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Bear Mountain, Catskills and Hudson Valley Scenic Drives in Upstate NY

Things to do / Travel Guide

This Catskills and Hudson Valley region is packed with scenic drives that are simply gorgeous, regardless of the season. Winter's bare trees provide maximum visibility, while fall's multihued leaves are magnificent. In spring and summer you can admire the multitude of wildflowers in bloom.

Scenic Drives in the Hudson Valley

A good idea for a drive in the Hudson Valley is to skirt the Hudson River on one side and then take one of the many bridges to the other side and travel back to the starting point. One good loop route starts at Tarrytown and travels north on U.S. Highway 9, then crosses the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge and travels south on U.S. Highway 9W and Palisades Interstate Parkway, and finally crosses the Tappan Zee Bridge back to Tarrytown.

On the approximately 40-mile drive up to the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge you'll pass the Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow estates of Philipsburg Manor, Lyndhurst, Sunnyside, Manitoga, and Boscobel, and the historic town Cold Springs. Right before the bridge you'll see the majestic Storm King Mountain on the other side of the Hudson. Back down south on the western side of the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge, it's another 40 miles to Tarrytown. The courageous can elect to take the Storm King Highway, which side-winds the mountain of that name for spectacular views. Back on U.S. Highway 9W you escort your car over the fjord-like Hudson Highlands and West Point. The last attractions on the loop are Bear Mountain State Park and Harriman State Park, where the foliage is king. Back to Tarrytown you take the silver-lined Tappan Zee Bridge.

Hudson and Bear Mountain Scenic Drives

There are a few good roads within Bear Mountain and Harriman State Parks on which you can take your car for a spin: Perkins Memorial Drive takes you to the top of Bear Mountain, Long Mountain Parkway showcases the northwestern part of Harriman Park, and Seven Lakes Parkway runs north-south and provides great views of lakes, and a rugged mountain or two.

If you're planning on driving up to the Catskills on the west side of the Hudson River, you can't do better, scenery-wise, than U.S. Highway 9W, which parallels the Hudson over the whole length of the region. You'll pass an array of orchards, vineyards, farmland, and forest, with the river always nearby to keep you company.

Upstate New York Scenic Drives

Finally, the Taconic State Parkway is noted as one of the most picturesque routes in the entire northeast, winding gently from around the Tappan Zee Bridge to Albany like an endless postcard. Believe it or not, this road wasn't built so much for travelers to get from point A to point B, as much as simply to showcase the region's beauty. It was commissioned by none other than Franklin Roosevelt in the 1920s, and while it has withstood the test of time, it is by no means a modern highway: Traffic merges from both sides of the sometimes narrow road, and the curves force you to slow down more than you would want, or expect. The main attractions are the gorgeous trees, oaks, maples, and pines, which overflow the median and crowd either side of traffic.

Scenic Drives in the Catskills

Take advantage of the Shawangunk Mountains Scenic Byway to scope out the ancient Shawangunks, with their steep and forested cliffs. This byway sprawls along several different roads and highways, but here's one good route for you to take: Start at New Paltz, and take State Road 208 to Walden, State Road 52 to Pine Bush, and State Road 302 to Bullville. From Bullville you can take State Road 17K to Newburgh, which is not part of the byway but scenic nonetheless. The whole route is 50 miles, but to Bullville it is less than 30. Note that some of these roads are steep and narrow, but they're all paved. In addition to the awesome mountains, you'll pass dwarf pines on the ridges, and hemlock and chestnut oak forests.

Catskills Scenic Drives

There are many other scenic drives to take within the Catskills, most of which will give you awesome views of the mountains, reservoirs, streams, forests, and, of course, old and run-down resorts.
  • A particularly recommended drive is along State Road 23, starting out from Catskill, passing through Cairo, and ending up in Windham. Stop at Lookout Point and you'll be able to see five states. The drive from one city to the other is around 25 miles.
  • State Road 23A is also quite enjoyable, as it crosses Katterskill Falls and passes through the Catskill Park. From Palenville, on the east side of the park, to Prattsville, on the western side, is a bit less than 30 miles.
  • Drive down State Road 28 and enjoy the views of Kenozia Lake, Ashokan Reservoir, and the trout-filled Esopus Creek. Alternatively, you can circle the reservoir by taking State Road 28 to Boiceville, its northwest corner, and then swoop southward on State Road 28A back to the beginning.
  • Any of the side roads emerging from the more major east-west routes are sure to please: Take Oliverea Road from Big Indian; Road 214 in between State Road 28 and State Road 23A, from Phoenicia to Hunter; or State Road 42 from Shandaken to Lexington.