Difficulty: 9 out of 10 (squishing yourself between rocks, ladder climbing, rock scrambling, plus a two-mile-each-way stroll between parking lot and Labryinth)
Highlights: Insane views, cool stroll around Mohonk Mountain House and property, crazy rock labyrinth, claustrophobia-defying climb up a deep crevice, Sky Top Tower
Distance: 5.5 miles, loop
Approximate roundtrip time: 4 hours
Total ascent: 973 ft
Max Elevation: 1,617 ft above sea level
Weather warning: If you’re visiting in early spring or late fall, there’s a decent chance that the Labyrinth and Lemon Squeeze will be closed (it’s closed all winter). Before wasting your time driving there, you can call Mohonk for a recorded message on hiking conditions at 845-256-2197 (this number turns into their ski condition report in the winter).
5-alarm cheapskate alert! As of 2014, this hike costs twenty-one dollars PER HIKER on weekdays, and twenty-six dollars PER HIKER on weekends (current rates listed here). Totally worth it, but you might want to stop by the bank on your way here to hit the ATM. Or take out a second mortgage.
(You can save a few bucks by doing a much longer hike (8-9 miles total) to the Labyrinth from the Mohonk Preserve. I’d recommend just paying the money and doing the hike documented below, but if funds are tight and you’re feeling spry, you can see the Undercliff/Overcliff trail guide for instructions on doing that hike.)
Pooch proclivity: No doggies allowed. Which is just as well, unless your dog can climb ladders.
This hike is for you if: You want to see some of the coolest sights in the Hudson Valley and you’re not afraid to crawl under (and around, and through, and over) some rocks to see ‘em. Also, you’re independently wealthy (see cheapskate alert above).
Background you can feel free to skip: The hike across the Mohonk Mountain House grounds to the Labyrinth rock scramble and up through the Lemon Squeeze crevice is one of the most memorable outdoor experiences in the Hudson Valley, or anywhere else.
As a reward for wedging yourself through rock formations and volunteering to be a human lemon in the Lemon Squeeze, you’ll pop out onto a ledge with awesome views of the Mohonk Preserve and beyond — here’s a six-photo panorama:
Then you can turn around and find the Sky Top Tower right behind you, begging to be climbed. From up there, you can pretty much see the whole world.
For all that you get to see and experience on this hike, the entrance fee really isn’t that steep. Okay, it’s pretty steep. Much like how Cookie Monster says that cookies are a sometimes food, the entrance fee makes this one a sometimes hike.
But really, without the fee, this place would be an insane mob scene. Already, the parking lot is often full on weekends (be prepared to be turned away on a nice weekend day if you don’t get there early or pretty late in the afternoon). If this hike was free, you’d probably have to sleep outside the guard shack to get a parking spot.
If you can swing it, I recommend hitting this hike at an off time – ideally, a weekday – to avoid the crowds. Besides the five bones (per hiker!) you’ll save, you’ll greatly reduce your chances of having to tailgate someone (or be tailgated) through the Labyrinth rock scramble. It’s slow going through the Labyrinth, and much more fun when you can relax and go at your own pace.
I’ve been here when it’s very crowded, and there was a long line at the base of the Lemon Squeeze. We had to stand around for quite a while before we got to try it out. For my thirty-fifth birthday, we burned a half-day of vacation to come and do the Lemon Squeeze on a chilly October Friday, and we had the place to ourselves. Much nicer that way.
Whenever you can get here, though, just be sure that you do. The best things in life are free. But sometimes, the best hikes aren’t.
1. From the day hiker parking area near the guard house, face the bathroom building. The trail goes behind the bathroom, heading to your right – you can hop on it by going behind the bathroom on its left, or you can pick the trail up further to the right, in the back corner of the parking lot. Feel free to go potty first. We’ll wait.
2. You won’t see any trail signs indicating it (at least I didn’t), but if you’re looking at the free (well, kinda free) map they gave you at the guard shack, you’ll see that you’re meandering down Huguenot Trail (from the parking lot on the far-right side of the page).
Just keep heading straight, and in less than ten minutes, Huguenot Trail dead-ends into Whitney Road, where you’ll listen to the big red sign that tells you to stay off the paved road (which, for bonus confusion, is called Huguenot Drive).
Keep heading straight on Whitney Road, with the paved Huguenot Drive running parallel on your left.
3. Whitney Road descends through the woods and, in less then ten minutes, comes to a rather unmarked intersection (there was a trash can there on my last visit, if that counts as a marker). Take a left here to continue along the (unmarked, as far as I could tell) North Lookout Road. This is the beginning of our loop – we’ll come back to this intersection later today via the little trail straight ahead (marked with a dotted line on the map, for those following along).
4. In less than five minutes, arrive at Beech Bend (unmarked on the map), where we’ll be ditching most of the other day hikers, who are heading towards the Picnic Lodge (we’ll swing by the Picnic Lodge — menu here, and more info here — on our way out at the end of the day, after we’ve earned a picnic). Take a left to hop on Glen Anna Path.
NOTE: This way is a little more strenuous than the route to the Picnic Lodge. It’s shorter as the crow flies, but it also climbs 300 feet and then descends 150. I like this way because it’s the path less traveled, it creates a nice loop for the day and it takes you past a cool gazebo (Talman Seat) with a great view that you’d miss otherwise. If you’re not feeling ambitious, and don’t care about making a loop out of this hike, you can follow all the other hikers to the Picnic Lodge and then to the Mountain House. If you decide to bail on Glen Anna Path, happy strolling, and we’ll meet you at the Mountain House on Step 12 below.
5. Follow Glen Anna Path for about five minutes. It will climb a wooden staircase and dead-end on the far side of Huguenot Drive. Careful crossing the street!
After crossing the road, go straight/left to hop on Fox Path. “CAUTION ROUGH PATH,” the sign warns. Good thing you eat rough paths for breakfast.
6. In the next quarter-mile, you’ll climb 215 feet. You might notice an occasional red trail marker painted on the rocks, but otherwise, just keep huffing up the well-worn path until it dumps you out onto Sky Top Road.
7. When you emerge onto Sky Top Road (it’s a wide carriage path), turn right to visit the nice gazebo with obstructed views. The shortest way to the Mountain House is to continue straight on Fox Path, but then you’d miss Talman Seat, which is a really cool spot, and it’s an easy amble to get there from here, perhaps adding a couple of minutes to your day. Relax at the gazebo for a minute, take a deep breath and contemplate how annoying it is that we’re not taking the shortest path.
When you’re done contemplating, keep heading along Sky Top Road in the same direction, away from Fox Path. In a few minutes, you’ll pass another gazebo with nicer views on your right.
Take a left onto Huguenot Drive, toward the Mohonk House.
Not a bad place to stop and soak in the view for moment. On many hikes, this would be the grand finale, but here, it’s only – I want to say appetizer, but to continue the firework metaphor, I have to say that it’s actually a sparkler that a little kid is waving around before the fireworks even start. Or maybe a glow necklace? You get the idea.
Anyway, hi there, Catskills!
10. When you’re done, hop down from Talman Seat and continue along Huguenot Drive. In just a minute, you’ll be looking over the Mohonk Mountain House and grounds. Impressive, right? That’s where we’re headed.
In another minute, you’ll see Fox Path joining you from the left. If you see anyone coming down that path, feel free to say, “Dude, wasn’t the view from Talman Seat cool? Oh, wait, never mind.”
Just keep strolling on Huguenot Drive, which takes you all the way to the Mountain House, past some beautiful gardens on your right. (See that stone gazebo out there? Remember that for later – you’ll be walking on the far side of it for our return trip.)
12. As you approach the Mountain House, you’ll pass a putting green on your right, and then, boom, there it is, right in your face. Mohonk Mountain House.
Note: The great unwashed day-hiking rabble (that’s you) is not allowed into the Mountain House, or even on the porch. If you brought a pastel sweater to tie around your neck, you could try to blend in with the paying customers, but your Nalgene bottle might give you away. But seriously, they can’t have the Mountain House packed with tons of people all the time, and the folks who shelled out many hundreds of bones per night deserve some elbow room. Besides, the truly awesome stuff here is not to be found indoors.
Walk right up until you’re overlooking Mohonk Lake, with the Mountain House looming above to your right.
13. The real adventure is just about to begin! As you approach the lake, you’ll see signs directing you to the Labyrinth. Start heading around the lake to your left, away from the Mountain House.
Take a right at the fork to join Lake Shore Road, which will bring us to the Labyrinth in just a minute.
14. Take a gander back at the Mountain House. What a cool place.
And then, just a minute after you joined Lake Shore Road, your date with destiny begins, on a little side path on your left. There’s a nice sign posted at the Labyrinth entrance with lots of warnings about what you’re about to do. Those warnings are not being alarmist – please take them seriously and don’t attempt this ascent if you’re not looking for an adventure. You can always bail out now and stroll on the paved Sky Top Path up to Sky Top Tower instead (just go back towards the Mountain House and make a U-turn where you turned onto Lake Shore Drive).
14. Still with us? Excellent. Welcome to the Labyrinth! Sorry if you were expecting David Bowie to be here. That’s a different Labyrinth.
Let’s do this thing. Just keep following the red markers through the Labyrinth – and make sure to keep a sharp eye out for them. There are a couple of spots where you could lose the trail if you weren’t paying attention.
Have at it!
Just keep following those markers, enjoying the twists and turns. Seriously, that’s where the trail goes?
Yeah, that’s where it goes.
15. It took us about 40 minutes to navigate the Labyrinth. What an awesome place. When you emerge, the trail opens up, the red trail markers direct you towards the crevice and you can finally stand up straight for a little while.
16. Enjoy a quiet woods stroll for about two minutes. Ahhhh, what a nice, relaxing – okay, that’s over, time for some more rock scrambling! Watch your step as you continue following the red markers, hopping from boulder to boulder. It’s easy to get distracted by the widening views and beautiful cliff towering above you.
17. After a while, you realize that the trail is taking you toward that crack in the cliff. Seriously? Seriously. Keep heading toward that crack until you arrive at the ladders. Going up!
18. Climb those ladders and get squeezed, lemon! Hope you don’t mind heights too much.
For the final ladder climb, if you’re wearing a backpack, it’ll be helpful if you have someone higher up who can grab it for you. Otherwise, you’ll have to push it up over your head or find some other creative way to get it up there. It’s a tight squeeze.
The toughest spot is at the very top, where there’s often a bottleneck on crowded days. Take your time and figure out how to wriggle up those last few feet.
19. Congratulations, you made it! Whoa, dude — who knew this awesome view would be waiting for you at the top?
20. After soaking in the view, cross the little footbridge that spans the crevice you just climbed. Hello down there!
21. Follow the trail up one last rocky patch, then up a flight of stairs toward the Sky Top Tower. Note the signs on the stairs that tell you not to come back this way. It’s a one-way labyrinth.
22. Pick your way up to the Sky Top Tower, then go inside and climb the stone steps all the way up. If you live in the Hudson Valley, there’s a pretty good chance you can see your house from up here. If you know how to yodel, let it rip. Otherwise, just relax and enjoy the 360-degree view. It’s all downhill from here.
23. When you leave the tower, take a right turn out of the door to walk on the gravel Sky Top Road, towards the Mountain House.
24. About one minute after leaving the tower, you’ll take a left turn off the gravel road onto Sky Top Path, towards the Mountain House.
25. Follow Sky Top Path all way back down to the Mountain House, passing several nice gazebos and an ice skating pavilion on the way. It took us less than fifteen minutes to get back down. A little quicker than the way up, right?
26. Just before you get back to the Mountain House, you’ll start seeing signs directing walkers (that’s you) toward the Picnic Lodge. The Picnic Lodge is our next destination, so follow those signs.
27. Stroll across the wide-open lawn to the right of the Mountain House. The best landmark is the big stone gazebo, marked as “STONE SUMMERHOUSE” on your map. As you walk toward the Stone Summerhouse, you’ll want to veer left and downhill, heading toward Greenhouse Road.
28. Downhill from the Stone Summerhouse, hop on Greenhouse Road and keep heading away from the Mountain House. In a couple minutes, you’ll pass the greenhouse on your right.
29. Follow signs toward the Picnic Lodge, which is right across the street from the greenhouse. Take the crosswalk across Barn Road, then veer right toward the Picnic Lodge.
30. Now that you’ve found the Picnic Lodge (if it’s open, feel free to pop in – this is Day Hiker Central), you’ll be following signs toward GATE. Go to the LEFT side of the Picnic Lodge. The road on the right side, which looks rather inviting, is a dead end. We found this out the hard way. Walk around the Picnic Lodge to the left to pick up the little unnamed path (marked with a red dotted line on the map) that will lead you to North Lookout Road.
31. When the unnamed path beside the Picnic Lodge dead-ends into North Lookout Road, turn right. North Lookout Road wraps around a small picturesque cliff, giving you your last up-close look at a Mohonk rock face for the day. Feel free to give it a hug.
32. Hey! More views, and a gazebo! Awesome. What a nice way to end the day. Whenever a sign gives you a choice, pick GATE or GATEHOUSE. Otherwise, just enjoy the stroll. You’ll walk about three-quarters of a mile before your next turn towards the Whitney Road shortcut – it took us about fifteen minutes to get there from the Picnic Lodge.
33. When you see a sign on your left that says “SHORTCUT TO WHITNEY ROAD AND GATEHOUSE,” turn left to head down the stairs and take the shortcut.
34. Follow the little shortcut trail for just a minute, then it pops you back onto a familiar intersection from earlier in the day. Stay straight to hop on Whitney Road and close the loop for the day. You’re now retracing your steps back to the car.
35. In about five minutes, you’ll bear left at the intersection to get back on Huguenot Trail, following the sign toward GATEHOUSE and PARKING LOT. There’s a really good chance you don’t need this trail guide anymore, but we’ve come this far, so let’s just wrap this up together, shall we?
36. Five more minutes and boom! There’s the parking lot. We did it! Okay, you did all the hard work. But still, what a day. I hope you feel much less ripped-off than you did after arriving here earlier today. It was worth the entrance fee, right? Indeed.
Now, time to go retroactively carbo-load! I recommend the Cajun chicken nachos and clam chowder at P&G’s in New Paltz. Perhaps, in honor of your accomplishments today, you should order some lemonade. From a fresh-squeezed lemon, like you.
Directions to the trailhead:
From the village of New Paltz, head west on Route 299. Just past the bridge over the Wallkill River, turn right on County Rd 7 (Springtown Road), towards the Mohonk Mountain House. In half a mile, veer left onto County Rd 6 (Mountain Rest Road). Follow this road up the hill, then turn left into the Mohonk Mountain House entrance (if you go under a little overpass, you’ve gone just a hair too far). Stop at the gate house, where you’ll receive a map and be relieved of your money.
You can also get directions by checking out the Mohonk Mountain House: Labyrinth and Lemon Squeeze entry on the HiketheHudsonValley.com Google map.
Sorta nearby address for your GPS: This hike has its own address. Woo hoo! The address for the Mohonk Mountain House is:
1000 Mountain Rest Road
New Paltz, NY 12561
Related resources: If you’re looking for actual facts and/or useful information, visit these resources:
- The official Mohonk Mountain House hiking page
- The official Mohonk Mountain House trail map (they give you a large paper copy at the gatehouse when you pay)
- “Mohonk Mountain House: A Hiker’s Paradise” from SectionHiker.com
- A Mohonk dayhiking discussion on this TripAdvisor page
- Entertaining and wide-ranging (mostly very positive) Yelp reviews on staying at the Mountain House
- A nice VisitVortex rundown of all the hikes available at the Mountain House
More Mohonk Mountain House: Labyrinth and Lemon Squeeze pictures from the hike’s Picasa album:
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