December 1, 2018 – Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site – Hyde Park, NY
Difficulty: Easy – moderate (1 sustained ascent)
Length: Approximately 3.3 miles
Max elevation: 449 ft.– total elevation gain 408 ft.
Route type: Circuit & out and back
Trailhead parking: 54 Val-Kill Park Rd, Hyde Park, NY 12538
The Hyde Park Trails system currently includes about 34 miles of trails, including trails within 3 National Park units, a State Park complex, 3 Town Parks, and a land trust nature preserve, connected in large part by trail easements across private lands, as well as on-road linkages. All trails in the Hyde Park Trail system were designated National Recreation Trails by the U. S. Department of the Interior in 2006, and their formal designation as Hudson River Valley Greenway Trails was underway in 2018.
The Hyde Park Healthy Trails Walkabout is an annual program to encourage walking for health. The Walkabout is open to local residents and visitors alike. Participants who complete at least five Hyde Park trails in a given year may earn a free, themed trail patch. The Hyde Park Trail Committee creates a new patch each year, featuring a natural or historical feature that relates to Hyde Park Trails.
The logo of the Hyde Park Trails is the distinctive leaf of the tulip-tree, Liriodendron tulipifera, which was FDR’s favorite tree species. While the logo is used to brand the entire Hyde Park Trail system, its use on trail markers is limited to the trunkline through-route of the Hyde Park Trail, which extends for about 9 miles. It links the NPS sites, extending from Top Cottage, through Eleanor Roosevelt’s Val-Kill, the Roosevelt Farm Lane, the Home of FDR, the Town’s Riverfront Park, and the Vanderbilt Mansion. Other trails are marked with color coded blazes painted on trees.
The Eleanor’s Walk & Top Cottage Trail are located in Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site (Val-Kill) and count as two of the trails on the checklist. Parking is available on site and there is a Visitor Center information desk and restrooms are available seasonally (call ahead for more info).
The grounds are free and open daily until sunset. The entrance gate will be subject to closure 30 minutes prior to sunset. The grounds will continue to remain open to pedestrians until sunset. Moderate walking on woodland paths with some steep hills on both Eleanor’s Walk (red blazes) and Top Cottage Trail (tulip-tree leaf marker).
- Eleanor’s Walk – (red blazes) – 1 Mile Loop
From the parking area head out towards the main road, also the route of the tulip-tree-on-white-blazed Hyde Park Trail.
Turn right onto the main road and proceed east along the road.
There is plenty of signage along the way, so even the most inexperienced hikers can easily find their way.
From the long driveway, Stone Cottage comes into view first, on a knoll overlooking Val-Kill Pond.
Cross the wooden bridge that spans the Fall Kill.
Along the shore of the pond are what appear to be a pair of millstones.
Roosevelt supervised the building of Stone Cottage for his wife in 1925. A stone replica of a vernacular Dutch colonial cottage, completed in 1926, the building cost $12,000.
Further down the road, the Hyde Park Trail turns right.
A short distance away there is a chain across a woods road with wooden signs on a post. This serves as the trailhead for Eleanor’s Walk and the Top Cottage Trail.
In just under 300 feet, the woods road comes to a fork, with the Top Cottage Trail veering left and Eleanor’s Walk veering to the right. This is the official start of both trails. We turned right and began following the red blazes.
The official start of Eleanor’s Walk (red blazes) begins here. The total length of this loop is just under 1 mile. The trail is easy at the start, but then climbs briefly before descending on the return. Eleanor’s Walk follows a road built by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940.
In another 200 feet, Eleanor’s Walk comes to a fork in the road. Either direction brings you back to this same spot, but we turned right.
The trail heads south through the woods on a mostly level grade.
The trail then curves left and begins to climb.
The trail travels through an area with stone walls and interesting rock formations along the hillside.
A short distance later the trail descends and skirts a wooded swamp.
The trail then begins a gradual descent,
and passes another wooded swamp.
The trail continues its descent as it curves northwest.
The trail levels off as it nears the fork in the road.
We turned right at the fork and retraced our steps back to where Eleanor’s Walk began. That was a short 1 mile loop through the woods and one trail now checked off the list. We then turned right to begin on the Top Cottage Trail.
Top Cottage Trail – (Tulip-Tree trail markers) – 2 Miles Out and Back
This trail takes you to the highest point on the Hyde Park Trails. When you reach the summit, you will have made the same climb that kings and queens and a host of foreign leaders made during some of the most critical days of the 20th century.
The Top Cottage Trail, sometimes called Hill Top Cottage, this hike is a climb. An out and back trail, the round trip length is 2 miles. The trail has very steep sections and is rough in spots. There are seasonal obstructed views from the Top Cottage porch.
This trail heads east and climbs gradually at first. It then turns right passing a stone wall that runs up the hillside.
The trail then crosses a stream on a wooden footbridge and turns left.
This trail quickly turns from carriage road to a meandering foot path that rambles by a slow-moving stream, as it again heads east.
The trail recrosses the same stream and begins to head in a northerly direction.
The trail continues to climb through the tranquil woods.
There are plenty of signs along the way, some with distance shown.
The trail then passes through an area with several stone walls, turns left then turns right.
After about a 1/2 mile, the trail climbs more steeply.
The trail reaches a woods road, turns left and levels off.
As the Top Cottage Trail approaches private homes on Roosevelt Road, it turns right.
The trail now climbs more steeply as it heads south on the woods road.
The trail ends at Top Cottage, FDR’s humble hilltop retreat.
In 1938, Roosevelt commissioned professional architect Henry Toombs to design his private retreat. All aspects of this two bedroom house accommodated his disability, from its single floor layout to the height of the light switches. When he won an unprecedented third term in 1940, Roosevelt’s retirement plans were shelved, but he continued to enjoy Top Cottage often bringing dignitaries there.
Among those who enjoyed the commanding Hudson Valley views from its front porch were England’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to whom the president served hot dogs. Top Cottage is one of only two buildings designed by a sitting U.S. President (Thomas Jefferson’s Popular Forest is the other). Today Top Cottage contains a mix of period pieces and reproductions matching the furnishings that were in the house at the time of Roosevelt’s death in 1945.
The once exceptional views from the porch are no more.
Nearby in the woods, almost hidden from view, is an old horse barn.
Top Cottage was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1997.
After enjoying a well earned break, we retraced our steps on the Top Cottage Trail.
It was all downhill for most of the way.
Back on the main road (also the route of the Hyde Park Trail), we recrossed the wooden bridge over the Fall Kill.
In a short distance, we turned left into the parking area, where the hike began.
A nice hike through scenic woods with some history thrown in. Since I was trying to complete the five required trails to earn the patch, I stuck to the trails and did not explore the rest of the grounds. There were no other hikers on the trails and only encountered a few tourists on our way out, on the main road (driveway). In warmer weather, the trails are probably more traveled. This is a good starting point for the Hyde Park Healthy Trails Walkabout since there are two trails here that can be checked off the list. We now headed to the Winnakee Nature Preserve for our 3rd hike on the list.
The hikes completed for the 2018 Hyde Park Healthy Trails Walkabout patch are:
- Eleanor’s Walk
- Top Cottage Trail
- Winnakee Nature Preserve
- Hackett Hill Park
- Pinewoods Nature Trail Loop
The five hikes totaled about 6.5 miles with approximately 570 ft. of elevation gain. They were done in one day and we picked up our patches at the Vanderbilt Mansion Visitor Center. I called the day before to make sure they had the patches. I called The River Connection, listed on the brochure/map, and was told they no longer stock the patches. No one at the Hyde Park Recreation Dept. at Hackett Hill Park ever answered the phone and returned my call 3 days after I completed the hike. They were closed on the Saturday of the hike.
Pros: Quiet and scenic woods, well marked trails, historical features, earn a patch.
Cons: No views.
Take a hike!
- Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site
- Top Cottage Trail
- Top Cottage
- Eleanor’s Walk
- Hyde Park Healthy Trails Walkabout
- Val-kll Industries