As a rock climber, most of the time I’ve spent in the Shawangunks has been on vertical rock, but a recent visit to the New Paltz area provided an opportunity to explore some of the excellent trail network in Minnewaska State Park. Minnewaska sits atop the Shawangunk Ridge, which rises two thousand feet above the Hudson Valley and is characterized by pitch pine forests, sky lakes and dramatic cliffs and rock formations.
Much of the trail network in Minewaska and the adjoining Mohonk Preserve consists of former carriage roads – perfect for mountain biking and cross country skiing as well as hiking. Our family group (there were 7 of us altogether: 4 adults and 3 children) first hiked the 2-mile trail around Lake Minnewaska, and then hiked down to the spectacular Awosting Falls, an easy 1-mile round trip to the base of the falls.
The Lake Minnewaska circuit was easy – just right for the three kids, which range in age from two to six. The carriageway is smooth, wide and well-graded, especially as compared to the trails we usually hike in the Adirondacks. Frequent views of the dramatic lake and its surrounding cliffs, the Hudson Valley, and the Catskill Mountains to the north make this a highly rewarding and interesting hike. Those looking for a little more challenge might consider Millbrook Mountain, a moderate half-day hike with expansive cliff-top views that can be done from Minnewaska or from the West Trapps trailhead in the Mohonk Preserve.
Awosting Falls turned out to be another easy, must-do hike. Several inches of recent rainfall had swollen the Peters Kill to a satisfying roar as it plunged over the 60-foot drop. Below the falls, we followed the trail for another half mile or so along the stream before turning around. Flowing water is always a hit on hikes with kids, and our kids enjoyed exploring the stream as it flowed over the smooth bedrock slabs below the falls as much as they enjoyed the falls themselves.
Minnewaska State Park and the Mohonk Preserve were once part of an extensive resort hotel property that was developed on the ridge in the late 1800s. The extensive carriage road network was constructed during that era so that hotel guests could visit the dramatic cliff-top vistas and lakes. Beginning in the 1970s, the State of New York gradually acquired the parcels that form Minnewaska State Park, which now totals over 20,000 acres.
One word of warning: Minnewaska's easy access to downstate population centers makes it very popular, especially on beautiful fall weekends. On the weekend we visited (Columbus Day), we found ourselves completely shut out of parking at every trailhead on the first day of our visit (Sunday). We simply adjusted our plans and visited friends and family that day, returning the next day to hike.