Wandering with Kids in Northern Dutchess and Ulster County
By Jenny Lee Fowler (Recycled from November 2013, Edition 1)
Photographed by Bill Black
When our kids were small, my mantra was “Never hike farther than you want to carry your kid.” Now the kids are carrying their own backpacks on ever-longer adventures. Finding that sweet spot in your wander where the trail fits your family is the secret to happy hiking with children.
The first time I came to New York, in 1997, I was on a road trip from Ohio to visit Bard College. I wound south down River Road in Annandale past the old mansion gate houses and orchards and realized that I’d somehow driven through the heart of the campus and not noticed. I doubled back, this time watching the sleepy white houses and stone walls for more subtle signs of life. Since then, the college has grown and sprouted contemporary landmarks that are harder to miss, like the Fisher Center designed by Frank Gehry, and Olafur Eliasson’s “the parliament of reality.” Bard even sports its own farm.
One thing that hasn’t changed since that summer I rented a little apartment above a Tivoli storefront is Scenic Hudson’s Poets’ Walk Park in the Town of Red Hook. This landscape ode to the Romantic literary life of the Hudson Valley is hardly a best kept secret. It’s always one of the first names to come up when someone asks, “Where should I go?” Its wide paths and easy, even ground (except for a bit at the end of the red trail before the Wooden Bridge) make it a perfect short hike for people of all ages and in all seasons.
Poets’ Walk is composed of about two miles of grassy sunlit “rooms,” bound by woodland passages. While the park doesn’t offer direct access to the shore (Amtrak has that ticket), it does offer magnificent views of the Catskills from the Overlook Pavilion and from the Flagpole Lot. My husband and I were gatekeepers for the park for a number of years and can testify to the masses who agree (with their feet) that this is the place to watch the sun go down in northern Dutchess. Just make sure to check the park signage or website for seasonal closing times.
The hike is passable in most parts with a jogging stroller and even offers a handful of rustic cedar benches and gazebos for you to catch your breath or share a picnic with friends. Al fresco provisions can be picked up at the Montgomery Place Orchards Farm Market to the north on Routes 9G and 199, and at the Migliorelli Farm Stand to the south on Route 199 and River Road.
Both farms deliver the bounty of the region, with the bulk of their fare grown on family-run farms in the neighborhood, and are open through Thanksgiving. This is a locavore’s playground—and honey, apples, pumpkins and jam make welcome gifts after the leaves have ﬂown.
If you miss getting your feet wet at Poets’ Walk, go over the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge to the Saugerties Lighthouse Trail, where you can step out into the river—literally.
Located in the Town of Saugerties at the confluence of the Esopus Creek and the Hudson River, the Lighthouse Trail especially captures the imaginations of the littlest hikers with a penchant for stop-and-go action.
The half-mile trail is wide enough for holding hands, with ample wooden boardwalks and bridges over the tidal flats. The lush and almost junglelike vegetation frames little windows on the river where you can rest on a bench, watch for ducks and herons and other aquatic wildlife or rearrange the driftwood.
Sections of the trail may be flooded during high tides. Be sure to check the tide table at the kiosk or on the website for comfort and safety.
Visitors are welcome to enjoy the dock and the picnic deck at the tip of the peninsula, where you’ll find welcoming long rustic tables and benches as well as a staircase that leads back down to the river. Tours of the 1869 lighthouse are available for a fee on Sunday afternoons from Memorial Day through Labor Day, but the interior of the lighthouse is otherwise reserved for guests of the bed-and-breakfast and the lighthouse keeper.
This walk pairs well with a trip to the Saugerties Library, a swing and a romp at Small World Playground or a tidbit from Love Bites on Partition Street. And you can always wave to your friends on the other shore! █