Difficulty: 4 out of 10 (easy stroll with some clambering at the falls)
Highlights: Awesome waterfall, sheer cliff face, naked people
Distance: 1.45 miles, up-and-back
Approximate roundtrip time: 1.5 hours
Total ascent: 193 ft
Max elevation: 1,291 ft above sea level
This hike is for you if: You want to visit a 90-ft waterfall that’s well off the beaten path.
Warning: The falls slow to a trickle in the summer. You’ll have better luck if you come here when the water’s high.
Super-cool Google Earth flyover of hike route:
Google Terrain Map of hike route:
Background you can feel free to skip: “Hey, can we go to Stony Kill Falls tomorrow?” my buddy Chunks asked during his recent visit from Texas. We were planning to visit Minnewaska Preserve the following day.
“Where?” I asked.
“It’s up near Minnewaska somewhere, on Shaft 2A Road,” he said, perched over his laptop.
We did a little more investigating, and sure enough, a waterfall I’d never heard of appeared to be just a short distance down the road from our original destination, so we put it on our agenda as an appetizer for our Minnewaska hike. That turned out to be a good plan.
The walk to Stony Kill Falls is sort of odd. You go past a water treatment facility (complete with helipad, like any upscale water treatment facility should have) and through an old quarry, and then an unmarked trail sort of gets you close to the falls, but at that point you’re on your own. You’d have to try really, really hard to get lost here since you can just follow the stream, but with such a gorgeous waterfall to visit, I’m surprised there’s not a proper trail leading the way. The quasi-bushwhack does give the place a sort of wild feel, though, like you’re the first one to find this awesome, hidden place.
Which brings me to the naked people. According to the Stony Kill Falls Wikipedia entry, you can hike above the falls to find a place called the Nudist Pool, if that’s your thing (we didn’t know to look for a trail heading up over the falls, but you can get a really good look at the falls from below, so to me, that’s good enough, even if it means you miss out on the naked people). It also helps explain why the guy we passed below the falls was skinny dipping. I think he just decided to make his own Nudist Pool, or perhaps christen a Lower Nudist Pool for naked people who are too lazy to walk all the way up to the real one.
In any event, this relatively little-known place is absolutely worth a visit. Come for the gorgeous waterfall, stay for the full frontal nudity!
P.S. I may have given the naked-people thing more airplay than it deserves. You probably won’t see any naked people here, but you definitely will see an awesome natural place.
**UPDATE April 5, 2017** This hike is currently off-limits due to trail construction, scheduled to re-open in late 2017. Bummer for now, but better in the long run! See this article for more details.
1. From the parking area in front of the gate on Shaft 2A Road, follow the gravel road and walk around the gate.
2. Try to take some comfort in the fact that only deer hunting is allowed in here. Did you leave your orange hat in the trunk?
3. Follow the road to the left of the large chain-link fence that looks like it must be guarding some top secret underground CIA facility. It’s just an access point to the Delaware Aqueduct, you say? Okay, I believe you. That’s why I won’t let the helipad to the left of the road convince me that this is a CIA facility, either.
The cliffs over the helipad to your left let you know that despite the chain-link extravaganza you’re walking past right now, you’re in an awesome, Shawangunky kind of place.
4. Directly after the definitely-not-a-top-secret-CIA facility, head straight across the old quarry.
5. At the far side of the quarry, you’ll pick up the road again and follow it for a very short while until you can see Stony Kill Creek.
6. Take a right here to head up the bank and into the woods. Walk upstream, staying close to the creek. This is where one might expect a trail, but there’s not really one, except for the human equivalent of some deer trails.
7. The falls are straight ahead, not far at all. You can view them from either the left or the right side of the creek. The right side is probably a little easier to get to, and offers a clearer view of the entire waterfall. Just head toward the sound of the waterfall and pick your way up there, being careful not to tromp any vegetation.
8. If you want to check out the left side, pick your way across the creek and head up the bouldery slope.
The views from under the cliff are fantastic. We were here in early April, and there was still an iceberg under the falls.
9. If you can scramble around to the right side of the falls, you can get some perfect, unobstructed views. Here’s a Youtube clip of the falls in warmer weather, viewed from the right side of the creek. Man, what a nice place. (Note the human in the first picture below to get a sense of scale.)
10. When you’re done ogling Mother Nature, head back the way you came. And if you run into any naked people, careful you don’t get caught ogling them, too.
Directions to the trailhead: From New Paltz, head west on Route 299. Follow this until it dead ends into Rt. 44/55, where you’ll make a right turn. Follow 44/55 past the hairpin turn under the Shawangunk cliffs, past the Trapps parking area and past Minnewaska State Park Preserve. About 4.3 miles after you pass Minnewaska on your left, take a left onto Minnewaska Trail, then an immediate left onto Rock Haven Road. In about two miles, turn left onto Shaft 2A (marked Shaft IIA on the road sign). Follow Shaft 2A Road until you come to the gate that blocks your way. Park on the side of the road.
You can also get directions by checking out the Stony Kill Falls entry on the HiketheHudsonValley.com Google map.
Sorta nearby address for your GPS: The intersection of Rock Haven Road and Shaft 2A Road in Wawarsing, NY is about half a mile north of the trailhead. (My old-ish Garmin Nuvi lets me put in an intersection as a destination, so hopefully yours does, too.) Just head down Shaft 2A Road (marked Shaft IIA on the road sign) until you come to the gate that marks the trailhead.
GPS coordinates of parking area: 41.73437, -74.29544 (Clicking will open in Google Maps or the Apple Maps app, depending on your browser/device.)
Related resources: If you’re looking for actual facts and/or useful information, visit the well-done Wikipedia entry for Stony Kill Falls. You might notice this warning at the bottom of the page: “Writing explicit directions here would only increase the amount of impact that this very precious gem accrues. If you care enough about this to write about it here please consider the ramifications of your actions.”
I have written explicit directions to the waterfall because I think the people who care enough to find this trail guide will also care enough to treat this place with respect. I’m very likely preaching to the choir here, but please do heed the advice to leave Stony Kills Falls in the same or better condition than when you found it.
**UPDATE May 2013** The Wikipedia page no longer features that warning, and instead offers directions for getting to the falls. Nice! Now I don’t have to feel guilty about it. Still, I’m leaving that old text here because it’s a nice reminder to tread gently when visiting the falls.
More Stony Kill Falls pictures from the hike’s Picasa album (with a special thanks to my buddy Jered Earl “Chunks” Widmer for providing several of the photos used on this page):
Was this trail guide useful to you? Please leave a comment!