Located in Rhinebeck, NY, Ferncliff Forest is a 200-acre nature preserve that offers the opportunity for a brief walk in the woods culminating in a view of the entire region from atop a fire tower. The preserve offers hiking and camping for all ages, and leashed dogs and horses are allowed on the trails.
Ferncliff Forest is currently owned by the Rhinebeck Rotary, but prior to that it was owned by members of the Astor family. The Astor family was prominent in business and politics in the 19th and 20th century, and thus became social icons of America’s affluent class during that time. Ferncliff Forest was created by William Backhouse Astor purchasing several small farms in the area in 1853. From that point on, subsequent family members continued to purchase nearby properties to create what would become a 2,800 acre plot by 1940. During this time, the land served as the site of farming colonies and other agricultural purposes. When John Jacob Astor died in the Titanic disaster in 1912, the Ferncliff property as well as all of Astor’s wealth, was inherited by his eighteen year old son Vincent Astor. Upon Vincent’s death in 1959, ownership of the property passed to his wife Brooke Russell Astor. She then donated the 200 acre plot to the Rhinebeck Rotary. The nature preserve as it can be seen today was established by Homer Staley, the forest’s first park ranger, in 1964. The history of the forest is intriguing in itself, but it also benefits visitors. Since the land was donated to the Rhinebeck Rotary, a private organization, the trails have been made open to the public, free of charge.
The trail is well-marked and the walk itself is not very strenuous; it is the fire tower that poses the biggest challenge (especially if you are afraid of heights). The tower can hold around 6 people comfortably, and offers a fantastic panoramic view of the Hudson Valley. There is hardly any climbing on the walk, so it can be puzzling to think that it will somehow end in a spectacular panoramic view, but once you see how tall the firetower is, it all makes sense. Climbing the stairs to the top of the tower certainly gets your blood pumping, but it is manageable for people of all ages.
Fortunately for our class, we took this trip to Ferncliff Forest at the height of the fall foliage period. The walk was full of wonderful views of trees with leaves of different shades of red, orange, and yellow. There are several ponds along the trails, all of which served as excellent reflecting pools of the brightly colored trees behind them. One of the ponds is currently under construction. A sign informed us that the forest has received a grant to turn the current gravel and weeds into a meadow, which would be a welcome change for both visitors and wildlife. As of October 1st, Ferncliff Forest still needs $12,000 in order to finish the project, and anyone can donate to this worthy cause on Ferncliff Forest’s website.
Although 200 acres may seem small for a nature preserve, Ferncliff Forest is teeming with wildlife. While walking on the trails, we spotted several frogs, along with an astonishing amount of salamanders. This close proximity to nature as well as the stunning views and relaxing hike is especially appealing to city folk who crave interaction with nature but may not have had many opportunities to experience it.
After the hike, our class spent some time in nearby downtown Rhinebeck. This is highly recommended, as the hike is short enough that it won’t consume most of the day, but long enough that afterwards you will feel that you earned some more relaxing downtime, such as getting a coffee, grabbing a knick knack at the 5 and Dime, and walking around Rhinebeck’s beautiful downtown.
Click here for more information on visiting Ferncliff Forest!