Hudson River Valley – Verrazzano to Tappan Zee

Little red lighthouse-1

The light still shines under the George Washington Bridge. Photo Credit ©2001 Gail Hunter

September 3, 1609 – Henry Hudson sailed his ship, Half Moon into the mouth of a deep river on the eastern coast of North America. There were no states then, just a wide breach in the shoreline, allowing the navigator/explorer Hudson to follow the banks into a broad harbor, one which now divides New York and New Jersey.

It is fitting that a tour of this valley be made by water; to see it as the crew of Half Moon did.

“But I don’t have a boat.” Never fear!

There are designated historic highways throughout the area. At the end of this article you will find links to several boat tours by day and longer small ship cruises that will allow you to enjoy these memorable sights.

It is also fitting to start beneath the Verrazzano Bridge, named after the sixteenth century Italian navigator Giovanni da Verrazzano who first sailed into the bay in 1524. He was in the service of the French King Francis I, hence France’s claim to the New World.

Climb aboard and we’ll pull away

Liberty Island

© Alexeirus |

The view brings tears to this sailor’s eyes: on the left, the Statue of Liberty stands proud, while to her right the New York City skyline is a heart-thumper. The twin towers of the Trade Center dominated this scene until 9/11/2001 when they were brought down by terrorist action. Today, the new skyline shows the power of humanity to overcome. The memorial tower under construction is planned to be the tallest building in the United States, One World Trade Center will top out at 1776 feet – an appropriate number signifying freedom.

Brooklyn Bridge 2

View to starboard, looking up the East River under the Brooklyn Bridge

We’ll bypass the East River which takes you past the United Nations building, South Street Seaport and Gracie Square (the Mayor’s residence), through Hell Gate separating New York City from Long Island, and into Long Island Sound. It is possible to cut back to the Hudson this way by taking the Harlem River just north of Gracie Mansion, but only if you wait for the 8 knot current, otherwise you need an awful lot of horsepower.  Going through Harlem is interesting, and not scary as they have wire cages over the bridges to avoid falling objects. There is a timed railroad bridge at the Hudson River junction.

We’ll take the left fork though, and leave the tip of Manhattan to starboard and become welled up with emotion as we  pass Ellis Island, first port of entry for America’s European immigrants. This is now a National Historic Landmark. There are no fees to enter it or the Statue of Liberty, but you must make reservations for the latter and both are only accessible by ferry. See link above for timely details.

Moving upriver, on the starboard side we pass the old terminals for the many ocean-going ships that carried passengers and freight from here to ports around the globe. The S.S. Intrepid is permanently on display at Pier 86, 12th Ave. & 46th Street. An interactive museum with activities for all ages is on board. This includes an opportunity for families to spend the night and experience a crew member’s round-the-clock life.  Explore Intrepid

What lies ahead:

The George Washington Bridge – a major artery carrying I-95 across the Hudson River from Manhattan to Fort Lee, New Jersey. This is also the start of The Palisades, an expanse of rock cliff that runs northward along the shore. If you are traveling by car, take Palisades Parkway for an epic drive with many picnic and photo-op outlook points.

Little Red Lighthouse-miniThe Little Red Lighthouse – Immortalized in a children’s book – The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge – by Hildegarde Swift in 1942. It was slated for destruction in 1951, but never underestimate the power of children! Enraged school children started a fund to save the lighthouse – they succeeded, and it still stands today, not one bit afraid of the bridge that towers over it

Aside: to line up the feature photo of the lighthouse showing the Palisades behind it involved see-sawing our trawler back into a rocky nook, always fearful our single prop would meet an outcropping – with disastrous results. We won!

River as Impressionist painting

© Alexey Romanov |; Edit: Gail Hunter

At this point you begin to feel the majesty of the River and can understand the magnetism that drew in the masters of the Hudson River School.

1800 saw the emergence of America’s own school of painters who embodied the teaching of Thoreau, Emerson and Whitman. As stated by Thomas Hamson in his PBS documentary, I Hear America Singing, “the Hudson River painters believed art to be an agent of moral and spiritual transformation.”

By car, you can follow the Henry Hudson Parkway (US-9A) north, paralleling the Hudson until it crosses the Harlem River and enters Yonkers. For speed, you can stay on 9A, but if you want to see some of the river towns like Dobbs Ferry or Irvington, switch over to US-9North.

You will not starve! There are so many wonderful eateries combining good food, good ambiance and spectacular views of the Palisades, it would be impossible to list them all. I spent time there in the 1940s and 50s, so I wouldn’t presume to review them, but several sites cover that aspect.

Just north of Irvington, you come to Tarrytown. This typical once-industrial river town sits at the base of the Tappan Zee Bridge which carries I-87 and I-287 traffic across the Hudson to Nyack, NY.  A section of Tarrytown, Philipse Manor voted to rename itself Sleepy Hollow in 1996 to assure its connection to its own history. This whole area was restored by John D. Rockefeller III and is open to the public. For a complete history embroiling the English, the Dutch, the Weckquaesgeck Indians, and even the American Revolution, the historian Henry Steiner’s article on the Village website is a clear, concise entertaining overview.

We’ll take a breather here. If you came up Manhattan’s East Side on I-95, here is where you head west on I-295 to continue up the valley. Coming in from western New York, the Tappan Zee Bridge (I-84) will bring you to this junction with NY-9. Being a major intersection, there are many hotel and motel chains in Tarrytown; all well-known, all good.

New York City OnBoard – Daily and nightly small bus tours of New York City with guides who hop on and off the bus to walk with you

Cor at ease

A delightful way to enjoy the Hudson River

American Cruise Lines – Deluxe small ship (100 passengers) 7-night cruises. If you can’t relax on the deck of your own boat, this would be my alternative.

New York City Water Transportation – Great list of all kind of day trips: ferries, tour boats, even sailing cruises and private yacht charters

Chartbook and Cruising Guide for the Hudson River and Adjacent Waterways – 2nd. Edition. A must for finding anchorages, marine services, interesting locations

The lighthouse and the Bridge: Look at the map to see how risky it was to get that view. Whew!

More of Gail Hunter’s on-and-off-the-trail wanderings on Striped Pot – Click here.

Unless noted otherwise, all photos are by Gail Hunter.