Your summer escape to Hudson Valley's rivers and lakes is here © Jeffrey M. Frank / Shutterstock
When summer heats up in New York, breezy Atlantic beaches aren't the only places to cool off. Head north of NYC to the Hudson Valley, where in-the-know residents have spent centuries jumping into tree-lined lakes and roaring rivers to beat the season's sweltering summer sun.
Whether you want a lazy day to build sandcastles or a refreshing dip after a challenging hike, this rural region delivers the goods. In many ways, the Hudson Valley provides a dynamic counter to coastal activities because of its landscape: glassy lakes are ideal for fishing and kayaking, thick forests provide shade on summer's hottest days, and colorful river pools reflect the lush foliage surrounding it.
Top tip: The Catskill Mountains and Shawangunks are just a stone's throw from the Hudson River's western banks. If you're staying somewhere near Hudson or Kingston, consider driving to swimming holes like Kaaterskill Falls, Fawn's Leap, or Lake Awosting.
These idyllic spots rival the Hudson Valley’s best beaches.
Paddle through the waters of Canopus Lake in Hudson Valley for a nice cooldown © Dan Hallman / Lonely Planet
Best for a post-hike cooldown
Canopus Lake is the ultimate reward for hikers who brave the Hudson Valley's most challenging treks. Grizzled Appalachian Trail thru-hikers skirt the lake while traveling through Fahnestock State Park, and Breakneck Ridge is a mere 15-minute drive away.
On blistering days, wading in the water is a perfect post-trail digestif. But be warned – like many lakes in the area, this isn't a crystal-clear pool; you're more likely to spot frogs than floaty toys while splashing around.
If you're searching for serenity, arrive at sunrise as fishers hunt for pickerel, perch and largemouth bass. By midday, a sandy section on the lake's northern edge is flush with families swimming, sunning and setting up picnic spreads.
Escape the swarm by renting a rowboat and paddling around the 1.5-mile-long shore. As temperatures dip in the late afternoon, Cold Spring is the place to be. Amble along Main Street to peep 19th-century architecture while popping into a charming assortment of boutiques and eateries.
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River Pool at Beacon
Best for Hudson River swimming
Artsy Beacon upholds its oddball appeal by installing the region's quirkiest swim spot every summer. The River Pool is a rainbow-colored float submerged 30ft into the Hudson River that holds approximately 20 people at a time. Sit along the pool's circular perimeter, constructed from 11 buoyant fiberglass seats, for expansive views of nearby Newburgh, or wade with locals who come to cool off during summer's dog days.
Don't be frightened by the Hudson River – the cove where the pool sits is particularly clean, and because of its barriers, there's no contending with the current. The safe, enclosed space makes this the Hudson’s most kid-friendly swimming location.
If the pool is at max capacity, stroll around the peaceful Peter and Toshi Seeger Riverfront Park, named for the late folk singer and his filmmaker wife who devoted much of their life to environmental activism.
Next, check out the Dia:Beacon – a 300,000-sq-ft factory-turned-contemporary art complex. When hunger calls, Main Street will have the answer.
Beacon's River Pool might seem like a new-fangled art installation, but it's more like a copycat. Floating pools became popular along NYC's stretch of the Hudson in the 19th century; they fell out of favor in the 1920s due to pollution. Today, this pool is part of a concerted effort to reclaim the Hudson for a new generation of swimmers.
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There's always something to do at Kingston Point Beach, from playing volleyball to visiting the maritime museum © Corey Jenkins / Getty Images
Kingston Point Beach
Best spot to soak up local history
Pack a picnic and stay awhile: views stretching toward the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge make this Hudson River refuge a sweet spot to spend the afternoon or enjoy a sunset. Admire the scenery as kayakers paddle by, play volleyball on the beach or beat the heat by wading in the water.
For more river views, hike along the Kingston Point Rail Trail – a 2.3-mile roundtrip trek that offers glimpses of the Rondout Lighthouse, built in 1913.
Like much of Kingston, this sandy shore is packed with history. During the city's 19th-century industrial heyday, Kingston Point was the site of an amusement park featuring manicured gardens and a carousel. While you won't find any rides here today, you might stumble upon some manufacturing relics.
Red bricks occasionally wash up on shore – remnants of Hutton Brick Works, a former factory that's now a boutique hotel and event space. Dig deeper into local history by heading to the Hudson River Maritime Museum, which explores the transportation and industry that influenced life along its namesake waterway.
Tip for swimmers: This section of the Hudson occasionally closes due to unsafe water conditions. After major storms, runoff from rainfall can bring street refuse and sewage into the river, affecting its cleanliness. If there's a sign saying the beach is off-limits, obey it.
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Best for relaxing
Harriman State Park is a treasure trove for water lovers with 31 lakes sprinkled over 48,000 acres. But if you want to splash about, Lake Welch and Lake Tiorati are the only two that officially allow swimmers.
Cruise along the aptly named Seven Lakes Drive to see both pools. Lake Welch is slightly more popular thanks to its half-mile-long beach and sizable parking lot.
Expect to hear the sounds of merengue and laughing children on summer weekends – this is a favorite seasonal escape for Dominican families from Washington Heights and The Bronx. Boating, fishing, hiking and camping all draw big crowds, so if you want to spend a day lounging on the sand, arrive early to secure a spot.
It might be hard to imagine while staring at the wild Ramapo Mountains, but Lake Welch was once the site of Sandyfield – a settlement with roughly 30 homes. In the 1940s, New York officials seized the land and submerged it to create the lake.
Walk to the northern shore to see the town's old cemetery, where gravesites date back to the 19th century. After a long day of swimming and hiking, reward yourself with a craft beer at Seven Lakes Station in Sloatsburg.
Hudson Valley's lakes provide quiet corners for picnics and relaxation © Chuck Robinson Photography / Getty Images
Best for camping
Rudd Pond, a 64-acre gem in Taconic State Park, is a camper's dream. Wake up with the sun, fish for bluegills and yellow perch, then catch rays on the golden beach overlooking the tiny lake.
On-site kayak rentals, bathrooms, picnic tables and water fill-up stations ensure you'll have everything you need for a pleasant stay. The shoreline is generally quiet – particularly during the week – though you're likely to spot locals jumping in the water on weekends.
If you're looking for a more dramatic outdoor experience, drive 20 minutes to the trailhead for Bish Bash Falls. This 2.1-mile hike, located on the park's Massachusetts side, leads to the state's tallest cascade. Swimming is prohibited, but the views are worth the trip.
Millerton, the eastern Hudson Valley's coolest small-town enclave, is a five-minute drive away. For fancy outdoor gear and a unique array of upscale market goods, shop the selection at Westerlind.
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Best for families
Parents will rejoice over Lake Taghkanic State Park's abundance of family-friendly activities. With playgrounds, a ball field, boat rentals, hiking trails, and camping, staying on-site for an afternoon or even a weekend can be a relaxing summer escape.
The park's focal point is its 168-acre lake, favored by locals for its wide beach, sandy bottom, and amenities, including bathrooms and showers. Arrive early on summer weekends to beat crowds clamoring for waterfront real estate.
Once the masses leave, the park becomes a Bambi fantasia replete with white-tailed deer, rabbits, and squirrels. Hike around the lake for a better chance of seeing fauna – the trail takes roughly 2.5-3 hours.
Once you've had your fill, drive 20 minutes to Hudson, a trendy getaway for Brooklynites. You'll find everything you want – food, art, clothes, and homegoods – hugging the sidewalks on Warren Street.
Onteora Lake sits at the foot of the Catskills and provides a quiet retreat © iStockphoto / Getty Images
Best for finding solitude
Drive six miles west of Kingston and sit on Onteora Lake's fishing platform for a small slice of solitude. This thin, 16.5-acre lake is tucked into the Bluestone Wild Forest – a 3,000-acre woodland at the foot of the Catskills. In summer, a chorus of chirping birds and croaking frogs provide a soundtrack that seems lightyears away from the hum of urban life.
Onteora is an all-season destination. The water stays relatively warm in summer, giving hikers a comfy spot for an after-hike dip. Autumn is ideal for leaf-peeping – when crimson leaves of oak trees put on an arboreal art show. If you've got snowshoes or cross-country skis, consider taking a winter trip to admire the icy landscape.
An accessible trail leading to both a picnic table and the fishing platform makes this a fantastic choice for people who use mobility devices. For more wheelchair-friendly adventures, check out the Ashokan Reservoir Promenade, located 15 minutes away by car.
When it's time to leave the woods, drive to Woodstock, an artsy Catskills haunt with a smattering of hip boutiques and tasty restaurants.
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