Feature photo by brunotessa Photo above by PBoGS

Need to escape the Big Apple?

New York City is consistently ranked among America’s favorite travel destinations, but few visitors know that an entirely different yet equally interesting world lies less than an hour outside the urban bustle of Manhattan’s concrete canyon.

Photo by Randy OHC

This guide to the five best Hudson River Valley day trips gives you itineraries that are new even to locals.

These peaceful escapes are far enough off the beaten path not to be overrun, but close enough to public transport for you to easily get back to the city.

The itineraries are intended to be flexible. Some offer lodging options and can easily be extended into weekend trips. For the ambitious traveler, the itineraries can also be combined into a single journey.

No Car? No Problem!

The Hudson River Valley is serviced by Metro North trains, which run to and from New York City. All of the sites listed in these itineraries are located within 20 minutes of a train station; taxis at each depot are available to help you reach them.

Here are the top 5 peaceful escapes in the Hudson Valley.

Graymoor Spiritual Life Center

Just off Highway 9, the main road taking you out of Manhattan and into the Hudson River Valley, is the “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” town of Garrison, which is where you’ll find Graymoor, a spiritual center staffed by Franciscan friars.

The grounds are extensive and beautiful, and there are many quiet places for reflection, writing, or enjoying nature.

One of the main functions of the center is to host one-day and weekend retreats, and there are at least two every month, except June.

Graymoor also has rooms available (singles and doubles) for visitors who would like to engage in self-directed reflection; for $65 a night, you will be provided with basic but comfortable and private accommodations and three meals.

If you won’t be staying over, there’s still plenty to see and do. The grounds are extensive and beautiful, and there are many quiet places for reflection, writing, or enjoying nature.

Be sure to check out the sweeping view of the valley from the cliff just to the right of the old friary.

There’s also a bookstore, gift shop, and thrift store on the grounds. The proceeds from the latter go to the St. Christopher’s Inn, which is a rehab facility.

Photo by tonythemisfit

*Tip: The Appalachian Trail cuts through Graymoor’s property; in fact, until 1994, Graymoor provided lodging and meals to tired hikers. (They now permit hikers to set up tents on their ball field).

If you plan to explore the Valley on foot, consider combining the itineraries by using the AT as your thoroughfare.

Headed north from Graymoor, you can follow the AT over to Highway 301 East, which will lead you to the Stonecrop Gardens, Fahnestock State Park, the Taconic State Outdoor Education Center, and the Chuang Yen Monastery.

Stonecrop Gardens

A few miles past Graymoor, further north on Highway 9, you’ll come to a stop light marking the junction of 9 and Highway 301. Turn right (east) and you’ll come, more or less in succession, across each of the remaining itinerary sites.

The first of these destinations is Stonecrop Gardens, a tucked off-the-road secret garden. Actually, Stonecrop is several gardens: woodland, water, grass, alpine stone, cliff rock, and English, to be exact.

Open from the beginning of April until the end of October, Stonecrop is a plant lover’s dream. Be sure to visit the picturesque pond-side conservatory.

If you want to know what plants will be flowering during your visit, check the bloom calendar. If you’re a gardener, ask about Stonecrop’s seminum and rarium programs, which provide native and rare seeds at a reasonable price.

*Tip: Be sure to check days and hours of operation in advance. At the time of this writing, a $5 admission fee is charged to each visitor.

Photo by bucketwater

Fahnestock State Park

The 14,000+ acre Clarence Fahnestock State Park is a multi-use site that is equally welcoming to the hard-core outdoor enthusiast and the passive recreationalist.

Depending on the season, visitors can enjoy cross-country skiing and snowshoe trails, fishing, and hiking. Go as deep into the park as you like, but there’s plenty to keep you busy just off the shoulder of Highway 301.

Going east, you’ll come across a small lake. You can enjoy a picnic on the shore or rent a rowboat by the hour or by the day.

A bit further up the road, just past Canopus Lake, you’ll find the entrance for “the beach,” a lakeside shore built in the 1970s with sand trucked in from Long Island.

For information about activities, permits, and hours visit the park’s website; maps and additional information can be found here.

Photo by christinahope

Taconic Outdoor Education Center

Taconic Outdoor Education Center is actually a part of Fahnestock State Park, but the Center is worth its own listing because it offers some special experiences, including maple sugaring (the process of tapping maples for the sap that will become syrup).

The TOEC is especially great for families, hosting occasional recreation festivals during which kayaking, orienteering (finding your way around in the woods), and other sports and skills are taught.

The TOEC also offers affordable lodging, camping, and retreat options.

Chuang Yen Buddhist Monastery

Just past the “Town of Kent” sign on the north side of Highway 301 is the unassuming entrance for the Chuang Yen Monastery.

As you enter the wooded property and the road yields to a view of the massive temple, you’ll be amazed to learn that such a tiny, out of the way town is home to the Buddhist Association of the United States.

Enter the Great Buddha Hall or Kuan-Yin Hall and engage in meditation. Walk around the Seven Jewels Lake and watch fish and turtles going about their business.

Visit the Woo-Ju Memorial Library to see one of the best collections of Tibetan Buddhist literature in the United States.

If you happen to visit on the weekend, free vegetarian meals are offered to guests between noon and 1 PM. If you like Chuang Yen so much you’d like to stay a bit longer, modest lodging and meals are provided for just $15 a night. Retreats are also offered periodically.

Community Connection!

Matador members (heart) NY.

Lola recently wrote a fun blog about the Hudson Valley town of Peekskill.

Veronica, an expert on NY art museums, writes:

“One of the best things about living in NY is the embarrassment of cultural riches–and particularly the amazing museums.”

For info on the hottest bars and clubs in the Big Apple, check out Kyle’s guide to the Top 10 Nightlife Spots In NYC.

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