By John Suhar
This is one epic late summer weekend getaway from NYC you will certainly enjoy - with amazing hikes, breathtaking waterfalls, mountain biking and more! My brother Zak and I headed upstate to Ulster County last Friday, and like all our adventure weekends, it began with a race against time to catch the sunset. We headed to Sam's Point for what I consider to be one of the most epic sunset views New York State has to offer.
We arrived and scurried up the short hike to the summit to soak in the fading sun and the pastel hues of the sky. I was mesmerized by the vibrant colors and time lost all meaning, and before I knew it, we were being asked to leave by Rangers as the park closes at sundown. Though nothing could steal the show from the sunset, an animal sighting came close. Shortly before the rangers came up a porcupine scurried out from the brush and startled Zak. It was his first time seeing a wild porcupine, and a fun sight to take in before descending back to our car. We stayed at the summit of Sam's Point for so long, there was very little time to make dinner plans. We got back to the car and searched for a restaurant in between Sam's Point and our hotel and ended up going with a diner called Cup and Saucer. Pro tip for next time: pack a dinner and eat it while watching sunset!
We woke to our alarm the next day, grabbed a bite to eat at the hotel and made our way into the town of New Paltz, where we rented mountain bikes from the Bicycle Depot. After getting situated with our bikes, we headed towards Lippman Park. We drove past the famous "Stairmaster" hairpin turn and carried on past the Mohonk Preserve (past "West Trapps Trailhead Parking," where lots of rock climbers park) and continued through Minnewaska State Park. We pulled over at a couple of turn-offs to take in the views and then carried on to Lippman Park for some riding.
We arrived at the park, scoped out a map, got situated with our bikes and made our way over to the trailhead, where we were greeted by a 9-year-old rider whose dad used to be a pro-mountain biker. The youngster quickly became our good friend and local bike guide for the day. (His dad was busy teaching his four-year-old daughter old how to ride without training wheels and was happy to have us ride with his son!) What we loved most about Lippman, in addition to having our own local tour guide, was the number of trail choices accommodating novice and veteran riders alike. One of the coolest trails featured a wooden boardwalk about 18 inches off the ground that was 12 inches wide in some spots before narrowing all the way down to two inches, offering only enough room for the thread of your bike tire to fit. It was challenging to keep your bike on such a narrow, elevated path, but we had fun playing around on the boardwalk and seeing who could make it the farthest without losing balance.
After a morning of biking, our new friends suggested we hit up Saunderskill Farms for a farm-to-table lunch, plus blueberry and apple picking. We enjoyed a delicious meal here, picked some fresh berries, and walked through the wildflower fields and the apple orchard before deciding to return our bikes.
We didn’t want to leave, but also wanted to check out the town of New Paltz, so we tore ourselves away from the blueberries and headed back to town. We returned our bikes and then walked the streets, popping in and out of the cute local shops. Even though our bellies were full we had to stop at P&G’s restaurant, a New Paltz cornerstone built in the early 1900s. It was fun to soak in the history of this place and grab a bite to eat.
Fueled up and ready to go again, we spent the last part of our day at Awosting Falls. A pretty short and accessible hike rewards hikers with some smaller falls on the way to the main attraction (the waterfall pictured). It wasn’t crowded, even on a weekend (score!), so we were able to enjoy the falls to ourselves for a few hours and explore the surrounding area. We ended up sticking around until sunset and walked out with a family we started chatting with. Zak wandered ahead of the group a bit as we stopped to soak in the sight of the upper falls. As we progressed along the trail we noticed Zak silently waving us over to him. We quietly approached until we saw a baby black bear just off the trail feeding on berries. As we caught up to Zak, the bear disappeared into the thicker brush. We carried on our way back to the car, ready for dinner.
We headed to The Egg’s Nest in High Falls for one of our favorite meals of the weekend. If I could have eaten the entire menu, I would have. I went with the veggie nachos for an appetizer and the cauliflower tacos as my entree. We’ll definitely be back on our next trip to the area. We made our way back to the hotel, passing herds of deer feeding in the fields along the way. We arrived at the hotel exhausted. We passed out early in preparation for an early call time the next morning for our Rail Explorers adventure in Phoenicia.
I try to soak in every last drop of Sunday that I can and started this one off at a popular spot, Phoenicia Diner. This is one of my favorite breakfast spots—not in Ulster County, not in New York State, but in the WORLD. Delicious doesn’t do the food justice. You simply have to go. Order anything, stay awhile and snap some iconic pics in front of their airbus! Word is getting out and its popularity is growing, so get there early if you can.
Once fueled up, we headed to the Rail Explorers for a fun adventure. Powered by you and your team or partner, you peddle along and cruise in awesome rail cars through the forest, past the mountains and over streams where anglers are casting the day away. It proved to be lots of fun and I can definitely see myself bringing my family back to enjoy this adventure too.
The rivers were surging on Sunday with all the rain, so we postponed our tubing trip and instead explored the town of Phoenicia and Woodstock. Phoenicia is a cute mountain town with antique shops, ice cream parlors, and great restaurants. Woodstock is a bit bigger and more developed but has the same mountain town feel. We made some nice vintage finds in Phoenicia and then carried on to Woodstock.
Our first stop in Woodstock was Maverick Theater. According to their website, “Maverick Concerts, Inc. is the oldest, continuous summer chamber-music festival in America, celebrating over a century of world-class music in the woods. The bar was built by hand as part of the Maverick Colony in 1916 by the utopian writer and philosopher Hervey White. With a roof of asphalt and wood shingles and a frame of heavy timber, to which the walls—sheaths of wide planks—are nailed directly, the wooden construction and luminous acoustics create an environment perfectly suited to the intimacy of live chamber music.” This venue is simply stunning with green moss on the roof, a gorgeous forest surrounding the venue and a rustic look and feel. They have seating under the roof and outside the venue, but the seats fill up quickly so try to get there as early as you can.
From Maverick Theater we headed to the Byrdcliffe Arts Colony, which was founded in 1902 by artists and writers as an experiment in utopian living inspired by the arts and crafts movement. It was inspiring to read about the history of this place and follow the trails along the property to check out the houses and grounds. After wandering around the colony and popping into the Byrdcliffe theater, we decided to head into the heart of Woodstock. We parked our car and headed out to the main street where we were greeted by a lively drum circle. We listened to the music for a while and then headed across the street to The Shindig for a bite to eat. Just when we thought the food in Ulster County couldn’t get any better, it did. The veggie sandwich and truffle mac and cheese was mouthwatering. We enjoyed our lunch and walked around town for a bit, popping in and out of shops and looking at restaurant menus before deciding it was time to head to our final location—Rosendale, NY.
We parked in the Binnewater Kiln parking lot and did the short hike to the top of the Rosendale Trestle. The Rosendale Trestle is a 940-foot bridge and former railroad trestle that was constructed in the late 1800s. At one point this trestle bridge was the highest span bridge in the United States. We spent some time soaking in the views, but the clouds were ominous and the rain started to sprinkle down, so we decided to get our cameras to cover and retreated back to our car.
Ulster County is definitely a part of New York state we recommend everyone explore—it has so much to offer, from the mountain bike trails to railroad adventures to epic hikes with sweeping views and stunning waterfalls, and we didn't even scratch the surface! Even if you are not an outdoor enthusiast, just looking for a charming escape, the little mountain towns afford excellent food, good shopping, quaint hotels and B&Bs, and stunning views. We had an amazing time exploring this section of New York and are hoping to return soon for more! We'll keep you updated on what other hidden gems we discover. Thanks for an unforgettable weekend, Ulster County!