Having lived in New York City for the past 13 years, I’ve fallen in love with my new city. The bright lights of Broadway, innumerable restaurants, museums of every variety, my favorite Irish pub, and the gym where I work off my indulgences are all just a subway ride away. Despite my admiration for this bustling metropolis, I’ve often said surviving this city requires frequent breaks. Typically, my calendar is divided between time at home, road trips across the country, and flights to explore intriguing international destinations. This ebb and flow has been my normal for decades. Everything was going fine until COVID-19 took up residence here. 

Watching in horror as borders closed to my favorite countries around the world, the reality of living in a pandemic world began to sink in. My 2020 plans included trips to Norway and Sweden in the summer, Uganda in September, and Croatia in October. In between those, I had plans for a beach trip with the grandkids, but domestic travels became limited as well. At home, the bright lights of Broadway darkened. Restaurants, museums, my favorite Irish pub, and the gym all closed indefinitely. Overnight my calendar emptied.

The New York Perspective

New York’s shut down began in mid-March. That same week I was diagnosed with COVID-19. I endured two weeks of miserable symptoms before my body began to heal. My COVID fevers ultimately faded away, making room for quarantine-induced cabin fever. As my energy returned, the search for an escape route began. 

While so much attention is focused on the US National Parks (and deservedly so) we often overlook the bounty of nature in our own backyards.

When people think of New York, they typically picture skyscrapers, throngs of pedestrians rushing along the streets, and a constant concerto of honking horns. But, despite a population of almost nine million, the city only occupies a small section of New York State. More than 86.6 percent of New York is rural, comprised of miles of bucolic farmland, soaring mountain ranges, and cascading waterfalls. It turns out, I didn’t have to wander far from home to discover some of New York’s treasures.

Hudson Valley

Stretching 150 miles from the tip of Manhattan to Albany, New York’s Hudson Valley is a vast and varied region offering a multitude of experiences. With hundreds of miles of sandstone and granite cliffs, cattail-lined riverbanks, orchards, farmland, and forests, the scale of its geography and the scope of its history are daunting. Easily accessible by train from New York City or as a weekend road trip, the Hudson Valley offers a welcome escape from the concrete jungle—one we take advantage of often.

In Poughkeepsie, a walk across the river via the Walkway Over the Hudson yields a bird’s eye view of the historic waters below. The 212-foot-tall, 1.28-mile linear walkway spans the Hudson River and connects to bike trails on either end. On one of our post-COVID walks, we crossed the bridge then added a four-mile loop trail that encompasses a walk across the neighboring Mid-Hudson River Bridge. This small addition uncovered some intriguing treasures. Just before we reached the Mid-Hudson Bridge, we detoured down steps beside the bridge out of curiosity. To our surprise, we found an entrance to the Franny Reese State Park.

  • NY Mid Hudson Bridge. Photo: Terri Marshall
  • NY Walkway Over the Hudson. Photo: Terri Marshall
  • NY Ruins in Franny Reese State Park. Photo: Terri Marshall

Small but mighty, this 251-acre park boasts five miles of forested trails with welcoming views of the Hudson River, ruins of a mid-1800s Victorian Estate, and plenty of frisky little chipmunks. We returned the next week to hike here and had no problem with social distancing, passing only seven other hikers all afternoon. 

The aforementioned Mid-Hudson Bridge unfolded an utterly unique treasure—bridge music. A sound-art installation by Joseph Bertolozzi, Bridge Music blends recorded sounds of the bridge surfaces with various mallets to create new works, making the Mid-Hudson Bridge the largest percussion instrument in the world. This unusual industrial-esque music can be heard at listening stations along the bridge walkway. 

Chimney Bluffs State Park

When my husband, Greg, received an e-mail about a recently launched New York State Parks app, he immediately downloaded it and started surfing. A photo caught his attention—steep clay bluffs rising from a rocky beach. It didn’t look like anything either of us had ever seen in New York. We hit the road for a three-day weekend trip to find this intriguing Chimney Bluffs State Park. 

Upon entry, the tree-lined terrain looked like any other park. As we hiked along the wooded trail, an opening among the trees delivered our first views of Lake Ontario and the spectacular earthen spires born from the collision of land and water. Winding our way down to the beach, we strolled along the rock-laden sand weaving through sun-bleached driftwood along the way. For one afternoon it seemed as if we’d traversed landscapes worlds away from New York City.

Minnewaska State Park

There seems to be a theme in the New York treasures I’m sharing—state parks. While so much attention is focused on the US National Parks (and deservedly so) we often overlook the bounty of nature in our own backyards. Staying close to home led me to these discoveries and the Minnewaska State Park has become one of our favorite places to escape into nature.

NY Lake Minnewaska. Photo: Terri Marshall
NY Lake Minnewaska. Photo: Terri Marshall

Located in Ulster County, NY about an hour and a half drive north from New York City, the park lies on the Shawangunk Mountain ridge—locally known as the Gunks. Rising more than 2,000 feet above sea level and surrounded by rugged, rocky terrain, the park features dense hardwood forests, clear mountain streams, cascading waterfalls, three crystalline sky lakes, and cliff ledges opening up to gorgeous views of the surrounding landscape. We’ve hiked in this mecca for nature lovers three times and counting and when the autumn colors arrive, we’ll be returning every weekend. 

Although I’m looking forward to the days when international travel returns, these New York treasures have earned a solid place on my calendar (and in my heart) for years to come.

Overlooking Lake Minnewaska. Photo: Terri Marshall
Overlooking Lake Minnewaska. Photo: Terri Marshall