The Insider’s Guide to our Top 10 Painting Locations in the Hudson River Highlands
Moment Supreme Watercolor John Hulsey
The Highlands of the Hudson River Valley are among the most beautiful scenery anywhere. They are similar in many ways to the incredible landscapes of the Norwegian fjords. Eleven hundred foot mountains simply fall off vertically to meet the estuarine river below. An estuary is defined as an "arm of the sea”, and so the Hudson River is fed both by the ocean tide and the fresh water descending from its source at Lake Tear of the Clouds, high in the Adirondacks. As the river climbs north from New York City, the land rises also, first into low hills on the east side and the sheer rock faces of the Palisades to the west. Around Nyack and Haverstraw, where the river is at its widest, nearly 2 miles across, the distinctive bowl-shape of the valley is well-established. This bowl begins to narrow into a gorge as the river passes Peekskill and begins to be squeezed between the tall granite mountains, most notably High Tor to the west. By Bear Mountain, which is spanned by the only bridge in the Highlands area, the river is only 1600 ft. wide, and the tides and currents are very swift. This is truly where the Highlands of the Hudson River begin.
Having lived and painted in the Highlands for 10 years, we became intimately familiar with all the best plein air painting locations there. Some of these views have been featured in articles about John's plein air work in previous issues of American Artist Magazine. The following list represents our choicest public-access locations which we feel represent the best views for painters of the Hudson River Highlands.
1. View from Bear Mountain Bridge Road: This is where we start our painting journey, for the views from either side of the Bear Mountain Bridge are breathtaking. One can choose to drive south a little way on Bear Mountain Bridge Road/Route 6 and park at the overlook, which gives a bird’s eye view of Bear Mountain and Iona Island marsh directly across the river, or take in the vast sweep of the river scene looking south past Peekskill toward the distant Palisades. There is plenty of room here to park and paint all day.
Photo of the View from Perkins Drive looking South
2. Bear Mountain: Alternatively, you may decide to cross the Bear Mountain bridge on Rte 6, and exit at Seven Lakes Drive. Keep an eye open for Perkins Memorial Drive on your left, and follow that road all the way up until it brings you to a pull-off which offers a vertiginous overlook of the Hudson River and the bridge below. Click here for hours, fees and additional information. Click on this link for a detailed pdf map of the park.
3. Iona Island Nature Sanctuary: You might prefer to paint in Iona Island Nature Sanctuary, below Bear Mountain Park proper. In that case, cross the bridge on Rte 6, and follow 9W south after the roundabout. Drive past the park entrance and look for Iona Island Road on your left. You can park at the top of the road and look down on the marsh, or drive on into the marsh and park and paint facing west into the marsh - our preference. Click here for more information.
Sugarloaf Watercolor John Hulsey
4. Sugarloaf Hill: Sugarloaf is located a few miles north of the Bear Mountain bridge, on the east side of Rte. 9D, 1/2 mile south of Rte. 403. Look for the two stone pillars labeled “Wing and Wing” and “Castle Rock”, and turn in between them. Follow the road as it bears left past the red barn to a parking lot. Walk on the driveway past the front of the brown house of the Riverkeeper office and past a private residence. A sign reading "hikers this way" and red blazes begin a hiking trail. The trail takes a sharp left turn and crosses an open field before entering the woods. It makes several sharp turns before ascending to the top of Sugarloaf Hill. The view from the top is toward the south and Bear Mountain.
Photo of Garrison Landing in Winter Early Evening Remembrance Watercolor John Hulsey
5. Garrison Landing: Traveling north on 9D, turn left at 403 and follow the Lower Station Road down the hill and across the rail overpass to enter the landing area. There is some public parking near the train station here. There is a fee for parking during the week in the train station lot. There are 17 interesting old Carpenter Gothic style buildings, mostly erected in the 1850s, and a beautiful stone 1892 train station, now a theater. Walk along the length of the Landing area for great 180-degree river views, including West Point Military Academy immediately to the west. There is a small marina, a river-side park lined with old willows which provide interest in all seasons, and a gazebo for a nice architectural counterpoint to the river landscape. Good sunset painting spot.
Photo of the Gates of the Hudson Highlands looking North
6. Arden Point: Three more great river views from here are at Arden Point and Marcia’s Mile. Park at the south end of the large Garrison train station lot and look for the stone pillars and the sign for Arden Point. Follow the woods road (blue blazes) past the old house sites and across the wooden bridge. After 1/2 mile, turn right and cross the railroad bridge and then immediately turn right to follow the blue blazed trail (ignore the road that turns left).The blue trail ends in 0.3 mile at an intersection with a red-blazed trail. Continue straight on the red past an old stone wall and follow the stone steps to the water for a wonderful view to the north up the Hudson and the Gates of the Highlands. Retrace your steps on the red-blazed trail, and and continue to follow it when it veers right at the intersection with the blue-blazed trail. Pass a viewpoint with a wooden bench overlooking the river to the west and follow the trail along the river to the western edge of the point. After 0.4 mile, continue straight down the path to the southern end of the point and another great view.
7. Marcia’s Mile: From here follow a woods road north a short distance back to the railroad bridge. Cross the bridge and turn right (south) and follow the yellow blazed trail. After about 0.2 mile, stone steps to the right lead to a large gazebo with a beautiful view of the river and Highland Falls on the opposite shore. To return, retrace your steps back to the parking lot.
Photos of Constitution Marsh
Photo of Constitution Marsh from Boscobel Along the River Watercolor John Hulsey
8. Constitution Marsh Audubon Center and Sanctuary: This Audubon Sanctuary is a unique and very beautiful 270-acre tidal marsh managed by Audubon as a wildlife sanctuary since 1970. Drive north on 9D, past Rte. 403 another 3.5 miles. Look for Indian Brook Road on your left, and follow that dirt road for another 1/2 mile until you see the sign for the Sanctuary. Park by the sign and walk down the steep road (1/4 mile) to the Sanctuary Nature Center. Look for the path to "Jim's Walk", the 700 ft. boardwalk which takes you out into the marsh. On that trail, which is steep in places, you will climb to the top of a hill with wonderful aerial views of the entire marsh and the river beyond. This is a great painting site in any season, but especially winter, when the leaves do not block any of the view. Continue on down the trail to the boardwalk, noting the other good painting views as you descend. Walk out to the end of the boardwalk where there is a bench and stunning marsh and river views. Stay quiet and you may be rewarded with lots of wildlife sitings, including eagles, herons, egrets, osprey, ducks and deer, among the many other creatures who frequent this rare habitat. Keep in mind the marsh is tidal - the reflective water comes and goes! Click here for more information, including hours.
Photo of Workshop Students Painting at Little Stony Point
9. Little Stony Point Park: This is a wonderful spot to hang out and paint the incomparable Hudson Highlands river scenery. Look for the parking area on the west side of 9D just north of Cold Spring. Cross the railroad bridge and turn either left or right to follow the loop trail. I take my workshop classes here to paint because the access is so easy and the sand beach (on the north) is large and comfortable. This north end of the site offers river-level views of Storm King mountain to the west and an expansive view north up the river towards Bannerman’s Island and Newburgh beyond. The southern end offers views south to Cold Spring, World’s End and West Point. Great in all seasons. You can also hike to the top of the hill behind the beach for a 180-degree aerial view of the river north and south to take in Storm King and Crow’s Nest mountains to the west, and Bull Hill, Breakneck, and Beacon Hill to the north.
10. Breakneck Ridge Take the name seriously. This is a steep, difficult hike, but the scenic rewards are worth it. Park at the pull-off on the west side of 9D, just beyond the tunnel, 2.1 miles north of Cold Spring. Additional parking for 8 cars is available a few hundred yards farther north. The Breakneck Ridge Trail (white blazes) begins just south of the parking area, ascends a hill and crosses the tunnel. At the first lookout, there is a view of Storm King Mountain directly across the river. Continue to ascend past several more viewpoints, one notable view is of the ruins of Bannerman’s Castle on Pollepel Island to the north. After 1.5 miles watch carefully for the red-blazed Breakneck Bypass Trail on the left, which is marked by a huge boulder. Take the Bypass Trail, which ends at the yellow-blazed Wilkinson Memorial Trail. Turn left and follow the Wilkinson Trail for 1/2 mile to return to 9D about 0.3 mile north of the parking pull-off.
Detailed hiking instructions of 22 hikes in the Philipstown area are available from the Philipstown Greenway Committee in pdf form here.
Remember that the deer tick, which can transmit Lyme Disease, is common in the Hudson Highlands. Take precautions when painting outdoors by wearing light-colored clothing with long sleeves, tucking pants into socks, using insect repellent and checking for ticks at the end of each day.
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