An easy jaunt from NYC (about 80 miles away), the small, neo-bohemian enclave at New Paltz holds a reputation for culture, the great outdoors, and all-around fun that far surpasses its size. Home to the popular State University of New York (SUNY) at New Paltz, it’s a college town at its core – but New Paltz is so much more than that. It’s a springboard into the Shawangunk Mountains (aka “The Gunks”) that stand majestically on the town fringes, where hiking trails, glacially carved lakes, and some of the best rock-climbing east of the Mississippi await. Fitting for its bucolic Hudson Valley locale, farms, orchards, and wineries on the outskirts of town beckon visitors to their bounty.
Back in the village center, an old rail trail-turned-linear park welcomes scenic strolling and biking, while lively Main Street and its offshoots come lined with hippie-flavored boutiques, farm-to-table eateries, charming coffeehouses, and plenty of watering holes, too. And then there’s the rich history: New Paltz is one of the oldest communities in the country, with the colonial-era architecture to prove it. Be sure to make the most of your visit, with this handy hit list of the 8 top things to do in New Paltz.
Step Back in Time on Huguenot Street
New Paltz’s roots go deep, reaching back many centuries to the days of the indigenous Esopus tribe, on to the start of the town’s colonial chapter in 1677. Catch a glimpse of what times were like for both groups of early settlers on transporting Huguenot Street, a 10-acre National Historic Landmark District fronting the Wallkill River.
Numerous structures still stand from the 17th-century seedling community established here by French Huguenot families fleeing religious persecution in Europe. Said to be the oldest continuously inhabited street in the U.S., the site includes seven preserved colonial stone houses, a reconstructed 1717 Huguenot church, as well as a replica wigwam. Gain a sense of what life was like for New Paltz’s pioneers via guided walking tours, archeological sites, interpretive displays, and special programming (like haunted tours in October).
Tip: Also on Huguenot Street, a visit to the 56-acre Nyquist-Harcourt Wildlife Sanctuary, with its lovely river and mountain views, oxbow landscape of wetlands and ponds, and rich bird life, makes it easy to see why these early settlers so happily chose this spot.
Go Shopping on Main Street
New Paltz spills over with an assortment of cool bars, coffee shops, eateries, and mom-and-pop shops that propose a dose of inspired retail therapy. Most boutiques line the walkable main drag, Main Street, and the streets that offshoot it. Look out for Groovy Blueberry, loaded with ‘60s-styled clothing; indie bookshops Inquiring Minds Bookstore and Barner Books; retro record store Jack’s Rhythms; sporting goods outfitter Rock and Snow; or Handmade & More for women’s clothing and unique gifts. Or, try the town square-esque Water Street Market, a mini open-air shopping village containing stores like the Antiques Barn, chockablock with finds from 26 dealers, and Himalayan Arts, hocking merchandise sourced from Himalayan cultures like Tibet.
Head Into the Mountains
The Shawangunk Ridge, the Shawangunk Mountains, or simply The Gunks – however you want to call it, the mountain ridge that presides over New Paltz demands further exploration. Visitors have three main entry points to explore the mountain terrain, forests, lakes, and waterfalls contained here, where a bevy of opportunity for hiking, biking, rock-climbing, swimming, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and even horseback riding awaits.
Technically situated within the neighboring town of Gardiner, the 12,000-acre Minnewaska State Park Preserve proposes plenty of hiking and carriage road trails leading to sites that include three “sky lakes,” sheer clifftop overlooks touting breathtaking Hudson Valley views, and waterfalls like Awosting Falls.
Next door, the 8,000-acre Mohonk Preserve offers scenic trails (like the Bonticou Crag), but is better known as the gateway to prime rock-climbing country, including popular steep-faced sites like The Trapps. In-town outfitters Alpine Endeavors can (literally) show you the ropes on guided climbing outings here.
Better yet, base your stay at (or purchase a day pass to) the transporting, Victorian-style Mohonk Mountain House, a lavish all-inclusive resort dating to 1869. Perched on Lake Mohonk and adjoining the Mohonk Preserve, the lovely landscaped grounds here offer easy access to the ridge’s landmark Skytop Tower.
Hike or Bike the Rail Trail
There’s no need to dash off into the mountains for a little taste of nature, though: Sections of the 22-mile-long Wallkill Valley Rail Trail – following the line of the now-defunct Wallkill Valley Railroad, which ceased operations in the late ‘70s – runs right through the heart of New Paltz, continuing on to the neighboring towns of Gardiner, Rosendale, and Kingston. The linear park is frequented by hikers, joggers, cyclists, and dog-walkers; in winter, cross-country skiers and snowshoers step in.
Expect a rich palette of pastoral features: orchards and farms, forests and meadows, distant mountain views and bridges spanning rivers and creeks. While most of the trail surface is made up of packed dirt and gravel, there is one paved section in New Paltz (running from Plains Road to Broadhead Avenue). Tip: Pedal the path with bikes rented from New Paltz's Bicycle Depot.
Wander the SUNY New Paltz Campus
The vibrancy of New Paltz is largely owed to the contagiously youthful energy that SUNY New Paltz’s students and academic life lend to it. A stroll through its energized campus is a pleasure, especially in the more atmospheric historic sections that include the Old Main building, which dates back more than a century.
Pop into the on-site Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art for its permanent collection and rotating exhibitions showcasing artists from the Hudson Valley and around the globe. Or, visit the John R. Kirk Planetarium, which hosts free public shows in its 44-seat domed theater on select evenings; the Smolen Observatory likewise hosts public telescope viewings on scheduled "astronomy nights." The university puts on a host of music and theater performances, as well as special lectures, throughout the year, too, including the annual PianoSummer series of summertime piano concerts.
Get Your Art Fix at Local Galleries
If the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art has whet your appetite for even more art, you’re in luck, with several quality arts institutions set within New Paltz's midst. Try the Unison Arts Center for its outdoor sculpture walk, cultural performances, and arts-themed workshops; DM Weil Gallery, featuring a colorful contemporary arts collection from painter DM Weil; or the Mark Gruber Gallery, showcasing fine art shows from local Hudson Valley artists.
Quench Your Thirst at Breweries, Cideries, Distilleries & Wineries
The Hudson Valley has seen boom times of late for small-batch brewing and distilling, and New Paltz hasn't missed a boozy beat. Taste local craft brews in the heart of town at spots like The Gilded Otter gastropub; Bacchus, an all-in-one restaurant, brewery, and pool hall; or the tasting room outpost of Accord-based Arrowood Farm- Brewery. Hard cider’s on the menu, too, at Brooklyn Cider House at Twin Star Orchards or Kettleborough Cider House. For spirits, Coppersea Distilling turns out whisky, bourbon, and brandy using "farm-to-glass" distilling methods; they're open for tours and tastings.
More traditional than trendy, New Paltz falls within one of the oldest wine-producing areas in the U.S. Two wineries are located in town, including Adair Vineyards and Robibero Family Vineyards; the latter is a stop on the Shawangunk Wine Trail, a regional wine trail featuring 13 Hudson Valley wineries.
Get Farm-Fresh Fare Straight From the Source
The Hudson Valley, with its fertile farmlands flanking the Hudson River, has long been renowned for the generous bounty of the land. New Paltz is no exception, with several quality farms open for public visits. Dressel Farms ranks tops for “you-pick” produce, with a spring-to-fall season spanning everything from strawberries and peaches to pumpkins and apples. More dedicated apple orchards abound—try Twin Star Orchards, Jenkins Lueken Orchards, or Apple Hill Farm.