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Taking a Ride with the Catskills Rail Explorers

Imagine you and your family are gliding through the forest along railroad tracks. As you advance, you can see and hear the Esopus Creek rushing by. You may spot birds and wildlife among the trees that border the track. Well, you don’t have to imagine this, you can actually enjoy this experience up in the Catskills!

The Catskills Rail Explorers is located in Phoenicia, NY, in Ulster County. It shares its parking lot with the Empire State Railway Museum, which was unfortunately closed the day of our visit.

When you book a ride with Rail Explorers you can choose a tandem explorer, for two people or a quad, which seats up to four riders. They make this a family friendly experience and children of all ages are able to enjoy riding. However, everyone needs a seat. The seats are adjustable and are able to be moved closer to the pedals.

When you arrive you must first check in. Waivers must be signed and here you can purchase water, clothing and souvenirs. The explorers are preassigned and labeled with name cards, so there’s no need to rush to get a certain explorer.

The Catskill ride is 8 miles round trip and travels along the Esopus Creek and through the woods of the Catskill Mountains. The explorers come with electric motor assistance, so you are not pedaling entirely on your own! This is especially helpful for families with young children!

Each explorer rides independently and travels at their own pace. It’s really beautiful to see the mountain views and ride along the Esopus Creek.

The only time that all explorers are connected is when crossing Route 28. It is super safe, as railroad crossing barriers come down across all lanes. Plus, a Rail Explorer guide stands in the street with flags until everyone has crossed. Tandem and quad explorers can be connected for the entire ride if you have a large party and want to ride together.

Safety, as I mentioned, is taken seriously by Rail Explorers. Besides the main Route 28 crossing, there are a couple of side streets that the railway crosses. A guide stands in the intersection and will direct traffic for the explorers to safely cross. These crossings may also involve high fives with your guide as you pass!

At the end of the 4.1 mile trail, there is an approximately 15-20 minute break while the guides turn the explorers around for the trip back. It’s fun to watch them do this while you stretch your legs. There is also seating available where you can relax and take a snack break.

Be sure to take the Rail Explorer guide up on the offer for a family pic before heading out for your ride!


The first leg of the trip was much easier for us than the return. After the explorers were turned around and we were headed back it started to rain. Fortunately, there are umbrellas in each explorer. However, during the ride our pedal assistance motor stopped working. We had to pedal the entire trip back on our own….which was slow and a lot of work! But we did it and got a great workout!

A visit to the Catskills isn’t complete without a ride on the Rail Explorers! It’s such a unique and fun experience that is great for all ages. Check out our short video:

(Thank you Catskills Rail Explorers for hosting us. As always, all opinions are our own.)

The Details:
Catskills Rail Explorers
70 Lower High Street
Phoenicia, NY 12464
1(877) 833-8588

Hours of Operation: Thursday – Sunday, now through November 3

Parking: Plenty of free parking is available in their lot.

Price: $85 for a tandem explorer (2 riders, $42.50/person), $150 for a quad explorer (up to 4 riders, $37.50/person)

*They ask that you arrive 15-30 minutes before your scheduled tour. A waiver needs to be signed and they want to ensure that all parties have arrived.

*Dress accordingly! We visited at the end of September and it was very chilly! Be sure to bring sweatshirts and jackets, depending on when you visit.

*The rail explorers go out rain or shine. They have two large umbrellas on the quad if needed. However, you may want to wear or pack rain gear if there is rain in the forecast.

*There are storage baskets in the back of the explorers where you can keep loose items and belongings.

*Bring drinks and snacks. There is a 15-20 minute break where they turn the rail explorers around. This is a great time to hydrate and refuel.

*Check out the website for special tours! They are currently running a stargazing evening tour with hot cider and donuts (Saturday at 7 PM) and a Beer and Pretzels tour (Fridays at 4:30 PM).

*Rail Explorers currently operate in two other locations: Las Vegas and Rhode Island.

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Exploring Dover Stone Church

Fall is the perfect time to go hiking! I highly recommend exploring Dover Stone Church in Dover Plains, NY for a day of outdoor family fun. Back in the spring, my daughter and I enjoyed a nice visit here.

Let me be clear right at the start, Dover Stone Church is not actually a church. It’s actually a cavern, formed over the years, in a silhouette reminiscent of a cathedral’s stained glass window. The property was originally private but was purchased by the Town of Dover in 2002, when it became available for sale. Through grants and donations, the property has been renovated and expanded. In the summer of 2015, three miles of nature trails were opened for visitors to enjoy.

But let’s back up. Before you get to the cavern, you must park across the street in the school parking lot (only when school is not in session). After crossing the street, a sign helps point you in the right direction.

A giant sign welcomes you the Dover Stone Church!

And then you encounter this amazing view! This was taken back when we visited in May. I’m sure the view with the fall foliage is just as spectacular!

You pass another welcome sign and a display that gives a short history of the Dover Stone Church.

It’s a short 0.25 mile hike from the pedestrian path to the trails. On the way you cross a footbridge where underneath, the Stone Church Brook flows.

As you approach the Stone Church will pass a sign directing you to the hiking trails towards the left. Stay to the right to visit the Stone Church.

The path toward the Stone Church is pretty rocky. As you get closer to the Church, the rocks are also wet and slippery.

There are some pretty neat views of the brook.

But, of course, the Stone Church is the main reason for this visit!

The cavern was briefly closed in July of 2019 due to rockfalls in the cave. It has since reopened, but you are warned to use caution and enter at your own risk. If attempting to enter the cave, be cautious and wear appropriate footwear. Some minor rock hopping is needed to get inside. But I highly recommend going inside if you can. How often can you see a waterfall inside of a cave?!!

The Stone Church Cave Trail is only 0.3 miles round trip. After we got our fill of the cave, my daughter and I went off to hike. The red trail and yellow trails are each 1 mile round trip and the blue trail is 1.5 miles round trip. The trails are well marked with colored trail markers. We hiked the red trail which was an easy hike with no notable features.

I’d love to visit the Dover Stone Church again with the whole family, since only my daughter and I made this trip. The four of us can try out the other trails.

The Details:
Dover Stone Church
3128 NY-22
Dover Plains, NY 12522

Parking: Park across the street in the Dover Elementary School parking lot (when school is not in session) and at Frescho 22 Plaza, 3156 NY-22 (when school is in session)

Hours: Open 7 AM to 7 PM, weather permitting

*No swimming is allowed
*There is a carry in, carry out policy
*Pets must be leashed
*Altogether, our visit took a little over an hour including photos at the Stone Church and a one mile hike on the red trail.

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A Visit to the Hudson Valley Food Hall {Beacon}

Our family loves food halls! Food halls are an upscale equivalent to a mall food court. We love having a variety of food options available but being able to eat together in one location. We’ve been to City Kitchen and Urbanspace Vanderbilt in New York City multiple times. So when we heard that Hudson Valley Food Hall was opening in Beacon, we of course had to check it out.

Hudson Valley Food Hall is located at 288 Main Street in Beacon. The building was formerly inhabited by the Roosevelt Theater. The food hall is directly across from the Howland Public library and Glazed Over Doughnuts. From northern Westchester County it was approximately a 35 minute drive.

We planned to have a late lunch at the Hudson Valley Food Hall and arrived at 1:45 PM. The place was fairly busy when we got there. There are several food options from six different food vendors:

Bombay Wraps

Green House Salads

Hudson Valley Seafood

Katie Rose Bakery

Miz Hattie’s Southern BBQ

and Momo Valley.

Our first stop was Bombay Wrap, which also had the longest line during our visit. We opted for The Big Meal which includes rice with a choice of sauce, roti, two subji (fillings/mains), a samosa and a drink for $12.99.  For our subji we got the Chicken Curry and Paneer Tikka, on the recommendation of the cashier. When we asked for his suggestions, he mentioned that these are two of their popular dishes. Everything was delicious but a bit spicy. That was fine with us, but the kids aren’t huge fans of spicy food. Overall, I think it’s a great value for the price.

We then stopped at the Momo Valley stand.  Momos are South Asian dumplings native to areas like Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal.  Established in 2018, besides momos, Momo Valley offers a noodle soup bowl, a chicken over rice bowl and an Everest platter (Nepal’s national fish that includes lentil soup, rice, veggies, dry curried meat, fermented daikon or carrots, and sautéed greens). 

We opted to share a mixed momo bowl, which includes two grass-fed beef, two chicken and two spinach and cheese momos for $10. The momos are served steamed, though you can get them fried for an additional cost. We liked how each momo flavor is wrapped differently to differentiate them.

The Hudson Valley Food Hall doesn’t have a liquor license yet, so no alcohol is served.  The plan is for the Roosevelt Bar to serve cocktails which showcase local spirits made in the Hudson Valley. At the time of this posting, the food hall still did not know when they will receive their liquor license. For now, it’s an ice cream and soda bar.

We tried a peach and basil soda. The syrups come from More Good, a local Beacon company that, besides hand-crafted soda syrup concentrates, also sells a variety of teas and bitters. A 16 oz. soda is $2.95 and besides Peach and Basil, other flavors include Concord Grape, Cherry Cola, Root Beer, Ginger Ale and Cassia Kream.  We loved how the serve the sodas in a glass with a metal straw.

Although we did not try any ice cream, the menu looks delicious! The ice cream is homemade from the Mapleview Cafe in Poughkeepsie.

The food hall is narrow with limited seating. There is an upstairs dining space with a couple of additional tables and chairs.

We enjoyed the couple of items that we tried during our visit. We like how the food hall aims to showcase chefs and food from around the Hudson Valley. However, we wished that there was more unique food offerings. Overall, we are very happy to see a food hall in the area and wish the Hudson Valley Food Hall great success!

The Details:
Hudson Valley Food Hall
288 Main Street
Beacon, NY 12508

Hours: 11 AM – 9 PM, 7 days a week
Hudson Valley Seafood is open 9 AM – 6 PM
Once the Roosevelt Bar opens, food vendors will be staying open later

Parking: Street parking – see tip below

Tips:
*Expect to wait a few minutes for your food, especially during busy times.

*Main Street on a weekend in Beacon is BUSY! We recommend taking the first available parking spot you find and hope you are good at parallel parking! We parked a few blocks down from the food hall and made the short walk.

* The Beacon Farmer’s Market takes place on Sundays from 10 AM – 3 PM, right down the street from the Hudson Valley Food Hall. After you enjoy lunch at the food hall, you can make a stop at the market to stock up on veggies, baked goods, cheese and much more!

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Hammond Museum and Japanese Stroll Garden {North Salem, NY}

Secluded in the back roads of North Salem is a small taste of Japanese culture right here in Westchester County.  The Hammond Museum and Japanese Stroll Garden is a hidden treasure of beauty that aims to connect and promote an appreciation of Eastern and Western culture.  My kids both visited the Hammond Museum on school trips after studying Japan.  Last summer, I enlisted my daughter to accompany me on my first visit.  Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to post about our visit to the Hammond Museum until now.

“But what’s the use of having collections if people can’t see them?” – Natalie Hays Hammond

When you arrive you enter the gardens through the museum. The museum was designed by Natalie Hays Hammond and built in 1957 to showcase her collection of antiques and artifacts that she acquired through her travels.  The art in the galleries change several times over the eight months that the museum is open.

Artist Rosalind Schneider's exhibit Transformed Realities at the Hammond Museum.

We were able to see artist, Rosalind Schneider’s, Transformed Realities exhibit, just before it closed. Currently art exhibits in the galleries are closing mid-June, with new, yet unannounced exhibits replacing them.  Full Bloom, Sculpture in the Garden is on display for the entirety of the season. 

Through the gallery is the entrance to the gardens.  I don’t believe that there’s one way to visit the Japanese Stroll Gardens.  Once you pass through the tea house entry you can go either right or left. The garden path is circular, so whichever direction you choose, you will eventually make your way back to the tea house.  The gardens are designed with the Japanese design principles of balance and harmony.  Balance, in a Japanese garden, is asymmetrical and you will find odd-numbered and triangular groupings.

To the right of entry is the Zen Garden. Also known as karesansui (dry mountain water).  Rakes are available for visitors to create patterns in the rocks.

If you continue on the path to the right you will see the pond to your left and the Katsura Trees and Bamboo Grove  on your right. Bamboo is important to Eastern culture.  From food, to paper, furniture and even planking for houses, the bamboo plant is highly useful.  However, some species are used for ornamental purposes in landscape gardens, like the ones here.

Waterfall Garden at the Hammond Museum and Japanese Stroll Garden.

To the left of the entry is the waterfall garden.  This is a tiny waterfall that is almost hidden by all of the ferns and mountain laurel.  The water flows from east to west, shadowing the sun’s path.

Straight ahead of the entry is the pond.  I recommend taking some time to sit on the benches by the pond and enjoy the peacefulness and beauty.  If you look closely, you may be able to spot one of the ten turtles that inhabit the pond. Listen and you will probably hear the frogs croaking. The day of our visit the staff was prepping for a wedding later that day.  So we didn’t walk out to the island.

There are a couple of different statues and sculptures located throughout the gardens and this beautiful gong.

Off one of the garden paths you will find The Garden of Buddhist Saints. These are sixteen stones that honor the enlightened followers of Buddha.

There is much more beauty and nature to be found at the Hammond Museum and Japanese Stroll Garden, than what I showcased here. If you are looking for some peace and tranquility, this is a place that you must visit.

The Details:
Hammon Museum and Japanese Stroll Garden
28 Deveau Road
North Salem, NY 10560
(914) 669-5033

Hours: Open May – November (see website for specific dates)
Wednesday – Saturday 12 PM – 4 PM

Admission:  $5/adults, $4/seniors, Free/Children 12 and under.  Free for members.

Parking:  Free parking available on the grounds

Tips and Notes:
*As a first-time visitor, my daughter and I spent approximately an hour visiting the museum and garden.

*If you have some time, bring a book and sit on a bench by the pond.

Snow Tubing at Mt. Peter

New York has finally gotten a substantial amount of snow! For those families, like ours, who don’t ski, snow tubing is a fun winter family activity. We enjoyed our first snow tubing experience last year at Mt. Peter in Warwick, NY. Mt. Peter is a perfect for a day trip and only about an hour’s drive from northern Westchester County.

Neither my husband nor I had been snow tubing before, so we weren’t sure what to expect. We had made reservations for a 3-5 PM Saturday tubing session. (Reservations are highly recommended, as they have limited two hour sessions.) We arrived at Mt. Peter a little early to make sure we had time to get our snow gear on. The 1 -3 PM session was still taking place when we got to the snow tubing area so we got to watch others snow tube down the hill for a little bit.

Mt. Peter has six snow tube lanes that are 600 feet long. Once our time slot began we walked over to the attendant to get a tube. You can choose between a single or tandem (double) tube. You must be 42″ to ride in a single tube. If under 42″ you MUST ride in a tandem tube with an adult. Fortunately, both our kids were over 42″ so we got to enjoy both single and double rides.


You carry your tube onto the carpet lift that takes you up to the top of the hill. There are attendants at both the top and bottom of the hill. They let you know when it is safe to start tubing. The speed of the runs vary, depending on the size of the person, as well as the snow conditions. I found that my tube kept slowing down and stopping near the bottom of the hill. I ended up trying my daughter’s tube and went speeding down the hill, almost too fast for my liking! Over our two hour session we went down the hill at least 8 times, maybe even more. The lines at the top of the runs get backed up, but move fairly quickly.

We had such a fun time snow tubing! This was a great way for us to enjoy some outdoor winter family fun. Food is available for purchase in the onsite cafeteria. However, the town of Warwick is a short drive away and has lots of restaurants where you can grab a late lunch or dinner after your snow tubing adventure!

The Details:
Mt. Peter
51 Old Mt. Peter Rd.
Warwick, NY 10990
(845) 986-4940

Sessions:
Wednesday – Sunday: 11 AM – 1 PM, 1 PM – 3 PM, or 3 PM – 5 PM
Friday and Saturday: additional 5-7 PM session

Rates:
$30 weekends/holidays
$24 non-holiday weekday

Tips:
*Make reservations to guarantee you get the date and time that you want.
*Dress warmly! Snow pants and waterproof gloves are highly recommended!
*Bring a signed and printed waiver with you to help speed up the checking in process.

*There is a Little Tikes tubing play area for children under 42″. As my children are older, we did not experience this area. For additional information, please check out the Mt. Peter site.

Dennings Point Distillery

(Thank you to Dutchess Tourism and Dennings Point Distillery for hosting NY Foodie Family.  As always, all opinions are our own.)

Dennings Point Distillery is located on North Chestnut Street, in Beacon.  The Distillery has been open since September of 2014 and is housed in a former mechanic shop.

When we visited during a summer weekend, founder Karl was relaxing in the Distillery. Because, doesn’t his shirt say it all?! He took us on a tour and gave us a bit of the Distillery’s history.  Similar to many of the people that we have met in the craft beverage trade, distilling started as a hobby for Karl.  He previously had a career in healthcare management and in 1990 bought his first moonshine  still.  Once craft distilling was legalized, many years later, he decided to give it a go professionally.

Denning’s Point makes several different products, though their best seller (and Karl’s favorite) is their bourbon.  The Distillery tries to source as many local ingredients as possible.  The bourbon is made from grains sourced in New Paltz and rye from the Finger Lakes region.  Another great example of their “the closer, the better” philosophy is the apple brandy made with apples from Wappingers Falls.

They make a vodka and their gin is an American-style gin that is more citrusy than the traditional.  Maid of the Meadow is a wheat-based spirit infused with wild herbs and honey. All three are distilled from NY State wheat.

Distilling takes place during the week with weekends dedicated to tours and tastings. Much of the equipment and machinery has been cleverly repurposed by Karl to suit his needs for each particular task.  However, their 250-gallon hybrid still was hand hammered in Louisville, Kentucky for its specific use.  They propagate their own yeast, which takes extra time, but makes a big difference in the flavor of their spirits.

To age their spirits, they use a variety of barrels including 10, 30 and 53 gallons.  Once the spirits are ready to be bottled, it’s an all-hands-on-deck operation. All of their spirits are bottled and labeled in a small room in the back.

After our tour, my husband enjoyed a tasting.  Their tasting room is  small and only seats about six guests.  He tried the 100 proof Beacon Bourbon, Maid of the Meadow and their Blueberry Gin.  The Blueberry Gin is a seasonal product, made with wild blueberries.  As I mentioned, the Beacon Bourbon is one of Denning’s Point Distillery’s most popular spirits.  Of the three that he tried, my husband’s favorite was Maid of the Meadow. He’s always been drawn to honey, whether a spirit infusion or cocktail ingredient.

Denning’s Point Distillery was voted Hudson Valley Magazine’s  “Best Hudson Valley Distillery” in 2015, 2016 and 2017.  Karl would like to continue growing a local presence but increase widening distribution of their spirits.  Most visitors come up from the city, as Beacon is easily accessible by train.  We recommend Hudson Valley residents, too,  make a visit to the Distillery. If you can’t make it, their products are distributed through Manhattan Beer at locations throughout the Hudson Valley.

The Details:

Denning’s Point Distillery
10 North Chestnut Street
Beacon, NY 12508
(845) 476-8413

Website: http://www.denningspointdistillery.com

Tastings & Tours:  Friday 2 PM -8 PM (Tastings only), Saturday 2 PM – 8 PM (Tours at approximately 2:30, 3:30 and 4:30 PM, except for the second Saturday of each month when tours are at 2:30 and 3:30 only), Sunday 2 PM – 6 PM (Tastings only)

Price:  Tastings & Tour $5