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Hiking on the Shawangunk Ridge

Hiking
Sams Point. Picture courtesy of the Catskill Hiking ShackThere are two places on the Shawangunk Ridge that exemplify all the wild beauty of this area: Minnewaska State Park Preserve, a 12,000 acre preserve six miles from the town New Paltz and Sam's Point on the outskirts of Ellenville in Ulster County. Both of these places can satisfy those in search of wild and wooly wilderness and those who prefer staying on the fringe on well-marked trails, surrounded by cliffs and punctuated by some, if not the, most pristine, beautiful, and isolated mountain lakes in the Northeast.

For midweek hikers, both of these preserves are amazingly quiet. On the weekends, however, especially during the spring, summer, and fall, crowds of bikers and day walkers escape the confines of the city and suburbs to enjoy the trails and lakes. Nevertheless, it seems that most of those who visit are respectful and, unlike parks like Harriman State Park, there is little problem with litter, boom boxes, and other paraphernalia that has become the bane of parks nationwide.

Minnewaska State Park Preserve
Hikers at Minnewaska have any number of fine carriage trails to follow; if they prefer, however, there are small trails off the beaten track that transect the park, leading up fairly steep mountain paths to vistas that are, forgive the cliché, but there is no other way to capture the feeling, simply breathtaking. From the top, hikers can view eastward what seems like the entire Hudson Valley, while the smoky and ragged outlines of the Catskill Mountains provide a dramatic hint of what lies ahead in the north.

Minnewaska's appeal, however, extends beyond the well-groomed trails. Few people who have not traveled to abroad or out West have ever seen lakes as beautiful as Lake Minnewaska and Lake Awosting. Lake Minnewaska lies cozily in the basin of cliffs that almost completely surround the emerald green waters. A small, roped-off beach is provided with a floating dock for those who just can't resist the urge to jump in, but many prefer taking a casual walking around the lake on a well-marked trail. For more adventurous visitors who are willing to make the hike, Lake Awosting is far more private, and the rock slab beach far more pleasing. Before reaching the beach, hikers climb to a number of overlooks that give them a fantastic view of the dancing waves below. Walking to Lake Awosting also offers access to more trails that either lead up to the cliffs and surrounding views to an 1 1-mile trail to the Sam's Point network - quite a trip, but well, well worth it.

Minnewaska also offers:
  • BICYCLING- permitted on miles of scenic carriageways.
  • BOATING- car-top boats permitted on Lake Minnewaska subject to issuance of a permit.
  • HIKING- permitted on trails and carriageways.
  • HORSEBACK RIDING- permitted on carriageways subject to permit.
  • PICNICKING- permitted in designated areas.
  • ROCK CLIMBING- at the Peter's Kill Area, which is located one mile east of the main park entrance, on the north side of route 44/55 opposite Lyons Road.
  • SCUBA DIVING- by certified divers is permitted in Lake Minnewaska.
  • SKIING- permitted on all carriageways.

For trail maps and other specific information, check out The New York - New Jersey Trail Conference website.

Sam's Point Dwarf Pine Ridge Preserve
This 4600-acre preserve nestled in the Shawangunk Mountains in Ulster County contains the best example of ridge-top dwarf pine barrens in the world. According to the Nature Conservancy, the Northern Shawangunks, including Sam's Point, represent one of the highest priorities for conservation in the northeastern United States.

Sam's Point is the home not only of rare dwarf pines and birches, but it harbors one of the least known lakes of the chain of lakes in the area: Martanza Lake. During the week, the lake stands in splendid isolation from the activities below in the Hudson Valley. For those who are not aware of the lake, it surprises them as they mount the backside of the 3-mile circuit trail which begins in a rather primitive parking lot off the winding road that leads off of Route 52 going over the mountain. The Lake is the water supply for Ellenville, so there is, happily, no swimming. This deters potential weekend revelers, leaving the lake to those who appreciate its incredible beauty and isolation. Rocks flank the waters, and are perfect for solitary hikers to rest on and feed on the solitude. Small waves forever lap the surface, and close observers can often see muskrats diving and surfacing, alo ng with the wild ducks floating placidly on the surface. For those who go regularly, the lake is a well-kept secret that embeds itself permanently in the heart.

Verkeerderkill Falls, at Sams Point. Picture courtesy of the Catskill Hiking Shack

Wonderful trails surround the lake, from the easy up and down circuit trail to the Verkeerderkill Falls/Long Path trail, which leaves the loop road and leads to the Falls (which greets hikers with a small, unexpected sign: "One of the Last Great Places on Earth!" As it meanders through open dwarf pine barrens, the trail provides views of the south facing cliffs of Gertrude's Nose, Margaret Cliff and other unique geological features. The trail also offers breathtaking views of the Wallkill River Valley and the Hudson River gap. From the Verkeerderkill trail, hikers can also access the High Point trail, a 2.6-mile hike that takes you through the globally rare dwarf pine barrens and hops across open slabs of Shawangunk conglomerate rock. Some parts of Sam's Point require a permit for hi king. Contact The Nature Conservancy 845-647-7989 for permit information.

The preserve also contains a three-mile portion of the Long Path, a 328-mile regional hiking trail that runs from the George Washington Bridge in New York City to John Boyd Thacher State Park on the Helderberg Escarpment just west of Albany. On the property, the Long Path links up with the 30-mile Shawangunk Ridge Trail, a hiking trail that traverses the Ridge. The trail contains several scenic vistas and connects public lands from the western base of the Ridge at Bashakill Wildlife Management Area to Minnewaska State Park and the Mohonk Preserve along the northeast corner of the Ridge.

For more details, follow the links on the official web site of The Nature Conservancy at www.nature.org and also visit the Catskill Hiking Shack and click on "Local Information".

Governor George E. Pataki in 2000 announced that the State had agreed to acquire a critical 1,300-acre parcel along the famous Shawangunk Ridge in the towns of Mamakating and Wawarsing in Sullivan and Ulster Counties. The parcel contains an extensive dwarf pitch pine forest community, one of only two such examples of this forest community in the world.

*If you have other wonderful Shawangunk hiking trails to recommend, please email us and we will be happy to include your information on these pages.


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