Follow the Hudson River north of New York City to uncover the riches of the rural-meets-refined Hudson Valley. It's a place where you can reconnect with nature amidst fertile riverfront lands framed by low mountains and generously dotted with wine trails, agro-restaurants, charming small towns, art havens, and historical sites. Come autumn, the region's foliage explodes in a brilliant dreamscape of red, orange, and golden hues, making for a truly spectacular setting. Here are five essential picks for Hudson Valley art, nature, history, and food—plus, a plush lodging perch from which to take it all in.
Best Lodging: Mohonk Mountain House
Proposing the perfect blend of recreation and R&R, the 145-year-old Mohonk Mountain House—a National Historic Landmark—hosts guests in its turreted, 259-room Victorian castle resort, accented with original Victorian woodwork, local antiques, and wood-burning fireplaces; plus, plenty of porches and windows overlooking undulated forests and foothills. Anchored on crystalline Lake Mohonk and tucked away in 40,000 acres of forested reserve, outdoor diversions are plentiful—and largely complimentary—including boating on the lake, hiking on 85 miles of trails, playing tennis, and golfing (free during midweek). Their top-rated, 30,000-square-foot spa boasts an outdoor heated mineral pool and 16 treatment rooms. Room rates (from $299 per person) cover three daily meals, including a formal three-course dinner.
Best Foodie Experience: Blue Hill at Stone Barns
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The Hudson Valley is sure to put any foodie in a frenzy, what with farmstands and wineries galore, not to mention the Culinary Institute of America. But nowhere in the region—or perhaps the nation—is a meal as memorably mouthwatering as at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Anchored on a sustainable farm, it’s the epitome of farm-to-table, New American cuisine. Dining here, within an atmospheric historic stone barn (on a former Rockefeller estate), is not just a meal, but an epic epicurean experience. The 10-year-old country outpost of NYC's original Blue Hill restaurant offers just one splurge-worthy fixed menu ($198 per person), seasonally driven by the local harvest. Prepare for a barrage of flavors in upwards of 20 courses, brought out in a flurry of inventive and exquisitely presented small plates prepared by executive chef and co-owner Dan Barber.
Best Outdoor Activity: Minnewaska State Park Preserve
There's a reason that everybody from the Rockefellers to the Roosevelts lived in the Hudson Valley: It reflects nature at its finest. Sample the very best of its outdoor offerings at Minnewaska State Park Preserve ($8 per-car fee). Sprawling for some 23,000 acres along the Shawangunk Ridge, the park encompasses waterfalls, “sky lakes,” dramatic rock formations, thick forests, and windswept ledges. Dubbed “the Gunks,” the white cliffs here (and in the neighboring Mohonk Preserve) offer some of the country's best rock climbing, while the less adventurous can hike 35 miles of historic carriage roads and 25 miles of scenic footpaths. For the most breathtaking of the bunch, walk the leisurely two-mile carriage road encircling Lake Minnewaska, with sweeping cliff-top vistas, glistening lakefront views, and forested canopy trails.
Best Cultural Activity: Storm King Art Center
For a monumental art fix, seek out Storm King Art Center ($15 for adults). Wowing guests for more than half a century, this sculpture park features large-scale installations in a bucolic setting that spans 500 acres of woodlands, farm fields, and sweeping lawns. Visitors can crane their necks to ogle more than 100 contemporary sculptures crafted by modern masters like Alexander Calder, Isamu Noguchi, Richard Serra, David Smith, and more; don't miss Andy Goldsworthy's Storm King Wall or George Cutts' Sea Change. This year, catch a Buddhism-inspired installation by contemporary Chinese artist Zhang Huan (through November 9). Come early to nab a bike rental, and look to their events calendar for special concerts, kids' days, and more.
Best Historic Site: Franklin D. Roosevelt Home, Presidential Library and Museum
F.D.R. held lifelong ties to his childhood home along the Hudson River, returning to his Springwood estate in adulthood, where he hosted world leaders like Winston Churchill. Just next door, F.D.R. commissioned what would become America's first presidential library in 1941, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum ($18 for home and library admission). Fresh from a $35 million, high-tech revamp in 2013, it comes bursting at the seams with information, mementos, photographs, videos, and documents spanning Franklin and Eleanor's personal and public lives, especially those relating to his four terms in office, spanning the Great Depression, New Deal years, and World War II.
Elissa Garay is a contributor to numerous U.S. travel publications, including Fodor's, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, Yahoo, and more. Based in Brooklyn, NY, she has traveled to and reported on some 55 countries and 20 cruise lines around the globe, and has resided in Argentina, France, England, Denmark, and the Netherlands. Follow her @TravelSpiritNYC.