If you were out and about in the Capital Region this past weekend I don’t need colorful words to describe the weather. It was magnifique, with a side of sacrebleu. The right amount of sun, the right amount of breeze, and the right amount of water snakes. At least that’s how I remember our trip to Minnewaska State Park. After almost ten years around here I love that there are still a few gorgeous state parks to discover less than two hours away. Read on to prepare your next road trip.
More photos below. Click on any of the thumbnails to open a larger view, or check the full-screen Flickr slideshow if you have Flash installed.
Located in Ulster County, NY about two hours south of Albany, Minnewaska State Park Preserve is situated on the dramatic Shawangunk Mountain ridge, which rises more than 2,000 feet above sea level and is surrounded by rugged, rocky terrain. I give it a 7.5 on my dramatic chipmunk scale, mostly because of its nickname, The Gunks.
The park consists of approximately 21,000 acres of wild and scenic land, featuring numerous waterfalls, lakes, dense hardwood forests, and incising sheer cliffs and ledges opening to gorgeous vistas. There are more than 35 miles of carriageways and 25 miles of footpaths on which to bike, walk, climb, hike, and run away from wild life (source: nyparks.com).
Minnewaska is managed by the Palisades Interstate Park Commission. There are three sky lakes within the Park Preserve: Lake Minnewaska, Lake Awosting, and Mud Pond. Lake Minnewaska is roughly a mile long by a quarter-mile at its widest point. It does look much bigger than it is from a distance but the beautiful walk around its perimeter shouldn’t take you more than an hour, on a very easy trail. Lake Awosting is roughly twice as large and Mud Pond is rumored to be made entirely of mud. I was in no mood for mud. Fine, I made that mud up.
As you reach the park entrance, pay the $8 fee and head to the right to find the parking lot. Walk back towards the entrance to find the path to the spectacular Awosting waterfalls, only a few minutes down the road. You can walk along the stream as well but a word of warning, this is neither idiot nor child proof, as it will lead you straight to a surprising 60 feet plunge into a broad pool. Then again, it could be refreshing. There is nice trail at the bottom of the falls, following the river — we explored it for a bit, envious of the dogs having a field day in the water.
Head back to the parking lot to get your car, drive past the entrance again, then up the road to Lake Minnewaska. This is only a short 3/4 of a mile ride you could do on foot, but the lack of dedicated trail and the traffic make that endeavor unfriendly to hikers. This is just fine though because you really want to have your fancy picnic basket at the ready once you reach the stunning view on the lake. Feast your eyes for a bit. A wedding was going on that day, if this is in the cards for you, I would recommend you put this location on your list. My 2 cents? Go for an open bar only if you are OK losing a few guests off the cliff.
As I mentioned earlier, the walk around the lake isn’t very long and well worth it. The well-groomed trail is friendly to strollers and can be done by bike, or horse. Once again, I had forgotten my horse, Sir Cataclop. Where is my horse when I need it? If you go clock-wise, make sure to stop at the cliffs, the small gazebo, and the lookout. There is also a cute little wooden bridge on the way.
Speaking of cliffs, it’s geology time! The Shawangunk Mountain ridge is primarily underlain by Shawangunk Conglomerate, a hard, silica-cemented conglomerate of white quartz pebbles and sandstone that directly overlies the Martinsburg Shale, a thick turbidite sequence of dark gray shale and greywacke sandstone. Finally, I get to use the word turbidite on this blog, hellloooo SEO!
The Martinsburg Shale was deposited in a deep ocean during the Ordovician (470 million years ago). The Shawangunk Conglomerate was deposited over the Martinsburg Shale in thick braided rivers during the Silurian (about 420 million years ago); both sequences of sedimentary rock were subsequently deformed and uplifted during the Permian (about 270 million years ago). As a result of this deformation, strata within the ridge are involved in a northward plunging series of asymmetric folds that dip gently towards the west (source: Wikipedia). In a nut-shale: rock rock (thank you).
What should you expect on the other side of the lake? A few water snakes, chilling out in the water or tanning on the rock. My more nature-inclined friends will correct me if I’m wrong, but I guess this is the Northern Water Snake, a large, nonvenomous, well-known snake in the Colubridae family that is native to North America. It can grow up to 135 cm (4.4 ft) long. They can be brown, gray, reddish, or brownish-black. They darken as they age — some will become almost completely black. Northern water snakes have many predators. They defend themselves vigorously when they are threatened. If they are picked up by an animal, or person, they will bite repeatedly, as well as release excrement and musk, a trait they share with Rush Limbaugh. They pose little risk to humans though (source: Wikipedia).
As you end your journey back at the parking lot, grab your picnic and find a comfortable rock with a view. It’s Nutella time.
Minnewaska State Park Preserve is located on Route 44/55, five miles west of the intersection with Route 299 in Gardiner, New York (see official directions). For more information and to register for programs, call the Park Preserve Office at (845) 255-0752. The Park Preserve is open from 9:00 AM until 5:00 PM (see hours). The fee for parking at Minnewaska is $8 per car (see fees). If you own a convertible, it’s a beautiful ride top down once you reach New Paltz. If you own a convertible and it has been stuck at Keeler Motor Car for a month and you are “driving” a Prius, then make sure you bring a talkative friend (check!) or a good playlist (check!), for this car is as incredibly economical as it is mind-blowingly boring. Save the trees!