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Be a tourist in your own backyard!



5 Hudson Valley destinations tourists love, but we locals tend to overlook

Sure, you know where all the hidden swimming holes are in the Shawangunks. You know about the best, out-of-the-way farm stands and orchards where you can pick your own fruit. You’ve got the scoop on the “secret” menu at your local Italian restaurant and you can always find good parking spots in New Paltz and Beacon.

Yes, you’re a Hudson Valley local and proud of it. When friends and family come to visit, you’ve got a whole list of amazing, undiscovered places to take them.

But what about the more obvious “tourist” places? When your family members ask about our historic mansions and famous museums, maybe you roll your eyes and quote Yogi Berra: “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.”

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Like New Yorkers who live their whole lives in the five boroughs and never set foot inside the Empire State Building, you may be missing out on the best the Hudson Valley has to offer. So this summer, hike up your socks, strap on your fanny pack, and finally check out those places that everybody else goes to when they visit the Hudson Valley.

And if you’ve already visited some of these sites, we’ve got some tips about new features and a few lesser-known details that you should know about.

Because, you know, you’re a local.

Olana
When most people think of the Hudson River, they think of the 19th Century Hudson River School of landscape painters. And there’s no better way to get acquainted with this important American art movement than visiting Olana, the magnificent estate of landscape painter Frederic Edwin Church.

Perched on a hill outside Hudson, this 250-acre estate features inspirational views of the Hudson Valley along its many walking trails. The house itself was designed by Calvert Vaux, the co-designer of New York’s Central Park and houses Church’s museum-quality collections of art and artifacts from all over the world.

Details: The estate is located at 5720 Route 9G. Tours of the house itself cost $12 for adults, $10 for students and seniors, and free for kids 12 and under. Tours are kept small and fill up quickly, so it’s strongly recommended that you make a tour reservation in advance by calling 518-828-0135.

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Been there, done that? If you’ve already toured the mansion itself — or even if you haven’t — it’s worth spending a whole day just exploring the grounds themselves, hiking the estate’s trails and picnicking by the lake. Unlike the house itself, the grounds are free and open to the public seven days a week throughout the whole year (although visitors on weekends from May to October will pay a $5 vehicle fee; Empire Passport holders and members of The Olana Partnership are exempt). And budding artists from the ages of 6 to 12 can attend “Panorama,” an art camp for kids run by The Olana Partnership, during the weeks of July 7 and July 21.

Dia:Beacon
The city of Beacon’s “hip” status arguably began in 2003 when the Dia Foundation opened up this contemporary art museum in a 240,000-square-foot former Nabisco factory. The site’s expansive spaces are the perfect homes for large-scale works by such notable artists as Andy Warhol, Richard Serra, Dan Flavin, On Kawara and many others.

Details: Dia:Beacon is located near the Beacon train station at 3 Beekman St. Since the museum is lit almost entirely by natural light, hours vary according to season. Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and $8 for students. Beacon residents are admitted free on weekends. Twice a year, the museum hosts “Community Free Day” in which admission is free for residents of Columbia, Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Ulster, and Westchester counties. The next Community Free Day will be held on Saturday, Oct. 11..

Been there, done that? Because Dia:Beacon focuses on large-scale works, people tend to assume that their collections are static and unchanging. But new exhibits are opening all the time; the museum is currently hosting a major retrospective of the work of minimalist sculptor Carl Andre. And since Beacon’s own Homespun Foods took over the museum’s café, you can be assured of a good cup of coffee and a satisfying sandwich when it’s time to refuel.

Rocking Horse Ranch
If you and your family want to get out of the house for a few days without spending a ton of money on gas or airfare, look no further than Rocking Horse Ranch. For over 50 years, Rocking Horse Ranch has been one of the nation’s top family resorts. The horses themselves are the main attractions, with rides offered for every experience level. But the resort also features a spa, archery, mini golf, rock climbing, hiking, tennis, basketball, pools, water skiing and much more. And since the resort is all-inclusive, your meals, horse rides and activities are all included in the cost of your room.

Details: The resort is located at 13 Pancake Hollow Rd. in Highland. Prices vary according to length of stay and season; many seasonal special packages are also available. Call 1-800-647-2624 or visit rockinghorseranch.com for more information.

Been there, done that? The resort’s newest feature is their Big Splash indoor water park; heated at 85 degrees for a “summer all year long” experience and including a 250-foot-long Gold Rush Flume. In the winter, Rocking Horse Ranch offers skiing, ice skating, horse drawn sleigh rides and 500-foot-long timber chutes for tubing.


Big Bear Ziplines
Doesn’t ziplining seem like something exotic that you have to travel far away for? The Beisiegel family thought so, too. That’s why they opened Big Bear Ziplines in Hyde Park back in January 2011; it’s quickly become a top area attraction and was awarded The Dutchess County Economic Development Corporation’s “Business Excellence Tourism” award. Their 3-hour tour will have you zipping across 4,000 feet of cable spread out over eight ziplines.

Details: Big Bear Ziplines is located at 817 Violet Ave. in Hyde Park. Tour times and prices vary by season, call 888-947-2294 or visit bigbearziplines.com for booking and more information.

Been there, done that? Every October, Big Bear turns their 50 acres of land into a haunted forest and offers Zombie Ziplining after dark, combining the thrills of ziplining with the chills of a haunted house. Plus, as their website helpfully points out, “Zombie Ziplining is great for people with a fear of heights since you can’t really see how high up you are.”

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Bannerman Island
Commuters along the Hudson Line — or anyone who drives down Route 9D between Beacon and Cold Spring on a regular basis — are familiar with the haunting sight of Bannerman’s Castle, a ruined fortress on a tiny Pollepel Island in the Hudson River built in the early 20th Century by an eccentric arms dealer. But most people are still under the impression that visitors are only allowed on the island on rare occasions.

In reality, visiting the castle is easier than ever these days. On weekends from May through October, the Bannerman Castle Trust runs two tours of the island per day via its new ship the Estuary Steward.

If you’d rather paddle than motor, Cold Spring’s Hudson River Expeditions, Cornwall-on-Hudson’s Storm King Adventure Tours and Mountain Tops of Beacon all run kayak tours to the island throughout the summer as well. No matter how you get there, all trips include a walking tour of the island with a Bannerman’s Castle historian to clue you in on the history and secrets of this unique Hudson Valley landmark.

Details: The Estuary Steward leaves from the Newburgh Landing outside Torches on the Hudson at 11 a.m. and from the Beacon Ferry dock at 12:30 p.m. Tours cost $35 per adult and $30 per child under 11; call 845-834-4200 to book a tour or visit bannermancastle.org for more information. For kayak tours, contact Cold Spring’s Hudson River Expeditions, Cornwall-on-Hudson’s Storm King AdventureTours, or Mountain Tops of Beacon.

Been there, done that? In addition to the many tours offered throughout the season, Bannerman Castle Trust also hosts several upcoming events on the island, including a Fourth of July picnic, a Farm Fresh Chef’s Dinner on Sept. 13, and a concert performance of the musical “Brigadoon” on Sept. 21.

Brian PJ Cronin is a freelance writer who lives in Beacon with his wife and son. You can visit him online at brianpjcronin.com.