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Ulster County, where special events, historic landmarks and outdoor activities mix in a country setting

For daytrippers or weekenders who crave a healthful dose of sunshine, fresh air and exercise, New York’s Ulster County dishes up a smorgasbord of recreational opportunities. This Hudson Valley area and its parks and preserves offer hiking, biking, kayaking and wind surfing as well as other leisure pursuits such as golf and horseback riding.

Some of the sporting opportunities are more extreme than others. In New Paltz, the Mohonk Preserve’s “Gunks” (short for Shawangunk Mountains) are climbing cliffs that attract more than 50,000 climbers each year from around the world. The solid rock with horizontal rather than vertical cracks offers various levels of difficulty, and some of the trickier climbs require a certain level of expertise. Minnewaska State Park Preserve, also famous for world-class rock climbing on its white cliffs, is more suitable for novices.

“There is a lot of hiking and cycling in addition to rock climbing,” says Ulster County Tourism Director Richard Remsnyder. “On the other side of the mountain is hang-gliding that’s very popular in the county.”

Any visit to Mohonk Preserve should begin at the visitors’ center, which Remsnyder describes as a “wonderful place with indoor and outdoor exhibits and a video that shows everything about the preserve.” In addition to a children’s corner and an explanation of the energy-saving GeoExchange system that heats and cools the building, the center is the starting point for a series of self-guided tours, including a visit to the Weinstein Butterfly Garden along the Sensory Trail.

In the fall, when the leaves turn brilliant colors, climbers compete with sightseers for the best views. “During the fall, leaf peeping is unbelievable,” Remsnyder says, especially at Minnewaska. “We have cars backed up coming off the freeway.”

The county’s “biggest concentration of farms is in the New Paltz [area], and we have a lot of apple orchards,” Remsnyder says. Visitors enjoy pick-your-own opportunities and stops at the farms’ roadside stands to buy fresh produce and locally produced foodstuffs to take home.

For year-round scenic views from a different perspective, daytrippers flock to the Walkway Over the Hudson, a former railroad bridge between Ulster and Dutchess counties that re-opened as an elevated pedestrian walkway in 2009. The walkway, which connects the city of Poughkeepsie and the hamlet of Highland, stands 212 feet tall and affords panoramic views of the river and the wooded riverbanks.

Highland and the town of Lloyd also link to the Hudson Valley Rail Trail, a four-mile bicycle trail through the forest that is part of an expanding trail system in Ulster County. “There are some gaps, but in the next three to five years, about 50 to 70 miles of trails will start from the walkway through the town of Lloyd and New Paltz and then head north to Kingston and hook up to trails to Ashokan Reservoir,” Remsnyder says. Just south of the walkway is Franny Reese State Park, a 250-acre preserve with 2-1/2 miles of woodland trails and equally dramatic views of the ridgeline and river.

The restored Rosendale Trestle, a truss bridge that spans Rondout Creek, opened in 2013 as another pedestrian path with impressive views. This picturesque attraction has turned Rosendale into an “up-and-coming town with nice shops and restaurants,” Remsnyder says. “People are hearing about the trestle, and when they go [to the bridge], they also discover the neat things in town, like the 1850 House Inn and Tavern and Rosendale Theatre.” The theater, which first opened in 1949, shows foreign films and live performances and is one of the venues associated with the Woodstock Film Festival.

The celebration of film takes place in the fall and attracts independent filmmakers as well as well-known actors such as America Ferrara, Tim Robbins and Ethan Hawke. The film fest is representative of the county’s lively arts scene that encompasses special events, art galleries and artists’ studios  and music.

One of the premier events of the season is the Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice. Wanting to “give back” to the town of Phoenicia, where they live, internationally known opera singers Maria Todaro, Louis Otey and Kerry Anderson organized an opera concert to raise money for playground equipment for the town. Since the first concert in 2009, the festival has grown to celebrate all kinds of music in multiple concerts. “It’s really caught on,” Remsnyder says. “It has gone from a one-day event to six days this year,” beginning July 29. About a two-hour drive from Hartford, Ulster County promises an eclectic mix of special events, historic landmarks, outdoor activities and fine dining and accommodations in a country setting. For more travel information, visit


Upcoming Events in Ulster County

• MAY 20-24:  HITS-On-Hudson, Saugerties. Olympic-style equestrian competitions.  845-246-8833;

• MAY 23-25:  Woodstock/New Paltz Art & Crafts Fair, New Paltz. Juried crafts fair. 845679-8087;

• JULY 18-19:  Rosendale Street Festival, Rosendale. Family-friendly festival featuring the best bands of the Hudson Valley. 845-943-6497;

• JULY 28-AUG. 2:  Ulster County Fair, New Paltz. A family event since 1886.  845-255-1380;

• SEPT. 26-27:  Hudson Valley Garlic Festival, Saugerties. Food, crafts, live music.  845-246-3090;


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