Our recent visit to Storm King got me thinking about another Hudson Valley art center I’ve been wanting to check out for a while: Opus 40 Sculpture Park & Museum. Set on 6.5 acres in a backyard in Saugerties, NY, the expansive (and impressive!) Opus 40 sculpture is the product of one man’s creativity and many, many years of hard work.
About Opus 40
Opus 40 was designed by Harvey Fite, who was an actor and one of the founders of Bard College’s fine arts department. Though he originally taught drama and acting at Bard, he later taught sculpting after spending several years teaching himself to carve and sculpt. He built his own home on the Opus 40 property, and in 1939 he began to build the sculpture by hand.
He constructed Opus 40 through the use of something called dry keystone masonry, which allows you to build a structure without the use of any mortar. You are able to walk on top of and within the sculpture, which is definitely pretty sturdy, though there are some wobbly stones here and there you’ll need to look out for! Each piece of the Opus 40 sculpture was carved by Fite himself over the course of nearly 40 years before he tragically died at the age of 72 after falling into a quarry he was converting into a garden.
Though the sculpture itself sprawls across roughly 6.5 acres, the Opus 40 property actually encompasses more than 60 acres in total and includes a museum and hiking trails. The museum is closed presently due to COVID, but spending some time on the trails is a great way to round out your visit. The property is located at the former site of an abandoned quarry, and the hiking trails will give you a glimpse of the old quarry’s rock piles and pits scattered throughout the property.
Visiting Opus 40
Due to COVID, you must buy tickets in advance if you wish to visit Opus 40. Presently, tickets are available for three two-hour time slots per day. You’re asked to arrive on time for your reserved slot and to limit your visit to the two-hour window to prevent overcrowding. Since it’s nearly a 2.5-hour drive to Saugerties from Brooklyn, we decided to book the 1:00 pm time slot which works out perfectly if you won’t be staying in the area and just want to make a day trip out of your visit like we did.
The last 5 miles of the drive to Opus 40 will definitely have you questioning whether you’re lost, but fear not – you’re on the right track! Upon arriving, we were guided to one of the parking lots and checked in near the gift shop. There are a couple port-a-potties outside if you need the facilities, but the museum and interior of the gift shop were both closed during our visit. However, you can still get some drinks and snacks from the gift shop if you need some refreshments. (I recommend the popsicles, especially if you visit on a hot and sunny day like we did.)
When you check in, you’ll get a map that also serves as a self-guided tour of the sculpture. You’ll first be guided to head over towards Fite’s house, which contains his original studio. As you walk towards the house, you’ll also be treated to some pretty spectacular mountain scenery. Even without the Opus 40 sculpture, Fite was one lucky guy to be able to look out his back window to that view every day!
As you walk to the sculpture and head up the ramp, do watch your step as there is a steep drop-off on both sides and there are no railings to keep you from falling. Definitely keep an eye on your kids if you bring them – this is not a place to let young kids run around unsupervised. At the top of the ramp, you’ll see a massive upright rock which they call the “Monolith”. It’s 13 feet high and weighs 9 tons!
Both to the left of the monolith and behind it, you’ll find a few different pools in the level below you. They were all covered in a layer of green stuff, but you are permitted to carefully climb the steps down to the pools and walk along the edge of each of them. The walkways are pretty narrow and the rocks are slippery, so watch your step unless you’re hoping to cool off!
Towards the back of the sculpture is a big open space called the “Amphitheater”. Here you can see various levels of rocks, both natural and those stacked by Fite. I loved seeing all the colors and different striations and sparkly bits within the rocky walls of the amphitheater. Above this area, there is a section where you can try your hand at stacking rocks yourself! (Note that this is the only area where you should pick up rocks and move them around at Opus 40.)
Finally, as we continued our tour in a clockwise fashion we walked through the lower level of the sculpture. One section is called “the refrigerator” since the temperatures through this passageway are reportedly about 15 degrees cooler than the actual air temperature (we can attest to the fact that this is true!) There are several of these narrow passageways throughout the sculpture and we made sure to walk through them all.
After fully exploring the sculpture, we set off for the woods. The trails aren’t marked on the tour map, nor were there any markers on the trails themselves, so we mostly just wandered aimlessly to see what all we could find tucked away. This turned out to be a winning strategy because we found several old quarry pits with tons of rocks and water. We explored these areas carefully since it was unclear how stable they were and we were cautious not to get too close to the edge of the pit, as the rocks looked as though they could easily slide out from beneath your feet.
We kept walking in what we thought was the right direction back to the parking lot, but we discovered that we were indeed nowhere near the parking lot. Fortunately, one of the staff members came by on a golf cart and pointed us back in the right direction.
He also mentioned that there was a trail map that he put together himself, out near the parking lot, but we went into the woods near the back of the sculpture and never saw the map. If you want to check out the trails, it would be worth asking about the map when you check in on arrival so that you don’t end up lost like us.
We spent our allotted two hours exploring and wrapped up our visit with some popsicles back at the gift shop. It was very hot when we visited, but on a cool fall day, I could see us easily spending more time there exploring the trails, especially now that we have been doing more hiking! But we did want to be considerate and follow their COVID policies by not sticking around longer than we should. Hopefully, though, we’ll be able to visit again in the future when we are able to spend more time exploring!
And if you’d like to make your visit a little more special, you can pre-book a private tour or check out Opus 40’s special events on the weekend. On Fridays and Saturday evenings, as well as Sunday brunch, you can enjoy cocktails and a picnic outdoors while listening to some live music, all while socially distanced. These events tend to take place outside of their normal visiting hours and require that you purchase tickets in advance.
So, if you’re in the Hudson Valley and looking for something fun and unique to do, definitely check out the incredible Opus 40 Sculpture Park & Museum. The Hudson Valley is full of many interesting attractions, but this was by far one of the best activities we’ve done in the area. Enjoy!
Plan Your Own Visit
Where to Go
- Opus 40 Sculpture Park & Museum: 50 Fite Road, Saugerties, NY 12477
When to Go
- Opus 40 is open Thursdays through Mondays from 11 AM to 5 PM.
- You must reserve a time in advance, and reservations are limited to two-hour visits during COVID.
- You can also book a private tour or attend a special event by booking advance.
- If you wish to visit in the fall or winter, check the Opus 40 website for seasonal closure info.
Tips for Visiting
- Be sure to arrive on time so that you can fully enjoy your time slot at Opus 40! During COVID, visits are limited to two hours only.
- Bring some sunscreen, as there isn’t much shade around the sculpture.
- You’re welcome to bring a picnic lunch to enjoy during your visit, and water and snacks can also be purchased at the gift shop (we recommend the popsicles!)
- As you visit the sculpture, definitely keep a close eye on your kids. The rocks are slippery when wet and there are several drop-offs and pools of water but no railings. Also, some of the stones are wobbly, so be careful as you walk through the sculpture, as they may shift underfoot.
- There are several hiking trails on the Opus 40 property, but they’re not well-marked nor is there an official trail map. A staff member indicated that there was a physical map somewhere onsite, but we never saw it. If you want to hike, ask where you can find the map and take a photo of it before you head into the woods. (Of course, wandering aimlessly will allow you to find some cool stuff, too!)
- While in the woods and especially if you choose to walk off-trail, note that there are deep pits you could easily fall into. Stick to the trails and stay off of any overhanging rocks which won’t always be stable.