How To Hike the Lower Hudson Loop

This is a guest post by Mike “Gravity” Knutson. The Lower Hudson Loop is an undesignated east coast backpacking route designed and hiked by Knutson in 2023.

The Lower Hudson Loop (LHL) is an easily-accessible backpacking route traversing a variety of environs in southern New York and northern New Jersey.

It is an Appalachian “low route” of sorts. Hikers will have a chance to sample Hudson Valley lowlands between jaunts along Shawangunk Mountain ridgelines and Hudson Highland crags. An LHL trek offers a mix of frontcountry and backcountry experiences in a landscape that tells a story of human use — including rail corridors, mining, farming, and forestry.

The Basics

smooth grey undulating stone cliff face marked with blue paint blazes

Twisty ridgewalk on the Lower Hudson Loop

Length: the LHL ranges in length between roughly 215 to 230 miles, depending on your choices of trails to connect this undesignated route.
Expected completion time: 11-20 days, depending on experience level
Location: primarily in the Hudson River Valley of southern New York, with a bit of northern New Jersey along the AT stretch of the route.
Best seasons to hike: Spring, summer, or fall. If you don’t mind the summer heat, it is worth considering timing your trip to take advantage of the wild blueberry season (July and August).
Trail type: Undesignated loop route
Scenery: Much of the route is wooded, but also includes long stretches along ridges and through wetlands, farmland, and old rail lines.
Terrain: Fairly easy overall with some moderate stretches. There is roughly 20,000 feet in total elevation gain of the course of the loop, dependent on trail choices.
Land acknowledgement: The LHL is located on the traditional territories of the Mohican, Munsee Lenape, Schaghticoke, and Wappinger people and nations.

Why Hike the Lower Hudson Loop?

close-up of black and red blackberries on lower hudson loop

Wild berries aplenty on the Lower Hudson Loop in summer

Multiple public transit options to the route allow LHL hikers to avoid complicated shuttling or long-term parking logistics and enjoy a more environmentally-friendly trek!

If you start/end your trip in Poughkeepsie, NY (more on this below), there are many trains connecting to urban centers to the north and south, such as New York City and Montreal, and points beyond every day.

There are many other options to get on and off the different parts of the trail via public transit, allowing you to break the loop hike into sections as well.

The LHL offers some route-finding for hikers looking for a customizable journey. LHL trekkers can craft their own adventure using multiple trail options available in places including the Mohonk Preserve, Minnewaska State Park Preserve, High Point State Park, Harriman State Park, and Clarence Fahnestock State Park.

Lastly, the LHL offers a multi-day, easy-to-moderate backpacking excursion that can be potentially completed within two weeks of vacation time. For those unable to take multiple months off to go backpacking, the LHL is a great way to get a dose of the thru-hiking life. For those considering doing a long-distance trek for the first time, the LHL is a fantastic shake-down hike!

Highlights of the Lower Hudson Loop

The author on the Walkway Over the Hudson, the longest elevated pedestrian bridge in the world

There’s a lot to see on the Lower Hudson Loop, including:

  • Lake Awosting
  • Edible berries: Mid-summer is wild berry season in the Shawangunk Mountains.
  • Roosa Gap Fire Tower
  • High Point State Park: Home to the highest point in the state of New Jersey
  • The Pochuck Wetland Boardwalk
  • Bear Mountain: the first section of the Appalachian Trail with a nearby zoo
  • Walkway Over the Hudson: the LHL crosses the longest elevated pedestrian bridge in the world


tree trunk with blue blaze and base completely surrounded by manmade boulder pile on lower hudson loop

In case you missed the blaze

Since the LHL is an undesignated route, hikers will need to do their own wayfinding. I recommend planning your route ahead of time and having additional resources on hand just in case; I encountered three trail closures in my 2023 LHL hike that required me to make reroutes.

The LHL includes portions of the Empire State Trail, River-to-Ridge Trail, Shawangunk Ridge Trail, and the legendary Appalachian Trail. LHL trekkers should, at a minimum, have maps for these trails. Here are some places to find additional information on these four component trails:

Appalachian Trail

The centenarian long-distance backpacking trail connecting Springer Mountain in Georgia with Mount Katahdin in Maine. The trail is blazed in white. There are lots of great sources of information out there for the Appalachian Trail, such as the FarOut app, AWOL’s AT guide, and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s thru-hiker’s companion book. If you are using FarOut and only want to purchase the portion of the trail covered by the LHL, order the “Delaware to Great Barrington” map set.

READ NEXT – Appalachian Trail State Profile: New York

Remnants of an old rail line on the Shawangunk Trail

Empire State Trail

A long-distance network — largely composed of rail trails — connecting New York City to Buffalo and Canada. The portion that the LHL traverses follows an old rail corridor. It is unblazed, but it is a paved trail that is easy to follow. Maps covering the LHL route are on the Hudson Valley Greenway portion of the Empire State Trail and include the following sections:

Section 9, AKA “The Maybrook Trailway” (note — the Appalachian Trail is the dark blue line on this map)

Section 10, AKA “The William R. Steinhaus Dutchess Rail Trail”:

Section 11, AKA “The Hudson Valley Rail Trail”

River-to-Ridge Trail

A local trail connecting the Village of New Paltz to the Shawangunk Mountains. It is unblazed, but is a gravel road that is easy to follow. More info on the trail can be found here.

Shawangunk Ridge Trail

A trail spanning the length of the Shawangunk Mountains in New York from Rosendale in the north to the New Jersey Border in the south. It is blazed in blue or with “SRT” signage. National Geographic has a map of the Shawangunk Mountains, which includes the entirety of the Shawangunk Ridge Trail. The NY/NJ also has free maps of the trail on the Avenza app and online (but without topography):

Connections Between Trails

green pasture with brown cows and forested hills in bacground on lower hudson loop

A pasture on the River-to-Ridge Trail

The Appalachian Trail directly intersects with the Empire State Trail. Other connections however, require a small bit of navigation:

Empire State Trail and River-to-Ridge Trail: You will need to walk Main Street through the Village of New Paltz to connect these two trails.

River-to-Ridge Trail and Shawangunk Ridge Trail: You will need to utilize trails in the Mohonk Preserve and Minnewaska State Park Preserve to link up these trails. (See below regarding other maps to consider.)

Shawangunk Ridge Trail and the Appalachian Trail: A short side trail (blazed with red and green) and a jaunt across a parking lot to the north of High Point monument are necessary to bridge the gap between these two trails.

In addition to making connections between the existing trails above, there are other opportunities for hikers to craft their own unique trip. I would encourage any LHL trekker to have maps of the following parks and preserves for alternate exploration options:

  • Mohonk Preserve
  • Minnewaska State Park Preserve
  • High Point State Park
  • Harriman State Park
  • Bear Mountain State Park
  • Clarence Fahnestock State Park.

The New York New Jersey Trail Conference sells paper and digital maps covering all of the foregoing locations; look for the East Hudson, Harriman-Bear Mountain, and Shawangunk map sets. New York State Parks maps (lower quality) are available online and on Avenza for free. A map of High Point State Park, in New Jersey, can also be found online.

Getting There

Crossing a state line on the LHL

You can reach the trail by rail! Access options include:

  • Amtrak’s Adirondack Line, with service between New York City and Montreal, stops in Poughkeepsie. The Empire Trail section of the LHL is a short walk from the station.
  • Coming from New York City, the Metro North Hudson Line also connects to Poughkeepsie, NY.
  • It is also possible (weekends only) to start at Manitou Station and walk local roads to where the AT crosses South Mountain Pass Road.
  • The Harlem Line stops at Appalachian Station right on the Appalachian Trail on weekends. From there, you can follow the AT southbound to where it interects the Empire State Trail. This adds 16 miles to the hike: 8 to reach the LHL and 8 more to get back once you finish the loop.

Port Authority in New York City also presents multiple bus access options for the LHL. These include:

  • A once daily Short Line bus to the Bear Mountain Inn, dropping riders off at Bear Mountain State Park and the Appalachian Trail section of the LHL.
  • A once daily Short Line bus to 129 Sullivan Street in Wurtsboro, which is a few blocks from the Shawangunk Ridge section of the LHL.
  • Multiple daily Adirondack Trailways bus to the bus station on Main Street in the Village of New Paltz. (New Paltz can be reached from Albany on this route as well.)
  • A NJ Transit bus from Port Authority to the Park and Ride in the Village of Greenwood Lake, where a short walk on a local road and the Village Vista Trail connects you with the Appalachian Trail.

Camping/Accommodations on the Lower Hudson Loop

Rail trail turtle

On the majority of the route, camping is only permitted at designated sites. There are numerous campsites and shelters along the Appalachian Trail that LHL hikers can utilize for overnight accommodation. There are no improved campsites on the Shawangunk Ridge Trail, but primitive camping is possible in state forest lands. LHL hikers should familiarize themselves with primitive camping regulations and plan ahead accordingly.

Be sure you have a plan for where to stay each night. Primitive camping is prohibited on the Empire State Trail and the River-to-Ridge Trail sections of the LHL, as well as Minnewaska State Park Preserve and Mohonk Preserve. This long stretch — about a quarter of the total length of the LHL — requires careful pre-trip planning.

There are only three places within walking distance of the LHL route where trekkers can find overnight accommodation: the City of Poughkeepsie, the Village of New Paltz, and the Samuel F. Pryor III campground at the base of the Shawangunk Mountains. Advance reservations will be necessary to stay at any of these locations.

Where Should I Start and Which Direction Should I Go?

a large brown walking stick bug on a black and white "Posted: No Hunting, No Trespassing" sign posted near the lower hudson loop

The other kind of walking stick you’ll find on the Lower Hudson Loop

Starting in New Paltz or Poughkeepsie allows an LHL hiker to avoid the cost of an extra night in a hotel by breaking up the no camping section between the start and finish of their hike. If you start from one of these two locations, I would recommend hiking counter-clockwise to save the long paved rail trail section between the Empire State Trail and Appalachian Trail for the end of the hike.

For those wishing to do start their journey with a walk in the woods, I’d suggest starting on the Appalachian Trail at Bear Mountain or Greenwood Lake and walking in a clockwise direction. This should also afford plenty of time to warm up for the aforementioned long rail trail section as well.

Resupply, Water, and Other Considerations

several snakes lie on the ground near a body of water on the lower hudson loop

Early morning sunbathers

Resupply and meal options abound on the LHL. Several grocery stores are within easy walking distance of the trail in New Paltz and Poughkeepsie. Those willing to walk a bit further can also find modest general stores in Unionville and Greenwood Lake. Finally, there are restaurants near the LHL in New Paltz, Wurtsboro, Hopewell Junction, and Poughkeespie and along many road crossings of the Appalachian Trail, including ice cream at Heaven Hill Farm and Bellvale Farm!

Water sources aren’t typically too challenging to find. However, there are some stretches in the southern portion of the Shawangunk Ridge Trail and along the Empire State Trail where water sources are spread out or undesirable. Hikers should plan accordingly. I never had to carry more than two liters of water on my 2023 hike.

A significant portion of the LHL is a front country walk. Hikers will cross numerous roads (including a few busy highways). The route includes several short road walks and one long stretch of paved rail trail on the Empire State Trail. Restrooms are limited on the Empire State Trail and River-to-Ridge Trail, but there are facilities at some parking lots, including both sides of the Walkway Over the Hudson.

Like much of the Mid-Atlantic, ticks are prevalent and hikers should check themselves frequently. Poison ivy is also common along the Shawangunk Ridge Trail and the Appalachian Trail portions of the Lower Hudson Loop.

Finally, although the majority of the trails on the LHL are free to hike, a $15 day use fee is required to hike the trails in the Mohonk Preserve. Hikers should be sure to have cash on hand for this, as passage through Mohonk Preserve is necessary to make the connection between the River-to-Ridge Trail and the Shawangunk Ridge Trail.

Closing Thoughts

large oak tree with white blaze on smaller tree next to it. part of the lower hudson loop

Not the Dover Oak, but nearly as impressive

There are a surprising number of quiet moments on the LHL, considering its accessibility and proximity to major urban areas. The mix of natural spaces, historic places, and light route finding make this a unique backpacking experience that each hiker can make their own. If you’re looking for a train-to-trail mid-Atlantic trek that can be completed in about two weeks, consider the Lower Hudson Loop route.

About the Author

Mike “Gravity” Knutson likes to hike. He enjoys week-long backpacking trips and has completed about 1,600 miles of the AT in sections. In between hikes, Mike does land conservation work for a regional not-for-profit. Follow him on Instagram at @gravity_southbound.

All photos, including featured image, courtesy of Mike Knutson. Featured image graphic design by Zack Goldmann.

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Comments 1

  • Donald Sico : Apr 26th

    There are accomodations at Bear Mountain as well.


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