Cruising the Majestic Hudson River by Tab Hauser
The Hudson River is a magnificent place to plan a cruise. We journeyed up and down this river as part of a longer voyage through the New York State canal locks and into Lake Champlain. This is part one of a two part story that will cover the Hudson River until Waterford. The Hudson River (actually a 154 mile estuary until Troy) has pretty scenery as well as several interesting towns along the way to stop in. These towns offer boaters a place to stretch their legs and learn about history, architecture as well as enjoy some good food and regionally produced drinks. An advantage of cruising here is that you are always protected from rough seas.
Discovering the river on your own should be a leisurely event. While a fast boat doing 30 knots can shoot from town to town quickly our Viking Sport Cruiser took a more relaxed approached keeping the throttle at 17 knots on average. Doing this allowed us to spot and view the seven bald eagles, the many herons, egrets and other birds along the way. Keeping it slower helped us enjoy all the scenery as well as see and avoid several logs in the water. The scenery started at the Palisades cliffs after we exited the Spuyten Duyvil Bridge coming from Long Island. The pretty views continued through the narrows by the Bear Mountain Bridge and West Point. In the mid-section of the river we were able to see the Taconic and Catskill Mountains as well as the large and older mansions on its banks. We enjoyed the upper section where it was narrow, peaceful and lined with trees During our journey on the river we passed four lighthouse buildings worth taking a stop for a photo.
Planning a cruise on the Hudson is easy. We recommend purchasing the latest edition to Waterway Guide Long Island Sound and New England Waters as well as the Richardson’s Chartbook and Cruising Guide, Hudson River and Adjacent Waterways. Electronic chart plotters do occasional fail and it is always good to have a backup. Also while in new waters I like to have the large chart nearby where I can look at what is further down course at the turn of a page. The Waterway Guide is good to have as it lists marinas and tips ashore.
Anxious to get up river we pushed six hours and stopped at the Shadows Marina in Poughkeepsie. (www.shadowsmarina.com) We found the dock hands fast to attend and tie us down. We also like the fact we were protected from the river wakes. The Dutchess County area of the Hudson offers a lot to see and for about $50 Enterprise Rent-A-Car will pick you up at the dock so you can get around. Our stay while here included a visit to the national parks of Vanderbilt Mansion and Historic Part (www.nps.gov/vama), the Home of Franklin Roosevelt (www.nps.gov/hofr) as well as Val-Kill, the home of Eleanor Roosevelt (www.nps.gov/elro).
Our first stop was at the 54 room Vanderbilt Mansion that sits impressively on 211 pretty acres on the river. It was completed in 1899 as the seasonal residence of Fredrick Vanderbilt. What makes seeing this mansion unique is that it was donated to the Federal Parks Department in 1938 with the encouragement of their neighbor, President Roosevelt, with nearly all of its original furniture. This means visitors get a chance to see what was actually in the house and how they lived. Take a picnic lunch down to the river.
Next door to the Vanderbilt’s is the Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site called Springwood. This was the president’s birthplace, lifelong home and burial site. Tours are given throughout the day and while seeing the mansion you will also learn a lot about President Roosevelt. Reservations for tours can be made one day in advance. If you get there and just miss a tour you can walk the grounds or visit the FDR Presidential Library and Museum first.
Another gem not to be missed is called Val-Kill. This simple stone cottage is also known as Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site and is the only home she actually owned. This important site teaches visitors about Mrs. Roosevelt’s life. It showed how down to earth she was living in a small home with her simple furnishings. The park ranger stressed how she was not just the wife of a President but the true first lady with an important agenda of helping people and promoting civil rights. We learned much about her important United Nations work after leaving the White House and what an amazing woman Mrs. Roosevelt was. Tours are given on the hour.
We ended our day with three course French dinner at the Culinary Institute of America (www.ciachef.edu/cia-new-york ) for a weekday special at $45. Don’t miss any of their five restaurants here set on this campus above the river. The next morning before giving the car back we drove less than a mile to the foot of the Walkway Over the Hudson (www.walkway.org) for the scenic view and exercise on this converted railroad bridge high over the river.
From Poughkeepsie and with the tide in our favor we made way for the town of Hudson taking about two hours and arriving in a moderate rain. Hudson, a city of about 7000 people was first settled in the late 1600’s and chartered in 1785 by whalers and merchants from Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard and Rhode Island. In the last 15 years the city has seen much improvement and gentrification. It seems much of the talk about this old river city is how “Brooklyn discovered it.” The Hudson Historic District boasts over 300 properties dating from 1785 to 1930 and was listed as a National Historic Site in 1985. Its main drag, Warren Street is lined with antique shops, café’s, restaurants and stores. Boaters arriving in Hudson can call ahead for space at the Hudson Power Boat Association (www.hudsonpowerboat.com) or dock at the Henry Hudson Riverfront Park next to the tour boat docks. The park dock is small, offers no services and is free. We stayed overnight there. From the dock it is a five minute walk to Warren and Front Street where you can stop at the Chamber of Commerce to get information and a map. We recommend you walk on Warren Street for the shops and back down Union Street to see some of the old homes. Don’t miss a brief stroll down pretty Willard Place.
If you have an interest in historic mansions while here consider a taxi to the Olana Castle high up overlooking the river (www.olana.org) You probably saw it while heading north on your starboard side. This Victorian/Persian style mansion is made of stone, brick, and polychrome-stenciling and was completed in 1872. It is decorated with many paintings and personal items from Church family that built it. We enjoyed the house tour and the views of the river and mountains it had. For entertainment at night check out the music venue at Helsinki’s. (www.helsinsinkhudson.com) For information on Hudson go to www.gotohudson.net/
After two nights in Hudson we continued up north to Albany with a fuel stop at Coeyman’s Landing Marina. This mom and pop outfit has friendly service and good fuel prices. We use them anytime we are in the area. The ride north of Coeymans to Albany is the least scenic. As you get closer to Albany you will be in a no wake commercial zone. Once past the USS Slater we docked at Jennys Landing for the day. (This is a small dock with no services) Albany, the New York State Capital, is a nice afternoon stop for boaters. From the dock we walked five minutes along the river to tour the USS Slater . (www.ussslater.org) The USS Slater is the last of the 563 World War II “Destroyer Escort” boats afloat. This class of ship was designed to protect the merchant ships bringing supplies to Europe from German submarines. Their weaponry is heavy on depth charges. A unique fact about these boats were that it would take a month or less to build them during the war. From the USS Slater we walked 25 minutes up State Street to new York State’s Capital on the hill. Here we took a detailed tour of this large Romanesque style building built between 1867 and 1899. (http://www.ogs.ny.gov/esp/ct/tours/Capitol.asp) The tour started with a walk-through of an area of historical artifacts. You are then shown the large impressive stair case and many statues before being take taken to the ornate legislative and assembly chambers. The assembly chamber is the largest open arched span room in the world. We found the tour and walk around the campus adjacent to it an interesting place and worth the stop here. For entertainment nearby the Capital Repertory Theater (www.capitalrep.org) offers Broadway quality shows at nearly half the price of tickets from the New York City theaters.
Our next stop was eight miles upriver to Troy. Our schedule had us in for Thursday evening summer series concerts that take place on the water near the town dock. The Troy town dock offers fuel and water and is first come first serve. Presently power is being upgraded so please call (518) 272-5341 to find out the latest here.
The City of Troy sits 154 miles north of Battery Park in Manhattan. It is here where the tides end because it is located on a dam and a lock that allows you to cruise north. This is a city that is worth a stopover. Fifteen years ago when we came through here we used it as an overnight stop having dinner at the microbrew next to the dock and leaving early. After some recent research we thought it was time to give this city a good look. To do this we arranged a tour with Hudson Mohawk Industrial Gateway (http://www.hudsonmohawkgateway.org) Our guide, Mr. Tom Carroll is passionate about Troy. Before we started our walk he told us we would say “I didn’t know that” several times during our detailed tour of the city. Troy was the “Silicone Valley” of the 1820’s and a pretty wealthy city. It had mills powered by water on one side of the city and access to shipping on the other side. We learned that Troy is the city to see Tiffany glass, was active in important abolition history, has wonderfully restored architecture and was early place for the education of woman. It is home to “the” Uncle Sam. We thoroughly enjoyed our tour with this good will ambassador of the city who walked us around. Highlights included the Tiffany glass windows at the library, a walk around and inside some of the old restored buildings, a visit to the restored Music Hall and hearing about Troy’s history. For dinner there are plenty of places a 10 minute walk which includes River Street to Fourth Street. Next to the dock you have Brown’s Brewing Company and Dinosaurs BBQ.
We left Troy in the morning and went two miles upriver to Waterford. This had us go through the first lock on the river. To do this you hail the lock master on the Federal Lock on Channel 13th to see when the lock will be open. The lock requires boaters to have plenty of fenders a couple of lines and a boat hook ready when you enter. Upon entering you need to slip the line around the pole and hold it while the lock raises the boat up 14 feet. Waterford offers free dockage for two nights with electric costing $10. There is a welcome center with area information, showers and bathrooms. The dock offers a nice camaraderie amongst boaters. Here we met a few older couples traveling to Canada and Florida along with a few “loopers” heading back to Texas. A reason to stop here is to provision up. We walked to the Hannaford Supermarket 10 minutes across the bridge. Shopping is easy here as they allow boaters to take the shopping cart back to the dock where they pick them up once a week. Dining in Waterford should include McGrievey’s for dinner. For breakfast walk to Don and Paul’s Coffee Shop as this place is about a local as a place as you can get with $2.00 egg specials. From Waterford you can head up river on the Champlain Canal to Lake Champlain as part two of this story will cover. You can also go west on the Erie Canal.
Heading south on the Hudson had us stop at the village dock in Athens. This is a small village of about 4000 people. It is across the river from the more popular Hudson, NY and within view of the Athens lighthouse that marks the channel. It is a quiet community that is worth a stroll through to see many of the national registered homes. The architecture of these 18th and 19th century buildings include Greek Revival, Stick, Italianate, Federal, Second Empire, Fold Victorian and Queen Ann. With the village improving we recommend getting here in the afternoon, taking a stroll around and then visiting Crossroads Brewing Company (crossroadsbrewingco.com) which opens after 4PM to try their in house brews and an appetizer. For dinner we strongly recommend the Rive Gauche Bistro ( www.rivegauchebistro.com). The food here is very good with their French onion soup amazing. The prices are very good and about 20% less than what you would see in restaurants in Hudson across the river. For breakfast the Riverside Diner is also quite nice.
After shoving off we headed a couple of hours south enjoying the ride and views down river. We passed the Athens, Saugerties and the Roundout Creek Lighthouses with our port of call being Kingston. When approaching Kingston you will see the lighthouse at the tip of the peninsula. Go to idle speed and get your bearings. You must follow any markers or buoys here carefully. If you arrive at low tide and miss your markers you will ground. The channel is narrow but no problem if you take care. Once in the channel keep a no-wake speed. Two places to dock overnight can include the Hudson River Maritime Museum (hrmm.org) or the Kingston City Marina (www.kingstoncitymarina.com). Both offer power and water and are in good locations.
Kingston was an early Dutch settlement and later New York’s first capital in 1777. It was also burned by the British that same year. In the 1800’s it became an important transportation hub as it connected the canals, river and railroad. A two night visit to Kingston should start at the Kingston Heritage Visitor Center near the docks at 20 Broadway. Here you can get guides, maps and helpful information on the area. Visiting Kingston can be a two part experience. The first part would be to stroll around and see the shops, restaurants, homes and streets on the lower part of the city where the docks are. The second part should be to the historical district in the upper part of Kingston.
After docking we visited the Hudson River Maritime Museum. Here you will find a few rooms filled with artifacts and information about the area and its history. It includes exhibits on the steamboats as well as the ice boats that raced in the area. The museum is a working boat yard and during our visit we saw craftsman restoring an old sloop. From the museum you can use your map from the visitor’s center to walk around the lower section of town. The map has numbers pointing to different homes and the years they were built. When you get hungry we recommend Ole Savannah on the creek. We found the food and service excellent and went back for an amazing happy hour the next day where we met many of the locals. Boaters can usually tie up to Ole Savannah’s docks for lunch and explore the town for a couple of hours. During the weekends there is Trolley Museum you can visit across the street. (tmny.org)
For our second day we had a leisurely morning starting with delicious crepes at Café Dolce. From there we headed to the upper section of Kingston. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday’s there is a trolley that is free to connect the lower and upper areas. For other times a taxi can be called for the 2.7 mile ride. Using our guide we did a self-tour of the historical Kingston Stockade District. This area consists of the original eight blocks that were surrounded by a 14 foot stockade fence and has homes from the 17th, 18th and 19th century. Our visit included the Fred J Johnston Museum in the district. This is a Federal style home (c1812) having eight rooms filled with some of America’s best antique furniture. Lunch was at the Hoffman House which was built in 1679. It survived the British burning of the town and still has the original charred walls in the attic that you can request to see. We concluded our visit with stop at “The Four Corners” (Crown and John Streets) to view the only place in America with four pre-revolutionary homes on each corner before looking through the shops on North Front Street. For information on this area go to http://www.fohk.org/ For information on Kingston go to www.kingstonhappenings.org/
Our last night on the river was in Newburgh. We stopped here because we heard the waterfront area with its restaurants and night life was a fun place to be. Arriving in the late afternoon we docked at the Riverfront Marina and walked 15 minutes to Washington Headquarters. This large home built in 1725 was the headquarters for George Washington from April 1782 until August 1783. It was his longest serving headquarters and the oldest home in Newburgh. Tours of the home are given here every 30 minutes. If you arrive early there is a museum next to it that is well worth a visit. Docking in Newburgh can have some issues. If you are on the outer dock, you are going to bounce during the day due to the wakes so you are going to need many fenders. Once it got dark the river was calmer. The other thing to be concerned about is venturing away from the waterfront area. Local boaters warned us here not to venture off Broadway if we needed anything and told us not to walk there at night. The waterfront offers several restaurants all adjacent to the docks with live music or a club scene at night on weekends.
Anyone living within a day of the Hudson River should consider cruising it. It is easy to do and would be a great first time cruiser destination. For one thing you never have to worry about big sea conditions and getting around is easy if you remember “right-red-return” If you don’t have a cabin you can still cruise the river by staying at the hotels or inns in all the towns featured in this story that are near the docks. This majestic and scenic river is meant for cruising so enjoy your trip up the river.