Springwood, the Hudson River Valley home of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, is now preserved by the National Park Service in Hyde Park, New York. However, during his second term as president, Roosevelt also had built a separate cottage, intended as a retreat atop nearby Dutchess Hill, a mostly wooded ridge east of the Hudson. Today, that house—known as Top Cottage—sits within Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, itself dedicated to the life of FDR’s intrepid First Lady and first US delegate to the United Nations. Most visitors to Top Cottage reach the house by shuttle bus (as part of a guided tour from the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site). However, those looking for a walk can reach the cottage by way of the moderately difficult Top Cottage Trail (part of the Hyde Park Trail), which begins at nearby Val-Kill, Eleanor Roosevelt’s former home. (Note: There is an accompanying podcast for the trail!)
Start your journey at Val-Kill in Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, situated in eastern Hyde Park. Visitors are required to park off to the left before approaching Val-Kill Cottage, then cross over a bridge to reach the cottage and Visitor Center. This land served as a retreat for Eleanor Roosevelt, who constructed the buildings here between 1924-26, early in FDR’s political career and before the family’s launch to national fame.
After exploring the grounds, walk around to the back, near the stable/garage, where a spur road bears off to the right. The end of this dead-end drive serves as the trailhead for the Top Cottage Trail and nearby Eleanor’s Walk. Beyond the gate, the wide path bears southeast across a wooded and often swampy flat, leading to a trail fork within 100 yards. As Eleanor’s Walk heads off to the right, bear left on the Top Cottage Trail.
In around 50 yards, the trail cuts through a clearing and passes under power lines. After returning to the woods, the path cuts right and traverses a small wooden bridge. Passing through a grove of pines amid a sea of deciduous trees, hikers cross a second bridge at around 2/10 miles. By now the trail has narrowed significantly from an old road to a genuine single-track footpath, and hikers begin to gain elevation. After a third bridge, the trail dips up and down, clearing a series of ravines and passing several stone walls, remnants from previous development dating to FDR’s time.
At about the half-way mark, the trail crosses what was clearly an old roadbed, and a modern road, running through a residential neighborhood, can be seen down to the left. From here the Top Cottage Trail climbs steadily, bearing northeast. After a downhill section, the path appears to be approaching the residential area ahead; just before it reaches the neighborhood, however, the path abruptly rounds a right-hand bend and begins another sharp climb. The steepest section comes in the final 1/10 mile, before the path finally emerges atop Dutchess Hill.
Here, atop the wooded ridge, Top Cottage offered what was once a fine view of the Hudson River Valley. Today, tree growth largely blocks such a vista (at least in spring and summer); however, sitting on the porch of the small stone house still offers serenity in a natural environment.
FDR used the house, which was specially designed to accommodate his wheelchair, to “escape the mob” at Springwood, providing a place for the president to relax. Several important meetings took place at the cottage, however, including visits by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, King George VI, and Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain. (Note: Visiting Top Cottage early in the morning, before visitors arrive on the shuttle bus, is splendid.)
After spending some time at Top Cottage, return the way you came, this time downhill most of the route. The 2-mile out-and-back requires between 1-2 hours of hiking, depending on pace and amount of time spent lounging on the porch at Top Cottage.