story and photography by Kenneth W. Dahse
[New York Motorcycle Rides: The Hudson River Valley was originally published as a Favorite Ride in the July 2009 issue of Rider magazine]
One of the most fascinating and scenic areas in the eastern United States is New York’s Hudson River Valley. Imbued with impressive scenery, sights, challenging roads and historic areas, it makes for a magical ride through America’s past.
I began my trip in Sloatsburg, New York, entering the gateway of the Hudson River Valley: Harriman State Park. The park has thousands of acres of mountainous woodland, scenic roads, 31 lakes and three public beaches. My Vulcan Nomad rumbled peacefully along Seven Lakes Drive passing shimmering lakes, heading for Bear Mountain Park and Perkins Memorial Drive, a popular rider stop. There it climbed this sinuous road with finesse. From the observation building, scenery rolled out in all directions like ocean waves embracing the New York City skyline, the mountains of the Hudson River Valley and the Skylands Region of New Jersey. I could see New Jersey’s High Point monument plunging into the blue pulsating heavens 65 miles away.
From Bear Mountain I rolled north on 9W, passing the United States Military Academy at West Point (once a great stop, but with the increased security, difficult to enter). Such famous generals as Custer, MacArthur, Eisenhower and “Blood and Guts” Patton all graduated from the Point. At the Route 293/218 exit for Storm King Mountain, my Nomad devoured the taste of teasing twisties as it climbed to the overlook parking area and another panorama of the Hudson River.
Continuing north to Cornwall-on-Hudson, I took the scenic serpentine Route 9W south back to the Bear Mountain Bridge and then sailed north to Cold Spring, a national historic district with a waterfront park and views of Storm King Mountain, and West Point on the western shore. Cold Spring has several fine restaurants and antiques stores.
Leaving Cold Spring, I headed west on Route 301 to Route 9 north toward Poughkeepsie. Unfortunately, the closer you get to Poughkeepsie, the ride becomes less scenic and the road more congested. It remains so until you leave Hyde Park. Nevertheless, the pastoral beauty of Eleanor’s Roosevelt’s Val-Kill retreat, the impressive Roosevelt Hyde Park estate and the grandeur and scenic splendor of the Vanderbilt Mansion more than compensate for the minor congestion.
Franklin Roosevelt was born on the 200-acre estate in 1882, and as an adult made it his permanent home along with his wife Eleanor, who was also his cousin. This historic patrician couple dedicated their lives to improving the lot of the common people and were branded “traitors to their class” by their fellow elites. The estate is the burial site of the Roosevelts, and also home to Franklin’s presidential library.
Even more impressive is the 50-room Italian Renaissance-style Vanderbilt Mansion, completed in 1898 at the cost of $2,250,000 when the average wage was a dollar a day. The mansion contains lush furnishings and decor that rivaled the palaces of Europe. The estate was basically a weekend retreat for the Vanderbilts and used only a few weeks a year. But to the 19th-century millionaires of Hudson River Valley the cost was “a mere bag of shells,” to quote Ralph Kramden of The Honeymooners. With storm clouds consistently following me north, I rolled on, briefly visiting several other estates and parks.
Rhinebeck is home to both the Beekman Arms (one of the oldest inns in America—1766), as well as the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome museum of 40 vintage vehicles from 1900-1940, including motorcycles. On weekends, air shows feature biplanes and triplanes reminiscent of the barnstorming days.
Heading north on Route 9G toward Olana State Historic site, my Nomad ate up the empty road while my eyes feasted on farmland and flowed over the fantastic Catskill Mountains rising precipitously to the west. The Olana entrance road meanders its way up to the estate, where this 37-room Persian-style mansion sits on a mountaintop studying the Hudson River Valley below. Designed by renowned 19th-century Hudson River School artist Frederick Church, the estate also has gardens, nature trails and guided indoor tours, as do most of the other historic estates on this ride.
With storm clouds still following me and the day growing late, I crossed the Rip Van Winkle Bridge to the western shore of the Hudson Valley and headed for my motel.
Day two opened with a cloudless sky. I began my ride climbing into the Catskill Mountains to North Lake Campground for a scenic overlook at the historic Catskill Mountain House site (a former resort hotel) which offered views of the valley and mountains. Afterward, I cruised to Tannersville and enjoyed the colorfully painted western-style architecture.
Route 214 south cuts through the mountains and ends in Phoenicia, a cute little town sitting on the banks of the famous Esopus Creek. Home to Town Tinker Tube Rental and shuttle service, riders can spend a few hours floating down this picturesque waterway.
From Phoenicia, I rumbled east on Route 28 to Route 212 and into the famous town of Woodstock, but now it is a mere shell of its former self. At its heyday in the ’60s, hippies and musicians populated the coffee-house-lined streets and communes flourished in the surrounding countryside. In need of some quiet contemplation time, my Vulcan and I climbed the sinuous Meads Mountain Road to the Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Tibetan Buddhist Monastery. Unfortunately, it was closed for renovations.
From Woodstock I took 375 to 209 south. At Routes 44/55, I rumbled east through Minnewaska State Park, which rises out of the Hudson River Valley like a phoenix. With hiking trails, swimming and spectacular views of the valley and the mountain ranges on both sides of the river, it makes for a nice stop.
From there, I rolled into New Paltz. Originally settled in 1692, New Paltz has six 300-year-old Huguenot Stone homes that were part of the original settlement. Now a college town and the gateway to Minnewaska State Park, it has unique stores, restaurants and outdoor activity rentals.
With the day growing late, I rolled south on Route 208 through the last miles of the Hudson River Valley. With the warm sun caressing my face and the wind washing whimsically over me, I thought about what a magical ride this had been, with historic mansions, mighty mountains, great roads and fantastic scenery. It truly was a favorite ride that I will do again and again.
Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site Val-Kill: (845) 229-9115, www.nps.gov/elro (Hyde Park)
Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt, National Historic Site Museum and Library: (845) 229-9115, www.nps.gov/hofr (Hyde Park)
Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site: (800) 229-9115, www.nps.gov/vama (Hyde Park)
Beekman Arms: (845) 876-7077, www.beekmandelamaterinn.com (Rhinebeck)
Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome: www.oldrhinebeck.org
Clermont State Historic Site: (518) 537-4240, www.friendsofclermont.org (Germantown)
Olana State Historic Site: (518) 828-0135, www.olana.org (Hudson)
Woodstock Cultural Center: (845) 679-6234, www.woodstockchamber.com
New Paltz: www.townofnewpaltz.org
Catskill Mountain Lodge (motorcycle friendly, clean, decent place with pool, restaurant/bar): Route 32A, Palenville, (518) 678-3101, www.catskillmtlodge.com
North-South Lake Public Campground (a great campground with boating, swimming, hiking, fishing and spectacular views): (518) 589-5058 (Haines Falls)