Our family happened upon the Trailside Mountains and Zoo while driving around on Easter Sunday looking for something that was open in the Hudson Valley. Happily for us, we found a very pleasant and affordable outdoor activity that appealed to the entire family.
The entrance fee for the park is $10 and that gives you access to a huge recreation complex. The Trailside Museums and Zoo are a 20 minute walk away from the parking lot. On the way, you can stop at the Merry-Go-Round Pavilion, which features local animals and painted scenes of the park.
Rides are $1 each. Continue all the way across a 10-acre field, perfect for playing frisbee or just running around, behind the Inn and along Hessian Lake. Then, you walk down a flight of stairs or ramp, past an outdoor swimming pool and finally into the zoo. The suggested donation for the museums and zoo is $1.
Note: Try and avoid the restrooms opposite the carousel. They are poorly maintained. There are other restrooms at the Inn and in the zoo.
The zoo houses local animals that have been injured or orphaned. Animals include red fox, bobcats, coyote, white tailed deer, and a porcupine. The black bears were very active during our visit. We also saw hawks, owls, and a bald eagle and a pond with geese, ducks, and swans.
We were fascinated by the wild vultures watching caged vultures eat dead white mice. The Appalachian Trail runs through the zoo and park.
The Trailside Museums were built by the WPA around 1935 and have an old fashioned feel. All the exhibits are old, with nothing renovated or interactive. I found them charming yet musty. The Local Amphibians, Reptiles and Fish Building, which houses live frogs, toads, snakes, and salamanders, was by far our favorite.
The Geology Museum covers rocks, minerals, and mining. The Nature Study Museum has a number of dead mounted animals like butterflies, insects and rodents, some in deteriorating condition. We found this museum kind of creepy. The Historical Museum examines local history with an emphasis on Native Americans and the Revolutionary War. A display case is devoted to Daniel Carter Beard (1850-1941), who wrote the American Boys Handybook and was a National Scout commissioner. Next to the Historical Museum, is a trail leading to Fort Montgomery but it looked too steep so we skipped it. All together, the museums and zoo took around two hours.
Next, we briefly explored the historic Adirondack-style Bear Mountain Inn, built in 1915. Then we hiked one of the numerous trails for around a half hour. A map is available online. A number of other activities are offered at the park as well. You can fish or rent rowboats or paddle boats for a fee at Hessian Lake.
The lake is also a popular spot for picnics. There is a playground by the lake and a basketball court by the carousel. From Perkins Memorial Tower a hike away, you can view the New York City skyline. An outdoor ice rink and a large, public swimming pool ($2 per person) are open seasonally.
Twenty minutes away by car, but too good not to mention, is Hudson Hil’s Cafe and Market, the site of our fantastic Easter Sunday brunch. We ordered chocolate babka, French toast, raspberry cornmeal pancakes, and two kinds of eggs benedict. The cafe is open daily, except Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is located in Cold Spring, a quaint town with fun shops.
The Trailside Museums and Zoo proved a welcome break from visiting the historical estates in the Hudson Valley and a good spot for active kids of all ages.
- The Museums and Zoo open daily 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas. The black bears go off view at 4 p.m.
- The Carousel Pavilion has a snack bar. Bear Mountain Inn has a Hikers Cafe, a restaurant and a tapas bar.
- There are special events almost monthly; check the website for details.
Photos by Larry and Sarah Meyer.