Introduction

About the Trail


Wear comfortable shoes, open your eyes and prepare to be inspired.

The Hudson River School Art Trail is a project to map the painting sites of the artists Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River School, Frederic Church, one of the most accomplished painters of the movement, and their contemporaries including Asher B. Durand, Sanford Gifford and Jasper Cropsey. This website includes everything you need to plan your visit to one or more of these remarkable sites where one can still see the views that appear in 19th-century landscape paintings.

The Hudson River School Art Trail is divided into several large geographic areas. From this website's homepage, choose which area you wish to explore. The Hudson River Valley area has the largest number of stops while the others are currently less developed.

A new guidebook with complete information including maps and directions is now available for purchase from our online shop, as well as from the visitor centers of either the Thomas Cole National Historic Site or the Olana State Historic Site during regular hours of operation. With over 50 full-color illustrations and an introduction by Kevin Avery, Associate Curator of American Paintings at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, this guidebook takes you to the magnificent places that inspired America's first great landscape painters. Included are beautiful reproductions of many well-known paintings of the Hudson River School, alongside photographs of the same views today, enabling side-by-side comparisons. The guidebook can be purchased in advance of your trip to both inspire and assist you with planning your visit.

Throughout the year, the Thomas Cole Historic Site hosts events related to the Trail including guest speakers and guided walks. To see a schedule of current events, click here. If you would like advance notification about these events, please join our mailing list.

About the Project

The Hudson River School Art Trail is a project of the Thomas Cole Historic Site presented in partnership with Olana New York State Historic Site, The Olana Partnership, the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area, the National Park Service Rivers & Trails program, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and New York State Parks, and the Greene County Tourism & Planning Department.

The Trail project is funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Arts & Business Council of New York, and the New York State Council on the Arts.

The 2012 website and mobile app are supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Home page images: Cole, View near the Village of Catskill, 1827;  Cole, View from Mount Holyoke, 1936; Hill, Franconia Notch, White Mts, 1887; Moran, The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, 1873-74.

The Hudson River School Art Trail takes you to the sites that inspired America's first great landscape painters, enabling you to walk in the footsteps of Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, Asher B. Durand, Jasper Cropsey, Sanford Gifford and other pioneering American artists, and to see the landscapes that launched the Hudson River School of art.

The Making of the Hudson River School Art Trail

On the first Sunday in June 2005, coinciding with National Trails Day, the Thomas Cole National Historic Site officially unveiled the first phase of the Hudson River School Art Trail project, which maps the painting sites of 19th-century artist Thomas Cole and his contemporaries including Frederic Church, Jasper Cropsey, Sanford Gifford, and Asher B. Durand. Forming the core of the art movement now known as the Hudson River School, these artists hiked, sketched and painted in the region surrounding Thomas Cole's home in Catskill and Frederic Church's home near Hudson. Many of these views are spectacularly preserved and accessible to the public. The Hudson River School Art Trail project maps the locations from which these painted views can be seen, and enables the public to find and compare the painted and actual views today.

The Hudson River School is America's first major art movement, having dominated American visual arts for over 50 years with over 100 artists between 1825 and 1875. The scenes on the Hudson River School painters' canvases, now hanging in major museums all over the world, are the views that surround us here in the Hudson Valley. Many of the views remain remarkably unchanged since the 19th-century, and are instantly recognizable as the scenes depicted in the paintings. The Trail enables the public to find these sites using a mobile website, a printed guidebook, and outdoor educational panels.

The Trail project takes advantage of the region's unique cultural and natural resources, including the following highlights: 1) the home of the founder of the Hudson River School, Thomas Cole, 2) the home of one of the movement's most accomplished artists, Frederic Church, and 3) the magnificent landscapes that they painted including miles of well-maintained trails in the Catskill Forrest Preserve with waterfalls and spectacular views.

In addition, at both Olana and the Thomas Cole site, visitors can see the artists' actual workspaces. The process of creating a work of art, which began with sketching trips into the local landscape, was completed in the artists' studios which are now open to the public, furnished with the artists' original easels and art-making equipment. Hanging on the walls of Olana is one of the most important collections of Frederic Church's artwork, and the Thomas Cole site each year presents a new special exhibition on the paintings of an influential member of the Hudson River School. Both Olana and the Thomas Cole site offer gift shops with a great variety of books, jewelry, posters and other items that relate to the story of the Hudson River School. Bringing another element into the Trail is Tatiana's Restaurant in Catskill, which has a large terrace and outdoor lounge that overlooks one of the Trail's famous views. The North-South Lake Campground, a New York State Park, contains several of the trail sites and offers amenities such as marked trails, restrooms, picnic benches, swimming, boating, and camping. These resources provide the visitor with a full spectrum of activities including visiting historic homes, seeing art exhibitions, taking hikes in the Catskill Forrest Preserve, visiting one of the highest waterfalls in New York State, shopping at the historic site gift shops, and eating at a restaurant overlooking a historic view.

The Trail is the product of many years of planning, and the concept was included in the original plan for the Thomas Cole National Historic Site written by the National Park Service in 1991. Much of the initial research was done by the late Barry Hopkins, an art teacher in the Catskill Middle School and a knowledgeable naturalist and outdoorsman.

Future Development of the Trail

Phase one of the development of the Trail was completed in 2005 and it included choosing the first eight Trail sites and creating a brochure with maps, driving directions and printed representations of the painted views to use as a comparison with today's actual views. The next phase, completed between 2006 and 2012, included expanding the number of trail sites from 8 to 22 and construction of a mobile-optimized website. In addition, many sites were outfitted with trail markers and outdoor wayside interpretive exhibits. The outdoor exhibits include reproductions of paintings depicting each site as well as background information on the painting, the artist, and relevant historical facts and anecdotes about the site. These wayside interpretive signs serve as "captions on the landscape," enhancing the visitor's understanding about the Hudson River Valley landscape and the art that it inspired. In coming years, the Trail will be further expanded with more sites and the mobile website will be enhanced with more content.

About Thomas Cole

Long regarded as the founder of America's first art movement, known as the Hudson River School, Thomas Cole (1801-1848) is a central figure in the development of American culture. When Cole made his first trip up the Hudson River in 1825, thought-leaders in America were searching for something distinctly American to establish the nation's own culture as separate from that of Europe. Thomas Cole found it in the Catskill Mountain wilderness, which came to symbolize the unspoiled character of the new nation. Lionized during his lifetime and celebrated by a generation of artists who followed in his footsteps, Cole is now widely regarded as the father of American landscape painting. Click here for a brief biography of Thomas Cole.

About the Hudson River School

The Hudson River School is the first coherent American art style, and was the prevalent genre of the19th-century. With roots in European Romanticism, the Hudson River painters defined a distinct vision for American art through sweeping depictions of its landscape. The movement is credited with having a major influence on America's understanding of its natural environment, its national destiny, the idea that nature reflected the divine, and the desire for touring the country's natural wonders. It is thought to have included over 100 artists over a span of 50 years, between 1825 and 1875, when the movement fell out of favor. In recent years the Hudson River School has experienced a resurgence of interest and scholarship, and today enjoys widespread popularity once again. Click here for a list of major figures associated with the Hudson River School.

About the Thomas Cole National Historic Site

The Thomas Cole National Historic Site is where the artist Thomas Cole lived, worked and was married, and where he died at the age of 47. Today the site consists of the Federal-era brick home (c. 1815), as well as Cole's original studio building (1839), on 5 landscaped acres with a magnificent view of the Catskill Mountains. In 2001 the house underwent a major restoration and now contains both furnished rooms and gallery rooms with special exhibitions. The Old Studio, restored in 2004, contains Cole's original easel and art-making tools, and offers a vivid understanding of the artist and his working environment. Click here for a history of the Thomas Cole National Historic Site.

Project Partners

The Hudson River School Art Trail is a project of the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, presented in partnership with Olana, the home and workplace of Frederic Church, and with the National Park Service Rivers & Trails program, with assistance from the Greene County Tourism Promotion Department. The Trail project is funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Arts & Business Council of New York, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area.

About the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area

The Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area program was established by Congress in 1996 and is funded, in part, through the National Park Service and Department of the Interior. The mission of the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area is to recognize, preserve, protect and interpret the nationally significant cultural and natural resources of the Hudson River Valley for the benefit of the Nation. The Hudson River Valley Greenway is the management entity for the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area.

Credits

Website: Historicus, Inc. & Firehaus Studios

Background: Original sketch courtesy of Patti Ferrara

Downloads

The Hudson River School Art Trail maps the sites that inspired the great landscape paintings of the Hudson River School artists. Using the links below you may download and print a pdf of the map of painting sites one through seven and detailed directions to these first seven sites using the free software Acrobat Reader. Please note that the Trail Map and Trail Site Directions are best used in conjunction with each other.

  • Trail Site Directions for 1-7 (PDF). There is one page per site, which includes a photo of the view as well as paintings of the site by different Hudson River School artists.
  • Trail Map (PDF) showing the locations of the first seven sites of the trail.