How To Have Fall Fun Mid-Pandemic

Pumpkin Patch at Dubois Farms

Fishkill Farms (Photo: Jo-Anne Asuncion)

Fall in the Hudson Valley seems like a nothing-can-stop-the-show classic, with apples that ripen and leaves that change come what may. But how about those beloved fall traditions, including taking hayrack rides and downing cider doughnuts — during the pandemic, when so many festivals and popular gatherings have been cancelled, are they still on?

The good news is that fall fun is still available, but with a twist. Some orchards, for instance, now need reservations, and many hayrack rides have become drive-thrus. Here are some of the region’s best outdoor seasonal favorites, like pumpkin patches, corn mazes, and cider doughnuts — along with the lowdown on what reservations or other special COVID-19-cautious arrangements are required.

Apple Picking by Appointment

Apple Tree (Photo: Robert Rodriguez, Jr.)

Autumn in New York simply cannot happen without a day spent meandering around the Hudson Valley’s stunning apple orchards. The upper Hudson Valley is home to the century-old Indian Ladder Farms, which offers both u-pick apples and, for the adults, a cidery and well-spaced outdoor biergarten. In the Mid-Hudson is Fishkill Farms, normally mobbed on “fall festival” weekends. This year, it’s scrapped the face painting and live music, although a fiddler will still roam the grounds for a festive feel without a gathering crowd. Hop online and secure a reservation before visiting to ensure maximum safety precautions. Though its name is coincidental, it’s certainly pandemic-appropriate: Masker Orchards features 14 apple varieties on over 200 acres of rolling lower-Hudson Valley land. You can drive around the orchard field and welcomed to bring your own picnic, but all other food services on site will be closed. The expanse of nearly 10,000 trees is spacious enough for a safe weekend activity, with no reservation required.

Pumpkin Patches Take Precautions

Pumpkin patch at Dubois Farms (Photo: Glory G. de Leon)

If October were a country, it’d be a shame if pumpkins weren’t the emblem on the fictional flag. If you’re as obsessed with the month as I am, pumpkin patches are already on your fall festivities. Along the upper Hudson Valley, Greig Farm grows various pick-your-own crops for summer until fall. You can find sugar pumpkins for baking and field pumpkins on picturesque acres of land with apple orchards in the distance. Currently the farm does not require reservations or have limited capacity on its 100 acres. Kelder’s Farm in the mid-Hudson grows pumpkins of all shapes and sizes in their wide fields. While a reservation is preferred, walk-ins are also allowed at Kelder’s Farm. Towards the lower Hudson Valley, Barton Orchards welcomes all for their pick-your-own experience that includes an apple orchard on their 120-acre land. Make sure to purchase tickets online beforehand as well as arrive around your scheduled check-in time. 

Corn Mazes Offer Space

Fishkill Farms Corn Maze 2020 (Photo: Josh Morgenthau)

Feel free to antagonize your quarantine group with punny jokes on your socially distanced trip to the cornfields. Cornfield mazes always strike an image of landing UFOs and aliens, most likely inspired by my love for animated movies — but rest assured these mazes are fun for the whole family and do not involve extraterrestrial beings. Windy Hill Orchards in the upper Hudson Valley encourages visits to their walk-in fun corn maze, which you can attend on an apple-picking trip on this kid-focused farm. Kesicke Farm in the mid-Hudson features a petting zoo in addition to their pumpkin patches — visit some goats and then go home and bake a pumpkin pie.  The perfect fall weekend! All tickets are available for purchase on-site only. Outhouse Orchards features an elaborate — and well-spaced — corn maze, along with opportunities to pick pumpkins and apples. Reservations can be made here. And Fishkill Farms has debuted a 2020 corn maze that spells out a resonant message that can be seen from above: REJECT RACISM.

Cider Doughnuts to Order Online

Apple Cider Donuts (Photo: Robert Rodriguez, Jr.)

I am not ashamed to admit cider doughnuts are my favorite part about fall. Luckily, the Hudson Valley is home to cider apples and farms with on-site bakeries. Greige Farm in the upper Hudson region has a farm market and kitchen. This year they’re hosting a self-timed, run-on-your-own Cider Doughnut 5k Trail Race, in which winners from each age group will win free cider doughnuts for the rest of 2020. If you’re simply looking to pick up some pastry, consider ordering online to limit unnecessary contact. Jones Farm in the mid-Hudson is popular for aromatic cider doughnuts, and its entire bakery has curbside pickup if you’d prefer not to enter the market. Curbside is also available at the lower-Hudson’s Barton Orchard’s, another farm that features a cafe and market of locally grown and produced items. 

Haunted Houses Go Drive-Thru

The Headless Horseman (Photo: Jo-Anne Asuncion)

At some point the fall season shifts from an image of fuzzy sweaters and soft candlelight glow to an eerie, creepy Halloween world. Double M Haunted House in the upper Hudson region will open its “Dead End Road Drive-Thru Experience.” You can enjoy cider doughnuts and other snacks in the comfort of your car. The Headless Horseman in the mid-Hudson has replaced their usual hayrides for a drive-thru experience that promises a terrifying thrill. Blood Manor, a haunted house just outside of NYC, will allow small groups to enter haunted rooms one at a time. Before entering the attraction, all guests must have their masks on and temperatures checked. Spooky season persists!  

Sleepy Hollow

The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze (Photo: Jo-Anne Asuncion)

Due to the pandemic, most of the usually crowded Sleepy Hollow events have been canceled, but the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze lives to see another year. The site will operate with socially distanced rules in place and a reduced capacity of 67 percent. To ensure masks are in place at all times, there will not be food or drinks welcomed or served. No walk-ins are allowed, so make sure you have your tickets purchased online beforehand. See this list here for more information on the remaining events that plan to continue this year. 

COVID-19 Drove Exercise Outdoors. Will It Last?

After months of lockdown limbo, gyms and fitness centers in New York State are beginning to reopen. The pandemic drove millions to shift exercise outside, to parks and beyond, in the meantime. It seems like everybody’s getting out there — including celebs like DJ Khaled, who says when he’s biking a trail, he’s “just vibin’.” Experts say those healthy new habits have been beneficial — not only for health, but for public access, community ties, and climate change. Will they last?

For many, a good chunk of quarantine has been spent breaking out their old pair of running shoes or revisiting old grade-school gym class exercises — often in open air. On the streets and stretches of green within the Hudson Valley, people like Ryan Naccarato have adapting by using their outdoor surroundings for a workout.

Since July, the Kingston native has been holding 2-3 boot camps per week, sessions in which participants run, jump, squat, skip and climb their way around the various pavements and parks of the historic city. A lifelong athlete and now school athletic director, Naccarato started out like his students: counting the days till he could get back into the weight room. At first, he was blind to the opportunities around him. 

“I was just outside — riding my bike, walking, running the streets of downtown — and I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, there are so many elements you can use to get a workout,’” he says. A few weeks of planning online and off eventually had him and the team at Hudson Valley Ambition relay racing and racking up reps at spots such as Hasbrouck Park downtown and Kingston Point Beach by the Hudson River. Regardless of your goals, the public spots around you can act as training grounds for your own pursuits.

The kinds of activities that encompass physical fitness have expanded greatly since the bygone era of Muscle Beach in the 1940s and ’50s, when disciplined enthusiasts would publicly perform feats of strength and acrobatics glamorized by their outdoor setting: beachside, under the golden California sun.

The public obsession with physical fitness really hit a boom with the ’60s discovery of aerobics or cardio, which emphasized the need to get the lungs pushing and blood pumping. Its subsequent exercise crazes, both largely outdoors (jogging) and in (dance aerobics), peaked in the ’80s, according to Natalia Petrzela, an associate professor of American history at The New School who is writing a book about American fitness culture.

Outdoor yoga practice with BeBhakti Yoga Center at Scenic Hudson’s Long Dock Park in Beacon, N.Y. (Photo courtesy Lauren Magarelli)

The advent of the wellness industry in the late 2000s led to an explosion in at-home fitness options — but often with exorbitant price-tags that limited widespread access. Like gyms, they often took electricity and temperature control as well. That power often wasn’t cleanly produced, leading exercise to contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

Enter parks, whose free facilities offer a platform for thousands looking for safe, open spaces during a lockdown. They’ve helped level things out. “You have this resurgence of the most accessible forms of fitness: people going walking, running, playing outside, using city tennis courts, et cetera,” Petrzela says. “That is something that I hope that we can clearly build on as a culture and a community.” 

Parks improve public health just as much as they do community ties. A robust body of research says that even a brief time spent outdoors can lead to tremendous gains in a person’s physical and mental health. It can also keep people in greater touch with natural rhythms, from the circadian sleep-wake cycle spurred by daylight and darkness to the changing seasons and weather patterns.

“The beautiful thing about parks is that you don’t have to be physically active in that space to enjoy the benefits of that space,” says Sadiya Muqueeth, Director of Community Health at the Trust for Public Land. The trust promotes the proliferation of green spaces for the 100 million people nationwide who don’t live within a 10-minute walk from a park. 

Hikers (Photo: Greg Rosnke / Unsplash)

Parks also serve as natural cooling centers in cities by buffering the heat held by asphalt and concrete and dropping the surrounding area’s temperature by several degrees, Muqueeth says. Summer 2020 has already been one of the hottest on record, and with climate change underway, we’ll all need some relief from the heat waves of the future. 

For now, new outdoor-workout enthusiasts like Naccarato recommend starting small and working your way up no matter what activity you choose. If you can’t run a mile, jog, and if you can’t jog, try a brisk walk. Don’t limit yourself to just moving at a designated time. Stretching throughout the day can help you maintain the mobility that sometimes gets overlooked in a machine-centered gym routine.

And of course, don’t take the scenery or structures around you for granted. Whether it’s a state park or a playground, an open-air environment could be the boost you need to keep at it. 

Bass Notes

Striped Bass caught by Lauren Hepplewhite

Spring is striper season on the Hudson River — a time of joy for fishing enthusiasts and biologists alike.

From early April through the end of May (and, if anglers’ luck holds, into early June), striped bass will continue their annual spawning run, turning the Hudson into a fishing frenzy. What makes catching one so special?

One, their size: Stripers can weigh upwards of 75 pounds (the largest ever caught in the Hudson tipped the scale at 60 lbs.). And two, their feistiness: Stripers put up one hell of a fight when hooked. To take on this challenge, author and Riverkeeper founder Robert Boyle once said, “There are anglers who will sacrifice their jobs, their marriage and even their sacred honor.”

Migrating Up River to Spawning Grounds

For scientists, the homecoming of striped bass in the Hudson provides excitement enough. Named for the 7-8 dark horizontal lines running the length of their silvery sides, stripers are anadromous — they live in saltwater (in their case, the Atlantic Ocean) but migrate to freshwater to breed. They don’t commence their upriver journey until they gauge that the Hudson’s water temperature is just right—58-60 degrees. Their annual spawning destination remains the same throughout their reproductive life. To locate it, they rely on a superior sense of smell (keener than a dog’s).

Upon arrival at their traditional spawning spot, a female will release up to 3 million eggs for males to fertilize. Both their jobs complete, they soon head back to the Atlantic. The eggs drift with the current and hatch (if lucky) within 2-4 days. Juvenile stripers will mature in the Hudson for as long as 2 years before following their parents to the ocean, where they are the mainstay of a substantial sport-fishing industry spanning from New England to Florida.

Trouble From Toxins and Overfishing

The interaction between Hudson Valley residents and striped bass has taken many turns since Native Americans caught and ate them. In the 17th century, the fish were so plentiful that colonists used them as fertilizer, until overfishing caused such a decline in this important food source that lawmakers banned the practice. As late as the 1930s, some 300 commercial fisheries along the Hudson netted striped bass (along with shad and sturgeon). The industry came crashing to a halt in 1976, when New York State banned it because of PCB pollution.

Since then, populations of striped bass in the river have seesawed, from a low of 5 million in 1982 to a high of 56 million in 2006. Responding to the conclusion of a 2018 study by the Northeast Fisheries Science Center that striped bass populations along the Atlantic Seaboard have “declined below the threshold for a sustainable level,” the state this year instituted stricter fishing regulations. Anglers may keep 1 striper/day ranging in length between 18-28 inches. They must return all fish outside that limit.

The Fish that Helped Found Scenic Hudson

Striped bass proved an essential partner in Scenic Hudson’s founding campaign to stop a hydroelectric plant from defacing Storm King Mountain, which sits next to one of the river’s prime striper spawning grounds. Scientific analyses showed that the facility would kill striper eggs and larvae by the millions. This dire news drew fishing organizations throughout the Northeast to the campaign; in essence, it wound up sounding the project’s death knell. Scenic Hudson has repaid the favor by conserving more striped bass spawning and nursery grounds at Haverstraw Bay, Esopus Meadows and Stockport Flats.

The Starry Poughkeepsie Regatta (and the Real-Life Boys in the Boat)

It’s common to see rowers on the Hudson River these days. At least a dozen local high schools, as well as Marist and Vassar Colleges, have competitive crew teams that practice in the picturesque stretch of the river from Newburgh to Poughkeepsie. In addition, community rowing programs for adults and juniors have been growing rapidly since the Hudson River Rowing Association opened their doors in 1998. 

But many people don’t realize that Poughkeepsie was once the “Rowing Capital of the World,” inspiring a story that’s just hitting the big-time again with the opening of the major new movie The Boys in the Boat on Dec. 25, 2023.

Rowing in the famous Poughkeepsie Regatta. (Photo: Archives and Special Collections at Marist College)

In 1895 Poughkeepsie hosted the first Intercollegiate Rowing Regatta. Only three schools competed: Columbia, Cornell, and the University of Pennsylvania. But the annual event, which was soon dubbed the Poughkeepsie Regatta, continued until 1949 and grew in size and stature, attracting the best college teams from around the country. 

These races also drew tens of thousands of spectators annually. The luckiest traveled alongside the rowers. They sat on grandstands attached to flatcars chugging down the rail line on the Hudson’s western shore. The crews raced downstream from today’s Culinary Institute of America campus in Hyde Park to Poughkeepsie’s Mid-Hudson Bridge (passing under the railroad bridge that is now the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park).

The who’s who of the Hudson Valley — including Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, the Astors, and the Vanderbilts — turned out to watch the races. Hundreds of boats and yachts, and occasionally even Navy destroyers, sailed to Poughkeepsie to watch the event. World War II interrupted the Regatta, but afterwards it returned, bigger than ever — prompting massive celebrations, parties, and even the crowning of the Poughkeepsie Regatta Queen.

Lucky spectators followed the rowing action on a moving “Observation Train” that ran along the west side of the river. (Photo: Archives and Special Collections at Marist College)

In the early years, elite Eastern schools dominated the Regatta. But in 1912, Western schools started getting in on the action. After winning at Poughkeepsie, the University of California crews of 1928, 1932, and 1948 all went straight to the Olympics.

But no team received as much attention as the nine scrappy men from the University of Washington who swept the Poughkeepsie Regatta in 1936. The story was gripping: They overcame a world of adversity to upset the Ivy League establishment, earning them a team boathouse on Poughkeepsie’s “Regatta Row,” as well as their own dining hall.

As working-class products of a public school, the team represented such a big win over the elite private-school set that their story resonated nationally. And since their story captured the public imagination, part of their legacy has been expanding the appeal of the sport to the more diverse crews that row today, including many women.

The sport’s appeal has expanded to the more diverse crews that row today, including many women. (Photo: Jason Torres / Hudson River Rowing Association)

Prior to winning their race here the “boys” also rowed upstream to Franklin Roosevelt’s house, hoping to visit with the president. Unfortunately, he wasn’t in (although his son, himself a competitive rower, reportedly invited them in for a happy evening of chatting about the sport).

Later that year, they had better luck at the Olympics in Berlin, narrowly beating out Italy and Germany to snag the gold medal. Their rags-to-riches story was chronicled in the 2014 bestseller The Boys in the Boat, which has just been made into a movie directed by George Clooney and starring Callum Turner.

In September 2021, the Hudson River Rowing Association and the Mid-Hudson Rowing Association hosted a historic, 5,000-meter race along the course used from 1895 to 1949 by the Intercollegiate Rowing Association. It marked the first time in more than a decade that boats competed for the fastest time on the route. The race was so popular that it has now become an annual event.

Rowing in the modern-day Poughkeepsie Regatta. (Photo: Jason Torres / Hudson River Rowing Association)
Olivia Abel is a staff copywriter at Scenic Hudson. A former editor-in-chief of Hudson Valley Magazine, she also teaches journalism and communications at Marist College. An avid hiker and biker (and new pickleball junkie), she never tires of searching for the Hudson Valley’s best cup of coffee.
Reed Sparling is a retired staff writer and historian at Scenic Hudson. He is the former editor of Hudson Valley Magazine, and continues to co-edit the Hudson River Valley Review, a scholarly journal published by the Hudson River Valley Institute at Marist College.
Footage of competitors and spectators at the 1934 Poughkeepsie Regatta. (Video: British Pathé)

Cruising History

hudson river day line steamer

For a little over a century — from 1863 to 1971, in fact—a cruise on the Hudson River Day Line was a must-do Hudson Valley experience. The side-wheel steamships that plied between Manhattan and Albany offered passengers live music, a couple of restaurants and even a barber shop along with magnificent views. No wonder the boats were called “floating palaces.”

hudson river day line steamer
Painting of Hudson River Day Line Steamer by Alexander Hamilton

For many, the Day Line provided transportation to vacations in the Catskills, or a daytrip to amusements at Bear Mountain or Kingston Point. At its high point in 1925, the line’s seven ships carried two million passengers.

The boats are long gone — travel by car and airplane did them in. The Alexander Hamilton, the last of the Hudson River Day Line fleet, ended its 40-year run on the Hudson in 1971. Today it rests in a watery grave off New Jersey.