Skytop Tower is an internationally renowned landmark of the Hudson Valley. This premier destination of the 6,400-acre Monhonk Preserve is located on the Shawangunk Ridge, a section of the Appalachian Mountains, and is surrounded by over 70 miles of carriage roads and 40 miles of trails for hiking, cycling, trail running, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, rock climbing, and horseback riding. It is New York State's largest visitor- and member-supported nature preserve, with 165,000 annual visitors. The tower has open access throughout the year, and there are different types of trails that lead up to it depending on the season, your desired activity, and your threshold of adventure. Without a reservation to the Mohonk Mountain House hotel or restaurant, visitors must pay to leave their cars at the bottom lot behind the hotel, but the fee includes access to all of the Mohonk Preserve.
The Hugeunot Drive (carriage road) trailhead is near the valet drop-off and boating area. In the winter, this groomed path starts adjacent to the Nordic center where you can rent skis and snowshoes. Continue east across the flat area and up a hill that is cleared for serene views of the gardens. At the first intersection, take a right onto Sky Top Road. The path ascends the mountain and traverses hemlocks and pitch pines while passing cedar gazebo lookout points. At the small pond, keep left to continue along the southeastern mountain ledge. The tower will appear above you as you make your final winding ascent up the hill and around the reservoir.
The word "maxkwung," Lenape for "hill of bears," may be the origin of this area's name. Early records refer to the mountain as "Moggonck" which underwent a change in spelling for aesthestic reasons. Albert and his twin brother, Alfred, were Quakers who purchased Mohonk in 1869. They developed the property's first boarding house that eventually evolved into the present-day Mountain House Hotel. Skytop Tower was built in 1921 and is “erected in grateful memory of a man [Albert K. Smiley] whose exalted character and useful life stand as a beautiful example to mankind.” Exactly 100 steps lead to the top, which offers exhilarating views reaching to six states. There is the Hudson Valley and the Taconics to the east, the Trapps, Millbrook Mountain, and Minnewaska State Park to the south, the Hudson Highlands further to the south, Eagle Cliff and Overlook Mountain to the north, more of the Catskill range to the northwest, and Vermont's Green Mountains to the northeast. When you return to the bottom, continue on Skytop road until it reconnects with the trail loop near the small pond.
Together, the Mohonk Mountain House and Mohonk Preserve are a designated National Historic Landmark (1986). Throughout its existence, the preserve has adopted an outdoor education and conservation advocacy agenda that includes land protection and environmental programs for the youth. They also maintain biological information, natural history records, and weather data, fom the station on the tower, that span more than a century.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.