Leaf Peeping and Art Gazing: the Beauty of the Hudson Valley

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With rolling hills covered in autumnal colors, New York's Hudson Valley is peak beauty in the fall. Here are the best art galleries and natural areas where you can experience it.

Burnt sienna. Honey yellow. Salamander orange. Chestnut brown. The hills of New York's Hudson Valley become an arboreal art show every autumn when fall's foliage turns the landscape kaleidoscopic. This limited-time exhibit isn't the only exemplary art in the area, however. From outdoor sculpture gardens to historic houses overlooking the landscape, contemporary artwork blends with the surrounding countryside to serve up an unmissable art/nature combo platter for peak leaf-peeping season. All easy day trips from New York City, it's worth hopping on a train or renting a car to check out these six outdoor - or nature-adjacent - offerings for yourself.

Storm King Art Center

Storm King is the crowning jewel of the Hudson Valley art scene. Mammoth works by modern art heavyweights like Alexander Calder and Roy Lichtenstein seem to grow from the ground around every corner, blurring the line between nature and art. Autumn is a picture-perfect time to visit - the rusted red leaves of black gum trees mimic the weathered steel of sculptures like Menashe Kadishman’s gravity-defying Suspended.

The 500-acre grounds can be a lot to cover in a day, but checking out Museum Hill’s panoramic views is a must. The art center is an hour-and-a-half drive from New York City. There’s a free shuttle bus from the Beacon train station on weekends and holiday Mondays.

Art Omi

Art Omi's sculpture and architecture park is the Storm King no one told you about. It's worth spending a couple hours wandering the site's 300 acres of fields and forests to find the psychedelic structures sprinkled among the flora. Look out for Alex Schweder and Ward Shelley’s ReActor, a glass apartment precariously perched on a concrete column that sways in the breeze, and Tony Tasset’s 12-foot fiber-glass deer that guards the park’s entrance.

Checking out Omi's 60-plus art pieces is free; the grounds are open from dawn until dusk. The site is a fifteen-minute drive from the hip town of Hudson and about two hours from New York City.

Dia-_untitled-to-a-man-George-McGovern-2_-Dan-Flavin.jpg?mtime=20191011090934#asset:107068untitled (to a man, George McGovern) 2 - Dan Flavin at Dia:Beacon © John Garry / Budget Travel


Dia:Beacon

Dia:Beacon is a contemporary art museum housed in a former Nabisco box printing factory. Located on 31 acres along the Hudson River, the nearly 300,000 sq-ft industrial complex is home to art installations that can't help but comment on the vast spaces they occupy. Richard Serra effectively conjures the Grand Canyon in his Torqued Ellipses, minimalist Dan Flavin bathes bare brick rooms in soft fluorescent lights, and Louise Bourgeois’s Crouching Spider takes up an area the size of a West Village apartment. This boastful use of space is a breath of fresh air for New York urbanites used to living small.

The 80-minute train ride from Manhattan to Beacon is equally enchanting. For Hudson River views, grab a seat on the left side of the train while heading north from Grand Central Terminal.

Opus 40

Sculptor Harvey Fite (1903 - 1976) spent 37 years transforming an abandoned quarry near Woodstock, NY, into a 6.5-acre masterpiece of swirling bluestone. Fite cut and placed every stone by hand using ancient Mayan building techniques. Tucked between Overlook and Roundtop Mountain in the heart of the Catskills, the site is a peaceful homage to his astounding achievement in masonry.

You can explore the monument’s labyrinthine walkways, see Fite’s other sculptures showcased around the 70-acre property, and learn about the history of quarrying in the Quarryman’s Museum. Opus 40 is a two-hour drive from New York City.

Thomas Cole National Historic Site

Thomas Cole (1801-1848), famous for painting romantic landscapes of the American wilderness, founded the Hudson River School and inspired the country's earliest artistic movement. The Federal-style house and barn where he lived and worked has been a National Historic Site since 1999. Visiting the museum is magically meta - expansive views from the house's veranda showcase the same Catskill Mountain scenery depicted in his paintings.

Be sure to check out the Hudson River Skywalk, a 3.2-mile trail that crosses Rip Van Winkle Bridge and connects to Olana State Historic Site, the place his protégé Frederic Edwin Church called home. The site is a two-hour drive from New York City, and accessible by a two-hour train ride and ten-minute taxi from the train station in Hudson.

Olana State Historic Site

Olana’s palatial hilltop home is an architectural anomaly on 250 acres of prime Hudson River real estate. Designed by owner Frederic Edwin Church (1826 - 1900) and architect Calvert Vaux, the 19th-century structure pairs Arabian Nights drama with Victorian opulence. The grounds are nothing to scoff at, either. An artistic environmentalist from the Hudson River School, Church meticulously sculpted the meadows and woodlands, and even created an artificial lake, with the same attention to detail exhibited in his landscape paintings.

A five-mile carriage road snakes through the property and ends at the pièce de résistance, Church’s house. Inside you’ll find the Church family’s extensive art collection. Head up to the belltower for unparalleled views of the Catskill Mountains undulating below. This National Historic Landmark is a 10-minute drive from Hudson.

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