July 2005: Minnewaska State Park Preserve


Shawangunk Mountains, New York

Alfred and Albert Smiley opened the Shawangunk Mountains, the Catskills' close southern neighbor, to the vacationing public after the Civil War when they built the Mohonk Mountain House. Later, a disagreement between the brothers caused Alfred to move on and build the Cliff House nearby. The last guest checked out in 1979 and the state of New York stepped in to prevent any further development in 1987 with the creation of Minnewaska State Park Preserve.

After decades of jostling for tourist dollars the Smiley brothers eventually reconciled and began building a network of carriageways between the two hotels. These wide, carefully graded roadbeds are where you will be doing most of your hiking with your dog. Expect to share the carriageways with plenty of bicyclists. Several long parallel carriageways between Lake Awosting and Lake Minnewaska can be combined for loop hikes of several hours duration.

For spectacular views of the Hudson Valley use the Castle Point Carriageway to Castle Point, the highest summit in the park. Looks at the Catskill Mountains come quickly on the short, steep Sunset Path near the entrance parking lots. The narrow hiker-only paths are where the adventure begins for canine hikers at Minnewaska State Park Preserve. These trails are generally moving up and down, leading to treasures deep in the Shawangunks like Stony Kill Falls.

The trek to Gertrude's Nose bursts from a dark hemlock forest for extended walking on exposed clifftops. This is not the place for a rambunctious dog and inexperienced canine hikers may have trouble with the rock scrambles but otherwise is worth every step of the two-mile detour off the Millbrook Mountain Carriageway.

Note: The unique environment on the dramatic Shawangunk Mountain ridge is extremely sensitive and access to the park is limited to reduce the impact of human - and canine - intrusion. Capacity in the park on any given day is limited by the number of parking spaces in the lots. it is not unheard of for the park to be closed before it actually opens - so many cars
are lined up for the 9:00 a.m. opening. When one car leaves, another is allowed in. Even with the restrictions the park averages more than 1,000 visitors per day. If you arrive early and get in, however, you will find the trails generally uncrowded, especially on the hiker-only footpaths.

The Devil's Path, so-called for the rugged terrain it follows, slices through the heart of the Catskill Mountains, tagging seven mountain peaks in its 27-mile east-to-west journey. The eastern segment (over Overlook, Indian Head, Twin and Sugarloaf mountains) opened in 1930 and the western continuation over Plateau, Hunter and West Kill mountains was completed in 1935.
From start to finish, Devil's Path features an elevation gain of 18,000 feet - more than 3 1/2 miles of climbing. There are, however, ample opportunities to sample the central Catskills without experiencing the entire trail. On the eastern edge, a popular trail twists to multiple vistas and a nine-story, steel-framed lookout tower on Overlook Mountain. More adventurous canine hikers will want to tackle the crags and outcroppings of 3573-foot Indian Head Mountain. Do so, however, only with a liftable dog as the final ascent to the summit features several high steps and pull-ups.

On the western end of the Devil's Path range, four routes lead to a firetower atop Hunter Mountain, at 4040 feet the second highest peak in the Catskills. The route on Devil's Path rises to the summit from Stoney Clove notch, a climb of 2040 feet in just over two miles. Although it is the steepest climb on the trail, the route up the mountainside is technically easy
for a dog, using old service roads. There is scarcely a downhill step on the long, steady pull up Hunter Mountain. Don't expect many vistas on the way up but the tower on top offers long eastfacing views.

DIRECTIONS TO Minnewaska State Park Preserve:
Take Exit 18 off the New York State Thruway at New Paltz. Head west across Route 32 to Route 299 to Route 44/55 and continue to the park entrance on the left hand side, a total of 11.5 miles from the Thruway.