The Shawangunk Ridge runs roughly north and south from Stone Ridge to Ellenville on the west side of the Hudson River. It is most dramatically viewed from New Paltz, looking to the west at the tall rock cliffs rising up from the Wallkill Valley flood plain. The area is an international destination for people seeking luxury accommodations, world class rock climbing, and the natural, pristine environment the thousands of ridge-top acres provide.
photo by Sam Lewit
Originally where Esopus Mill Stones were quarried, and where some of the best huckleberries were found, the Shawangunk Ridge was largely owned by the twin Smiley brothers, Albert and Alfred, who had the Mohonk Mountain House at the north end of the ridge on Lake Mohonk. In 1878 Alfred left Mohonk to develop a similar resort hotel on Lake Minnewaska in the middle of the ridge.
The Mohonk Resort continues today as a luxurious National Historic Register Hotel & Spa surrounded by 1000s of acres of nature preserve. Alfred’s holdings were the kernel of what eventually became the more than 21,000 acre Minnewaska State Park Preserve which opened in 1993. It has 3 lakes, miles of gravel carriage trails, hiking trails, and extensive day-use facilities. There is no overnight camping.
The southern portion of the ridge was the Ellenville watershed, where the Town’s reservoir is still located. Now called Sam’s Point Preserve, it has the Ice Caves and extensive dwarf evergreen forests. A network of well-maintained carriage roads and trails connect all the properties, but they are most accessible to the public off Route 44-55 at Minnewaska State Park Preserve.
For the most enjoyable walk along the 35 miles of carriage roads, or hike along the 25 miles of trails, it is best to park in the Awosting Parking lot just west of the main entrance. There is a fee for parking. Maps and trail descriptions are available online and for purchase at the booth. (Parking fees and swimming hours are adjusted daily and seasonally.) Remember to pack a picnic lunch, plenty of water and your bathing suit and you’ll be ready to explore miles of groomed trails. Minnewaska State Park Preserve is a “carry in – carry out” property with no camping or fires allowed, and no water, food or garbage pickup available.
Provisions for bicyclists, hikers, strollers, rock climbers and even horseback riders allow access and recreation for all manner of motor-less locomotion throughout the park, with some trails all-inclusive and others restricted to the peripatetic enjoyments. Swimming areas at both Minnewaska (follow link to see warnings) and Awosting Lakes, replete with changing booths, composting toilets and life guards, make walks on even the hottest days bearable. Clearly marked trails, maps at intersections with handy “you are here” indicators and frequent places to enjoy the panoramic vistas over the Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains make for a pleasurable day of hiking the level and gently-sloped gravel lanes.
Located a mere 90 minute drive from New York City, the Minnewaska State Park Preserve entrance is on top of the ridge, on the south side of Route 44/55, about ten miles west of New Paltz, NY, exit 18 on the New York State Thruway.