Minnewaska State Park Preserve spans 22,275 acres and offers fantastic opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, boating, picnicking, swimming, cross-country skiing, and trail running. Located on the Shawangunk Ridge in Ulster County, New York, this rocky terrain rises more the 2,000 feet above sea level and hosts 25 miles of footpaths and 35 miles of carriage roads for all levels of skill and enjoyment. It is one of the most popular outdoor destinations in the region, only about a 90-minute drive from New York City, and it hosts approximately 250,000 visitors each year.
The park preserve opens daily at 9:00 a.m., and closing times vary with sunset throughout the year. The entrance is off of Route 44/55, and admission is $10 per vehicle. Seniors over 62 are free on weekdays with a valid New York State ID. There is a parking area at the base of the mountain, near the main gate, with access to the Lower Awosting Carriage Road and the nearby Awosting Falls. You can also drive to the upper parking lot for easy access to Lake Minnewaska, a picnic area, and many more of the Preserve’s footpaths and Carriage Roads. The map will help you plan your adventure and navigate the park. Dogs are permitted, and they must be on a leash not more than 6 feet in length. They are NOT permitted on the cross-country ski trails when they are groomed.
The name Minnewaska derives from Native American languages and means “good water.” There are three sky lakes, which are replenished by rainwater. Lake Minnewaska is the most accessible and most popular. Lake Awosting is approximately 3 miles away and has a large flat-rock beach. Both of these areas are open for swimming during the summer season with designated beaches and staffed lifeguards. Lake Marantanza is the third lake, and it's located farther to the southwest in the Sam’s Point Preserve.
Some of the most popular scenic spots include Hamilton Point, Castle Point, Gertrude's Nose, Millbrook Mountain, Murray Hill, Verkeerder Kill Falls, Margaret Cliff, Awosting Falls, Stony Kill Falls, Beacon Hill, Litchfield Ledge, Rainbow Falls, and High Peters Kill. These features compose a number of geological and ecological characteristics in the park that are unique to New York State. Exercise caution in all areas while exploring and keep away from cliff edges.
These mountains, nicknamed the Gunks, are a worldwide favorite for rock climbers. Minnewaska and the surrounding Shawangunks are one of busiest rock-climbing destinations in America with an estimated 50,000 climbers each year. The Trapps Mountain Hamlet Historic District, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2000, resides in this preserve and the Mohonk Preseve and includes the popular Undercliff-Overcliff Trail Loop.
The Minnewaska grounds are home to a unique and extensive diversity of rare flora and wildlife. Pitch pines along the ridge appear deceptively small for their age, which can easily be over 300 years old. There are also extensive chestnut oak forests comprising the lower lands, and the entire property is considered a bird conservation area. Timber rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus) and bobcat (Lynx rufus) are also present, but relatively weary of human presence. Hunting is permitted on some of the grounds with the filing of an application and in accordance with certain hunting regulations.
Minnewaska State Park was originally part of Albert and Alfred Smiley's Mohonk Mountain House Property. The brothers sought to build a wilderness retreat for guests that would emphasize the unique and natural beauty of the property. They began operations in 1875 and created an atmosphere that reflected their Quaker lifestyle: no alcohol, no card playing, no dancing, and frequent religious services.
The Cliff House (1879) and Wildmere (1955) were two hotels that overlooked Lake Minnewaska. In 1955 the Smiley family sold the entire Minnewaska and Awosting properties (approximately 10,000 acres) to Kenneth B. Phillips, Sr., the Minnewaska general manager, and the hotels later burned down in 1978 and 1986 respectively.
Philips, under threat of foreclosure, sold off a portion of land to the state in 1972, marking the birth of Minnewaska State Park. Over the next decade, Phillips would try to develop the land with the Marriott Corporation to build a 400-room resort hotel, 300 condominiums, and an 18-hole golf course. Ultimately the deal failed due to challenges by the Department of Environmental Conservation and environmental groups, and New York State bought the remaining property in 1987.
The grounds were opened to the public in 1993, and in 1996 the Open Space Institute transferred an additional 5,400 acres to the park to include the Sam’s Point Preserve. In March 2006 an additional 2,500 acres were added to the preserve as a result of action by a coalition of conservation groups to stop additional threats of commercial development.
Today the park is managed by the Palisades Park Commission and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. For more information and to register for programs, please call the Park Preserve Office at 845.255.0752.