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Ulster County, N.Y.: A Tranquil Destination for Runners

Endless trails, lush forests and stunning vistas make Ulster County the perfect locale for a fun weekend getaway.

Endless trails, lush forests and stunning vistas make Ulster County the perfect locale for a fun weekend getaway.

Less than 100 miles from the hustle and bustle of New York City, Ulster County is a hidden Northeastern gem—a tranquil destination for urban runners in need of some fresh air and long-weekend relaxation.

“There are so many options for runners,” says Janice Cyr, co-owner of Shawangunk Running Company in the village of New Paltz. “There are trails and races for everyone.”

The county itself contains more than 1,000 square miles of land—most of which is unsettled. The Catskill Mountains and Shawangunk Ridge run through Ulster, making it a great spot for athletes in search of serene training.

“The main attraction of Ulster County is the beautiful trails,” Cyr says. “We’ve got trails of every variety—from singletrack up and down mountains to rail trails that are long and flat. If you’re not inhibited by distance, you can just run for hours with the most beautiful scenery in front of you.”

With small restaurants offering delicious farm-to-table options, quaint villages and art galleries, Ulster County is a great place to extend a stay and explore the rustic shopping scene and influx of farmer’s markets and natural foods.

Where to Run

There are limitless running options to choose from in Ulster County. The locals prefer Sam’s Point Preserve in Cragsmoor, a 5,400-acre tract of land located at the highest peak of the Shawangunk Ridge. Another must-run locale is Minnewaska State Park Preserve, which offers stunning waterfall views and 35 miles of carriage roads to explore. While there, be sure to check out Hamilton Point, Castle Point and Gertrude’s Nose for the best views.

Janice Cyr says it’s not too hard to find locals who welcome tourists to join them in their pick-up runs. One such example is the “Wagathon,” an unofficial 30-mile run held in November throughout the Shawangunk Ridge along some of the most scenic and rugged singletrack trails on the East Coast.

If you’re seeking something with less vertical climb and less adventurous, try heading out to the Hudson Valley Rail Trail, a 4-mile paved stretch between the towns of Highland and Lloyd.

Where to Race

If you’re going to give one race a shot, it has to be the Escarpment Trail Run. This grueling 30K event is not for the faint of heart (or lungs), but it is always an adventure for participants. The route is a remote, rugged and extremely rocky hiking trail in the Northern Catskill Mountains and during the race, runners cover 10,000 feet in elevation (up and down) over the 18.6 miles.

If you’re going to be visiting mid-week during summer and are looking for a good workout that doesn’t include intense climbing, consider taking part in one of the low-key summer races organized by the Shawangunk Runners with options ranging from 3 to 6 miles.

A good option in the early fall is the Pfalz Point Trail Challenge, a 10-mile benefit run for the Mohonk Preserve. To keep the experience intimate, organizers have limited participation to 350, so sign up early if you’re interested in racing it.  

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Where to Shop

Shopaholics should head to the Water Street Market (10 Main St.) in New Paltz. This open-air pedestrian mall features 20 award-winning shops. Photo enthusiasts should stop in to see G. Steve Jordan’s work in his studio—he specializes in landscape photography of the area. If you need to gear up for a trail run, check out Rock and Snow (44 Main St.) in New Paltz, which has been a fixture of outdoor enthusiasts since 1970.

Kingston’s Waterfront (Garraghan Dr. & Broadway) has shops, museums, restaurants and other attractions that showcase the area’s vibrant personality. Wine lovers must visit the Kingston Wine Company (65 Broadway), which is located in a gorgeous antique storefront and offers in-house tastings. For the antiques collectors, be sure to stop by one of the many antiques stores at Rondout, formerly a Hudson River port. Milnes at Home Antiques (81 Broadway), with its eclectic mixture of items ranging from old weathervanes to folk art, is a must-see experience for anyone with a taste for history.

Where to Eat & Drink

Ulster County is primarily a farming community, which is great news for runners looking for fresh, locally produced ingredients. The first stop for all hungry runners is Miss Lucy’s Kitchen (90 Partition St.) in Saugerties. A delicious spread awaits you, served on rustic farm tables, and to give diners the freshest experience, menus change daily. Sushi lovers dig the Out of Control roll at Sushi Makio (1088 Morton Blvd.) in Kingston. This scrumptious treat is packed with lobster, Japanese mayo and toasted almond—and it’s crafted by master sushi chef and owner, Makio Idesako. Non-carnivores should try out the Vegetarian Delight roll, packed with avocado, cucumber, kanpyo, pickled daikan, yamagobo and shiso. If you’re thirsty for some post-run suds, the Dutch Ale House (255 Main St.) in Saugerties is your watering hole. Opened in 2012 by owners Johnny and Karyn Pavic, the place brews up to three times a month. Try the inaugural Kary’s Pale Ale, which is named after Johnny’s wife. The white bean hummus spread on toasted focaccia with extra-virgin olive oil makes for a perfect pairing.

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Since most of the county is located in the Catskill Mountains, temperatures can dip below freezing early in the fall and even late in the spring. So if you’re planning to visit in those time frames, be sure to bring extra layers and some trail shoes that will provide you with extra traction. With an average high of 78 and low of 53, May is the best month to visit. But if watching the changing foliage is your thing, plan on visiting in late September when comfortable days in the 70s are still possible.

Did You Know?

• The Lake Mohonk Mountain House, a historic Victorian resort hotel located on the Shawangunk Ridge, has been family owned and operated since 1869.

• The Rondout–West Strand Historic District in Kingston is a great place to check out the local art scene, a thriving perk of the area.

• Deliciously famous maple syrup is sold year-round at Arrowhead Farm in Kerhonkson.

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