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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!”

My two boys never went to camp here (though Dodgers great Sandy Koufax apparently did, either as a camper or counselor), but they most definitely enjoyed their day at High Banks Preserve.

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!)

Trail Guide

Bonus unsolicited advice: Don't depend on having cell service in the woods - it can be spotty out there! Download this trail guide to your phone before you head out. (It's easy to do on iPhone and Android.) May your connection to nature be strong, even when your connection to the internet is weak.

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?

Keep heading straight on the Red Trail all the way back to your car, which you should see again in about six minutes.  

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 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.)

Resources & Interactives


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:

Want to support trails in the Hudson Valley? Here’s one great way: Visit the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference homepage and click on Volunteer, Donate, or Shop! (Then you can volunteer, donate, or shop, depending on your mood.)

Comments (9)

Was this trail guide useful to you? Please leave a comment!
  1. Bec

    This hike is great if you don’t have all day to be on trail but need some gentle forest therapy to ease your mind. Super easy terrain (I’m used to strenuous hikes) but this was just what I needed today. (My dog was happy, too.) Definitely a great hike for young kids and older folks who might want the joy of being on a hike without the strain. Got here at 8:30am on what is supposed to be the busiest fall weekend of the year (picked this hike since I was in New Paltz and figured there wouldn’t be crowds) and the lot was empty. When we left, there were only two other cars. I sort of might want to keep this place a secret. 🙂 Thanks for another awesome trail guide.

    1. Mike

      “Gentle forest therapy” — I like that phrase! Thanks so much for the kind words and wonderful description, Bec! Here’s to many more happy adventures to you and your pooch this fall!

  2. Jeff Kent

    We stopped here after first hitting Black Creek and Esopus Meadow. Right off the bat we witnessed a first for us, bald eagles! Not one, but two perched in a dead tree down by the bank of the river. One squawked loudly at the other which I translated as, “I very clearly told you to get THREE fish at the river and you only came back with ONE! Now I have to go back and get two more fish while you sit here and feel bad abut what you’ve done.” We chose to go up the red trail and split Left on the yellow up to the lake. Just before the lake we came across a huge snapping turtle in the middle of the trail. We gave it a wide berth and wondered why it was so far away from the lake. The bugs were bad in the woods, so we returned via the wide open red trail.

    Great place top stop in tandem with Esopus Meadow and/or Black Creek for a beautiful day on the Hudson.

    1. Mike

      Thanks for the kind words and the recommendation, Ed! I will get to Illinois Mountain one of these days – sounds like a nice spot!

  3. Jonah

    Great! Will you do the Black Creek Preserve or Esopus Meadows Preserve? Just wondering – and by the way GREAT SITE!!!

    Thanks so much

    1. Mike

      Thank YOU, Jonah! Much appreciated. I have Black Creek Preserve on my “Coming Soon(ish)” list and do intend to write it up one of these days. I didn’t have Esopus Meadows on my radar, but you’ve just put it there. Thanks!

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