Background you can feel free to skip: The crazy natural beauty at Minnewaska State Park Preserve is probably the worst-kept secret in the Hudson Valley. On a nice summer afternoon, you’re probably more likely to find solitude at Wal-Mart. But man, what a place. Minnewaska draws crowds for a reason.
A trip to Minnewaska could be a leisurely stroll around the lake, or a day-long extravaganza with multiple vistas and mileage reaching double digits, whichever you prefer. The very nice New York State Minnewaska homepage features tons of great information to help you plan your day here, including a jam-packed trail map (the same one they’ll hand you when you pay at the guard shack on your way in). The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference map for this area is much easier to read, but you’d have to be willing to shell out some cash for it.
The hike I’m suggesting here is a 6.4-mile loop, which breaks my keep-it-under-5-miles rule, but the trails here are, for the most part, pretty easy carriage roads, and there aren’t any insane climbs. There’s also an easy way to knock a couple miles off the hike, if you want to shorten it up a bit (though you’d miss out on an awesome overlook.)
There’s enough to see here that you could come every weekend for the summer and check out something new each time. And if you’re game for sharing your time outdoors with crowds of other granola munchers, you’ll have a hard time finding a more perfect spot than Minnewaska.
1. From the Lake Awosting parking area inside the preserve (see “Directions to the trailhead” below), walk back down the entrance road, toward the guard shack where you just deposited $8.
2. Once at the guard shack, check out the information on the kiosk to your right, then turn right to head into the park on the main road.
3. In a very short distance, you’ll cross the Peters Kill stream. Directly afterwards, turn left onto the red-blazed Awosting Falls Trail. The stream burbles and drops off to your left on its way to the falls.
4. Continue down the Awosting Falls Trail as it meanders downhill all the way to an open viewing area of the falls. Awosting Falls drops 60 feet into a clear, wide pool with plenty of vantage points all around. Park yourself on some rocks and enjoy the show.
5. When you’ve appropriately soaked it all in, head back up the way you came, to the start of the Awosting Falls Trail. Take a sharp left (U-turn, really) onto the orange-blazed Sunset Carriageway and keep climbing. (Note: You could go back to your car and drive up to the next parking lot to avoid this section of the hike, but we’re here to hike, right? Besides, you’d miss out on a couple of nice views if you did that. I just don’t want you to be mad at me when you see the parking lot at the top of the hill.)
6. Enjoy the views as the gentle switchbacks of the Orange Trail take you up toward Lake Minnewaska. From the bottom of the Orange Trail to the first lake vista is about 20 minutes, with stops for pictures.
7. Stay on the Orange Trail until it ends just past the upper parking lots. Make sure you don’t wander into the parking lots and get lost, as my friends did when following this trail guide — the lots should stay on your left as you continue up the trail. Continue up the trail to the fence that offers a great overlook of Lake Minnewaska (the upper parking lot is now directly behind you), with the white cliffs rising up on the left and the visitor’s center neatly camouflaged on top. See it?
8. After taking in the view for a moment, turn to your right, heading back the way you came for just a few steps. Turn left on the red-blazed trail marked “Minnewaska Lake Loop.” (Our next destination is Kempton Ledge on the Castle Point Carriageway.)
9. Follow the Red Trail down past the swimming beach. Not a bad place to take a dip, if it’s open and you’re so inclined. You’ll also stroll past a bathroom facility, which you’re welcome to take advantage of. We’ll wait. Otherwise, just keep hanging in there on the Red Trail.
10. About five minutes after the bathroom facility, take a right turn onto the blue-blazed Castle Point Carriageway. The sign lets you know that Kempton Ledge is just an easy mile away.
11. Enjoy the views of the Catskills off to your right as you gently ascend toward Kempton Ledge.
12. After about twenty minutes on the Blue Trail, you’ll arrive at Kempton Ledge, which is very well-marked, on your left. (Update July 12, 2014: Per Jules’ comment below – and since confirmed – it’s not so well-marked anymore, which is a real shame. That was one beautiful sign. The ledge, though, will still be easy to find – it’s that big, gorgeous, ledge-like ledge on your left.) Take some time to enjoy the gigantic view, clear across the Gunks to the Hudson Highlands.
13. After you’ve sufficiently marinated your eyeballs in that view, head back the way you came on the Blue Trail.
14. About five minutes after leaving Kempton Ledge, you’ll take your first right turn onto the intermittently yellow-blazed Millbrook Mtn Carriageway, which was marked during our visit in spring 2011 with a big ol’ sawhorse. (Jules of the Comments reports that the sawhorse is still there as of July 2014. Giddyup! And Siena reports that it’s now gone. Whoa.) Whether you see a yellow blaze or not, just take your first right turn.
15. A couple of other trails will merge into the Millbrook Mtn. Carriageway, but just keep heading straight, or as straight as possible.
16. About ten minutes after getting on the Millbrook Mtn. Carriageway, it dead-ends into the red-blazed Minnewaska Lake Loop. Take a right to head down to the water’s edge.
17. The Red Trail takes you right down to the water, where you get some great views back across the lake.
18. As you continue around the lake, the Red Trail gains altitude to start bringing you up on top of those beautiful white cliffs. Along the way, you’ll find another viewpoint off to your right, where you can step out onto the rocks and see clear across to the Skytop Tower at Mohonk Mountain House.
19. Just after that viewpoint, take a left at the fork to keep climbing and heading toward the cliffs.
20. A wide picnic area opens up in front of you. Head across the lawn, towards the lake, leaving the Red Trail behind. You’ll pop out onto the cliffs, where you’ll have an awesome view of the lake below and the Catskills beyond.
21. Keep heading around the lake. The trails up here become a bit of a tangled mess. Just keep sticking as close as you can to the lake, keeping it on your left and following the trails as they head around it. When you see some friendly red blazes again, hop back on the Red Trail and continue following it to the tip of the lake.
22. The Red Trail brings you to some (very scenic!) porto-potties straight ahead, with some private property off to your sharp left. Take the middle road, just to the left of the porto-potties.
23. You’ll see the parking lots off to your right, where the lazy people parked. Head down the hill to the lower parking lot. In the back-left corner of the lower lot, you’ll see our old pal the Orange Trail (Sunset Carriageway). Take a right onto the Orange Trail to head back down the hill, towards your car.
24. Take one last look at the views as you head downhill.
25. Boom! The Orange Trail pops you back out near the guard shack. Remember this place? Take a left at the shack to return to the Lake Awosting parking area.
26. When you get home, see if there’s anybody there who’s willing to give you a foot massage. You’ve earned one.
Directions to the trailhead: From New Paltz, head west on Route 299. Follow 299 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 and past the Trapps parking area on your right. Continue another 3 miles past the Trapps parking area to find the well-marked entrance to Minnewaska State Park Preserve on your left. Stop at the guard shack, pay the fee, then make an immediate right turn to make the short drive over to the Lake Awosting parking area, where you’ll leave your car.
You can also get directions by checking out the Minnewaska State Park Preserve entry on the HiketheHudsonValley.com Google map.
Sorta nearby address for your GPS: The New York State Parks page gives the address for Minnewaska as:
5281 Route 44-55
Kerhonkson, NY 12446
Google Maps chokes on that address, though. If your GPS doesn’t like it, either, you could try the intersection of 44/55 and Jenny Lane in Kerhonkson, NY, which is about a mile west of the Minnewaska entrance on 44/55. (My old-ish Garmin Nuvi lets me put in an intersection as a destination, so hopefully yours does, too.)
GPS coordinates of parking area: 41.73469, -74.24402 (Clicking will open in Google Maps or the Apple Maps app, depending on your browser/device.)
**UPDATE/WARNING for 2019** Here’s an official warning from the Parks Service on the multiple construction projects underway at Minnewaska this year:
Super-cool Google Earth flyover of hike route:
Google Terrain Map of hike route:
Related resources: If you’re looking for actual facts and/or useful information, visit these excellent resources:
- The New York State Parks page for Minnewaska
- The official Minnewaska trail map
- The surprisingly informational Minnewaska Wikipedia page
- More Minnewaska hikes from the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference
- More nice pictures and trail descriptions on this CNY Hiking page
- A nice write-up with more trail descriptions on this HV/Net page
Want to support trails in the Hudson Valley? Here’s one great way: Visit the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference homepage and click on Volunteer, Donate, or Shop! (Then you can volunteer, donate, or shop, depending on your mood.)