The Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, just 90 miles north of New York City is part of the Hudson River Valley Greenway System. The rail trail follows the old railbed of the former Wallkill Valley Railroad for about 20 miles from the town of Gardiner at the Shawangunk town line, through New Paltz and Rosendale to Kingston in the north. The flat, packed-cinder and gravel surface of this multi-use trail is ideal for hikers, equestrians, cross country skiers and bicyclists (mountain bikes or hybrids recommended) seeking to combine a bit of the region's rich history with a quiet, scenic bike ride through the beautiful Hudson Valley countryside.
In New Paltz, the rail trail runs adjacent to Huguenot Street, a National Historic Landmark District with stone house museums dating back 300 years. Other Wallkill Valley Rail Trail highlights include a reconstructed railroad bridge which spans the Wallkill River and an impressive, 975 foot Railroad Viaduct that has been converted for recreational use at northern end of the trail in Rosendale.
Most visitors begin their ride in New Paltz, located at around the trail's halfway mark. If you have children, this is a good place to start.
Mountain biking north from New Paltz, the multi-use recreation path travels along the Wallkill River for a short stretch before angling away through a mix of farm fields, forest, wetlands and hamlets with the Shawangunk Mountain Ridge as a backdrop. The varied terrain along the trail provides ideal habitat for a variety of local flora and wildlife including whitetail deer, raccoons, rabbits, skunks, coyotes, black bear, wild turkeys and the redback salamander. Many species of birds migrate through the Wallkill Valley. The Wallkill River bottomlands and brushy field edges provide ideal nesting habitat for a variety of waterfowl and songbirds.
A little past the midpoint of the trail, the route curves in towards the river and crosses it over the reconstructed Wallkill Valley Rail Trail Bridge. Benches along the railings provide a lovely spot to stop, rest, enjoy lunch and admire the spectacular river views from the center of the bridge.
From here, the route gets narrower, travelling through deeply shaded woods. Approaching Rosendale, the trail is edged by boulders and rock outcroppings dripping with ferns and other interesting looking plants. The route eventually passes through a rock gap to Mountain Road. Across the road (watch for traffic) is the historic 940 foot-long Railroad Trestle, spanning Rondout Creek.It is more than 100 years old. It was the route of the Delaware and Hudson Canal in the early nineteenth century. A wooden decked walkway was constructed over a portion of the Trestle, converting it for use a public recreational path. At the time we biked this stretch of the trail, the northern terminus of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail ended abruptly at the wooden rail fence about halfway across the trestle. We were able to pedal onto the trestle walkway and get sweeping views of the surrounding area and hills from enter of the bridge.
Today, the Rosendale Trestle has been newly restored to extend all the way across the creek. Towering 150 feet above the creek, it's a major highlight of this ride. It now connects the southern portion of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail that stretches for 12.2 miles from Gardiner to Rosendale with the newly acquired rail right-of-way that runs north of the Trestle for 11.5 miles to the Kingston Town Line, creating a continuous 20 mile non-motorized, multi-use recreational path.
We turned around and retraced our route back to the New Paltz Trailhead and spent the rest of the afternoonexploring historic Hugenot Street and the ecelectic and charming college town of New Paltz. Main street and side streets are lined with shops, restaurants and boutiques.
The Wallkill Valley Railroad opened in 1872, transporting dairy products and fresh produce from the farms of Ulster County to New York City. Borden’s Dairy company built its first creamery along the line in the town of Gardiner. After a long and sometimes controversial history, the last regular freight train was run on the branch in 1977.
The Rosendale Railroad Viaduct
The 975-long foot Steel Railroad Trestle, built in 1895, was used by the Wallkill Valley Railway. The property was acquired by adjacent landowners, and the viaduct purchased by John Ethan Rahl of Rosendale who converted a portion of it into a public recreational path in 1991. In August 2009, the Wallkill Valley Landtrust and The Open Space Institute partnered to acquire 11.5 miles of the former Wallkill Valley Railroad including the Rosendale Trestle, nearly doubling the length of the Rail Trail. The $1.5 million project (for just the restoration of the trestle) celebrated a grand opening June 29, 2013 and the trestle is now open dawn to dusk every day.
Journey back in time by walking along this 17th century colonial village and exploring the historic stone houses, dating back some 300 years. They were originally the homes of a group of French Protestants who fled northern France because of political and religious persecution. The town was founded in 1677 after the purchase of nearly 40,000 acres along the Wallkill River from the native Esopus Indians.
The historic buildings owned by the Huguenot Historical Society are open, by guided tour only. One-and-a-half-hour tours are given on the hour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday, from May 1 through October 31. For more information vist www.huguenotstreet.org or call (845) 255-1660.
There are multiple access points. You can access the trail from Gardiner, Sojourner Park in New Paltz, Binnewater Rd in Rosendale, and Rockwell Lane in Kingston.
New Paltz: Exit 18 off I-87 (New York Thruway). Travel west on Rt.299 to New Paltz. Drive through town. The rail trail will cross the road, passenger station on your right. Municipal parking is available in town.
The Wallkill Valley Rail Trail Association
Website: www.wvrta.org (Wallkill Valley Rail Trail Organization)