Spring in the Hudson Valley is a season of beauty, balance, and transition. Cooler nights, warmer days, and all the sights, sounds, and smells of a landscape awakening from its winter slumber are on full display. In the highlands, from the Shawangunk Ridge to the Catskills, the air is full of new life. The creeks are swollen with snowmelt and the trees are budding. The sound of birdsong graces every hillside and the breeze carries with it the fragrance of fresh earth. The trails, though muddy and wet, have not yet seen the traffic of summer and, if the stars align, you can still find yourself all alone in the wilderness—It’s prime time for hiking.

And, much like it does the flora and fauna of the forest, the lengthening days and rising temperatures bring forth one of man’s finer rituals of the season: the beer garden.

So make it a day trip and top-off your hike with a sun-soaked beer at one of the Hudson Valley’s many outstanding breweries.

Pitch pines, rocks, and open air on the excellent Gertrude’s Nose Trail. | Credit: John Lepak

Gertrude’s Nose & Yard Owl Craft Brewery

Visible from the Thruway, the formidable wall of the Shawangunk Ridge is recognized far-and-wide as one of the best trad climbing areas in the East. “The Gunks,” as they’re more-commonly known, are also host to some top-notch trails, with miles of graded carriage roads, woodsy singletrack, and rocky scrambles that’ll keep even the most ambitious hikers, runners, and bikers busy for a bit.

Minnewaska State Park Preserve, occupying the southwestern section of the Shawangunk Ridge, is replete with stunning lakes, dramatic waterfalls, and airy ridge walks. Consider linking the Lake Minnewaska and Millbrook Mountain Carriage Roads with the Gertrude’s Nose and Millbrook Mountain Trails for a great, varied 7.0-mile loop.

Please note that Minnewaska State Park Preserve charges a $10 entry fee per vehicle. Help limit the spread of COVID-19 by bringing exact change or buying the $80 Empire Pass—good for use at state parks all over New York for a year—ahead of time.

In the nearby town of Gardiner, you’ll find Yard Owl Craft Brewery, a Belgian-inspired operation that focuses on saisons and farmhouse ales. Their dedication to traditional Belgian brewing methods results in a strong line of flavorful, aromatic beers. Get yourself started with their flagship Farmhouse Ale and go from there.

Early spring views from atop Bonticou Crag in the Gunks. | Credit: John Lepak

Bonticou Crag & Arrowood Farms

Directly adjacent to Minnewaska State Park Preserve is the privately-owned Mohonk Preserve, an 8,000-acre nature preserve occupying the northeastern section of the Shawangunk Ridge. Much of the climbing for which the Gunks are known for—the steep, juggy, overhanging routes of the Trapps and the Near Trapps—is located within Mohonk. And though, just as in Minnewaska, there is a great variety of hiking here, the steep character that has made Mohonk known has occasion to imbue itself on its hiking.

This is best-evidenced at Bonticou Crag, one of the area’s justifiably popular features. Accessible by short loop hike, Bonticou Crag offers a sample-size taste of everything the Mohonk Preserve has to offer in just 2.3 miles. The views from atop Bonticou Crag are stunning—sheer white cliffs, rolling hills, and the skyline of the Catskills in the distance—but the exposed scramble up may be the funnest route the Gunks has to offer that doesn’t require a harness and a rope.

Please note that the Mohonk Preserve charges a day rate of $15 for access to their trails. Help limit the spread of COVID-19 by bringing exact change or becoming a member for $105 a year.

Just a fifteen minute drive from the trailhead is Arrowood Farms, a brewery, distillery, and working farm in the hamlet of Accord. A bucolic agricultural setting, complete with animals, gardens, an apiary, and (of course) hops, make Arrowood an easy place to spend an afternoon after a morning on the trail. Kick back with an Accordian Lager and enjoy.

Balsam Lake Mountain’s fire tower under clear skies. | Credit: John Lepak

Balsam Lake Mountain & Catskill Brewery

In spite of their relatively low elevation, the Catskill Mountains are a wild and rugged place. The trails are tough, the ascents are steep, and mountain weather can make things interesting quickly. And though their popularity has skyrocketed of late, it’s still not difficult to chase down a feeling of remoteness in the high peaks and hidden cloves of the Catskills.

At 3,750 feet above sea level, Balsam Lake Mountain is the westernmost of the Catskills’ high peaks. So named for its dense forests of balsam fir, the summit of Balsam Lake Mountain would actually be viewless—were it not for a very popular fire tower that offers sweeping panoramic views in every direction.

A 3.7 mile loop, linking the Dry Brook Ridge and Balsam Lake Mountain Trails, via the Beaver Kill Road Trailhead to the mountain’s southwest quickly gains the summit by the most direct route.

For the peakbaggers in our midst it’s worth noting that Balsam Lake Mountain had made two tick lists: the Catskill 3500, a list of the region’s highest mountains, and; the Catskill Fire Tower Five, a list of the region’s peaks with erstwhile fire towers.

“Honest hardworking beer” is the mantra and that’s exactly what you can expect from Catskill Brewery in Livingston Manor. Locally sourced ingredients, pure Catskill Mountain water, and a commitment to the environment—their brewery is housed in a LEED Gold Certified building—echo that sentiment. Rest those weary legs by enjoying a couple Ball Lightning Pilsners in their complete-with-food-truck beer garden.

Looking south from Buck Ridge on West Kill Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak

West Kill Mountain & West Kill Brewing

Spruceton Road, in the heart of the Catskills, is exactly the kind of place hikers and trail runners dream about. Hemmed in on three sides by mountains, the road is not only gorgeous, but it runs through the confluence of several excellent hiking trails and bushwhacks that access half-dozen Catskill High Peaks including Halcott, North Dome, Rusk, West Kill, Hunter, and Southwest Hunter Mountains. It’s the kind of place that sticks in memory and is very, very easy to return to.

West Kill Mountain, at 3,881 feet, is the last Catskill High Peak hikers encounter on a westbound traverse of the Devil’s Path. As viewed from Spruceton Road, it’s mass is impressive and forbidding. Though it is massive, it also is, in actuality, one of the more pleasant ascents in the area—and Buck Ridge Lookout, a south-facing viewpoint just east of the summit, is absolutely stellar.

From the parking area at the end of Spruceton Road, a 6.0 mile out-and-back hike starting on the blue-blazed Diamond Notch Trail and turning right on the red-blazed Devil’s Path passes by the lovely Diamond Notch Falls before climbing West Kill’s eastern flanks to Buck Ridge and, ultimately, the marked but viewless summit.

Situated on a former dairy farm right on Spruceton Road, West Kill Brewing delivers outstanding beer that’s inspired by the Catskills themselves, leveraging locally harvested and foraged ingredients. Their outdoor seating area—with a gorgeous view of West Kill Mountain and Saint Anne’s Peak—is as good as it gets. The stand-by Brookie Lager and Kaaterskill IPA are always worth giving a go.