Since it’s opening in October 2009, the Walkway over the Hudson has become one of the most popular parks and attractions in all of New York State. It spans 1.28 miles over the Hudson River and stands 212-feet high over water and boat traffic with scenic views north to the Catskill Mountains and south past the Mid-Hudson Bridge to the Hudson Highlands. It is open every day from 7:00 a.m. to sunset and has entrances on its east side at 87 Haviland Road Highland and on its west side at 61 Parker Avenue in Poughkeepsie. There is even a glass elevator to facilitate visitors arriving via the Poughkeepsie Train Station at N. Water St. Each of these locations is ADA-compliant, and the Poughkeepsie parking area has a day use fee of $5. Open all year-round, this is a fantastic place to enjoy a nice jog, bike ride, walk with a dog, or stroll with the family. More than 500,000 people visit here each year from all over the world! There are special programs throughout the year along with available group tours and self-guided mobile tours. Come experience the excitement of this historic landmark and explore the Hudson Valley from an unforgettable eagle’s-eye-view!
The Poughkeepsie-Highland bridge was constructed as a corridor to connect freight and passenger trains across the Hudson River between Boston, New York, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington during a time when the bustling industrial revolution called for an ever increasing demand for the rapid transportation of raw materials to manufacturers. When it opened in 1889, this bridge was the first Hudson River rail crossing north of New York City, designed as a more direct route to move freight between New England’s industrial center and the Midwest’s agriculture.
Its construction was considered to be a technological marvel of the time. The four base piers of the bridge were constructed with Rosendale cement mined in limestone quarries just a few miles away. (You can learn more about these mines by hiking around Willow Kiln Park and Joppenbergh Mountain.) Even today, engineers are impressed by its immaculate construction and have determined that these support pillars were sunk so deep into the river bed that they have not moved an inch since they were set over a hundred years ago. There were two sets of tracks installed until 1918, when a gauntlet track, also called interleaved track, was added to the infrastructure in order to handle the weight of diesel locomotives.
As years progressed, this bridge continued to expand its use and facilitate transportation throughout the state and country. Passenger trains regularly used the bridge over the next several decades and trolley cars, termed “rapid transit,” were modified to run on both trolley beds and railroads to serve tourists, students and shoppers. West Point Military Academy even got in on the action with trains transporting fans to football games from 1921 to 1930. The overall impact of this connection point across the Hudson River Valley proved tremendous! At its peak as many as 50 trains and 3,500 rail cars crossed the bridge each day including rail cars filled with cattle, hogs, milk, and even the traveling circus. The high quality of steel used for its construction never needed to be painted; however, it did get a face change to the color black during World War II to make it less visible in the event of an air attack.
In 1974, activity came to a halt with a fire that ignited the wooden railroad ties. Firemen could not bring enough water up to the bridge’s high elevation to effectively fight the flames, and the emergency water line, intended for fighting a fire, had frozen and burst the previous winter. By this time though, the trucking industry had greatly expanded throughout the country and led to an overall decline of rail traffic. Before it was destroyed by the fire, the bridge was only averaging one train per day, so the cost to fix the bridge was not deemed worthwhile; it would remain in disrepair for decades. Although there were attempts to have it dismantled, the price tag for doing so was enormous, so the bridge continued to sit unoccupied.
It wasn’t until 1992 that a groundswell had formed in an effort to restore the bridge for car-free use. Local residents became energized by the idea of uniting Dutchess and Ulster Counties with a multipurpose recreational trail, and businesses near the riverfront saw the project as big opportunity to bring more tourism to the region. It became a partnership between federal and state government, businesses, and foundations, and it mobilized the whole community to get involved. Eventually, a combination of public and private funding totaling $38 million paid for the paved 24-foot wide walkway that opened in 2009 on the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s exploration of the Hudson River. The project would not have been possible without the generosity of many friends and donors of New York State Parks and the Dyson Foundation.
In 2014, a 21-story glass elevator was installed to give access to Poughkeepsie’s waterfront at Upper Landing Park. Thousands of spectators travel to the walkway via the Metro North Railroad (MTR) and Amtrak trains by taking a ride to the Poughkeepsie Trail Station. A journey from Grand Central Terminal takes about two hours.
The elevator is about a 10-minute walk from the train station. From here you can enjoy a pleasant walk down to the riverfront and through Victor C. Waryas Park up the Promenade. Proceed past the Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum and over a bridge across the Fall Kill that leads to the Upper Landing Promenade and Upper Landing Park at the base of the elevator. Eat at the Poughkeepsie Ice House on the Hudson, or several other restaurants next to the station including Mahoney’s Irish Pub, River Station, and Amici’s.
There are events on the Walkway throughout the year including various walks for charities, a marathon, and a spectacular display of fireworks on Independence Day. This July 4th event is especially unique because it offers the opportunity to view the fireworks launched from a barge far below and blasting apart at eye level.
In the 1980s, federal laws permitted the railroads to close unprofitable lines to avoid bankruptcy and led the way for these former track beds to be converted into recreational pedestrian routes. The Walkway Over the Hudson is part of this expanding Hudson Valley Rail Trail Network, and in 2016 it was introduced into the Rail-Trail Hall of Fame. You can walk to the flagpole mounted at the mid-point of the bridge or continue onto the Ulster County's Hudson Valley Rail Trail to the west (map) or to the William R. Steinhaus Dutchess Rail Trail to the east (map). Ambitious adventurers can embark on the Walkway Loop Trail, which is about 4.5-miles long and connects the walkway with the city of Poughkeepsie, the Mid-Hudson Bridge and Johnson-Iorio Park as well as Franny Reece State Park in Highland. (Franny Reese State Park consists of 249-acres and over 2.5-miles of former carriageway trails with steep panoramic views of the Hudson River and ruins of a 19th-century Victorian mansion.) Other nearby attractions include the Culinary Institute of America, Vanderbilt Mansion, and the Franklin D. Roosevelt mansion.
A red 1926 N5 caboose is stationed near the parking area on the Highland side of the Walkway. It was one of the first steel cars that followed productions of wooden models. It is open to visitors on weekends from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. through October. This was once the control center for operation of freight trains and served as the office for the conductor. Always located at the back of the train, it was positioned so that the crew could look out over the entire train to spot and problems.
While it is unclear when exactly it went out of service, it was formerly located at Cluett-Schantz Memorial Park in Marlborough when it was purchased and donated to the Hudson Valley Rail Trail Association (HVRTA) by Ray and Claire Costantino.
A second is also situated on the Ulster County's Hudson Valley Rail Trail. This one was donated by former town of Lloyd historian Ethan Jackman and is located at the Rail Trail’s Highland Rotary Pavilion at 101 New Paltz Road.
There are also many opportunities to volunteer your time at the walkway. Become an Ambassador and welcome people as they come to visit the park, or become a tour guide and elevator operator and share your time and knowledge of the Hudson Valley to enhance the visitor experience. The Ambassador Corps is now more than 140-members strong, and each person participates in a training program with two two-hour classes plus an on-site tour. Continuing education includes the following specialized training and classes: CPR and First Aid certification classes, docent training, suicide prevention, conflict resolution, and field trips to various parks and historic sites within a 90-mile radius to help volunteers point out to visitors other attractions that are available in the area. In addition to completing the required training, volunteers provide their own transportation and commit to serve at least 50 hours per year, with 16 of those hours working in the merchandise pavilions.
The Walkway is owned and operated by the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and the NYS Bridge Authority. The organizations continue to accept donations to preserve and protect this historic monument and state park. Construction continues to this day with a new welcome center on the Highland side that is expected to be complete in 2018. Donations are graciously accepted to help fund and support expansion efforts.
We created Vodka for Dog People to unite with friends, fans and partners to make the world a better place for pets and their families far and wide.
Visit vodkafordogpeople.com to get involved.