Walking: The Hudson River School Art Trail | Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains, NY

The Hudson River School Art Trail is one of the more unique trails in the Hudson Valley and the Catskill Mountains.  The Trail provides the chance to walk in the footsteps of the 19th century artists who pioneered American landscape painting and created the Hudson River School of painting.

What is the Hudson River School Art Trail and where is it?
The Hudson River School Art Trail links up several different sites in the Hudson River Valley and the Catskill Mountains that are important to the Hudson River School of painting. Beginning at Cedar Grove, the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill, the Trail makes its way via local roadways through the Hudson Valley and up into the Catskill Mountains, ending at the Catskill Mountain House site at the North and South Lake Campground in the Catskill Park.  Brochures with information and maps are available at Cedar Grove, Olana and the Mountaintop Historical Society with information also available online from Cedar Grove website.

Cedar Grove is the home and studio of Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River School of Art. At this stop on the Trail you learn about his life, and his art.  From Cedar Grove you head east across the nearby Rip Van Winkle Bridge to visit Olana in Columbia County, the home of Frederic Edwin Church, a former student of Thomas Cole and another Hudson River School artist.  The views from the grounds are spectacular across the Hudson to the northern Catskills, about 10 miles distant. Returning across the river you can stop along Route 9W at Catskill Creek and the view the scene that Thomas Cole enjoyed so much that he painted it more than any other, including his painting, the View on Catskill Creek.

From the village of Catskill the Trail follows Route 23A west towards the prominent eastern escarpment of the Catskill Mountains.  As the road makes its way into the mountains through the Kaaterskill Clove, your next stop is at the parking lot for the trailhead for the Kaaterskill Falls Trail. From the parking lot, carefully walk back down Route 23A to the trail, which begins on your left just after crossing the bridge in front of Bastion Falls.  The trail ends abruptly at the base of the falls where you will see the view that greeted Hudson River School artists including Sanford Gifford, who painted Falls of the Kaaterskill

The Mountain Top Historical Society, which is the next stop along the Trail is at the top of the climb on Route 23A, just after the road levels off and on your right.  The site is home to the Hudson Valley Art Trail Interpretive Center, along with other exhibits on the history of the mountaintop region including the restored train station.  After your stop at the Historical Society, you will turn right on Route 23A for a short stretch and take a right onto North Lake Road.  From there it's about two miles to the gatehouse of the North-South Lake Public Campground, which you will have to enter to reach the last stops along the trail.  After paying the day-use fee you will have access to the grounds of the campground, including the beaches and trailheads.   

The three remaining stops along the Art Trail are all located within the general area of the campground.  Cole did his sketch for Lake with Dead Trees from the bank of South Lake.  Sunset Rock provides outstanding views of the lakes and was the view that Jasper Cropsey painted in Catskill Mountain House.  At the former site of the Catskill Mountain House, you can see the view that served as the inspiration for Church's painting Above the Clouds at Sunrise.

The hike out to Sunset Rock walk is the longest walk of the Art Trail at about a mile and a half long and follows one of the Catskill Park's well known trails, the Escarpment Trail. This walk is only about three quarters of a mile in length and starts at the North Lake Beach parking area. From Sunset Rock, you can see North and South Lakes, the former site of the Catskill Mountain House, South Mountain rising behind the site, Kaaterskill High Peak and Roundtop beyond and the Hudson Valley to the east.  The view was the inspiration for Jasper Cropsey, when he painted Catskill Mountain House, which captured the lakes, the Mountain House and the mountains beyond.  To return to your car, retrace your steps. 

The walk out to the former site of the Catskill Mountain House is a short walk from the South Lake Pavilion parking area. From the back of the parking lot a gravel roadway leads to the Catskill Mountain House site.  It is a few hundred yards to the site, which is now a large mowed grassy area where you can see vestiges of the Mountain House's foundation in addition to outstanding views of the Hudson Valley.  This was the view that inspired Frederic Church.

My Experiences

I have lived in the area and enjoyed the landscape paintings of the Hudson River School of Painting, so it is nice that there has been more effort into promoting the history of the area and showing the existing vistas that inspired those painters many years ago.  One amazing feature is that many of the views today are just as stunning and just as wild as they were when they were painted, thanks to the protection of the Catskill Park. 

Final Thoughts

While all the places that make up the Art Trail are interesting to explore on their own, the opportunity to take a guided to all of them is well worth it and I would highly recommend getting the map, brochure and heading out on the Art Trail.

The Hudson River School Art Trail is a unique way to explore this portion of the Hudson Valley and the Catskills while giving you a unique insight into the Hudson River School of painting. 

For more information on the Hudson River School Art Trail, visit the Art Trail page.

Need more information on hiking and planning your 
trips to the Catskills and the Catskill Park?

Need a hiking map for your hikes in the Catskills? We recommend the Trail Conference's Catskills Trails 6-Map Set. These maps are the best available for hiking and outdoor adventures in the Catskills and the Catskill Park. The Catskill Center offers a regional map of the Catskills that provides an excellent overview of the region, it's roadways, attractions and trails. National Geographic Trails Illustrated also produces a map for the region. 

How about a guidebook? Both AMC and ADK publish trail guides to the Catskill Region and thAdventures in the Outdoors Bookstore carries many more books and maps that will help you as you hike and explore the Catskill Mountains region. 

If you are looking for more information about the extensive history of the Catskill Mountains and the Catskill Park, we would suggest reading The Catskills, From Wilderness to Woodstock and The Catskill Park, Inside the Blue Line. For the most comprehensive natural history of the Catskill Park and the Forests of the Catskill region, we recommend reading The Catskill Forest, a History by Michael Kudish.