Peekskill may be the gateway to the Hudson Valley, but Cold Spring is the gateway drug.
Nowhere else are all the pleasures of the Valley—beautiful views, rich history, walkable downtown, great restaurants, interesting shops, wondrous hiking trails—compacted together in so small and easily accessible a package. While lots of Hudson Valley towns have train stations, the Cold Spring station drops you off right in the thick of things, with downtown on one side and the Hudson River and jaw-dropping views of the Western Highlands on the other. Is it any wonder that so many current Hudson Valley residents first fell in love with the area after taking the train up from New York City and spending a car-less day or two in Cold Spring?
We should start with that view. Walk a block west from the train station to reach the end of the world. Or, more specifically, World’s End: The narrowest, deepest part of the Hudson River, given that name by Colonial-era sailors who noted that the sharp, glacial-hewn turns in the landscape sometimes make it look as if the river just stops. There’s views of the West Point campus to the south, Crow’s Nest and Storm King mountains in front, and the river opening back up to the north, with the island ruins of Bannerman’s Castle just beyond the bend.
The only thing that could possibly make the view better would be ice cream, but guess what? Moo Moo’s Creamery is also on the waterfront, serving an ever-changing rotation of homemade flavors that are worth the long lines. If there are no benches available, walk north to the expansive Dockside Park or south to the secluded Foundry Dock Park for more chances to take in the river. Between these parks, the views, the ice cream, an empanada lunch at Cafe Rincon Argentino, and dinner at the Hudson House Inn (founded back in 1832,) one could have themselves a perfect day in Cold Spring without ever leaving the waterfront.
That would be silly though, since there’s more to see. Head under the train tracks to pop out on Cold Spring’s Main Street. Travelling with a toddler and need to take a break already? The Cold Spring Depot restaurant is right here, with its lovely outdoor patio and bar right next to the train tracks. (If the idea of trackside dining does not appeal to you, you have never been the parent of a child who was obsessed with trains.)
For decades, Cold Spring worked the “village frozen in time” angle pretty hard, priding itself on a Main Street full of antique shops, restaurants that ignored culinary trends, and not much else. But change has slowly been coming to Cold Spring, perhaps via inspiration (or pressure) from ever-hip Beacon which lies less than 10 minutes upriver. To be sure, there are still enough antique shops here to get your 1950s vibe on. And the best of the village’s classic restaurants are still going strong, remaining classics for a reason. The crowd-pleasing French fare at Le Bouchon and Italian at Catherine’s Tuscan Grill are as dependable as ever, and their quaint garden seatings helped them weather the COVID storm. Riverview Reasturant’s main selling point may be right there in the name, but you don’t get to stay in business for 80 years unless the food is good too, and their brick oven pizzas are delectable whether you’re eating them while soaking up a glorious sunset over Storm King or the in your kitchen the next morning while you down cold leftover slices for breakfast. And if time spent whiling away at the Foundry Cafe is not subtracted from the end of your life, then me and half of Cold Spring’s population are going to live to be at least 140.
But things began to slowly change about 10 years ago when Hudson Hil’s opened on Main Street: an inviting cafe with a wraparound porch and all the familiar breakfast classics, supplemented by Mexican, Creole, Scandavian, and Southern dishes, all with an emphasis on local ingredients. Hot sauce had come to Cold Spring at last. Today the fires are also stoked by Spice Revolution, a spice shop that doubles as a bakery, meaning you can walk out with a jar of szechuan peppercorns and a vegan matcha chip cookie as well. If you need some dairy to put the heat out, the Cold Spring Cheese Shop opened in 2018 with an impressive, rotating selection of cheeses from around the world, with an emphasis on New York State goods. Or wash it down with a local beer while getting a hip haircut at Barber N’ Brew.
With Cold Spring menus getting more adventurous, retail aimed at a younger, hipper crowd soon followed. Local artisanal jams share space with luxurious cashmere blankets at The Cold Spring General Store. Supplies For Creative Living offers exquisite art supplies—including ink made from local pinecones—and art workshops as well. Cold Spring Apothecary makes their own beauty and wellness products while also offering facials and massages in an onsite spa. Split Rocks Books opened to give Cold Spring the friendly, well-stocked, independent bookstore it so desperately needed, and last month Wyld opened its doors to fill the “hipster plant store” niche (it’s the place with the slogan “The Plant Life Chose Me” painted on the window.)
By now you’ve hit Cold Spring’s sole traffic light and run out of Main Street. The street does continue past the light, but by then you’re technically in Nelsonville (we told you Cold Spring was small.) Hang a left and, after a 30-minute walk, you’ll reach Breakneck Ridge, a sheer scramble into the Highlands that is consistently ranked as the most popular hiking trail in the country east of the Mississippi. Is it worth the hype? Quite frankly, yes. The dizzying climb rewards the brave with spectacular views of the Hudson River. Is it going to be insanely crowded? Unless you’re there at 6am on a Wednesday, yes. (There is literally a trailhead-side Metro-North stop just for hikers.)
You’re better off exploring Little Stony Point or Mt. Taurus, two trails that you’ll pass on the way to Breakneck, although both of those hikes will probably also be justifiably crowded. The pro move would be to stop by Old Souls on Main Street for a map, advice, and any hiking supplies you forgot (You did bring a water bottle, right? And you’re not wearing flip flops, correct?) A quick scan of New York-New Jersey Trail Map #102 (pick up a copy here if you don’t have one already) will reveal a few marked trails into the Highlands from Nelsonville’s side streets. You’ll eventually end up on the same peaks as everyone else, but with the bonus of having some quiet time on the trails first. And if this was your first trip to the Hudson Valley, by the time you get to the top of Mt. Taurus you’ll have already decided that it won’t be your last.