My introduction to this spectacular region of New York was through my high school buddy who was studying at SUNY New Paltz. This current day, bohemian style hamlet, 80 miles north of New York City via I-87 (New York State Thruway), was founded by French Huguenots in 1678. There is a 10 acre National Historic Landmark District where I would recommend a stop at the visitor center to get orientated with the area. There are seven historic stone houses, archaeological sites, a burial ground and a reconstructed 1717 Huguenot church. The Shawangunk region comprises public and private lands that are set aside as a 25,000 acre natural area for recreation, preserved wilderness areas and a watershed. The main recreational areas include the grounds of the Mohonk Mountain House, Mohonk Preserve and Minnewaska State Park Preserve.
Leaving New Paltz and traveling west on Main Street (Route 299), you will cross over the Wallkill River on the Carmine Liberta Memorial Bridge. Now, you will be entering the expanse of the Shawangunk Mountains region and its many renowned hiking, rock climbing, biking, cross-country skiing and other recreational treasures.
The Shawangunk Ridge, also known as the Shawangunk Mountains are affectionately referred to as, “The Gunks”. This ridge of bedrock extends from the northernmost point of New Jersey to the Catskill Mountains of New York. Within the northern Shawangunks are five lakes, (sky lakes). They are: Mohonk Lake, Lake Minnewaska, Lake Awosting, Lake Maratanza and Mud Pond. Most of the northern Ridge is protected by Minnewaska State Park Preserve, which includes Sam’s Point Preserve, with more than 100 miles of hiking trails and multiple climbing areas. There are trails and rock climbing for every level, from the casual hiker to the highly skilled climber.
Rock climbing in the Gunks is enjoyed on four major cliffs. They are the Millbrook, the Near Trapps, The Trapps, and Skytop. The Trapps, is the longest and most accessible and offers the largest number of climbing routes. The Near Trapps is located immediately across from The Trapps. Millbrook mountain is the highest and most remote. The Mohonk Mountain House owns the Skytop cliff and rock climbers must use their authorized guides. In the Minnewaska State Park Preserve you are also permitted to climb Peter’s Kill and Dickie Barre cliff.
Mohonk Mountain House dates back to 1879, when twin brothers Albert and Alfred Smiley built a small resort for family and friends. Enlarged several times, the brothers created a refuge for the enjoyment of nature, the outdoors and the study of botany and geology. It is located on Lake Mohonk, which is 60 feet deep and a half mile long. The property adjoins Mohonk Preserve with over 85 miles of hiking trails. Boating, swimming, horse riding, fishing, tennis, mountain biking as well as cross country skiing, skating and snowshoeing in the winter are offerings to guests on the 1,325 acre property.
Mohonk Preserve is an 8,000 acre, protected area where hikers and climbers can enjoy cliffs, trails, forests, ponds and streams. The Mohonk Preserve was incorporated in 1978, emanating from the generosity and forethought of the Smiley family and friends who formed the Mohonk Trust in 1963 to insure and protect the area’s unique natural landscape. It is located on the Shawangunk Ridge of the Appalachian mountain range. Annually, 50,000 rock climbers are challenged by its 1,000 climbing routes. There are 40 miles of trails for hiking, cycling, cross-country skiing and horseback riding.
Minnewaska State Park Preserve encompasses 22,275 acres. Three of the five, (sky lakes) are within the preserve. Lake Minnewaska, Lake Awosting, and Mud Pond. Lake Minnewaska is approximately one mile long by one quarter mile wide. The land was originally part of the Smiley brothers Mohonk Mountain House property. They built the Cliff House which accommodated 225 guests and overlooked Lake Minnewaska. A second hotel, Wildmere was added, which accommodated 350 guests. Cliff House was abandoned in 1972 due to maintenance costs was lost in a fire in 1978. Wildmere closed in 1979 and succumbed to flames as well in 1986. New York State bought the property in 1987 and opened the Minnewaska State Park Preserve in 1993.