Visiting Olana

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By Jessica Pasko

Every once in a while, you just have to "get out of Dodge" -- so to speak. You know, those times when you can't take a two week vacation, or even a long weekend, but you just need a quick change of scenery.

If it's a day trip you're looking for, I can't recommend Olana enough. The sprawling estate of artist Frederic Edwin Church is beautiful, and it's the perfect place to hike, picnic, sketch and take pictures.

Olana is in Hudson --just on the other side of the Rip Van Winkle Bridge. The jewel of this state historic site is the huge Middle Eastern-influenced villa that Church designed and filled with items from his many travels around the world.

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And then there's the artwork. See, Church was part of the Hudson River School of art-- a collective of American landscape painters who worked and studied together, creating works based on the scenic views of the Hudson Valley, the Catskills, the White Mountains in New Hampshire and other areas. Church is pretty much the most famous of the Hudson River School artists. During his life, he was considered one of the most famous American artists.

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Church designed his estate as an ornamental farm, filled with gardens and gorgeous vistas and a giant man-made "lake." These days, not only are the properties open to the public, but the house has also been restored and is open for tours. And let me tell you, the interior too is breathtaking. Almost every wall is painted with intricate borders and each room is like a mini-gallery lined with work by Church and others, in addition to pottery and tchotkes he and his wife collected.

The house is open for tours from 10 AM- 5PM Tuesday through Sunday (also holiday Mondays) from now until October. You can only see it on guided tours. Tours of the house are $9 ($8 for students and seniors). Gallery tours are $6 ($5 for students and seniors. You can get a combined hours and gallery tour for $12. $10 for students and seniors. Kids under 12 can go on all of the tours for free. You don't have to have a reservation, but the tours can sell out, so if you're planning a visit, you may want to call ahead and make one (828-0135).

My favorite part is just wandering the grounds, which only costs the $5 vehicle fee on weekends. And they'll put that $5 toward a redeemable toward a house tour so long as there's an available slot. The estate is a whopping 250 acres and it's just a giant expanse of beauty. Wander the flower gardens. Bring a picnic, some binoculars and a birdwatching guide. Try your hand at sketching the views Church saw. The last electrical pole was removed from the property a couple of years ago, leaving a largely uncluttered view of the river and the expansive valley. ) If you really like your sketches you can even add them to the ongoing public exhibit at Olana.
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On weekends, you can also borrow backpacks for free from the Education Center. Each backpack contains trail maps and self-guided activities (great idea for families) and they come in two themes "Exploration Today; Discover Olana" and "View it Like An Artist." This Saturday, there's actually a guided hike in honor of National Trails Day and several other events -- including art workshops and musical events -- are planned throughout the summer and fall.

When you've had enough fun in the sun and greenery, it's an easy trip into the city of Hudson for some dining and window-shopping in Hudson. AOA recommends the duck confit panino at Swoon.

Find It

Olana State Historical Site
5720 Route 9-G
Hudson, NY 12534

Hours:Grounds are open 8am-sunset daily. Summer hours for the house tours are Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. through October.


I like that place a lot too, I was planning to go back take new pictures at sunset. I would recommend strolling around, down to the small lake/pond in front of the house. There is a lot to see, as Jessica mentioned. The tour of the house didn't do it for me; this was a few years ago but the accumulation from different time periods didn't give the house the sense of style I would expect from this architectural oddity...

Ahhh! My family and I used to go for picnics there when I was a kid, and I've been trying to remember for YEARS where it was! I had these memories of the place, but I was too young to pay attention to where it was so I've never been sure if the memories were real!

I was just thinking about Olana yesterday. I always get a really peaceful feeling when I go there, and every view is painting worthy. True, the house tour wasn't so great, but I was interested in the use of Islamic art and motifs.

Oh, Olana! One of my favorite places on earth. Definitely skip the house tour, though, unless you're some sort of Frederic Church fanatic (if you are, dude, I think his toothbrush is probably there.) A better choice for some history is the free video in the Visitor's Center, if they still run it. It's a little piece that is narrated by an actor playing Church and is actually pretty entertaining, even after you've watched it thirteen times in a row, which is what we used to do as kids.

I really like it up there too. If you do decide to to go on the house tour, DON'T do it on a hot day because there is no AC inside the house (at least not when I was there in 2005) and it was like an oven inside. Couldn't possibly have been good for the art work.

Here's one of a few shots I did up there almost 4 years ago.

Went to Olana last summer. Planning on going back this summer. One of the most amazing places I have ever been to!

I believe on the off-season when the house is closed but the park is open (usually from 8-5), there is no charge to go to the park for X-Country skiing and hiking.

The article doesn't mention it, but Olana is less than a mile from the home of Thomas Cole, who was the founder of the Hudson River School. That is where the story begins. I recommend going to the Thomas Cole house first, and then Olana. Also, the two sites have teamed up to create the "Hudson River School Art Trail", where you can see the views that appear in their landscape paintings. The sites are gorgeous! here is the website:

Thanks for the plug! Just wanted to respond to some comments and mention a couple other things. I'm so glad to see several mentioning they use the landscape. It is open 8am-sunset daily, year round. Pets on leashes are welcomed. (Don't bring them if you plan to take a house tour. They can't be left unattended in the car.) No one mentioned the sunsets, though! It's one of the most amazing things to see there.

If you're worried about the heat in the house, know that it's better now. We had an HVAC system installed a couple years ago. It controls humidity more than heat, so it won't be frigid, but definitely better. (Much better for the artwork.) If you're really worried about it, come in the morning. This summer's tour theme, starting next week, will be Frederic Church, Alexander von Humboldt and Charles Darwin.

I regret to tell you that we don't have a toothbrush on display. ;) (I don't even think *I* could take the video 13 times in a row!) Yes, it's still shown, and there's no charge beyond the $5/vehicle fee (weekends and holiday Mondays only), for access to the Visitor Center. There are also new touch screens there where you can access artwork and kids' activities.

The Evelyn & Maurice Sharp Gallery opened Memorial Day Weekend on the second floor and has an exhibit of many sketches and studies never shown before, Glories of the Hudson: Views from Olana by Frederic Edwin Church.

Jessica already plugged the Education Center and backpacks, so I'll only add that they're available between 12 and 4, Thursday-Sunday and are a fun way to explore the site with children.

Finally, if you're on Facebook, you can find us there now too...

Thanks Jessica and everyone who commented. I'll be sharing your thoughts with the staff at training next week! If anyone's looking for a volunteer gig...

Thanks, Jessica, for such a nice writeup. A great day trip - just 45 minutes from Albany. Dawn, you put it best that once you enter the 250 acre picturesque landscape - there is a sense of peace.

Lots of new things are going on at Olana. The gallery, a Chinese themed summer party, a viewshed tour, family themed tours of the house, "Art in the Barn" and many other public arts programming in the new Education Center at Olana's farm complex. Come explore nature by borrowing a backpack, attend a hike, sketch the Hudson River views, learn to paint, attend a landscape architecture lecture, picnic, and experience the 3D work of art that is Olana- famed Hudson River School artist Frederic Church's home. You may feel a sense of peace, but also a sense of place.

You can learn more info about programming or become a member to help support the preservation and mission of Olana at:

PS All Over Albany is my favorite blog! So glad to have it; I love living here.

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