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10 Top-Rated Things to Do in New Paltz, NY

Written by Meagan Drillinger
Feb 8, 2021

Surrounded by Ulster County's Shawangunk Mountains, New Paltz is a charming village within New York's Hudson Valley. For decades it has been a haven for progressive minds and creative spirits who were seeking to escape the urban sprawl of New York City. Home to the State University of New York at New Paltz, the town is bustling with youthful energy that has brought a new wave of fun restaurants, boutiques, artisan shops, and events.

As new age as New Paltz can be, it is also steeped in natural beauty and history. Evidence can be seen in the architecture, which ranges from 17th-century buildings in the Huguenot historic center, to elaborate Victorian mansions and modern, energy-efficient townhouses.

Fueled by the Wallkill River, New Paltz is at the doorstep to stunning natural scenery, as well. Mohonk Preserve, for example, offers 8,000 acres of play area for hikers, cyclists, horseback riders, and climbers.

The community today is composed of life-long residents who grew up in New Paltz, several thousand university students, and big city transplants looking for a slice of tranquility.

If you're ready to explore more of the Hudson Valley, check out our list of the top things to do in New Paltz, NY.

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Meander Main Street

Bookstore on Main Street in New Paltz
Bookstore on Main Street in New Paltz | Doug Kerr / photo modified

The heart and soul of New Paltz runs along Main Street, the village's main artery. It's every visitor's first impression of the funky, bohemian college town, and it sure makes a good one. The hub of New Paltz showcases the great convergence of cultures that is the village, from weekend day trippers up from New York to tie-dye-clad students and lifelong residents.

Main Street and its offshoots are packed with cozy coffee shops, local galleries and boutiques, and plenty of restaurants. The community embraces the multicultural, and you'll be able to find everything from Thai and Mexican restaurants to Indian, Vietnamese, and farm-to-table.

Many of the buildings along Main Street are historic, as well. You'll discover a little bit of the old and new New Paltz along the main drag, from the Groovy Blueberry vintage clothing store to Jack's Rhythms for vinyl. Water Street Market is an open-air shopping village, which has dozens of antiques dealers, as well as Himalayan Arts, which sells sculptures, incense, jewelry, and textiles from Himalayan countries.

2. Browse the Art Galleries

Street art in New Paltz
Street art in New Paltz | Paul Comstock / photo modified

Like many small towns in Upstate New York, New Paltz has cultivated quite an artistic reputation. Creatives fleeing big city life, locals from nearby communities, and artsy transplants from all over the country have come to make this part of New York home. So you can imagine that the gallery scene is on point in New Paltz.

Start with the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art (1 Hawk Drive), which sits on the State University of New York (SUNY) New Paltz campus. The museum has a permanent collection, as well as rotating exhibitions that show off local artists from the Hudson Valley, as well as burgeoning artists from around the globe.

From here, make your way to the Unison Arts Center (68 Mountain Rest Road) to enjoy the outdoor sculpture walk, as well as its events calendar of cultural performances. The DM Weil Gallery (208 Bruynswick Road) is another option, with contemporary art exhibits, or there is the Mark Gruber Gallery (13 New Paltz Plaza), which specializes in Hudson Valley fine art.

3. Step Back in Time on Huguenot Street

Home on Huguenot Street
Home on Huguenot Street | Paul Comstock / photo modified

Upstate New York is steeped in colonial history, from Native American tribes to the Dutch, English, and French settlers. New Paltz's colonial history began in the late 17th century, and visions of its early beginnings can be traced along Huguenot Street.

Huguenot Street is a 10-acre National Historic Landmark District that sits on the Wallkill River. Today there are many buildings that date back to the 1600s, when New Paltz was founded by French Huguenots who were seeking safety from religious persecution. Seven preserved colonial houses, a reconstructed church, and a replica wigwam from the indigenous Esopus tribe can be found along the street.

Wander more than 300 years of history across the historic stone-house museums, as well as a reconstructed French Church from 1717. The walls of the museums tell the stories of Native Americans, enslaved African people, French Huguenot refugees, and Dutch settlers. The historic district offers a free downloadable sightseeing walking tour, which features the histories of the houses, photos, and information about the collections.

4. Explore the Mohonk Preserve

The Mohonk Preserve in the fall
The Mohonk Preserve in the fall

The Mohonk Preserve spans more than 8,000 acres across the Shawangunk Mountains, offering endless opportunities for outdoor exploration across all four seasons.

The park prides itself on "Choose Your Own Adventure," and they really mean it. Among the miles of hiking trails, craggy cliffs, and leaf-strewn backcountry paths are options for hiking, biking, climbing, horseback riding, and running. The park has more than 75 miles of carriage roads for hiking and biking. The Spring Farm Trailhead is perfect for equestrians of all levels.

But perhaps one of the best reasons to visit Mohonk Preserve is for the climbing, as it is home to the Gunks climbing cliffs. The Gunks are a world-class climbing area, with some of the best climbing in this part of the country, with more than 1,000 routes and more than five linear miles of sheer cliff face. There are acres of boulders, as well. They receive about 80,000 visitors per year.

Mohonk Preserve also offers many educational opportunities. Since the 1980s, the preserve has offered a K-6th grade Field Studies Program, which has been a model for other private-public education partnerships. More than 40 area schools in the region have also registered to participate in the program.

5. Wander the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail

View of the Rosendale, NY train trestle, part of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail
View of the Rosendale, NY train trestle, part of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail

Of course, you don't have to go very far in New Paltz to get in touch with nature. The Wallkill Valley Rail Trail is a 22-mile-long path that follows the path of the former Wallkill Valley Railroad.

The railroad fell into disuse in the 1970s. In 1991, the Wallkill Valley Land Trust purchased the one-mile section of rail that connected New Paltz and Gardiner, NY. Two years later, the trail officially opened. It was extended in 2009 with an additional 11.5 miles.

The trail itself runs right through New Paltz and connects to the neighboring towns of Gardiner, Rosendale, and Kingston. It's one of the most favorite places to visit for hikers, walkers, and cyclists. Along the way, expect to see a quintessential snapshot of what makes New Paltz so beautiful, from orchards and farms to mountain views, rivers, and wide-open meadows.

As the trail crosses Rondout Creek, you are rewarded with views from a trestle that stands 150 feet above the water. The River-to-Ridge Trail connects the rail trail with the Mohonk Preserve.

6. Get Spooked at Mohonk Testimonial Gateway

Mohonk Testimonial Gateway
Mohonk Testimonial Gateway

Once the gatehouse to a historic mountain resort, Mohonk Testimonial Gateway is now an eerie relic of a forgotten past. The gateway served as the entrance to the Lake Mohonk Mountain House for more than 30 years, a well-to-do resort that closed in the early 20th century. But that wasn't the last time the structure was in the public eye. It also had a cameo in the 1985 cult horror movie, The Stuff.

The resort was built in the 1870s, and the gatehouse was added almost 40 years later, serving as a greeting to travelers who would pass through its gate and continue down the tree-lined road to the stately hotel.

The gatehouse has been protected since 2013, designated a historic landmark by the Town of New Paltz Historic Preservation Commission.

Today, the gateway marks a new trailhead into the Mohonk Preserve Foothills. It features the historic tower; Humpo Marsh; the historic Brook, Kleinekill, and Pine Farms; and portions of the preserve's carriage roads.

Address: 5-9 Gatehouse Road, New Paltz, New York

7. Explore the Nyquist-Harcourt Wildlife Sanctuary

Wallkill River
Wallkill River

If you're wandering Huguenot Street, it's worth a visit to the Nyquist-Harcourt Wildlife Sanctuary. The 56-acre park rewards with beautiful river and mountain views, as well as a variety of wildlife to spot.

It's a true paradise for birders, who take their binoculars to the pond-laden paths to try to spot the 140 species of birds, 36 of which are on the Audubon Species of Concern list for the state of New York. Keep a lookout for screech owls, bluebirds, orioles, and sedge wrens, among many other species. The surrounding farmland has been in production for nearly four centuries.

The sanctuary borders 1,300 feet of riverfront on the Wallkill River, and touches two historic Huguenot farm plots.

Address: 133 Huguenot Street, New Paltz, New York

8. Visit the SUNY New Paltz Campus

SUNY New Paltz Campus
SUNY New Paltz Campus

One of the biggest attractions of New Paltz is the hum of youthful energy that vibrates through the streets. This is because the town hosts the State University of New York (SUNY) New Paltz, which brings roughly 8,000 students to the town each school year. The creative energy is palpable across the entire town, the heart of which is the university, established in 1828.

The Samuel Dorsky Museum sits on the campus, but that is just one of many cultural institutions on-site. You will also find the John R. Kirk Planetarium, which has a 44-seat domed theater that puts free shows on for the public on select evenings. You can also explore the Smolen Observatory, which also hosts public telescope events on planned "astronomy nights."

A calendar of events throughout the year has music and theater performances, as well as the annual PianoSummer series, a series of piano concerts in the summer.

Address: 1 Hawk Drive, New Paltz, New York

9. Enjoy Denizen Theatre

Opened in 2018, The Denizen Theatre is a non-profit arts organization known for its live theater performances in its 70-seat black box theater. The design-forward building is one of the most notable features of the performance space. Guests are greeted with soaring ceilings and a glass facade. The lobby moonlights as an art gallery, as well.

With no permanent stage and a constantly changing capacity for each play, no two experiences at Denizen are alike. The theater's concrete design blocks out all outside noise, truly immersing guests in each intimate, theatrical moment.

Denizen hosts events with nonprofits in the area, as well, who share the vision to support local artists and organizations.

Address: 10 Main Street Suite 501, New Paltz, New York

10. Scour the Many Farms and Orchards

Apple orchard
Apple orchard

True to upstate New York fame, farms and apple orchards are a dime a dozen in New Paltz. A visit to the farms and orchards, especially for the fall harvest, can be a rewarding (and delicious) experience.

Jenkins-Lueken Orchards (69 Yankee Folly Road), for example, is known for its apple crop, and even allows guests to pick their own apples and pumpkins in the fall. In the summer, the orchard is primed for pick-your-own berries. The orchard has been in the business for more than 50 years and is family-owned and operated. If you'd rather just shop, the year-round farm store sells seasonal produce and products, as well as apple cider and baked goods.

Dressel Farms (271 State Route 208) is another family-run business in New Paltz, complete with 300 acres of apple trees, pumpkin patches, strawberry fields, and peach trees. The year-round farm stand sells seasonal products, as well, including cider donuts, honey, and homemade ice cream.

Of course, you can always visit the New Paltz Open Air Market (Church Street between Main & Academy), held on Sundays. The market features locally grown produce, arts, crafts, baked goods, and more, all from farms within a 40-mile radius from New Paltz. The intimate market has 18 vendors each week, and often features performances from local musicians.

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