When the rat race gets too much, escape to one of the many green spaces around New York’s Hudson Valley. There are some beautiful hiking trails within an hour and a half of Manhattan.
If you’re not sure you need to get out of town, the gauntlet run between the subway and the main concourse of Grand Central will surely remind you. Grand Central is a stunning place to depart from, but it’s also everything that’s bad about humanity. If only Grand Central could be the Grand Central of Terry Gilliam’s Fisher King – a graceful waltz, where time stops. But nope, it isn’t, so make haste, buy your ticket on the soonest Metro North line train and hightail it up the Hudson.
The Metro North trains are comfortable, but dated. It’s early 90s at best, but at least there are toilets. A quaint touch is the conductor, who still wears the same starched caps that the MTA have sported since the golden days of steam.
Traveling north through Harlem and following the glacier carved banks of the Hudson, you’re reminded what space is. As the city thins out, the canyon of high-rise buildings makes way for steep cliffs that shoot straight out of the river. Tenements make way for town houses that make way for actual houses. Ferries disappear, replaced by yachts and leisure craft.
30 miles out, the train stops at Ossining. It sounds innocent enough and it’s prime real estate, situated right on the river, but the platform has a certain sinister feel to it. It could possibly be the thick strands of razor wire, woven like a bird of prey’s nest. Or maybe the guard towers. The MTA seems to really pay attention to security on this platform. It’s the notorious Sing Sing prison, the maximum-security penitentiary that has struck fear into gangsters, criminals and little children, since the mid 19th Century. Still very much in operation, it offers rooms (probably without a view), a cool breeze (often straight from the north pole) and the reassurance of not being toasted on its infamous electric chair, known as Old Smokey (the last execution was carried out in 1963.
Cold Spring is a small village just south of Beacon and Poughkeepsie. The township is nestled on the edge of the river, almost opposite the West Point military academy. It neighbors the West Point Foundry, the ruins of the armaments works that supplied the US Army and the Union. The sleepy village boasts a veritable treasure trove of antique shops and cafes. Adjacent to the station is a bar with a casual vibe and cool beers and breeze. We bypass it for the open road.
Crawling north, traversing the back streets, the quaint church and cottages are soon left behind for sports fields and the local sewage treatment plant. Gladly, it’s only another mile to the hiking paths. Some tech-savvy marketer at the Parks department has decided that erecting a sign with a QR code to download the hike map instead of providing them is an early dampener. Luckily further down the path, there is a traditional pamphlet stand with old photocopied maps.
The Hudson Highlands trail starts rough, through poorly cut weed beds and undergrowth. Gladly, this is just a tester, as it is soon replaced by an actual road. The first major stop is the ruins of Northgate, the Edward J Cornish Estate. Cornish was the President of the National Lead Company and this was his summer residence from 1917 to 1938 – no doubt assisted by the Great War’s armaments boom. The road that has led here was the driveway to the estate, a luxury that we have had the pleasure of sharing too.
The home burnt to the ground in the 1958 and was sold off in 1963 to ConEd. Apparently the site was a conservationists’ battleground right into the 1980s. Since then, it has become state parkland. The multi-storied hearths and chimney remain suspended, like mystical brick and tile islands among the weed-strewn ruins. It must have been quite luxurious home, with the terrace and pool below, where one can imagine many upmarket cocktails would have been consumed.
Just beyond lie a well and greenhouse and peppered further along the tracks are barns and outhouses, some with rusted machinery still present. One welcome surprise is a former well, now home to a colony of frogs and toads and their offspring.
Beyond the home, the path becomes rougher, more what we would have expected. The track is marked by colored tokens every few hundred meters. These lead across a small brook and its cascades towards the impressively named, Breakneck Ridge.
As the path switches from blue tokens to yellow, the path becomes more vertical and harsher. At times, it’s hard to work out in which direction it is going. Rocky outcrops jut out in every direction and it takes some imaginative navigation to make our way up the escarpment. After precariously balancing along sharp pokey-bits, we reach the pinnacle. It delivers on the promise of a spectacular view down the Hudson.
The path back down follows the route of the brook, past further outhouses and down to the main road. From there, it’s a short, but brisk walk back to Cold Spring to make the off-peak return train.
Enjoy a day of hiking in the Hudson Valley near Cold Spring.
The forests between Cold Spring and Beacon, nestled above the Hudson River offer a challenging route and fantastic views of the valley.
Catch the Metro North from Grand Central Terminal to Cold Spring then either walk or catch a local cab to the trail head.