The Hudson Valley between Dunderberg Mountain to the south and Storm King Mountain to the north is known as the Hudson Highlands. Along this 15-mile stretch, the Hudson River, narrowing and deepening, cuts through the Appalachian Mountain Range, creating a spectacular rocky gorge.
About halfway up this stretch, where the river takes a sharp turn, is a rocky outcropping known as West Point. With its strategic views of both sides of the river, it’s easy to see why it was such an important stronghold during the Revolutionary War.
On West Point today sits the country’s oldest and best-known U.S. Military Academy (www.usma.edu), authorized by Congress in 1802. About 4,400 cadets are enrolled here each year. Graduates have included Generals Grant, Lee, Pershing, MacArthur, and Eisenhower; misfits have included James Whistler and Edgar Allan Poe.
Near the Thayer Gate entrance to the Gothic, fortresslike academy is a giant visitors center (Rte. 218, 845/938-2638, 9 a.m.–4:45 p.m. daily). The center stocks brochures and maps, holds a large gift shop, and screens a short movie about the cadets’ lives.
Next door to the visitors center is the West Point Museum (Rte. 218, 845/938-2203, 10:30 a.m.–4:15 p.m. daily, free admission), filled with a wide and fascinating array of exhibits on military history. Here you’ll find everything from a Stone Age axe to weapons used in Vietnam and the Gulf War; dioramas of famous battles fought between the 16th and 20th centuries; the letter that Einstein wrote to President Roosevelt urging him to begin research on the uses of plutonium; and a pistol that once belonged to Adolf Hitler. One philosophical panel, simply entitled “Reflections,” includes quotes by famous military leaders throughout history—from Thucydides to Eisenhower.
Since the September 11 attacks, the academy can only be visited via escorted tours (adults $8, children 5–12 $5), which leave from the visitors center throughout the day, except during special events such as football games. Tour highlights include the Cadet Chapel, lined with lovely stained-glass windows donated by graduated classes; the Plain, where the cadets march out in formation at precisely 12:20 p.m. every day; and Trophy Point, where you’ll find unforgettable views of the blue-gray Hudson. Also at the point are links of the “Great Chain” that the patriots once stretched across the river here to prevent the passage of British ships.
One of the more unusual spots at West Point is Constitution Island (845/446-8676, www.constitutionisland.org, Wed.–Thurs. afternoons June–Oct., adults $10, seniors and students $9, children 3–6 $3, reservations required), accessible only by boat, which leaves from West Point’s South dock. Strategically important during the Revolution, the island later became the home of Susan and Anna Warner, two 19th-century writers who taught Bible classes at West Point.
Susan was the author of the popular 1850 novel The Wide, Wide World; Anna was best known for writing the words to the hymn “Jesus Loves Me.” The sisters lived in the Warner House, a 17-room Victorian mansion built on the island by their father in 1836. One wall of the mansion dates back to Revolutionary War days, and the whole house is furnished more or less as it was when the sisters lived here.
Hudson Highland Cruises (845/534-7245, May–Oct.) offers cruises of the Hudson that leave from West Point’s South Dock and West Haverstraw.
Accommodations and Food
On the academy grounds just inside Thayer Gate off Route 218 stands the big, gray, castlelike Thayer Hotel (674 Thayer Rd., 845/446-4731 or 800/247-5047, www.thethayerhotel.com, $190–230 d), where the rooms are outfitted in the style of late-19th-century Americana. Some rooms overlook the Hudson, others the West Point campus, while the lobby and restaurant are outfitted with marble floors and iron chandeliers.
Outside is a pleasant terrace with more great views of the Hudson. The hotel’s upscale restaurant (average dinner entrée $22) serves traditional American and Continental cuisine.
© Avalon Travel and Sascha Zuger from Moon New York State, 5th Edition