Relaxing Escape from the Big Apple

Wallkill Valley Rail Trail

Fly into Newburgh, N.Y. (about 70 miles north of New York City), and drive north on Interstate 87 about 23 miles to New Paltz; check in at the Moondance Ridge B&B, just minutes north of downtown and a short bike ride from the trail.

New Paltz is a charming town with a history dating to 1678, when a group of Huguenot families established a community here. In 1894, their descendants formed an area along Huguenot Street, now a National Historic Landmark, to protect their legacy. Take a guided tour of the historical buildings and archaeological sites to learn the stories of early European settlers. The town is also home to a SUNY school with a focus on arts and technology, and so buzzes with activities, events and cultural attractions.

You can rent bikes from the Bicycle Depot on Main Street, which also offers trailers and—if you’re bringing young children along for the ride—trail-a-bikes. Wallkill Valley Rail Trail is a packed-cinder and gravel trail that is officially divided into two sections nearly equal in mileage. The northern New Paltz section (11.5 miles) runs between New Paltz and the border of Kingston, while the southern Gardiner section (12.2 miles) runs between New Paltz and Denniston Road, about 2.5 miles south of Gardiner, where it dead-ends at a farm. Each section is owned by its respective town but managed cooperatively with the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail Association. In New Paltz, the section between Plains Road and Broadhead Avenue is paved.

We suggest taking two days to ride out and back, using the midpoint of New Paltz as your staging ground. Get an early morning start, and then spend the afternoon exploring local wineries, nosing around shops, learning about area history at intriguing historical sites or taking part in plenty of other outdoor recreation.

The rail-trail makes for the perfect leisure ride, so take time to enjoy your journey through the lush Hudson River Valley below the scenic Shawagunk Ridge, affectionately called “the Gunks.” You’ll be riding the old route of the Wallkill Valley Railroad, which carried both produce and passengers between Ulster County and New York City beginning in the late 19th century. In 1881, the West Shore Railroad absorbed the Wallkill Valley Railroad Company, creating a branch of the Hudson River’s West Shore Railroad “High Iron” rail line. The last train through here, operated by Conrail, stopped in 1977.

Photo by: Brendan Parker

On your rides both days, bring adequate water and snacks; your opportunity to find either is limited. Also, take care at the numerous at-grade road crossings, and stick to the main trail corridor, since private property flanks both sides of the trail.

Day 1

Following a gourmet breakfast at Moondance Ridge B&B, head west on Shivertown Road, crossing over State Route 32, and go south (left) on Old Kingston Road for 0.5 miles to the fork; take the right fork (Huguenot Street), and look for the trail entrance at the crosswalk markings. Cross the road to go left (south) on the trail toward Gardiner.

For the first mile or so, you’ll pass by businesses and parking lots as you head out of town, getting a glimpse of the Wallkill River on your right. The trail courses through a mix of trees and open areas, among cultivated fields and vineyards, and along streams and the occasional wetland.

The rail-trail is part of the regional Hudson River Valley Greenway trail system and is also a National Recreation Trail. Its development and continued maintenance was and is truly a labor of love on behalf of area volunteers, whose hard work clearing the disused corridor shows. Notably, a community of Hutterites planked the Springtown bridge, just north of New Paltz, and built the benches.

Eventually you reach Gardiner, a pleasant Hudson Valley village with a few shops and cafés. If you’re looking for a quick bite for breakfast or lunch, head over to the Village Market and Bakery (125 Main St.) or to Café Mio (2356 Route 44/55).

Other eateries in Gardiner include the Tuthill House at the Mill, housed in a grist mill dating to 1788 (a National Historic Landmark) and featuring grass-fed beef, seafood, pasta and local ingredients. For good old-fashioned German cuisine, raise a stein at the Mountain Brauhaus, owned by the same family since 1955. They serve contemporary and classic German cuisine and feature locally grown meats and produce. They also accommodate vegans, vegetarians and those on a gluten-free diet.

If you want to carry on to trail’s end, you can do so another 2.5 miles south of Gardiner, where the route abruptly ends at Denniston Road. On your return journey, stop just south of downtown New Paltz for a dip in the river. You’ll see an access area where the trail intersects Plains Road.

Day 2

Today, journey north on the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail toward Kingston, enjoying your peaceful ride as it cuts a narrow swath through hillsides and courses alongside bucolic farms. Shortly after entering the trail from the same Huguenot Street location as yesterday, you’ll cross over the Wallkill River on a steel trestle, one of three along the route. South of the bridge, you’ll find a viewing platform with benches built by the Hutterites.

In Rosendale, you encounter another bridge, the Rosendale trestle, rising 150 feet above Rondout Creek—a Hudson River tributary like the Wallkill. At 940 feet long, the bridge is more than 100 years old and has been beautifully restored. Savor a birds-eye view of the Rondout as well as of the surrounding wooded hills. The rocky outcrop just north of the trestle is Joppenburgh Mountain, around which the trail skirts and whose namesake was the founder of Rosendale, settling in the area in 1680.

The mountain was once mined for its natural cement, but frequent mine collapses and landslides put an end to production around the turn of the 20th century. No less than the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge were constructed in part using Rosendale cement. Joppenburgh Mountain later became the site for skiing competitions, which continued until the early 1970s. Today, the Wallkill Valley Land Trust owns the mountain property and is in the process of developing a land-use plan. For the time being, you are free to explore (pedestrian access only), but at your own risk.

A beautifully designed pedestrian trail, constructed in part with stone, provides a safe passage between the bridge and the hamlet of Rosendale. Find it on the south side of Rondout Creek. You can explore it if you like, but please walk your bike.

Just north of Rosendale, you’ll pass close by the water’s edge at Williams Lake—at one point passing through a narrow gap between two small lakes and wetlands. The old Williams Lake Hotel that once stood here opened in the 1930s and was a popular retreat for city dwellers.

A tunnel takes you under Interstate 87, but you’ll be traveling on the barrier-separated shoulder of Hickory Bush Road. Use extra caution at this crossing to continue along the trail. The rail-trail parallels I-87 for a short distance before veering away northeasterly to end at the town line of Kingston at State Route 32.

If you want to explore Kingston at this point, you’ll have to ride along NY 32, since there is no other off-road path to access town. Instead, we recommend turning around and exploring the town later when you can safely drive there.

Kingston offers three historic districts: the Uptown Stockade District, the Midtown Neighborhood Broadway Corridor and the Downtown Rondout-West Strand Historic District. After the Battles of Saratoga in 1777, the British set fire to the city, also New York’s first capital.

Photo by: Ed Wilson

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