Summer 2020 has been, among other things, the summer of local travel for many of us. We’ve explored parts of New York City, New Jersey, Long Island, Westchester, and Connecticut that we’ve never seen before, and rather than jet off to Europe for a big summer vacation, we booked an Airbnb in Greenwood Lake, New York—just 50 miles northwest, an hour and 10 minutes away, from Queens.
We anticipated a relaxing few days of swimming, grilling, and kayaking, but what we found exceeded our expectations. We didn’t just get Greenwood Lake, after all—we had easy access to a large swath of New York and New Jersey that we’d never really spent time in before. Countless state parks, hikes, farms, breweries, and more awaited, and we took full advantage—between the swims and meals, of course.
The best part? This region is close enough to be a weekend getaway or even a day trip from NYC. And it’s not just for summertime: There’s apple-picking in fall and skiing in winter. Here’s our mini travel guide to things to do in the Greenwood Lake region, no matter the season.
Swimming, Kayaking, and More
For summer fun, you can’t beat being on or in the lake. It hasn’t been a vacation destination for 120-plus years for nothing! Nine miles long, Greenwood Lake straddles the New York-New Jersey border, and offers not only swimming but also canoeing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, boating, and fishing. Swimming was a priority for us, so we rented a gorgeous waterfront Airbnb with direct lake access, as the small public beach nearby was closed this year to nonresidents. Is it safe to swim in? Yes. Greenwood Lake has had closures on its southern (NJ) end in 2019 due to harmful algae, but it’s been open all of 2020 for swimming and boating. We were told by numerous locals that they’ve been swimming in the lake for years, and continue to do so, but it’s worth checking out local resources to see how the algae levels are doing.
To rent a boat, reserve in advance from Greenwood Lake Marina—for summer 2020, it offered only four- and eight-hour rentals, which started at $315. We unfortunately missed the reservation window, so made do with the canoe at our house. You can also rent kayaks and stand-up paddleboards, or book a SUP yoga class. Fishermen and -women, the species to catch here include walleye, largemouth and smallmouth Bass, crappie, and other panfish. Bring your own fishing gear, and find some tips and tricks here.
Hiking Near Greenwood Lake
From the lake, you’re nearly surrounded by state parks with hikes for all levels, plus several access points to the Appalachian Trail. We hiked every day—and I use the term lightly, as we traveled with four kids age 7 and under—and barely scratched the surface of what’s available here. Here are some places to start:
- The scenic two-mile Appalachian Trail Pochuck boardwalk path in Vernon, NJ, which meanders over a beautiful marshy area and crosses the Pochuck Creek by way of an old suspension bridge, was a particular favorite, for the kids and adults. The path is narrow and gets crowded—weekdays are best, and don’t forget your face mask! It is not a loop trail, so we double-backed once we hit the woods at the end, but for a longer hike you can continue up through the hardwood forest and climb Wawayanda mountain via the “Stairway to Heaven” trail to reach Pinwheel Vista—a full 7.3 miles there and back.
- We were drawn to Warwick’s Fuller Mountain Preserve after reading about the frogs, toads, and salamanders that live in the wetlands around Fuller’s Brook, which travels the length of the wooded preserve. Critters are a kid magnet, and while we found no salamanders, our boys caught (and released) many a frog. We only hiked the ¾-mile loop trail in the forest, but what a magical trail it is—narrow, dense, and lush, with enough elevation changes and proximity to the brook to keep things interesting. There is also a 1.5-mile- and 1.75-mile round-trip trail that lead to a vista overlooking the Warwick Valley.
- The closest state park to Greenwood Lake is Sterling Forest, and it doesn’t disappoint. There are countless trails in this vast, pristine park, but we stuck close to pretty Sterling Lake and meandered around the Lakeville Ironworks section of trail, which took us past the ruins of a centuries-old ironworks (and mill town)—a fascinating bit of New York history. You could spend hours in this park if you have some time: There are loop trails ranging from four to 12 miles.
In addition to these, check out Wawayanda State Park and Ringwood State Park on the New Jersey side, and Harriman State Park in New York. You can also access the Appalachian Trail in nearby Warwick, and climb the Eastern Pinnacles. Come winter, you can ski and snowboard at Mount Peter, a mere hour’s drive from NYC.
Farms Near Greenwood Lake
This area, considered the lower Hudson River Valley, is fertile land for farming and has been for centuries. If you’re anything like us, expect frequent U-turns as you double-back on highways to stop at tiny farm stands and markets to pick up locally grown peaches, tomatoes, zucchini, corn, and eggs. Some of the larger spots, like Ochs Orchard and Pennings Farm, let visitors pick their own produce, including apples in the fall. (Ochs also has terrific homemade ice cream.) We found the best eggs—purchased on the honor system—at a farmhouse we passed near Fuller Mountain Preserve, and the best local meats (sausages, ground meat, pork chops) at the tiny Greenwood Lake Garden + Farm Market right in town.
There’s also a Shoprite in Warwick, but we managed to use it only once (and for a very small purchase). Who needs it with so much superior local product around?
Breweries and Cideries
Speaking of local product, there are countless breweries within a 20- to 30-minute drive from the lake—we were only limited by opening hours, as not all of them are open on weekdays, when we visited. We did make it to Rushing Duck Brewing Co., an established brewery in nearby historic Chester, to sit outside on its back patio for a beer on a glorious Thursday afternoon, and swung by brand-new Tin Barn Brewing in Sugar Loaf, a vast space open for to-go cans only that day, to bring home some of its New England-style IPA and pale ales. For good measure we grabbed some canned ciders from Pennings Farm Cidery in Warwick too.
Other breweries to check out include Drowned Lands, Glenmere Brewing (both in Warwick), Pine Island, and Long Lot Farm Brewery (Chester). There’s also Orange County Distillery at Brown Barn Farms and the Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery. And right in Greenwood Lake, do not miss Friendly Beer + Soda, a gem of a beer store with tons of local and imported beers alike.
Where to Eat Near Greenwood Lake
We grilled every night at our Airbnb, taking advantage of the fabulous local produce and meat, but we got out for a few fun lunches. At old-school hot dog spot Paul’s Place in Hewitt, NJ, at the southern end of the lake, we splurged on less-than-$3 hot Texas weiners “all the way”—despite its name, that’s a classic Jersey chili dog, with mustard and raw onions. It hit the spot, and we appreciated the outdoor picnic tables for dining in. When we have an opportunity to try regional food, we’ll take it!
Audrey’s Surfside Grill, a Dominican-owned food truck in Greenwood Lake, is a great bet for breakfast or lunch, and also has a picturesque lakeside dining area with picnic tables. I enjoyed the chicharrón de pollo (bite-size pieces of boneless fried chicken), but especially loved the stewed beans and rice served on the side. Our friends loved the taco bowl, and the kids devoured their fried empanadas. Jerk chicken, burgers, and crispy tofu sandwiches are also on the lunch menu. Next time I’ll go for breakfast–the breakfast quesadilla or taco bowl, perhaps, or the egg and cheese on Cuban bread.
Mexican Zingo is another great lunch/dinner option, with outdoor seating (alas, on the road out of town) and good tacos, enchiladas, chile rellenos, tamales, soups, and more. A few locals recommended The Helm, an award-winning New American restaurant with a seasonal menu, but it didn’t fit into our schedule this time. For breakfast at home (or on the go), try a bag of bagels from the family-owned Greenwood Lake Bagels and some fresh-roasted organic fair-trade coffee from Greenwood Lake Roasters Craft Coffee.
Ice cream is a must, and the best homemade stuff in the area comes from Bellvale Farms Creamery in Warwick (Ochs Orchard’s ice cream, mentioned above, is also very good). This place is far from a secret–expect a line at pretty much any hour of the day–but it’s worth it. And you get to enjoy your cone overlooking the pretty Warwick Valley.
This will get you started in the region, but there’s much more to explore. Let us know in the comments if you know the Greenwood Lake area and have another suggestion!
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