TRAVEL 2023 – At less than two hours by car from downtown Schenectady, Hyde Park might just be one of those places many of us have talked about visiting but haven’t gotten to yet.
But the reality is that it’s the perfect day trip or weekend getaway for those craving a healthy dose of history with a bit of nature and beauty to boot.
While the area has become synonymous with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who spent considerable time there as a form of respite, and his wife Eleanor, who made history in her own right, it was also once also home to railroad tycoon heirs Frederick and Louise Vanderbilt, among other well-to-do families. Two incredible mansions, less than two miles apart, complete with sprawling grounds and museums that will transport you back in time.
As there’s plenty to keep a family, a couple or a few friends entertained for a day or two, we’ve done the research so you can pick and choose and plan ahead, and ultimately ensure that your time is well spent. Heck, we’ve even crafted a sample itinerary for anyone hoping for a shortcut.
The estate itself includes Springwood, the 32nd president’s home, as well as the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum — which, when completed in 1940, was the very first one — spread across 300 acres.
Springwood is run by the National Park Service while the Library and Museum are managed by the National Archives — meaning you will need individualized tickets if you’re planning to visit both. Guided tours of the home are required and cover an impressive 15 rooms across two floors, but you’re able to wander the gardens and trails at your leisure free of charge.
In terms of the museum, both guided and self-guided options are available. You can expect to find historical documents and memorabilia dating to FDR’s time as a U.S. senator and New York governor, as well as from his four presidential terms. Eleanor’s papers are there also, for any history buffs hoping to learn more about her life and legacy in particular — especially as she outlived her late husband by nearly two decades.
Exhibits detailing FDR’s decades of public service are on view as part of the permanent collection, and beginning June 3 a special exhibit called “Black Americans, Civil Rights, and the Roosevelts, 1932-1962” will be on view.
Details and schedule for Springwood: Half-hour guided tours are required and are offered every day from May 14 to Oct. 21 on the half-hour, beginning at 9:30 a.m. with the last tour starting at 4 p.m. Note that ongoing preservation work at times means certain rooms may be off limits.
Tickets for adults are $10; children ages 15 and younger are free. Note that the National Park Service does offer select “free entrance days,” which include Friday, Aug. 4, and Saturday, Sept. 23, so plan ahead.
Details and schedule for the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum: Open every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from April to October. Tickets are $10 each for adults and can be purchased online or on-site.
Grandson to the illustrious railroad tycoon Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, Frederick Vanderbilt oversaw his grandfather’s legacy for the better part of his lifetime, serving as director of the New York Central Railroad for an impressive 61 years.
In this way he was no stranger to wealth — nor the trappings that come with it. He and his wife, Louise, purchased the Hyde Park estate in 1895, tapping notable architects McKim, Mead & White to design what would become a seasonal residence for them thanks to its proximity to New York City. The home itself was completed in 1898, and the couple spent time there annually until Louise died in 1926. When Frederick passed in 1938, the home was left to Louise’s niece, who donated it shortly thereafter to the National Park Service, which in turn opened the estate to the public in 1940.
Frederick’s siblings and relatives have come to be known for their rather epic “homebuilding efforts,” but his Hyde Park estate is said to be less opulent than those of his contemporaries. That is, if a home with 54 rooms and 21 fireplaces can, in fact, be anything other than opulent.
While touring, pay attention to the details and the decor, which were owned by the Vanderbilts themselves — everything from the paintings to the furniture, glassware to their automobiles are remnants of the Gilded Age.
As part of the guided tour, guests can view 18 rooms across three floors. Hint: There’s no air conditioning, so if you’re planning to visit in the dead of summer dress accordingly.
Don’t leave without a stroll through the “Formal Gardens,” a complex series of gardens laid out in an “Italian style” and the result of a series of collaborations between the Vanderbilts and four landscape architects — each of whom contributed to making the gardens what they are today. Garden tours are self-guided and can take one hour to complete in full.
For those willing to get a bit more adventurous, Bard Rock is located right along the Hudson River makes for an excellent picnic destination although it does require a roughly half-mile hike from the Pavilion Visitor Center. But the views are said to be stunning and well worth it — in fact, views like these were what inspired, enchanted and influenced a group of artists that came to be known as “the Hudson River School” in the 1850s.
Details and schedule for the Vanderbilt Mansion: Open daily from May until late October for hour-long tours beginning at 9:15 a.m. and then on the hour from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Tickets for adults are $10; children ages 15 and younger are free. The National Park Service’s “free entrance days” apply at this location also.
Try this schedule for your Hyde Park adult day trip
9:15 a.m.: Arrive at Springwood, tour the home from 9:30 until 10, then wander the estate and the gardens.
11 a.m.: Head over to the Presidential Library and Museum and browse until 12:30 p.m., then dine on a picnic lunch
(or charcuterie board-to-go), which you (thankfully) packed ahead.
1:45 p.m.: Arrive just in time to catch the 2 p.m. tour at the
Vanderbilt Mansion, then spend an hour roaming the gardens.
4:15 p.m.: Make the short 10-minute drive to Walkway Over the Hudson, billed as the “world’s longest elevated pedestrian bridge,” which stands 212 feet above the river and connects Poughkeepsie with Highland. Fun fact? It’s 1.28 miles long and is open every day without exception. Entrances are located at 61 Parker Ave. in the former and 87 Haviland Road in the latter, and there’s both free and paid parking available. Note that the elevator at Upper Landing Park operates beginning at 9 a.m. until 90 minutes prior to its closing — which can be 6:30 p.m. or 8:30 p.m., depending on the month and season. Otherwise you’ll need to take the stairs.
5:30 p.m.: Head into Poughkeepsie for dinner then make your way back home. Favorites include Brasserie 292, which serves French fare, or Lolita’s Pizza, which is a bit more casual.
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