When Autumn arrives many here in the Hudson Valley look to our beautiful natural environment to enjoy the outdoors. In the heart of the Hudson Valley along the scenic Shawnagunk Mountain ridge is the Mohonk Preserve. This is the perfect place for a day hike that will transform not only your day but your life.
The Mohonk Preserve is the largest member-supported nature preserve in New York State. It is not a New York State Park. It welcomes to its wooded trails over 165,000 visitors every year. It is well known nationally for its rock climbing on the Trapps.
Mohonk Preserve was formed in 1963 by the Smiley Family, friends and supporters. The Smiley family are the founders and operators of the spectacular Mohonk Mountain House. The Mohonk Preserve has acquired over the decades thousands of acres scenic land along the ridge from the Smiley family. The property contains miles of hiking trails and beautiful carriage roads that were once part of the Mohonk Mountain House Property and indeed still connect to that property itself. The Preserve has two distinct areas, the Northern Section (north of the Mountain House) and the Southern Section where we hiked.
Our hike earlier this year started at the Mohonk Preserve Visitor Center located off New York Route 55 in Gardiner NY just outside New Paltz. The center is a good place to gather information about the preserve through helpful and informative staffers and maps. There is interactive exhibits as well as a small gift shop all housed in this rustic stone and timber building. Many hikers like to start their hike from the popular West Trapps parking lot that can fill up easily on weekends. You can find parking here at the Visitor Center, but accessing the trails requires some effort.
After leaving the Visitors Center there is a short walk to the beginning of the connector trail (yellow blaze). There you will find it is a strenuous 250 step walk on stone steps you will need to climb in order to reach the Undercliff Road (carriage road). This is the hardest part of this hike. Please wear good hiking shoes.
Once you reach the Undercliff Road (one of the carriage roads) you will realize the climb was worth it. In front of you is the soaring vertical cliffs of the Trapps and to the east the entire Wallkill valley floor opens up. In the distance you can see the Taconic range of hills on the New York border with Connecticut. Above you will see the numerous rock climbers as they make their way up the cliff face. The geology of the preserve could be the subject of its own article.
The gentle grade of the carriage roads make for easy and pleasurable hiking. The trail is wide and smoothly graded. The views are beautiful as are the many hawks seen gliding along the cliffs. The Undercliff Road terminates at the Rhododendron Bridge where several carriage roads meet. Some will make their way onto the Mohonk Mountain House property,(separate property from the Preserve) but for this hike we continue on the Overcliff Road which takes up and onto the western side of the Trapps
The old carriage road continues on a long but gentle incline and the hiker is awarded with fantastic views westward toward the high peaks of the Catskill Mountains.
The trail loops back around to the east facing Trapps where we began, passing amazing stone outcroppings and giant rocks that were once part of the cliff above. The hike around 5 miles and for the most part is an easy hike and a great introduction to this wonderful preserve. We all can be thankful for the vision and the efforts to preserve such a wonderful natural environment.
Do consider hiking here and even becoming a member of the Mohonk Preserve. The fee for hiking is $15 per person, $20 for mountain bikes, climbers, and horseback riders. A great place to visit anytime of year.
for more information
3197 Route 55 Gardiner NY (Visitor Center)
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