Lake Minnewaska is a beautiful and family friendly place to go swimming in the summer. Located in the Minnewaska State Park Preserve at the heart of the Shawangunk Mountains, this popular bathing destination is placed among stunning white conglomerate cliffs. The beach itself is staffed from 11:15 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. throughout the season, and swimming is only permitted during this time. There are three roped-off sections to identify different water depths. The area closest to the shore is only a few feet deep, while the next section has a sudden drop that continues a steep descent to the third section at 20-feet deep a short distance away. A dock extends from the shore out into the water, and it is great for leaping off of into the cold water. The beach itself has a smooth gravel bed that extends into the lake. Take note that no coolers, picnicking, or pets are permitted on the beach. Smoking near the swimming area is also prohibited.
The lake is approximately 1-mile long by a quarter-mile wide with relatively transparent water. Aquatic life is minimal here due to the natural acidity of the water that measures an approximate pH level of 4.5. The quartzite conglomerate bedrock does not buffer the lake from the acidity of rainwater, and the result is a unique ecology. As a result, it is now and probably always has been a fishless lake. Only a few organisms are present, such as the freshwater Leech (Helobdella modesta), which is found in many fresh water bodies throughout North America. It is not a bloodsucker, so it is non-parasitic and poses no health risk. There are a number of water fowl that inhabit the area, but please do not feed them as the results can cause unnatural behavior, pollution, overcrowding, delayed migration, poor nutrition, and disease. The two-lined salamander also makes its home here and lays its eggs in the water without guarding them. This non-protective behavior is not observed in any other habitat and is probably due to the lack of predator fish and other water life. This activity may lead the way of the evolution of a unique species only existent in the Shawangunks.
When New York State purchased the land in 1987, the lake was closed to public recreation. However, a year later, swimming was reinstated in a small roped off area. In 2000, park officials and the Palisades Interstate Park Commission agreed to allow distance swimming on the lake in a designated area. That year, the Swim Without Interference at Minnewaska (SWIM) club was created bring back swimming throughout the entire lake. Today, the club is called the Minnewaska Distance Swimmer's Association (MDSA), and members have to be tested for swimming ability, purchase insurance cards, and sign release of liability forms. There are around 700 members who regularly enjoy a specified area consisting of a 200-yard buoyed cable that runs parallel to the shoreline where these swimmers can enjoy the open water. You can submit a membership application on their website.
Lake Minnewaska is on one of three Sky Lakes in the preserve: The other two are Lake Awosting and Mud Pond. A series of carriageways lead to Lake Awosting, which is only a few miles away and offers another excellent swimming area. While people do walk there, many choose to ride their bike up the trail or cross-country ski there in the winter. Lake Awosting is roughly twice the size of Lake Minnewaska and has a wide cleared beach composed of a sloping rock slab into the water.
The entire 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. There is a map to 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 the trails are groomed.