Background you can feel free to skip: If you’re at all interested in hiking or history and you live anywhere near the Hudson Valley, there’s a decent chance you’ve already visited the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site. It’s one of the biggest tourist draws in the area, and it deserves to be.
You’d be hard-pressed to find another stroll that packs as much variety into three miles as the loop around the Vanderbilt grounds. Without making you sweat too much (I’ve done this hike while pushing a stroller – it was a little bumpy at times, but doable), the trails bring you past excellent views, babbling streams, waterfalls, gardens, pleasant woods and nice picnic spots along the river.
Depending on the time of year you visit, the gardens beside the mansion could be a destination all by themselves. Show up to the gardens in spring or summer, and you’ll be rewarded with some serious botanical awesomeness. (Several of the pictures I’ve taken below don’t quite do the place justice, since they were taken in December at dusk. But I was feeling punchy and wanted to get in one last stroll before the snow started.)
If you’re hoping to plunge into the wilderness for the day, you’ll want to look for a hike elsewhere. You won’t have the Vanderbilt to yourself, even in winter. But if you’re looking for some fresh air and beautiful sights, this hike won’t disappoint.
1. From the parking area, walk along the road, away from the mansion (to your right if you’re facing the mansion.) We’ll save the mansion visit for last.
2. As you stroll along the road, you’ll see a beautiful view opening up to your left, a huge rolling field with the river and the Catskills beyond.
3. In a few hundred yards, you’ll pass some time-limited parking spots on your left with some killer views in front of them. This is a great place to take in a sunset – if you just happen to be driving by at the right time, you can park here and watch the sunset without your feet ever touching the ground. If this was a movie about the fifties, this is where the kids would come to make out.
4. Keep heading straight along the road, following the arrows on the sign toward Bard Rock and Hudson River when the car exit turns off toward Rt 9. on your right. Shortly after this sign (where you might have to walk around a chain strung across the road), you’ll see an unmarked trail forking off to your left, through the pine trees. Take this trail to cut off the corner of the road you’re walking on, and to get off the pavement for a bit.
5. In a minute or two, the trail rejoins the road, and you’ll be heading downhill toward Bard Rock.
6. Follow the road all the way over the railroad bridge, past the parking lot and down to the river, where you’ll dead-end onto Bard Rock, one of the few spots along the Hudson where you can relax next to the river without having to dodge trains. Why is it called Bard Rock? I have no idea. But this rock by any other name would still be pretty rad. It’s really more of a meadow-type deal than an actual rock, but right next to the river (in front of the picnic table in the photo below), you can find some nice rocks that make a great place to dangle your feet and listen to the water.
If you thought to pack bubble stuff, this would be the appropriate time to bust it out:
7. After you’ve sufficiently checked out Bard Rock, head back the way you came and cross the rail bridge. Immediately after the bridge, you’ll see a trail heading off to your right. This is the Hyde Park Trail, and you want to hop on it right now.
8. Follow the Hyde Park Trail through the woods, with the river on your right and the Vanderbilt Mansion smiling at you from above on your left.
9. Stay straight on this trail, ignoring a couple of smaller trails that fork off to the left. You’ll see the green-and-white Hyde Park Trail markers showing you the way.
10. After a mile or so, the trail runs into a paved road, and you can hear the sound of running water. Take a right on the road and head through the gate in front of the small (by comparison) stone house that someone apparently lives in.
11. Immediately after the gate, turn left and check out the waterfall.
The view here is better for some than for others.
12. Continue following the stone wall in front of the waterfall, away from the gate you just came through. We’re leaving the Vanderbilt property for just a moment.
13. Continue straight/left onto Dock Street, skirting the Vanderbilt property. Watch out for traffic — this is a regular old road. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a car here, but it could happen.
14. In just a moment, you’ll see Coach House Dr. on your left. Turn left here to head back onto the Vanderbilt property. Directly in front of you, you’ll see a beautiful old barn, which is apparently where the Vanderbilts kept their light machinery.
15. Staying straight on Coach House Dr., go past the barn and over the stone bridge just beyond. In the spring, the little brook under the bridge almost looks suitable for some whitewater rafting. If your raft was very, very tiny.
16. The road makes a T at the end of the bridge. Go right at the T to follow the brook uphill, back towards the gardens and mansion.
17. As you head uphill, you’ll see the source of the brook on your right – a beautiful pool with a couple of small waterfalls and a bridge running across it. This is such a picturesque spot, and one of the more-photographed places in the Hudson Valley. Here’s a link to a very nice shot I just Googled. That person knows their way around a camera.
18. With the pool on your right, you’ll see the brick wall of the gardens up to your left. Leave the road and follow the little beaten-down path up the hill, on the right-hand side of the gardens. About halfway up the wall, you’ll be able to enter the gardens, via the stairs under the circular arbor.
19. Take your time and explore the gardens and fountains. If you’re here at the right time of year, this can be one of the nicest spots in the Hudson Valley.
When you’re done, head uphill, towards the exit at the top of the gardens.
20. Once you exit the gardens at the top of the hill, there will be a trail directly in front of you. Take a right on this trail to head towards the mansion.
21. Explore the outside of the mansion, checking out the views from the backyard. You can tour the inside of the mansion for a fee, but for me, I always figured whatever’s in there couldn’t possibly match the view out here. Plus, I’m cheap.
22. When you’re done exploring the mansion, walk around behind it, away from the gardens. You’ll see a short trail leading to the mansion road, and a crosswalk heading back to the main parking lot. You can check out the visitor’s center here if you’d like, but otherwise, that’s the end of the show, folks!
Directions to the trailhead: From Hyde Park, head north on Route 9. Just as you get to the edge of town, you’ll see the huge stone entrance to the Vanderbilt property on your left.
You can also get directions by checking out the Vanderbilt Mansion entry on the HiketheHudsonValley.com Google map.
Address for your GPS: This hike has its own address. Sweet!
119 Vanderbilt Park Rd
Hyde Park, NY 12538
GPS coordinates of parking area: 41.79829, -73.94058 (Clicking will open in Google Maps or the Apple Maps app, depending on your browser/device.)
Related resources: If you’re looking for actual facts and/or useful information (and podcasts!), see the National Park Service’s very nice Vanderbilt Mansion page. There’s also some interesting historical information on this Hudson Valley Net page.
More Vanderbilt Mansion pictures from the hike’s Picasa album:
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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.)