New York City is the most populous city in North America and among the largest urban locales in the world. The New York Metropolitan Area has a population of more than 18 million and is home to international business headquarters, financial markets, museums, performance venues, and some of the world’s most prominent skyscrapers. Despite this, residents of or visitors to New York City don’t have to venture too far outside the Big Apple to explore nature.
Among the standout natural features of Minnewaska State Park Preserve is its rugged and rocky terrain, as well as its abundance of waterfalls and the sheer cliffs that frame picturesque views of surrounding hardwood forests. The park is located on the Shawangunk Mountain Ridge, which extends higher than 2,000 feet above sea level and features several access points from Port Jervis to Kingston, west of the Hudson River. Minnewaska State Park Preserve is one of several state parks and forests along the ridge.
The Shawangunk Mountain Ridge itself is composed of sedimentary conglomerate and sandstone and was formed by erosion of the Appalachian Mountains over a period of several million years. In the late 19th century, the “Gunks,” as they are affectionately known, served as a retreat for the wealthy with luxurious clifftop hotels such as Cliff House and Wildmere hotels and the Mohonk Mountain House, the latter of which is still in operation.
A popular destination for hikers, Minnewaska State Park Preserve boasts more than 50 miles of footpaths with dozens of trails cutting through dense forests and along cliff edges. Popular trails include the nearly 11-mile Upper Awosting, Lake Awosting and Castle Point Loop; 2-mile Lake Minnewaska Loop Trail; and 6.9-mile Gertrude’s Nose Trail. The latter is the most popular trail in the park with more than 2,000 reviews and a five-star rating on AllTrails.com. Described as a moderate difficulty hike, this multi-terrain trail has an elevation gain of 346 meters.
In addition to hiking, horseback riding, and skiing, the park offers recreational activities such as scuba-diving, boating, rock-climbing, and bouldering. The Peter’s Kill climbing area, located one mile east of the park’s main entrance, is the only area in the park designated for rock climbing. Cliffs in this area are about 70 feet high with heavily forested bases that provide shade which makes climbing them relatively comfortable. Climbers require a day or season pass and capacity at the cliffs is limited to 100 climbers and 30 boulderers per day.
At the highest section of the Gunks and most southerly part of the park is Sam’s Point Preserve. A nature lover’s dream, this 5,000-acre area boasts rare high-altitude pitch pine barrens, Lake Maratanza, accessible ice cave crevices, and the 187-foot Verkeerderkill Falls. Much of this can be seen along the Sam’s Point and Verkeerderkill Falls Trail, which runs along cliff tops and offers views of the Hudson Valley, Rondout Valley, and High Point Monument in New Jersey.
Minnewaska State Park Preserve is a designated Bird Conservation Area (BCA), meaning it is a migratory concentration and bird research site with diverse and at-risk species. Because of its unfragmented forest, the park provides refuge for a wide range of forest-dwelling bird species, including the Canada Warbler, Gray Catbird, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Indigo Bunting, and Black-throated Blue Warbler. Endangered Peregrine falcons also nest along the cliff face of the Gunks. In fact, the Gunks are among the most critical areas for biodiversity conservation in the northeastern US and have been designated by the Nature Conservancy as one of the “Last Great Places.”
Those looking to stay in the Minnewaska State Park Preserve for an extended period of time can book spots at the Samuel F. Pryor III Shawangunk Gateway Campground, which is open, weather permitting, from mid-May to mid-November. Offering a minimalist camping experience, the tent-only campground offers 50 designated sites: 24 for drive-in and 26 for walkers. Each site can accommodate four people and two tents. The campground also includes restroom facilities as well as a pavilion and cooking area. It’s a five-minute drive from the main entrances and managed by a partnership of the Mohonk Preserve and American Alpine Club.
Featured Image courtesy karlnorling | Flickr