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Hudson Valley Outdoor Adventure Guide

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Tube Class II whitewater rapids at Town Tinker Tube Rentals.
  • Tube Class II whitewater rapids at Town Tinker Tube Rentals.

As the days lengthen and the temperatures warm, the Hudson Valley begins to teem with life. Trees and bushes bloom, snow melts, and the streams and creeks of the Catskills rush with increased fervor. It's a time for backyard barbecues, deep plunges into swimming holes, long night walks under star-spangled skies, bike rides, and long drives.

It's also a time for exploration. The bounteous natural landscape of the Hudson Valley and the Catskills is a playground for the adventurer in each of us, and there are innumerable ways to commune with the great outdoors. Here is a guide to 15 summer adventures, with something for everyone—from the boldest thrill-seeker to the most contemplative nature lover.

1. The Hudson River Paddle

Even if you've driven, walked, hiked, and biked the region for years, touring by kayak offers a distinct perspective, providing direct contact with the region's namesake waterway. The five-day Hudson River Paddle is an immersive introduction to this way of communing with nature. Last year's journey, guided by Hudson River Expeditions, went from Albany to Poughkeepsie. This year, from July 8 to 12, paddlers will travel from Poughkeepsie to New York City. The registration for the group paddle includes camping gear, all paddling equipment, and catered meals prepared in HRE's mobile kitchen, so you'll need to bring only a robust sense of adventure. The itinerary includes stops at locations of cultural significance and natural beauty along the river. The odyssey is open to all experience levels, though HRE advises "any previous paddling experience will be beneficial."

2. Tubing the Esopus

We think of tubing as the lazy man's preferred form of riparian engagement, but tubing Esopus Creek requires a little more derring-do. This is no lazy river: Esopus Creek is Class II whitewater, which means waves up to three feet with rocks and other occasional obstacles that require maneuvering around. Thrillseekers up for the challenge can run the 1.5 to 2-hour course that starts just upstream at Town Tinker Tube Rental, in Phoenicia, which opens for the summer on Memorial Day weekend.

Mountain biking at Windham Mountain Resort.
  • Mountain biking at Windham Mountain Resort.

3. Mountain Biking at Ski Resorts

The ski season may be long over, but many mountain resorts are still in operation. To make the most of their prime slopeside access, more and more ski resorts are building and maintaining biking trails, some of which are accessible via lift. There are several local options to get your legs pumping. Windham Mountain has dozens of miles of trail, including the longest jump trail on the East Coast, for riders of various experience levels. (And there's a skills park.) Plattekill Mountain opens for biking on a limited basis, mostly corresponding with holiday weekends (July 6-7, August 3-4, August 31-September 1, and October 12-13). And Belleayre Mountain offers up both downhill mountain biking and mountain top bike tours.

4. Zipline at Hunter Mountain

Over at Hunter Mountain, meanwhile, you can take the highest, fastest, and longest zipline canopy tour in North America: the SkyRider tour, a three-hour, 4.6-mile circuit that peaks at 600 feet above the valley, offering stunning views. That's the most extreme of several summertime adventures at Hunter Mountain offered by New York Zipline. The Mid-Mountain Tour is decidedly more family- and beginner-friendly. For a moonlit thrill, adrenaline junkies can opt for the Night Zip Tour, which is the same course done under cover of dark, followed by stargazing.

5. Hiking

Obviously. With more than a dozen state parks and preserves—the Catskills, the Shawangunks, the Hudson and Appalachian Highlands, the Hudson River and all its tributaries—this region is one of the best for hiking in the entire United States. There are hikes of wildly varying terrains and difficulty levels; the challenge is picking which ones to do. Let Scenic Hudson and Hike the Hudson Valley be your guides. (Some of our favorites: Breakneck Ridge, Sam's Point, Mt. Beacon Fire Tower, Gertrude's Nose, Storm King Mountain, Overlook Mountain, Bash Bish Falls, and Lower Peter's Kill Loop.) To add some socialization to your nature, consider joining a club based on skill level or identity, like the Mid-Hudson Adirondack Club or Hudson Valley Queer Outdoors.

6. Rock Climbing

There are many places to go rock climbing in the Hudson Valley, but it's hard to beat the Shawangunks for accessibility and diversity. (It's the busiest climbing region in the US for a reason). The Trapps are the most popular rock walls and have more than 300 routes to the top, so all skill levels can find something suitable. Peter's Kill, in the Minnewaska State Park portion of the Gunks, is less intimidating for beginnners. There are several licensed guide services in the Gunks (check out Mountain Skills, Alpine Endeavors, or HighXposure). If you prefer to get your climbing legs indoors first, Gravity Vault in Poughkeepsie has 65 rope stations and extensive bouldering areas.

7. Waterfall Chasing

Sometimes you just want to hike to a spot to stand in awe of the magisterial force of water rushing over rocks and falling into pools. There are innumerable waterfalls to chase in the Hudson Valley. The biggest of them is Kaaterskill Falls, the 260-foot, two-stage fall just east of Hunter. The gently cascading falls and swimming holes of Vernooy Kill Falls are also worth the trek into the Catskills. High Falls, located in the heart of the eponymous village, and Awosting Falls, a 60-foot plunge just a 15-minute hike from the entrance of Minnewaska Park, are two of the more accessible falls in the region. Follow the stream from Awosting to arrive at Sheldon Falls, visible from an old power station and dam. The tallest waterfall in the Shawangunks is Verkeerder Kill Falls, 187 feet tall and accessible via a three-mile trail in Sam's Point Preserve.

8. Swimming Holes

Summer seems like a gift as we emerge from the long winter, but come the first big heat wave—when the humidity accosts you and beads of sweat form every time you step outside—the season can feel like a curse, and the mind turns to the cool, blue relief of a swimming hole. Some of our favorites include: Lake Awosting (Minnewaska State Park Preserve), Rudd Pond (Taconic State Park), Kaaterskill Falls (Greene County), Peekamoose Blue Hole, Vernooy Kill Falls, and Split Rock Falls (Ulster County), Zabriskie's (Annandale-on-Hudson), and Little Deep (Woodstock). Be sure to carry out what trash you carry in, as abuse of public swimming holes in recent years has led to closures and restricted access.

Fishing the Willowemoc Creek at Livingston Manor Fly Fishing Club; a modern day interpretation of a Catskills Fly Fishing Club. Open for private groups, individual bookings on select weekends, and a number of intimate member events each annum. - PHOTO: PETER CROSBY
  • Photo: Peter Crosby
  • Fishing the Willowemoc Creek at Livingston Manor Fly Fishing Club; a modern day interpretation of a Catskills Fly Fishing Club. Open for private groups, individual bookings on select weekends, and a number of intimate member events each annum.

9. Fly Fishing

The Catskills are the birthplace of fly fishing in America, and although angling never really died out in the region's streams and creeks, the pastime has seen a wide increase in popularity in recent years. In the process of this resurgence, fly fishing has become increasingly chic (look no further than the membership-based Livingston Manor Fly Fishing Club, which leads expeditions and hosts events at its headquarters on the Willowemoc), though with your waders, a pole, a map, and a bit of patience, you could find your own way, too. For those in need of guides, Esopus Creel, in Phoenicia, offers an instructional crash course as part of its half- and full-day fishing trips in the Esopus Creek.

10. Horseback Riding

Whether you're a newbie equestrian or you've got your horses out back, there are lots of places to saddle up in the Hudson Valley. Westchester Trail Rides is a family-run equestrian trail guide service, while Netherwood Acres, Kirby Hill Farm, and Ivy Rock Farms are full-service riding and boarding facilities with lessons. Newcomers can also head to Juckas Stables in Pine Bush for beginner-friendly trail rides (there's plenty for experienced riders, too). The Rocking Horse Ranch Resort offers an Old West overnight experience with more than 500 acres of trails, and Pine Ridge Dude Ranch provides a rustic equestrian experience in Kerhonkson. Saddle Brook Farm Animal Rescue rehabilitates horses at its horse motel before taking them out on the trail.

The Great Newburgh to Beacon Hudson River Swim.
  • The Great Newburgh to Beacon Hudson River Swim.

11. The Great Newburgh to Beacon Swim

Each summer, some 150 to 200 swimmers push off from Newburgh riverfront to traverse the Hudson for the annual mile-long swim. Now in its 16th year, the Great Newburgh to Beacon Swim has become something of a mid-Hudson Valley tradition. It's charitable, too: each swimmer must raise a minimum of $100 in donations, in addition to the $60 registration fee. It takes about an hour to swim across, but the reward, in the middle of the river, "is a feeling of being nowhere and everywhere at once," says Nita Rae of River Pool at Beacon, the nonprofit that organizes the swim and is the charitable recipient. "The magnificence of the world around you and a sense of your own infinitesimal place." This year's swim will be held on July 20 (rain date: July 21), and registrations are open now.

12. Outdoor Yoga

The ancient discipline of yoga awakens the senses and centers the body, effects that are only deepened by the soothing sounds and sensations of being in nature. Outdoor yoga is a growing trend in the region. Hudson River Yoga has classes on the lawn at Vassar College on Tuesday nights and at Locust Grove on one Saturday and Sunday per month. Hudson Valley Healing Center offers breathwork and meditation exercises in its salt cave as part of its Yoga 4 Cancer series, and nOMad offers outdoors classes in picturesque locations. There are integrated adventure yoga options like the yoga and kayak tours—kayoga—run by Hudson River Expeditions with Lauri Nemetz of Wellness Bridge. Stay tuned to Mohonk Preserve's Slingerland Pavilion, which in the past has offered summer yoga classes with breathtaking vistas of the Rondout Valley and the Catskills.

13. Bird Watching

The variety of ecosystems in the Hudson Valley make it wonderful birding country. The Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge in Wallkill is a waypoint for migratory birds that depend on grasslands, and the Great Vly between Saugerties and Catskill is a freshwater marsh where you may see osprey, golden eagle, American bittern, blackbirds, and dozens of species of warblers if you go early enough in the season. On the Hudson, Kingston Point is a birding hotspot (keep your eyes peeled for a bald eagle), while the Wallkill National Wildlife Refuge Liberty Marsh is a good place to go in Orange County. There are plenty of guides, too: There are several regional Audubon chapters (the society operates the Constitution Marsh Audubon Center and Sanctuary), plus Friends of the Great Swamp, the Basha Kill Area Association, and the Edgar A. Mearns Bird Club.

14. Skydiving

Willingly flinging yourself from a plane from 15,000 feet up? But think of the view! Skydiving isn't for the faint of heart, of course, but daredevils will love Skydive the Ranch, which provides a chance to see the Hudson Valley from above. The skydive school, based in Gardiner, offers tandem jumps for first-timers and experienced jumpers up to level 13. Your first jump starts at $219, though groups of five or more get a discount. There are also courses in instructor-assisted freefall, for those who want to pursue a United States Parachute Association license.

15. Foraging

April showers bring May mushrooms, and there are few better ways to commune with nature than to walk gently through the woods, foraging for fungi, fiddleheads, ramps, and sorrel. This is because foraging is, really, a way of seeing: it requires awareness, patience, and skill. The reward? Childlike wonder and the thrill of discovery. Consult a guidebooks to get started (and remember, don't eat anything you're not 100 percent confident you can identify), plus mushroom walks, cultivation workshops, and foraging expeditions led by experts throughout the Hudson Valley, from individual herbalists to organizations like Mid-Hudson Mycological Association and Catskill Fungi.

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