5 Hudson Valley places that welcome spring

The Maple Sugar Festival in Cornwall and the Signs of Spring Nature Walk in Saugerties are just two of the fun places in the Hudson Valley for family fun this season. After four months of being cooped up in the house with the kids, there’s nothing like that first warm day to put a spring in your step. The birds are singing, the squirrels are frolicking, and you can leave the heavy winter coat in the closet. Here are some suggestions on where to go.

1. Maple Sugar Festival— Cornwall—Saturday, March 5

A family-friendly festival kicks off the month-long maple sugar harvest at the Hudson Highlands Nature Museum’s Outdoor Discovery Center. Activities include: crafts, games, and story-telling around a campfire. The main event is a jaunty hour-long walk through the woods, suitable for ages 3 and up. There are demonstrations on how trees are tapped. Visitors can taste the syrup right from the tree, and see how it’s processed at the center’s “sugar shack.”

Marian Goldin, the museum’s marketing manager, says kids love seeing where the best part of their pancakes comes from. “I think that learning the process of something like that kind of infatuates kids and they get to understand that things don’t just appear on a grocery store shelf,” she says.

The festival runs from 10:30am to 3pm. The cost is $10 for adults. $5 for children aged 3-11. Tours will be held the next day, March 6 and for the next three weekends (March 12-13, 19-20 and 26-27), same hours and admission. The address is 174 Angola Rd. (just off 9W).

2. Trevor Zoo—Millbrook

The four-acre American Zoological AZA-accredited zoo has 180 animals, including the otters pictured on the previous page. The Trevor Zoo is just right for families who don’t want a trip to the zoo to be a big to-do, says Director Jon Meigs.

“We have people that come here from the Bronx and I say, ‘Well you’ve got a zoo there.’ But they say, ‘Yeah, but this is much more manageable for the kids.’” Every kid loves animals. Meigs says some of the favorites at Trevor are the otters, red pandas, and lemurs.

The zoo is open every day from 8:30am to 5pm. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children. The address is 131 Millbrook School Rd.

3. Signs of Spring Nature Walk—Saugerties—March 20

The Esopus Creek Conservancy’s annual spring walk offers the opportunity to see aquatic birds, and maybe even some eagles and one of the 187-acre preserve’s several fox families, says Naturalist Steve Chorvas, who leads the walk. The walk will include visits to the Great Vly Wildlife Management Area, Esopus Bend Nature Preserve, and possibly the Saugerties Lighthouse Trail on the Hudson River—all of which provide beautiful views, the potential for animal encounters and trails with gentle grades.

That said, it is spring and conditions could be muddy, so dress appropriately. Light rain can make for great observation conditions, but a heavy rain cancels the walk.

Meet at 8am at the Saugerties Village Beach off 9W by the Esopus Creek bridge. Free admission. Contact Chorvas at schorvas@verizon.net for info. For more on upcoming nature walks, check the Conservancy’s website.

4. Rocking Horse Ranch—Highland

A family vacation doesn’t have to mean six-hour car rides or airport hassle. Check out the Rocking Horse Ranch in Highland, a 500-acre all-inclusive family resort with something for everyone. Activities include: an indoor water park, paddle-boating and kayaking, fishing the resort’s lake, outdoor rock-climbing, bungie-jumping, bocce, tennis, basketball court, hiking, softball archery, a shooting gallery, and ranch’s claim to fame, horseback riding. Claudia Mestrov, children’s program director, says the ranch sees riders of all skill levels, and every guest gets a free lesson.

Accommodations start at $215 per adult/per night, $90 for children 9-15 and $60 for children 3-9. The ranch is open year-round, and is located at 600 State Rte. 44. 

5. Mohonk Mountain House New Paltz—Community Week—March 13-20

You haven’t experienced everything the Hudson Valley has to offer until you see the majestic Mohonk Mountain House. Constructed in 1869, the grand yet rugged Mountain House sits next to an improbable mountain top lake and serves as the center of a 7,000-acre preserve. While cliffs to the east are world renowned among rock-climbers, many more less death-defying visitors take their cars to the top and wander the network of old carriage roads encircling the hotel. It’s as charming as it was for New York City’s 19th-century who once flocked to New Paltz each summer.

Visitors wander the grounds every fair weather day, especially on the weekends, but the best time for locals to go is Community Week. Free tours are given Monday-Friday (March 14-18) at 11:15am, and meals and activities are offered at a discount. If you’d like to stay the night, there’s a midweek discount that runs through March 31: $165 per person, per night, based on double occupancy, $69 for children. The address is 1000 Mountain Rest Rd. Call 845-256-2056 or go to the website for more info.

Will Dendis is the editor of the Saugerties Times and freelance writer whose work has appeared in several local publications. He lives in New Paltz.