111, in a converted gas station, draws diners from near and far to sample farm-to-table cuisine that showcases the rich bounty of the Hudson Valley.
As the restaurant is only open for dinner, plan your activities around it. Start your visit with another exciting surprise: the High Falls Conservation Area, where an easy hiking trail, through hemlock shrouded ravines, stops at a spectacular 150-foot waterfall. The lower creek side trail also has mini falls. Or for a more meditative experience, walk the curved lines of the Philmont Maze, a 42-foot maze on Maple Avenue, on Village Green. It is said that walking through its stone-lined paths encourages deep contemplation.
Fancy an overnight stay where you can enjoy wine and sunsets on Summit Lake? Gather a group of friends and book the Vanderbilt Lakeside, a historic railroad house reimagined as a boutique inn, with Manhattan-club-meets-mountainside-lodge decor.
Not a town but a town of 50,000 and the county seat of Rensselaer, Troy is urban energy and convenience in an easy-to-navigate package. It has long housed a variety of minority and historically disadvantaged communities. With the guidance of a new group of entrepreneurs, city officials and artists, the city is undertaking various revitalization efforts.
There’s a reason movies like Age of innocence and the new HBO series Golden age were filmed in Troy: its density of well-preserved Victorian architecture offers a lot of feast for the eyes, especially on and around River Street.
Catch a concert at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, renowned for both its historic architecture and acoustics. Visit the Capital Region Center for the Arts for an exhibition of local works. Make your way to the Troy Waterfront Farmers Market, one of the largest and oldest in the area, or take the Uncle Sam’s bike path along the riverside.
Downtown, shop for vintage clothing, specialty and imported foods, New Age books and accessories, household items, jewelry, stationery and more. When it’s time for dinner, you’ll find over 20 individual options representing a range of cooking styles, as well as the new River Street Market, an eclectic dining hall. My top picks: Muza for Polish and German favorites like pierogi and schnitzel, and Tara Kitchen for memorable Moroccan cuisine. Prefer not to limit your options? Book a Taste of Troy Food Tour, which blends city history with local food at multiple stops throughout the city.
To top it off, a glass of wine at Lucas Confectionary or several artisanal IPAs, sour et ales at Brown’s Brewing.
Pro tip: On-street parking and public lots are plentiful in most of these cities. The exception is Troy. Trying to find on-street parking can be a headache here, so locate a garage, public lot, or metered street ahead of time.
You can find more information about upstate New York in these TravelAwaits articles: