Background you can feel free to skip: “Did you know there’s a new Scenic Hudson preserve that just opened? I heard it on the radio this morning. It’s supposed to have some nice hiking trails,” a co-worker told me in late 2016.
“A new Scenic Hudson preserve? Count me in!” I said.
Not only does Scenic Hudson protect and manage some of the most beautiful natural places in the Hudson Valley, it also makes NEW magical places appear with some regularity. Waiting for plate tectonics to create new trails to explore? Takes forever. Centimeters per year, if you’re lucky.
But BAM! With High Banks Preserve, Scenic Hudson gave you THREE MILES of new trails, all at once. That’s so much quicker than plate tectonics, it’s ridiculous. Advantage: Scenic Hudson.
High Banks Preserve now occupies the property that once housed Camp Chi-Wan-Da, which had become seriously dilapidated. Hopefully, it stopped taking campers before too many of the buildings started collapsing. “Parents, please be sure to send in your kids with bagged lunches (no peanut butter!), hard hats, and steel-toed footwear. And remember that tomorrow is Crazy Safety Goggles Day!”
The trails are wide and well-marked, and there are plenty of points of interest along the way, including a scenic stop by Esopus Lake.
While most write-ups on this preserve mention the views from bluffs overlooking the Hudson, you might do well to keep your panoramic expectations in check.
This preserve is a fantastic destination that has many wonderful attributes, and its presence here makes the Hudson Valley an even better place to live and visit. In my humble (and often incorrect!) opinion, though, you would do better to come here for the awesome trails, varied terrain, lake overlook, woodland scenery, and overall awesome vibe, rather than expecting mind-blowing panoramas.
Whatever your expectations when you visit, you should make a point to visit High Banks Preserve and check the place out for yourself. Because this is a Scenic Hudson Preserve, there’s already an extensive homepage and official trail map for this site. You really don’t need me at all. But since we’re all here, let’s go ahead and bust out a trail guide! (And thanks to Scenic Hudson for giving us all yet another awesome Hudson Valley hiking destination to explore – you dudes are the coolest!)
1. From the parking lot (see “Directions to the trailhead” below), head over to the kiosk and check out the posted information and maps. Might as well learn something while we’re here.
2. After you’re done checking out the kiosk, head uphill on the wide gravel road, noting the three red blazes that mark the official start of the Red Trail (more like the Red Road at this point). Away we go!
3. Keep following the Red Trail/Road through a pleasant wooded situation.
In just over five minutes, arrive at your first junction of the day. Here, you’ll take the right fork to hop on the White Trail, toward the overlook. Goodbye, Red Trail! We hardly knew ye. (But we’ll hop on ye again later.)
4. The White Trail cuts a pleasant, wide path through woods and high grass. If your dad stops to futz with the camera here, feel free to ditch him. Wait, not really! Hold up, you guys!
In about five minutes (with time for camera-futzing), you’ll arrive at the bench that marks the overlook.
The Scenic Hudson page for this park says that High Banks Preserve “contains bluffs offering superb vistas of the Hudson River.” This spot is the primary overlook marked on the official trail map – it is quite a lovely place indeed, but one might do well to temper one’s expectations about how expansive the vista might be.
The view from here actually is quite long. It’s just not very wide. “Down in front, trees!” you might want to say. But they were here first, after all.
You’ll want to focus on that long, long view, stretching out over the Hudson. Breathe in that fresh High Banks air. And remember that if you’d sat in this very pleasant spot prior to 2016, somebody probably would have called the cops on you. Or an old camp building would have fallen on you.
Now you can sit here all day long if you’d like to! Thanks for the awesome preserve and new scenic bench, Scenic Hudson!
5. Once you’re done soaking in the view, continue along the White Trail. In just a moment, stay to the right on the White Trail when the White/Blue Trail splits off to the left.
Just keep following those white blazes. Dudes, wait up!
6. In a few more minutes, when the Blue Trail splits off to the left, stay to the right again to remain on the White Trail.
When your hiking partners yell, “Nanny nanny kee kee, you can’t catch me!” on this stretch of trail, you are supposed to try to catch them. Counter-intuitive, I know.
Incidentally, when I was a kid, it was “Nanny nanny boo boo,” which doesn’t rhyme at all with “you can’t catch me.” Nanny nanny kee kee is definitely an improvement. The next generation has things under control, right?
7. The trail meanders deeper into the woods, following some old stone walls.
About five minutes after the Blue Trail fork, you’ll see the three blazes of the Purple Trail splitting off to your left. We’ll come back here and hop on the Purple Trail in just a few minutes. For now, forge onward on the White Trail!
8. Just a minute or two after the Purple Trail junction, the White Trail performs the amazing feat of forking with itself.
This is the start of a short loop that brings you right back to this spot, taking less than ten minutes to traverse. Let’s take the fork on the right. Why not?
9. In one minute, you’ll arrive at the spot billed as a “110-foot boardwalk spanning a wetland” on the High Banks Preserve homepage.
On our visit, the conditions had been rather dry, so we didn’t get the full wetland experience. Still, it was an impressive piece of trailwork. 110 feet goes fast when you’re enjoying every step.
After the boardwalk ends, keep following those white blazes back to the start of the loop.
10. After you complete the loop, turn right to (briefly!) retrace your steps on the White Trail, looking for the triple-purple blaze of glory on your right that marks the start of the Purple Trail, which you should see in about one minute. When you see it, turn right to hop on the Purple Trail.
11. If you’re a fan of stone walls, this is the trail for you. That’s a big honker, right?
In about five minutes, the Purple Trail dead-ends into the paved Red Trail, where you’ll turn right to follow its asphalty goodness, ditching your dad again if possible.
12. Enjoy the stroll on the Red Trail as it takes you deeper into the woods.
In less than ten minutes, you’ll see the Yellow Trail joining from the left. We’ll come back to this spot later, but for now, forge ahead on the Red Trail – Esopus Lake is just ahead.
13. About one minute after you pass the Yellow Trail junction, you’ll arrive at the triple-red blaze of glory that marks the end of the Red Trail. To your right, a big fat lake – check it out!
Such a peaceful spot. Across the lake, you can see various hills, marshes, and the Lakeshore Villas apartment complex. If you squint really hard, you can pretend the apartments are rocky cliffs, giving this place a Minnewaska-esque vibe.
Relax. Soak it in. Enjoy the relative silence in a world that offers precious little of it.
When you get bored with that, you can chase your brother with a stick full of glop.
14. When you’re done looking out over the lake and/or playing with lake glop, retrace your steps a minute or so to the Yellow Trail junction, where you’ll make a sharp uphill right turn (almost a U-turn) to hop on the Yellow Trail.
15. Enjoy the meandering Yellow Trail as it cuts through more beautiful woods and across a Central Hudson gas pipeline cut-through (digging here not recommended).
It took us twenty minutes to reach the end of the Yellow Trail (at least ten of those minutes were spent playing with interesting sticks – you’ll probably knock it out much quicker than we did).
Turn right when the Yellow Trail ends to hop back on the Red Trail.
16. Hello again, Red Trail! We keep leaving you and coming back again. We just can’t quit you.
In less than ten minutes, you’ll complete the loop for today, arriving back at the White Trail junction. Remember this place?
That’s it! Time to head back to civilization. Sigh. Thanks for the good times, High Banks Preserve and Scenic Hudson! What a great new addition to the Hudson Valley. You’ve made us all much happier campers.
Directions to the trailhead: From Highland, head north on Rt. 9W for about 9 miles. Just after you pass the Headless Horseman Hayride & Haunted House (a local hotspot for those who appreciate alliteration and alarming adventures) on your left, turn right onto River Road (Route 24). You’ll pass Esopus Meadows Preserve and Lighthouse Park on your right (which also look like cool places to explore!). In another two minutes (1.4 miles), you’ll see the well-marked entrance to High Banks Preserve on your left. (The photo below shows the sign as you exit the parking lot from High Banks Preserve, since I didn’t want to get myself or anyone else killed by taking pictures from River Road.)
Turn in, hop out, and let the adventure begin!
You can also get directions by checking out the High Banks Preserve entry on the HiketheHudsonValley.com Google map.
Sorta nearby address for your GPS: This hike has its own address. Sweet!
132 River Rd
Ulster Park, NY 12487
GPS coordinates of parking area: 41.88456, -73.95807 (Clicking will open in Google Maps or the Apple Maps app, depending on your browser/device.)
Super cool Google Earth flyover of hike route:
Google Terrain map of hike route:
Related resources: If you’re looking for actual facts and/or useful information, visit these resources:
- The official Scenic Hudson High Banks Preserve homepage
- The official Scenic Hudson High Banks Preserve trail map
- This Kingston Freeman article on the opening of the preserve: “New Scenic Hudson preserve in Ulster Park offers river views”
- A great photographic exploration of the Camp Chi-Wan-Da ruins by hudsonvalleyruins.org, from before this place became High Banks Preserve