Planning a road trip from New York? Combine a trip to Kingston, NY with a visit to some of the best attractions within a 30 minute drive – find out what makes our list of the top things to do in Ulster County!
#1. Mohonk Mountain House
A day at the Mohonk Mountain House will have you feeling whisked away to the Swiss Alps – within a 2 hour drive of New York City. That makes it the perfect destination for a weekend road trip from New York!
The 148 year old Victorian castle is nestled in the Hudson Valley, surrounded by the Catskill mountains & its very own lake.
It’s such a picturesque place with old-world style & sophistication… that’s why it’s top of the list of things to do in Ulster County!
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We started our visit with the daily House History Tour at 11:15 am. Our guide took us back in time to the days when the upper & middle class would go on vacation for months at a time.
Guests would check-in to the Mohonk Mountain House for the whole summer & have everything at their doorstep: food, leisure & recreation.
There’s rowing on the lake, a pool & spa, golf, gardens, tennis, archery, hiking, rock climbing…
But you can also simply relax in the rocking chairs on the outdoor decks or sip cocktails in the lounge – Mohonk Mountain House is the kind of place where you can do as little or as much as you like.
And that’s really what vacations should be all about.
We recommend planning your trip with Lonely Planet’s New York City Travel Guide.
Our Mohonk Mountain House day pass didn’t give us access to all the amenities but we were able to explore 85 miles of hiking trails, which was one of our main reasons for our road trip from New York.
We tackled The Labyrinth trail to the Sky Tower – it was an adventure & a half!
We climbed ladders & scrambled over different rock formations before squeezing through a narrow crack between the rock fissures to reach the summit. I guess that’s why it’s called The Lemon Squeeze!
The views at the top were unreal with an endless stretch of green trees in front of mountain silhouettes.
Pulling ourselves away from our Nikon D3300 DSLR, we continued up to the Sky Tower aka Albert K. Smiley Memorial. He was the man who founded Mohonk Mountain house & 6 generations on, it continues to be a family business.
We climbed to the top of the tower where we had an even greater overview of the property – 40,000 acres really is expansive!
The Labyrinth Trail is not for the faint hearted but those less fit or adventurous can still reach the Sky Tower via a less strenuous route.
We definitely recommend it for picture-perfect views of the castle in front of the lake surrounded by mountains.
It’s one of the best things to do in Ulster County and you’ll get those Swiss Alps feels we were talking about!
One final highlight of the Mohonk Mountain House we want to mention is the delicious lunch buffet. It’s held in the Main Dining Room with high ceilings and beautiful wooden fixtures & carvings.
Like many of the top restaurants in Kingston, NY the food here is high-quality, locally-sourced Hudson Valley cuisine.
Some of our favourites were:
- Roasted Monkfish with Avocado Cream & Grape Fruit Relish
- Local Apple Cider Braised Pork
- Grilled Chicken Breast with Citrus Jus
- Wild Rice Pilaf with Local Apples & Pecans
There’s also a carving station & Asian noodle bar, along with other Asian dishes.
Vegetarians are also catered for with several entrée options & an extensive salad bar.
And of course there’s dessert – some 8 different, beautifully presented bite-sized cakes & sweets. So now you know why there are 85 miles of trails to explore 🙂
With the history, activities, nature & food a day or overnight visit to Mohonk Mountain House is an experience to remember and one top of the list of things to do in Ulster County.
Mohonk Mountain House Lunch Package: from $72.00
#2. Walkway Over the Hudson
Take a walk on the wild side on the Walkway Over the Hudson, the longest elevated pedestrian bridge in the world & one of the top things to do in Ulster County.
It spans 1.28 miles long with gorgeous views of Poughkeepsie town & the lush green mountains along the Hudson River.
The Walkway Over the Hudson was originally the Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge, built in 1889.
It ran until 1974 when a fire destroyed the tracks & the service was discontinued.
It reopened as a pedestrian walkway in 2009 as part of the new Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park.
Besides crossing the bridge & enjoying the views, visitors can continue on & explore the surrounding parks & historic districts.
Just as there are many things to do in Kingston, NY Downtown Poughkeepsie also seemed to have quite a few interesting shops, restaurants & cafes to enjoy. We wish we had more time to check it out.
Don’t miss this outstanding attraction on any road trip from New York – it combines the best in man-made engineering, natural views & value for money!
Walkway Over the Hudson admission: Free
#3. Mohonk Preserve
Mohonk Preserve has some of the best hiking in all of New York State.
We took on the Spring Farm trailhead along one of the 19th century carriage roads, which we rate as one of the best things to do in Ulster County.
The beginning was a flat & easy walk in our hiking shoes through the forest before a gradual climb to the top of Bonticou Crag & Table Rock.
The views of the Hudson Valley were spectacular! Some of the leaves had started to change so we can imagine how stunning the mountains are in the fall.
Looking down on the cliffs, we could see people scrambling over the rocks on the alternate route to the summit. It looked fun but on the other hand we were pretty happy to have already made it, bones intact!
The huge rocks at the top are mostly flat but there are a few that jut out, making for awesome photos if you dare to get close to the edge.
It only took us 1.5 hours to get up & down but we were with a local who knew the trail like the back of her hand. It’s well-marked but there are a few confusing spots so allow extra time for wrong turns & perhaps a picnic at the top.
From Mohonk Preserve, you can also hike into the grounds of Mohonk Mountain House & Minnewaska State Park Preserve for no extra fee.
That’s another top reason to include it on a road trip from New York.
The views at the top of Bonticou Crag are similar to those from The Lemon Squeeze at Mohonk Mountain House so if you’re already planning to do that one, you may want to choose a different hike at Mohonk Preserve.
The rock climbing on the Gunks cliffs is also very popular along with horseback riding along the forested trails.
Mohonk Preserve Day Fee: $15.00
#4. Woodstock Farm Sanctuary
Meet, feed & pet your favourite animals at the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary!
The not-for-profit organisation rescues & rehabilitates rescued farmed animals from all across the US. Most were exploited & abused before escaping & making their way to the sanctuary.
Woodstock Farm Santuary currently houses over 340 animals. Don’t expect to see any crazy wild animals – it’s not a zoo after all. Think more along the lines of chickens, ducks, goats, rabbits & sheep…
Woodstock Farm Sanctuary is open to the public on weekends from April to October. Time your visit on a road trip from New York with a guided tour as you’re not allowed to enter the animal pens otherwise.
We started the tour at the Visitor Centre where our guide gave us an introduction to the goals & values of the farm, which is to advocate for animal rights & promote veganism.
Then we met the turkeys & got to play with them inside their pens. They like to be pet under their wings but some of them also don’t stay still!
Next it was time to feed the cows which was a whole lot of fun – we had them eating alfalfa cubes from the palms of our hands!
Cows have no front teeth so they don’t bite but they sure have a lot of slobber! This experience was one of our favourite things to do in Ulster County
After wiping our hands on the grass, we moved on to the pig pastures. There were only a few trotting around but they seemed happy to see us & were treated to many belly rubs!
The tour was 75 minutes long but we had to leave early so we missed out on meeting the goats & sheep.
In between the play & feeding times, there was also down time where the guide spoke a lot about the trials & tribulations of farmed animals.
Some of the talks were a little heavy & preachy however it was definitely food for thought to learn more about the vegan cause.
Woodstock Farm Sanctuary admission: $10.00
#5. D&H Canal Museum
The Delaware & Hudson Canal – aka D&H Canal – was opened in 1828 in order to transport coal from Pennsylvania to New York City.
It measured 108 miles in length from Honesdale, PA to Kingston, NYC with a total of 108 locks.
The canal ceased operations in 1902 so most of the locks have long been drained & filled.
However several of them remain on the D&H Canal property & can be seen on the 1.5 mile 5 Locks Walk.
We didn’t do the trail on our road trip from New York though we did pay a visit to the D&H Canal Museum.
Here we learned more about the canal’s history through the documents, photographs, dioramas, tools & artifacts on display.
There was also a full-size recreation of a canal boat cabin & a working model of a lock that filled & drained water.
The D&H Canal is not a must-so on the list of things to do in Ulster County but it’s worth a quick stop if you’re in the Kingston area, history buff or not.
D&H Canal Museum Entrance Fee: $5.00
Disclaimer: We visited these attractions as guests of Ulster County Tourism. We thank Fran, Mohonk Mountain House, Walkway Over the Hudson, Mohonk Preserve, Woodstock Farm Sanctuary & D&H Canal Museum for their hospitality.
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Visited in September 2017