If you were to ask someone what the best thing about Ulster County is (we know it’s pretty tough to pick just one thing, but let's just say, for arguments sake…) we’re pretty sure that an overwhelming majority would agree that the natural features and scenic beauty of Ulster County is what makes it such a marvelous place. The natural beauty of the Hudson River Valley and the Catskills has been written about for hundreds of years, most notably by famous 19th century naturalist and author, John Burroughs. Burroughs wrote this on his view from the Slide Mountain summit in “The Heart of the Southern Catskills”…
“All was mountain and forest on every hand. Civilization seemed to have done little more than to have scratched this rough, shaggy surface of the earth here and there. In any such view, the wild, the aboriginal, the geographical greatly predominate. The works of man dwindle, and the original features of the huge globe come out. Every single object or point is dwarfed; the valley of the Hudson is only a wrinkle in the earth's surface. You discover with a feeling of surprise that the great thing is the earth itself, which stretches away on every hand so far beyond your ken.”
We’re kind of partial, so we think that every season in Ulster County is great, but there is no doubt that this area truly comes alive in the fall, when the crisp, refreshing, mountain air blows in and the foliage explodes in a rainbow of deep burgundy, orange and rust colored hues.
Hiking and outdoor activities are some of the most popular things to do in Ulster County, at any season, yet when peak foliage colors are about to pop, you’ll find that everyone wants to get outside and take in the stunning views in all of their glory. Ulster County has thousands of acres of Forever Wild land and plenty of hiking trails all throughout the county, ranging from novice to expert, so that, no matter your health or skill level, you’ll be able to dive firsthand into the outdoor Ulster County lifestyle and enjoy the stunning autumn colors. Whether it's a short, brisk walk near town, or an all-day adventure in the mountains, there is a hike for everyone, whether it's at a famously popular mountain or a little-known gem of a trail.
So without further ado, and in no particular order, here are the hikes and walking trails that everyone in Ulster County should be checking out this fall!
Slide Mountain Wilderness
If you want to get a peek at the pristine, untouched wilderness that John Burroughs wrote about in the late 1800’s, you’ll find it hiking Slide Mountain. With an elevation of 4,200 feet, Slide Mountain looms over the neighboring hills, inspiring folks with it’s pristine beauty, including Burroughs himself, whose writings on Slide Mountain helped the Catskills secure its spot as an official New York State Forest Preserve. Slide Mountain is noted as the highest peak of the Catskill Mountain range, the highest peak in Ulster County and is one of the highest peaks in all of New York State (with the exception of the Adirondack High Peaks region). There are plenty of areas to hike in the Slide Mountain Wilderness, with 3 different trails that ascend the mountain, yet these hikes are not for the faint of heart! The trails here are rocky, strenuous and contain miles of steep, uphill terrain, but the views make it all worthwhile. The summit itself is enclosed in thick trees, but to the west, at Burroughs Ledge, you’ll find the stunning views you seek of the Ashokan Reservoir and Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge far in the distance.
Giant Ledge and Panther Mountain
Panther Mountain,another Catskill High Peak and also located in the town of Shandaken, is a popular Ulster County hike because of the multiple “giant ledges” along the trail that open up to stunning views of Slide Mountain and the Catskills. People enjoy this trail, as it is a moderately quick hike to reach the first of five ledge lookout points (only 3.2 miles round-trip if you decide to hike to the first ledge and back) and astounding views. However, if you decide to trek to the summit of Panther Mountain, you’re in for a bit more of an uphill climb, and will have traversed about 7 miles of moderate trails by the time you reach the end.
Overlook Mountain Fire Tower
Meads Mountain Road, Woodstock, NY
Another popular hiking destination, the Overlook Mountain trail contains many points of interest over its long and steep course to Echo Lake, but many people choose just to tackle the first half of the climb to reach the Overlook Mountain Hotel ruins and the astounding views from the fire tower that look out onto the Hudson Valley, the Catskills and nearby Ashokan Reservoir. The abandoned Overlook Mountain House never officially opened for business after a string of unfortunate events, yet its ruins have been a subject of many hikers’ photos over the years. Hikers here, and in many other Catskill hiking locations, should take heed- Timber Rattlesnakes have been found on this trail in great numbers, so it’s best to keep closely to the trail, especially if you have youngsters and dogs in tow. If you’re interested on more information about Overlook Mountain’s history and trails, take a peek at our past Overlook Mountain feature.
Wallkill Valley Rail Trail
This 12.2-mile footpath spans New Paltz, stretching into Gardiner to the south and up to Rosendale further north. Meandering through farmlands, woods and even the center of New Paltz, this rail trail is the perfect way to enjoy a leisurely stroll or bike ride and get glimpses of the Ulster County countryside. You’ll find an amazing view of the Shawangunk Mountains from a bridge, just south of the town of New Paltz and also a few steel trestle bridges along the way.
Walkway Over the Hudson
87 Haviland Road, Highland NY
Holding the title of the longest pedestrian footpath to cross a body of water, the Walkway Over the Hudson was opened in 2009 after years of dedication and restoration to turn a once debilitated train bridge into one of the most remarkable attractions in the area. Spanning the Hudson River, the Walkway over the Hudson lets you traverse from the Poughkeepsie side (in Dutchess County) to the Highland side (in Ulster County) and rail trails at either end allow you to continue your trek even further. With gorgeous birds eye river views, the Walkway Over the Hudson comes to life in the fall when the foliage is at its peak.
Hudson Valley Rail Trail
Old New Paltz Road, Highland, NY
Stretching from the Ulster County end of the Walkway over the Hudson through the Town of Lloyd and nearly reaching New Paltz is the 4-mile Hudson Valley Rail Trail. Again, this flat, paved trail is less of a “hike” than some others in the area, but is a perfect way to get outside, take a stroll, a bike ride or grab your roller blades. At the other end of the trail is Tony William’s field, a local park with a baseball field and tennis and basketball courts and in 2 different locations on the trail you will find old caboose cars that kids can climb up and play in.
Franny Reese State Park
Johnson-Iorio Park, Highland NY
Franny Reese State Park contains 250 acres of steep and wooded slopes, south of Mid-Hudson Bridge, overlooking the Hudson River and neighboring Dutchess County. This trail is fairly short and much of the walk is through wooded areas, but at points it does open up to some scenic views of the river and the Mid-Hudson Bridge. If starting from Johnson Iorio Park, walk under the Mid Hudson Bridge and follow trail up the hill to the scenic overlook park. The trail also follows in part an old carriage road and leads past remnants of an old, 19th century estate. The trails here are wide and made of gravel, yet the ascent to the scenic lookout is fairly steep and beware of snakes along the trail!
Black Creek Forest Preserve
Route 9W at Winding Brook Acres Road, Esopus
This protected preserve spans 130 acres with a 2 mile wooded trail and suspension bridge across Black Creek for hikers to enjoy. Hike (or cross country ski if you prefer) through a rolling forest where you’ll encounter an overlook and small inlet on the Hudson River. Along your hike you may even be able to spot some threatened and endangered species, such as the Blueback Herring.
143 Popletown Road, Esopus
The Shaupeneak Ridge is part of the Marlboro Mountain range and is a little known jewel of a hiking location. The rugged terrain makes this a regional prime mountain biking destination as well as the trail for Scenic Hudson’s annual Spring Sprint 5K Trail race. With over 9 miles of trails of varying difficulty, there is a hike for the whole family at Shaupeneak Ridge and wildlife abound. Hike (or drive up) to Louisa Pond and the adjacent wetlands to see it full of water lily blooms in the summer, and once as the leaves start to drop in the fall, there are views stretching from the Hudson River to the Catskill Mountains.
John Burroughs Nature Sanctuary
Floyd Ackert Road, Ulster Park, NY 12493
Here you’ll find Slabsides, the mountain home of the literary naturalist John Burroughs who wrote many works about the beautiful Catskill Mountains and Hudson River Valley. The rustic cabin, circa 1895, was where many of his works were inspired and written about and you can see them still on your hikes today. With approximately 5 miles of trails winding through hundreds of acres of protected wetlands, woods, rock outcroppings and a 2 acre pond, you can feel as if you’re stepping back in time and taking in the same views that Burroughs himself saw in the late 1800s and understand why he fought so hard to educate people on the wonders of the Catskills.
Minnewaska State Park Preserve
Route 44/55, New Paltz, NY 12561
There’s a myriad of trails to hike in the Minnewaska and Mohonk Preserve areas of Ulster County. True rock climbing aficionados literally travel from around the globe to scale The Gunks and marvel at the surrounding Appalachian Mountain landscape. There are easy to trek trails that are perfect for families or people who want to see an amazing view, without putting in that much work, such as the hikes to Lake Awosting and Awosting Falls. On the other hand, there are other hikes, like to Gertrud’s Nose for example, that are 8 miles of strenuous terrain and aren’t for the novice hiker. Hiking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, swimming and rock climbing are all popular activities throughout the preserve, so there is definitely something at Minnewaska that the whole family can get excited about.
Sam’s Point Preserve
400 Sam’s Point Road, Cragsmoor, NY 12420
Located in the northern area of the Shawangunk Mountain range, Sam’s Point officially became part of the Minnewaska State Park preserve in 2015. This popular hiking area contained many miles of trails that lead to popular points of interest including Verkeerderkill Falls (a waterfall with a cliff top vantage point), Ice Caves (The Ellenville Fault Ice caves are the largest known open fault in the United States and you can visit them in the summer months), a lake and dwarf pine preserve. History tells the tale of a man named Sam who, being pursued by a tribe of Native Americans, jumped off a cliff, miraculously escaping harm and having his fall broken by trees below.
Unfortunately, a devastating wildfire earlier in 2016 burned roughly 2,000 acres of Sam’s Point. Since the fire, the park has been reopened and the Ice Caves Trail, Ice Cave Road and the Loop Road are open, however many trails are currently closed until further notice, including the Verkeerderkill Falls Trail, High Point Trail and Indian Rock Trail. For a full map of trail closures, visit NYS Park’s sites.
Mohonk Preserve Visitors Center
3197 Route 44/55, Gardiner NY 12525
Again, there are plenty of trails and hikes to take in the Mohonk Preserve, but listed below are some of the most popular and most photographed hikes. Its also good to take note: you do have to pay to hike most of the trails in Mohonk listed below, but the views and experiences are well worth the money, in our opinion.
Bonticou Crag and Table Rock
Not for the faint of heart, nor those who are afraid of heights, this hike will have you feeling like you’re on top of the world- scaling the white, flat table sized rocks to the summit. You can either follow a rock scramble trail to the summit, or take the easier (yet still steep) trail through the woods to the top of the cliff for the awesome views, but bringing young children or dogs with you on this 6 mile hike is not normally advised. There is a $12 fee per hiker and being a popular trail, it’s advised to get there early (or go during a weekday if you can) because you’ll find the parking lot fills up pretty quickly!
Millbrook Mountain Trail is another popular hike with insanely beautiful views from the white rock cliff face giving you a quintessentially Mohonk hiking experience. Despite it being a well-known trail, this hike isn’t actually as crowded as one might think due to its difficulty. It’s roughly 7 miles of steep, uphill terrain to reach the summit, but if you can make it, you’d better believe that $12 per person hiking fee will feel more like a million dollar view.
Labyrinth and Lemon Squeeze | Mohonk Mountain House
Arguably one of the most adored hikes in Ulster County, the Labyrinth/Lemon Squeeze Trail from Mohonk Mountain house contains those same amazing cliff top views, but to reach them you need to travel through the maze of a hike- squishing yourself between rocks, climbing ladders through rock pile trail ascents and even by leaping from rock to rock. This trail contains plenty of photo stops, from the Mohonk Mountain House grounds, the lake, the rock scrambles, walking beside the Sky Top tower and of course to the astounding view. If you’re planning to make this trip in early spring or late fall, it’s best to call Mohonk first to make sure the trail is open as it is very dangerous in inclement weather situations. Also, be prepared to open up your pockets- this hike has a steep $21 per person fee on weekdays, jumping up to $26 per person on weekends.
Split Rock | Coxing Trailhead
Split Rock was always considered to be more of a hidden gem by locals, compared to many other Mohonk destinations, however its popularity has been rising in past years and apparently the secret is out. A short walk from the Coxing Trailhead parking lot, you’ll find Split Rock, a popular watering hole in the summer months, where just down the Coxing Kill Creek lies a waterfall and deep pool for swimming. Hardly considered a hike compared to other more strenuous hikes, Split Rock is a great place to unwind while peeping at the foliage.
Onteora Lake in the Bluestone Wild Forest
Route 28W, Kingston NY
Located only a few miles outside of Kingston sits Onteora Lake in the Bluestone Wild Forest; a 3,000 acre park with one of the few publicly accessible lakes in the Catskills. With 3 separate short and easy trail loops, there’s plenty to look at as trails meander through forests, past ponds and old abandoned bluestone rock quarry sites. Hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, fishing and boating are all permitted here.
Falling Waters Preserve
996 Dominican Lane, Saugerties, NY
With easy hikes and walks over rolling hills, Falling Waters preserve has just under 3 miles of looped hikes along riverside trails, small waterfalls, babbling streams and awe-inspiring countryside. A newer preserve, just recently opened in 2011, this is one of the few places you can walk along the Hudson River without a train track disturbing your views and it’s only a few minutes from downtown Saugerties. Walks along the trail also lead you past the remains of the Mulford Ice House, which used to hold up to 10,000 tons of harvested ice from the Hudson to be sent to New York City.
Lighthouse Drive, Saugerties, NY
The ½ mile Ruth R. Glunt Nature Trail is an easy walk for all ages and leads your through marsh grasses and cottonwood trees to the 19th century Saugerties Lighthouse. Before you venture out for this short, leisurely stroll, be sure to check the local tide tables (located on the Lighthouse's website) as the trail floods and can become impassable during high tides. Once as you reach the lighthouse, you can explore the history of it and enjoy a picnic lunch from the lighthouse’s deck on the Hudson River.
Palenville, NY, Greene County
Although technically not in Ulster County, yet only a stone’s throw from some of our northernmost communities, Kaaterskill Falls needs to be included in this list as it is another extremely popular hike where you can get a glimpse of the tallest two-tier waterfall in New York! The massive Kaaterskill Falls are divided by two separate drops and is 260 feet tall in its entirety. Because of its popularity, it is best to try to hit this one during the weekday or early in the morning if you want to miss the crowds coming to the falls for a picnic. The 2-mile total length trail is short and moderately easy, and it’s only ½ a mile from the trailhead to the falls. Another smaller waterfall (Bastion Falls) flows past the trailhead and is just a warm up for what’s to come should you hike the rest of the way.
Platte Cove Road, near West Saugerties, NY 12477
Huckleberry Point has been noted by hikers as one of the nicest hikes in the Catskills because of the beauty of the views from the fairly easily reachable lookout point. This is an appropriate hike for people who don’t want to expend that much energy (the hike is only 4.5 miles, round-trip), yet still be rewarded with a first class view as if you just scaled a massive mountain- here you’ll have views into Massachusetts and Connecticut. This trail also shares the same trailhead as Kaaterskill High Peaks, another popular Catskill climb, so the ambitious hiker can travel even further into the mountains.
Vernooy Kill Falls, Sundown Wild Forest
Upper Cherrytown Road, Kerhonkson, NY
You’ll find a series of picturesque small waterfalls and pools, with 60 feet of drops over 4 stages of Catskill shale on this easy and short 3.6 mile round-trip hike. A wooden footbridge spans the waterway near the falls where you can still see some remnants of a stonewall that housed the Vernooy Grain Mill nearly 200 years ago.