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Launch the New Year Right With a First Day Hike or Walk

This fresh January 1st tradition can energize you with immersion in nature around the Hudson Valley. Here are some great options for 2024.

by Nicole Formisano

New Year’s Eve tradition demands a celebration. But in recent years a certain New Year’s Day tradition is also gaining traction: the First Day Hike or Walk. Apparently, a growing number of Americans realize there is something special about spending Jan. 1 in the great outdoors, connecting with their environment, their community, and themselves.

Snow isn’t always present on New Year’s Day, but it adds a fun element for hiking when it is. (Photo: @mountainmama_amk)

“I invite all New Yorkers to begin the New Year by experiencing New York’s beautiful landscapes and enjoying the environmental and cultural legacy we call home,” says New York Gov. Kathy Hochul.

For 2024, there are 80 official First Day Hike locations across New York State, with more than a dozen options in the Hudson Valley. Each hike is different, and people of any age, ability, or experience level can find one suited to them. (Check out these tips to stay warm and prepare for a winter walk.)

The official tradition of a First Day Hike began 30 years ago in Massachusetts. (Photo: @someguydoug)

First Day Hikes, a program that organizes guided hikes each Jan. 1, started in Massachusetts in 1992 as a way to encourage people to spend more time outdoors. The inaugural hike, outside of Boston, attracted 380 participants. In 2011 the tradition spread to other states in the Northeast, and by 2012 all 50 states were participating in what is now nationally known as America’s State Parks First Day Hikes. New York got involved 14 years ago.

In the Hudson Valley, there are a wide variety of hikes to choose from. Many begin in the morning, but there are afternoon options, and even one hike that leaves at 3:30 p.m. with the goal of experiencing a Hudson River sunset. Some events welcome dogs and kids. Some hikes are rigorous, while others could more correctly be considered strolls. Many of the hikes have a strong focus on history, while some may be geared toward pointing out local wildlife.

On New Year’s Day 2021, nearly 55,000 people collectively hiked over 133,000 miles across the country. (Photo: @mountainmama_amk)

While most of the First Day Hikes are sponsored by the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation — which is turning 100 in 2024! — other organizations are also starting to plan their own first day hike or walk events.  

For Laura Tully, assistant regional director of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, the appeal of a First Day Hike or walk is obvious. “There’s nothing better than getting outside, getting fresh air, stretching your legs, just being outside and away from the computer or social media,” she says. “It’s such a good, clean way to start your new year.”

New York state parks began offering these year-launching hikes on a state-wide level 14 years ago, and today has more than 80 participating locations, with more than a dozen in the Hudson Valley. (Photo: @tristatehikers)

Stony Kill Farm: Wappingers Falls

This 2-mile Dutchess County hike is gentle and kid-friendly. Starting at the Woodland Trail at 11 a.m. and transitioning into a slight incline up the Verplanck Ridge, this walk will reward you with views of Mount Beacon and beyond.

Olana State Historic Site: Hudson

The 250-acre site in Columbia County hosts two First Day Hikes. At 10 a.m., bring your pup on an easy 1-mile walk, with expansive views of the land that inspired 19th-century artist Frederic Church. The 1 p.m. walk travels over the same route, but will focus on discussion regarding Olana’s special winter exhibit, Spectacle: Frederic Church & The Business of Art. In addition, hot chocolate, coffee and tea, as well as sketching materials, will be provided in the Wagon House Education Center from 1-3 p.m. as part of Artmaking in the Afternoon.

Minnewaska State Park Preserve (Sam’s Point Area): Cragsmoor

Bring the entire family for an invigorating 3-mile loop snowshoe trek through this scenic park with unparalleled views of the Shawangunk Mountains. Snowshoe rentals are available for $5 per person. (If there is not enough snow, this will simply be a good, old-fashioned hike.) The fun starts at 1:30 p.m. Pre-registration is required by calling Sam’s Point at 845-647-7989.

Rockefeller State Park Preserve: Mount Pleasant

This Westchester County preserve, founded by the Rockefeller family in 1983, offers a 1.5-mile First Day Hike along the Hudson River. Plus, bring your binoculars: you may spot a few of the 180+ bird species that call the preserve home, including bald eagles and red-tailed hawks. No pets allowed. This walk requires registration.

(Photo: Diana Richards)

Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park: Yorktown Heights

Fans of leisurely strolling, this 2-mile Westchester County hike is for you. The guided walk is accessible for the whole family, and a great way to start 2024 with some physical and mental stimulation. Stroll through local flora and fauna, as well as along the shore of scenic Mohansic Lake. No pets allowed on this one. 

Walkway Over the Hudson: Poughkeepsie and Highland

What could be better than starting the new year with a walk along the Hudson River? How about a walk over the river. The 210-foot-high pedestrian bridge is the second longest in the world and features incomparable views of the river and nearby mountains. The 1.2-mile walk is as flat as it gets, and refreshments are offered on both sides of the bridge. Well-behaved pets are welcome. 

Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve: Cold Spring

The people at this preserve know how to kick off the new year right. Beginning at 11 a.m., this fun-loving First Day Hike commences with free hot cocoa, coffee, snacks, music, and a warm fire. Participants can also choose the trail that is best for their comfort level — either the 1-mile Little Stony Point, or a 3-mile hike to the ruins of the nearby Cornish Estate.

Taconic State Park: Copake Falls

This guided hike begins at 1 p.m. and leads hikers on a trail through the historic Copake Ironworks to the scenic Bash Bish Falls, which lies on the state line between New York and Massachusetts. (It’s the highest waterfall in Massachusetts.) Children and leashed pets are welcome on the 3.5-mile hike, and participants can enjoy a bonfire and refreshments afterward.

If you catch it right, a First Day Hike can offer a glimpse of sun, and a feeling of renewal. (Photo: Diana Richards)

Sterling Forest State Park: Tuxedo

This unbroken deep-forest habitat in Orange County is the setting for an easy 4-mile hike around the beautiful Sterling Lake. Along the way, hikers will learn more about the historic ruins — some predating the Revolutionary War — from a once-thriving iron industry.

Staatsburgh State Historic Site: Staatsburgh

This 1.2-mile moderate hike kicks off at 11 a.m. from near the beautiful Beaux Arts mansion in Mills State Park and includes a visit to a small, little-known cemetery in the woods. The hike will return near the mansion for optional hot cocoa. No hikers under age 12. Leashed dogs are welcome.

Old Croton Aqueduct State Historic Park

Meet at 1 p.m. and spend the next two hours walking a total of two easy miles on a loop hike along the Aqueduct and atop the stunning Croton Dam. The Aqueduct was completed in 1842 to supply fresh water to New York City residents. The hike leader will share the fascinating history of these amazing structures.

Greenport Conservation Area: Hudson

This one-hour guided walk starts at 3:30 p.m., later than all the others, so you can enjoy the first sunset of the year with views of the Hudson River and Catskill Mountains. The walk traverses a one-mile flat, gravel path and leashed dogs are welcome. There’s a suggested $5 donation to support the Columbia Land Conservatory.

Kingston City Walk: Kingston

This is the 9th annual Day One Walk in this popular river town. In previous years, participants strolled through uptown. This year, walkers gather at Kingston Point Beach at 1 p.m. and end a few hours later at the Good Work Institute’s Greenhouse on James St. The idea: “We put aside what divides us and focus on what unites us – our humanity. This is just one day to simply walk together.”

Nicole Formisano is a freelance writer focused on community and environmental work. She earned an undergraduate degree in English and journalism from Marist College. Her work has previously appeared in TigerBeat and Long Island Press. 

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