Fall Fun on Route 301
There is a ribbon of road running between Highway 84 and the Hudson River – from Carmel to Cold Spring – which I first “discovered” when finding an alternate route to the Taconic on which boat trailers are allowed. Various adventures brought me back time and again until I finally connected the dots. Route 301 is a microcosm of all New York State has to offer — a bouillon cube of adventure crammed into a 20-mile strip. It practically glows orange in autumn, beckoning one to roll down the windows, crank up the tunes, and cruise. It crisscrosses and parallels the 63 lakes and reservoirs of Putnam County as it winds through the hilly woods. Just put each of the locations below in your GPS one at a time as you move along the route from east to west. Be sure to check out all websites before you go as visitation hours, parking and conditions vary seasonally.
Start with the Ninham Mountain Fire Tower just north of 301 in Carmel on a sunny day. As when exploring a new city from the top of a double-decker bus, you can formulate your plan from a birds’ eye point of view. The mountain was named in honor of Daniel Ninham, chief of the Wappinger tribe, who was killed in action by the Red Coats in 1778 while fighting alongside the Patriots. The road up the mountain is well-marked, and the half-mile gravel path from the parking lot to the tower well-traversed. The 82-foot tower was built in 1940 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, closed for business in 1989, restored, and re-opened to the public in 2000. It sits in a 1,000-acre state park with tons of trails for hiking and mountain biking in case you want to wander.
Our next point of interest is Buddhist monastery Chuang Yen, which houses the largest indoor statue of Buddha in the Western hemisphere. All are welcome to ramble around their 200 acres on a treasure hunt of enlightenment: the Bodhi Path, Great Buddha Hall, and Seven Jewels Lake (chockful of huge carp vying for your attention), to name a few. This is an active monastery so be respectful of the monks’ privacy and restricted areas. Wear appropriate clothing for places of worship (no shorts, remove your shoes – they supply slippers).
On to Fahnestock State Park, 16,000 acres of fabulous. The main park entrance, Canopus Beach, and Winter Park are open according to season, but Pelton Pond Pavilion, the Canopus Lake boat launch, and the Appalachian Trail are always open to exploration. There is a new parking lot for easy AT access. There’s a lovely hike north uphill to a cliff overlooking the lake. Have a picnic then head back down and soak your feet in the healing waters of the lake.
If woods aren’t your thing, check out the beautifully manicured Stonecrop Gardens just down the road, the former home of Frank Cabot who founded The Garden Conservancy. It opened to the public in 1992 and gets better and better each year. It too offers a treasure hunt: endless gardens and groves connected by winding paths.
You may wish to call it a day here. If so, check out Mekeel’s Corner Chapel on the southeast corner of 301 and 9W, head south on 9W, pick up dinner at Round Up Texas BBQ, and head on home. You can pick up here for Round Two.
Or continue to Cold Spring, the gateway to the Hudson Highlands and the best hiking in the Hudson Valley. Have lunch at The Depot, walk the path beneath the train tracks to the Hudson River waterfront to get ice cream at Moo Moos Creamery. Drive to West Point Foundry to stroll the restored grounds of a former major ironworking and machine shop site which operated from 1818 to 1911. Its most famous product was the Parrott rifle used in the Civil War. It overlooks Constitution Marsh, a 270-acre fresh and brackish tidal marsh which is my favorite paddle spot on the Hudson (I’d advise kayaking it the first time with Hudson River Expeditions as it can be tricky). It can also be accessed by land from Constitution Marsh Audubon Center and Sanctuary Parking is sparse and high tide preferable (check their website), but you can walk there from the parking lot at Boscobel (below) to access the wooden boardwalks through the marsh.
Boscobel House and Gardens, a Neoclassical mansion built in the early 1880s with sweeping views of the Hudson and the marsh, is most definitely worth a tour (make a reservation). Grab a bite afterwards at Dolly’s in Garrison, named for the 1969 film “Hello, Dolly!” where many of its scenes were filmed. You can walk along the river through the little park behind the waterfront shops for the best view of West Point Military Academy. Garrison was an important fort during the Revolutionary War as it overlooks the river bend called World’s End. In 1778 a huge chain was stretched across the river from the fort to West Point to halt advancing British ships, links of which can still be seen.
From Garrison, take Highway 403 homeward bound. Just one more stop: Graymoor, saving the best for last. I discovered this during Covid when I hiked the Appalachian Trail section which runs through the property with Fathers Sam and Erik, Capuchin monks who reside there and are now my friends. I return often and am constantly amazed at the freedom allowed to explore the sprawling property. Drive to the top of The Holy Mountain to see the replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta, St. Francis Chapel, and various shrines, all of which are open to the public. Check out the thrift shop, “That Nothing Be Lost”. Take in a Sunday service at the Chapel of Our Lady of the Atonement. Walk the Labyrinth. The surprises are endless. Just as they are on old Route 301.