Bikepacking the Hudson Valley: Kingston, New Paltz, Rhinebeck and Poughkeepsie

The Hudson Valley is an alluring summer respite from the (usual) rowdiness of New York City and is easy to connect to via train and bursting with cute towns and farm fresh food. For outdoor enthusiasts, it is often overlooked in favor of the larger and more wild areas of the Catskills, yet, it still offers a veritable outdoorsy playground, especially by bike.

Last month, in order to learn more about exploring the area on two wheels (my favorite form of transportation), I chatted with Samantha Moranville from Revolution Bicycles in Kingston, an up-and-coming city about two hours North of NYC. I was curious to learn why she decided to leave the city for the Hudson Valley and where now, as a local, she enjoyed exploring. While she recommended Minnewaska State Park for day trips, she highlighted a small, private camp spot near the hip town of Rhinebeck for a bikepacking overnight.

My boyfriend and I decided to try out her itinerary, which included around 55 miles of biking and one night under the stars. While our route started and ended in New Paltz, it’s just as easy to start this route from the Metro-North train station in Poughkeepsie.

Sarah Knapp riding on Hudson Valley backroads. Photo by Ari Giller-Leinwohl.

Preparing for the trip

Notably, I have only bikepacked once before, on a group trip with Brooklyn’s 718 Cyclery & Outdoors, so this would be my first trip completely self-supported. Since declaring this summer the “summer of bikepacking“, I’ve been able to learn what to bring, how to plan, and bikepacking basics from a slew of experienced riders. Here are the ones I recommend for those trying your first bikepacking trip:

  1. Bikepacking 101 by Joe Nocella of 718 Cyclery. A super detailed presentation to understand the nuts and bolts of bikepacking. A great place to start.
  2. Adventure Cycling Gear with Annalisa van den Bergh. In this talk, Annalisa walks us through packing from our “kitchen” to our “bedroom” offering bike specific gear tips along the way.
  3. Trip Planning with Cassandra Brooklyn. The first half of this talk is all about how Cassandra approaches planning her biking trips both near and far (she’s also the author of biking guide to Cuba!)
  4. Biking the World with Judi Desire. Along with incredible stories of literally biking around the world, Judi shares her journey to starting to bikepack as an adult.
My gear laid out in advance of packing

Since I only had two panniers and a rack on the back of my bike I had to go forego Annalisa’s crank food processor suggestion but still managed to fit in the essentials for camping and emergency bike maintenance.

Day 1: New Paltz ➡️ Poughkeepsie ➡️ Rhinebeck

Day 1 is highlighted in green, Day 2 in yellow

Our ride began in New Paltz, NY where we hopped on to the Hudson Valley Greenway Trail which provided a car-free, paved route all the way to Walkway Over the Hudson. The bridge is a major tourist attraction and offers sweeping views of the Hudson River and an incredible number of people not paying attention. Think Brooklyn Bridge on a Saturday afternoon albeit with a bit more width. Take it slow!

The Walkway brings you into Poughkeepsie and unfortunately, off of protected bike lanes. We decided to follow 718’s route up New York State Route 9G. This road is direct which limits opportunities to get lost and has a shoulder for safety but, honestly, isn’t particularly scenic. The turn onto Ackert Hook brings you to the most beautiful part of the first day’s ride and also the hilliest.

If you’re looking to explore a cute Hudson Valley town, Rhinebeck is a well-known spot for everything from art galleries to a candy shop owned by actor Paul Rudd. For dinner, grab a slice and a Sierra Nevada brew at Pizzeria Posto or head to the local Tops Market for groceries. We opted for the later, grabbing veggies, a 6 pack of Pale Ale and pasta and climbed the last 1/2 mile up to camp with considerably heavier packs.

Ferncliff Forest

Map of Ferncliff Forest

Ferncliff Forest is an interesting spot because it’s not actual public land – even though the public is welcome to visit for free. The historic Game Refuge and Forest Preserve offers over 200 acres to explore and is managed by a non-profit. To book, you email the ranger in advance and make a donation via Paypal. We were visiting on a Sunday so we had every site to choose from, opting for one with a lean-to next to the lake.

Risk takers or mid-week explorers could hypothetically skip bringing a tent and save a pounds by sleeping in the lean-to but take note that these sites are first come, first serve.

The view from the Ferncliff Firetower including the Catskills in the background and the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge we would ride over on Day 2.

There are a variety of trails at Ferncliff including hiking trails and singletrack mountain bike trails. We were riding road bikes so we decided to go for a hike and leave our bikes at camp. A short walk led us to the Ferncliff Fire tower, which, unlike the majority of fire towers in this region was built specifically for recreational usage in 2007. The views certainly did not disappoint!

Ari enjoying a late afternoon Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Photo by Sarah Knapp.

After the hike, we decided it was time to stop moving for the day so we spent some time hanging out in the hammock and wading in the lake until it was dinner time. On the menu tonight was sauteed sausage with kale and tomato over pasta, garnished with parmesan – an easy and delicious one pot wonder! Plus, it paired perfectly with the Pale Ale’s we’d picked up earlier.

Day 2 Rhinebeck ➡️ Kingston ➡️ New Paltz

The second day of our adventure started with an adrenaline pumping crossing of the Hudson River via the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge, Supposedly, there are beautiful views of the Catskills from up there, but I was too busy focusing on riding around the grates that dotted the shoulder to notice. After the bridge, you’re officially in Kingston and can follow the Empire State Trail. When the trail is officially completed, the entire route will be car-free. At this point, though, you’re still riding the shoulder.

The final leg of the trip starts at the Northern Terminus of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail. Up until this point of the ride, you’d be fine with skinny tires as almost everything is asphalt. The Wallkill Rail Trail however is a mix of gravel and dirt, which becomes wet and muddy with any recent rain so check the forecast! The rail trail is the most beautiful part of this 2-day route. It’s almost all in a green tunnel, away from cars and past “geo refrigeration crevices“. In Rosendale, you cross the town’s famed trestle for a few quick views before heading back in the green tunnel until you reach New Paltz.

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