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Historic Hudson Valley: A trove of gems close to home

A stunning panoramic view of the Hudson Valley

A stunning panoramic view of the Hudson Valley can be seen where Bear Mountain Bridge crosses the Hudson River upstate.   Photo Credit: Getty Images / Gabriel Pevide

A day trip crisscrossing the Hudson River Valley can take you to surprising places on a single tank of gas. One of those astonishing destinations is Storm King Art Center, a 500-acre art museum where one of the nation’s largest collections of outdoor sculpture is scattered across a verdant landscape. (Not to be confused with 2,000-acre Storm King State Park, the nearby hiking Eden with the 1,300-foot peak.)

GETTING AROUND

BY CAR Park your vehicle in the big lot, start walking and prepare to have your socks knocked off by Modern Art’s marquee names. That creepy bronze staring from a grassy knoll? That’s one of the famous Surrealist “Eye” sculptures by feminist icon Louise Bourgeois. The blood-red “Five Swords” reaching to the sky? Mobile master Alexander Calder in an earthbound mode. 

With more than 100 art installations, Storm King (stormking.org)  is one of the few museums that can be toured on a bike ($10 to $12/hour rental). If you’re not in the mood for cardio, take the free tram. The hillsides are alive with works by Roy Lichtenstein, Henry Moore, Louise Nevelson and, piled atop one of the park’s many steep inclines, legendary landscape architect Isamu Noguchi’s 40-ton Momo Taro sculpture — one of nine interactive installations. A plaque invites visitors to sing into the hollow of a split boulder “peach pit,” so go ahead, lean in and belt out “Old Town Road.”   

Day trips to the Hudson River Valley are full of diversions, discoveries and seductive side trips. If you’ve only passed through the region, you’ll be astonished at what you’ve missed. You can swim, fish, kayak, hike and picnic amid stunning mountain and lake vistas, explore Revolutionary War ruins, West Point and its off-the-beaten track museum, and dine, quaff craft beer and stroll down Main Street along the Hudson.

The adventure begins on the George Washington Bridge with seat-belt views of the wide Hudson River canyon and the Palisades’ cliffs. Take Exit 74 after the bridge and — voilà — you’re in the valley, cruising along a scenic highway through a 2,500-acre preserve on the wild Hudson shorefront. Palisades Interstate Park in New Jersey, which actually edges into New York, features 30 miles of hiking trails, riverfront picnic areas and a 165-acre nature sanctuary.

The park’s trio of scenic overlooks climaxes at the State Line Lookout, a Palisades Cliff aerie bounded by castle-like walls. Hot food, cold drinks and restrooms are available at the cafe. Outside, a section of Old Route 9W offers a lightly graded 1.5-mile hike for pedestrians and leashed dogs. A marked trail into the woods descends on stone steps to a roaring waterfall and the river shore. 

Two state parks dominate the west bank of the river just north of the New York State line. The aptly named Seven Lakes Drive and 200 miles of hiking trails run through Harriman State Park (parks.ny.gov/parks145). . Pack your swimwear for a dip at Harriman’s lifeguard-patrolled beach on man-made Lake Tiorati. Arrive early for a parking spot.

Parking’s plentiful at nearby Silver Mine Lake, an off-the-beaten-track recreation area with a boat launch, fishing, hiking trails and a big lawn for downhill rolling.  Some say there’s a secret swimming hole, as well. 

The other big green expanse is Bear Mountain State Park, (parks.ny.gov/parks/13)  a 5,000-acre playland with a zoo, inn/restaurant, merry-go-round, lake and river fishing — you get the picture. Hike or drive to Bear Mountain’s Perkin’s Memorial Tower for 360-degree view of the river valley.

Surrounded by nature, it’s easy to miss Fort Montgomery State Historic Site   (parks.ny.gov/historic-sites28) just off the Bear Mountain traffic circle. A Colonial public works project, the 14-acre fort was captured by the Redcoats after a fierce battle early in the war. A trail just outside the site’s small museum leads to the original stone foundations of the barracks, gunpowder magazine and, for outhouse buffs, the “necessary,” all helpfully ID’d by archaeologists.     

Nearby West Point fared better. Gen. George Washington transferred his headquarters in 1779 to the then newly constructed fort at the strategic bend in the Hudson, still the oldest continuously operated military post in America. The element of surprise borders on shock and awe at the West Point Museum (history.army.mil/museums) in Highland Falls. The museum was built in 1843 for U.S. Military Academy cadet-instruction, but civilians are welcome to explore its four floors of armament-packed exhibits chronicling the history of warfare from ancient times forward in dioramas with tiny soldiers.

The collection’s 60,000 military historical artifacts include a Fat Man atomic bomb case, similar to that on the weapon dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, on Aug. 9, 1945. (The museum is open daily, 10:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.) Next door, the Frederick V. Malek West Point Visitors Center provides a preview of cadet life in simulated barracks and uniform rooms. Campus bus tours can be booked at the information desk. But first cross the street for a Perry’s ice cream taco in downtown Highland Falls. 

Doubling back to the Purple Heart Veterans Memorial Bridge (the recently renamed Bear Mountain Bridge) takes you across the Hudson to the east bank’s quaint river towns. Route 6/22 to Peekskill is a twisty two-lane roller coaster ride — locals call it the goat trail — with an ice cream truck often perched at an overlook.

Peekskill’s restaurant row closes to traffic for outdoor dining, but cognoscenti hold out for a seat in the original 1940s tavern booths or hop garden tables at Birdsall House, a gastro pub serving 20 tap beers and locally sourced food. (970 Main St., Peekskill, birdsallhouse.net) You may need a GPS to find the recently opened Factoria at Charles Point, Peekskill’s riverfront entertainment and restaurant complex housing a craft brewery, arcade, aerial ropes course and laser tag arena. (5 John Walsh Blvd., Peekskill, 914-788-4555 factoriacp.com

Farther upriver, Cold Spring offers a riverside respite for Main Street shopping, and relaxation at a gazebo park on the Hudson. Local eateries include Cold Spring Depot, inside the hamlet’s old train station.

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