Travel Stories: 4 Must-Stop Visits in the Hudson Valley

When exploring a place like the Hudson Valley, you don't really know what to expect.

Travel Stories: 4 Must-Stop Visits in the Hudson Valley

When exploring a place like the Hudson Valley, you don't really know what to expect. Sandwiched in between upstate New York and the New York City area, this sprawling valley is home to quite a few attractions, some of which include a presidential library, a mansion of one of the famous wealthy families in American history, a world famous military school that has developed and shaped some of the brightest engineers, and a former rail bridge turned into a massive walkway. If you love history and recreation, this is a great place to visit. It is a picturesque area that has enough to keep you interested, but won’t stress you out. I had the opportunity to take a road trip to visit this area in April of 2023 (during a heat wave too!)

West Point Museum

2107 New South Post, West Point, NY 10996-2001

Situated on the western shore of the Hudson River, the museum sits on the campus of the United States Military Academy at West Point and acts as both the visitor's center and the museum itself. It is free of charge as well! West Point is fascinating as it develops young cadets into leaders in both the private and public sector and is a fully accredited civil engineering school. West Point alumni also consist of former presidents, generals, Medal of Honor recipients and even the poet Edgar Allen Poe!

West Point is situated in a small town that appears to have developed around the campus. The museum is essentially split into two buildings, first of which is the Frederic V Malek West Point Visitors Center. Whether you are dropped off or drive to the campus, this is the place to start. The building appears to be new or renovated, and you will enter the building where you are greeted with a stunning view of the Hudson River. You will then see a gift shop and a series of exhibits showing the timeline of West Point, but more so in "selling" the West Point vision to potential parents and students, as it explains what to expect and gives the storied history of the academy. You could also secure a bus tour of the campus, though I regrettably did not this time (definitely next time!)

As you walk through the Visitors Center, you get the sense that there is a deep tradition with this academy. One of the exhibits that stood out for me was "Day in the Life of the Cadet" which explains in detail, the four year curriculum that involves rigorous study and structure that builds character and camaraderie among the cadets of the academy. The exhibit explains how West Point develops young men and women into soldiers and professionals in both the public and private sector. One major aspect I learned was that West Point is a historic civil engineering school, and that many civil engineers who build our bridges and roads started out at West Point as young cadets.

Founded in 1854, some of the aspects of museum go back to 1802. The museum itself is situated in the neighboring building, and houses six galleries, the largest of which shows the history of the military academy. Three of the six galleries host a rotating collection of artifacts showing the various weapons of war over the years including swords, bayonets, artillery and ammunition, as well as uniforms and art collections. As the nation's oldest military school, it has a lot of stories to tell, and it's fascinating and engaging throughout. This was an interesting place to walk around

Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site

119 Vanderbilt Park Rd, Hyde Park, NY 12538

Located on an hilltop overlooking the Hudson River, this gorgeous location was designed and built for Francis Vanderbilt, one of the children of Cornelius Vanderbilt. This was one of the many residences of the Vanderbilt’s, but this mostly existed as one of their summer homes along with residences in Bar Harbor, ME and Newport, RI. It is now part of the National Parks system.

You really have to hand it to the Vanderbilt family, “oh this is our summer home!"

When you enter, you will notice a rolling and meandering driveway where you will see the estate to your left, and a parking lot approaches. As you’re entering the parking lot, the actual estate and mansion is to your left, along with the Formal Garden and the Pavilion Visitor Center. Look further, and you will see a gorgeous overlook of the Hudson River valley. Bard Rock is part of the site, and is alongside the river if you want to take a hike. There are also hiking trails within the site as well.

Upon visiting the Pavilion Visitor Center, I inquired about a tour, and one was coming up at the top of the next hour. The tour is $10 a person, and is well worth it, and lasts a little over an hour. The guides are incredibly knowledgeable and extremely approachable. In the meantime, I toured the grounds, stopping to take pictures of the exterior of the mansion and sat at a bench, taking in the overlook.

The tour started on time, and the guide gave a detailed history of the mansion, who had lived there after the Vanderbilt’s and the eventual move to its current status as a National Park. From there, we walked towards the mansion and completed the tour. I noticed this was a fairly large group at the time, with families, couples and solo travelers. The tour inside the mansion was very detailed, but also intriguing. Each room along with the furnishings were seen and discussed. One aspect that I noticed during the tour was the layout of the mansion where the sunlight was slightly ajar, allowing for air to flow easily from the outside through the mansion. This was important as the mansion was built well before air conditioning.

I enjoy mansion tours, as walking into these mansions is truly like stepping back in time. The estate itself is quite scenic, especially on a nice day.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum

4079 Albany Post Rd, Hyde Park, NY 12538

This was one of the main attractions for me, as I am attempting to visit all of the presidential libraries of the presidents of the 20th century. Another “national park” type exhibit, this particular museum and library costs $10 but admission is two day, and going through the museum, you will realize why. As FDR was president for 12 years, there is a lot of material to cover. Keep in mind when visiting a presidential museum, you are getting a perspective that is faithful to that president, so always approach with a critical but also open mind. With that being said, I will say this is an incredibly detailed museum. I spent most of an afternoon here, but I could see spending another day here.

When you enter, you will notice all of the letters written by school children during the Great Depression, as well as a video profiling the early life and presidency. As you go through the museum, it starts off as mostly policy related as it profiles his presidency, but the “second day” exhibits focus on his collections and more personal artifacts. The exhibits are engaging and interesting, and even something as dry as “policy positions” are written in a way that connects with the reader/viewer. There were plenty of interactive exhibits, as well as photos, and audio/video. One of the more interesting takeaways for me was his involvement in the lead up to World War II, and his decision to break bread with the British monarchy, something that had not been done until then.

One rule of thumb I always use at Presidential Libraries, is that you are getting the version of events as seen through the eyes of those men and is in a perspective that is positive to the president being profiled, and therefore, it may be somewhat embellished from the actual account that took place. Always go in with a curious and open mind, you may learn something!

The Walkway Over The Hudson

49 Parker Ave, Poughkeepsie, NY 12601 (parking lot)

This was by far one of my favorite activities to do on this trip, and it’s the most simple. I am fascinated with rail trails (trails that are converted from out of service railroad lines), and this was no exception. The walkway is a large and long bridge that was, at one time, a railroad bridge for the Maybrook Railroad Line of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. The almost 7,000 foot long and elevated bridge was built in 1899 and was in service until 1974, when a devastating fire ended service for good. It sat as a derelict eyesore for the community for many years after, with many failed attempts to restart train service until ownership fell into the hands of a nonprofit volunteer organization in 1998, who wanted to repurpose the rail bridge as the walkway that exists today. The walkway as it stands today opened in 2009, and since then has developed into quite an attraction.

The walkway itself is elevated, and is a long walk if you want to walk back and forth (you’ll definitely get your steps in as I did!), but it gives you some really breathtaking views of the Hudson River.

The walkway also includes an elevator at the middle of the bridge, where you will take a one minute long ride down to the shore, it’s a good shortcut if you want to explore that area or check out some area breweries or restaurants. It’s also interesting if you’re interested in bridges and want to see how this was constructed, as you can see some of the bare bones.

For solo travelers, I highly recommend the fantastic audio guide app called Travelstorys. Pop in your earbuds, and as you walk across the bridge, you will hear the story of the bridge. Fascinating stuff!

The Verdict

For solo travelers, the Hudson Valley has quite a few options to explore and is definitely worth taking a drive through. In the addition to the aforementioned stops, there are plenty of great bars, breweries, wineries, restaurants and even diners to choose from! After my long walk back and forth at the Walkway Over The Hudson, I stopped at Hudson Ale Works, which had some great beers on tap at the time (the MonkHeSee MonkHeDo belgian dubbel was excellent!). The Everready Diner in Hyde Park, NY was a great place to stop for a great meal in between the FDR Library and Vanderbilt Mansion. One such place I did not get a chance to explore was The Culinary Institute of America, as it has its campus located near the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. From speaking to locals and friends, I found out this facility is open to the public during the school year, with plenty of food to choose from and apparently a brewery as well!

Getting There

If you prefer to fly, the closest airport is Stewart Airport, with flights to various “hub” destinations. However, JFK Airport, LaGuardia Airport, and even Bradley International Airport are within 2 hours of the area and may have more options for direct flights. As for train service, you can easily take a train from New York City via the Hudson Line on Metro North, with service going all the way north to Poughkeepsie. From there, Uber and Lyft are easily available. If you prefer to drive, it is relatively close to both Interstate 84 and Interstate 87, along with state parkways (many of these can be quite intense, including the Taconic, so proceed carefully!). There's lots of very scenic routes as well if you want to take a drive.

Staying There

My recommendation: Residence Inn Fishkill, NY

As for accommodations, there are plenty of nice hotels and rental properties in the area. I highly recommend the Residence Inn in Fishkill, NY - this appears to be a fairly newer hotel with a fire pit and grilling area outside, and every room is a suite with all of the essentials needed. They offer free breakfast, a fairly large exercise room, a putting green, and an indoor pool. It is situated behind an office park and is located right off of Interstate 84 near the eastern shore of the Hudson River. For those of you with pets, they do allow! This was definitely one of the cleaner/nicer hotels I have stayed while solo traveling. It is also located near area strip malls with various quick service, fast casual and sit down restaurants.