Day Trip: Minnewaska State Park Preserve

October offers prime hiking opportunities to savor seasonal colors

By Mary Ann Ebner

Fall foliage colors the landscape at Minnewaska State Park Preserve. Photo by M.A. Ebner

For those who can’t get enough of outdoor life, hiking trails and paths throughout Philipstown provide vast opportunities to make the most of October and the season’s colorful leaf change. And if time permits, a day trip to Minnewaska State Park Preserve will further compensate the souls of outdoor enthusiasts. The spacious preserve extends an invitation to get outside and enjoy spectacular colors of the season along a wide range of terrain, from tough trails to relaxing carriageways.

Located near New Paltz in Ulster County on the Shawangunk Mountain Ridge, the park is open year-round. Fall foliage embellishes striking vistas and park scenery, which includes waterfalls, lakes, canopies of hardwoods, and cliff-edge views. An hour’s drive from downtown Cold Spring to the park’s gatehouse, the preserve, with more than 21,000 acres, protects a large tract of the Hudson Valley’s beautiful landscape that once served as the site of grand hotel lodging overlooking Lake Minnewaska. The scenic area, acquired by the state in 1987, catered to genteel guests who enjoyed carriage rides around the lakes, waterfalls and forest.

Laura Conner, an Environmental Educator at Minnewaska State Park Preserve, leads challenging hikes and meandering walks. Photo by M.A. Ebner

Environmental Educator Laura Conner has hiked nearly every inch of trail at Minnewaska State Park Preserve over the past five years and values the opportunity to work outdoors all year round.

“You can easily put in some long distance hiking here,” Conner said. “The whole ridge is considered ‘the Gunks,’ and you can walk the length of the ridge. If you’re a more avid hiker, you can get away from it all and be in the back country. I’m very fortunate, and I even come here to ski on my days off.”

When snow falls and winter takes over, the park grooms its carriageways for cross-country skiing. The preserve is also a favorite among rock climbers who travel to climb in the Gunks. But autumn presents prime hiking conditions, and visitors can find a trail on their own to suit their abilities or preregister for a fall program. Conner will lead a hike to Millbrook Mountain from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 14. The 5-mile loop will feature a combination of terrain conditions ranging from carriage road to hiking trail, and on the way to their white-cliff destination, hikers will encounter twisting trees, exposed bedrock, and brilliant leaf color.

“This is one of my favorite hikes,” Conner said. “On a nice day, you get great views of the valley from the Taconic Range to the east, the Catskills to the north, and Storm King and Breakneck Ridge to the south.”

The park offers a variety of hiking choices, from a 1.4-mile carriage-road walk to Awosting Falls, to the 4.6-mile Castle Point trek. Additional October programs for families include a “Let’s Learn our Leaves” session from 10:30 a.m. to noon Saturday, Oct. 13, “Food for the Birds” from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 21., and “Make an Owl Treat Bag,” which also includes a hike for children ages 6 to 10, accompanied by an adult, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 28.

Waterfalls, streams, and lakes take on a fall glow with leaf change. Photo by M.A. Ebner

Guided hikes also include “Tuesday Trek: Long Fall Walk,” a 10-mile scenic hike through the back country led by Environmental Educator Nick Martin from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 23, and “Gertrude’s Nose Hike,” a challenging 8-mile round trip to Gertrude’s Nose. Public program participation requires preregistration through the Park Preserve office.

Minnewaska State Park Preserve is located at 5281 Route 44-55, Kerhonkson. The state park charges a vehicle use fee of $8 to enter the facility. For more information, browse the website of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation at nysparks.com or call 845-255-0752.

Schedule

Park opens daily at 9:00 a.m. Closing time varies.

Beginning Oct. 15, park will close at 6:00 p.m.

Call ahead to confirm hours.

Nature Center open Memorial Day – Columbus Day.

Trip Tips

Vehicle entry fee $8.

Consider purchasing an Empire Passport ($65) for unlimited vehicle access and frequent use of New York State Parks.

Park limited to day use only.

Carry-in/carry-out facility.

Pets permitted on 6-foot leash.

Picnic tables.

No alcoholic beverages.

Follow blazes, trail markers, and safety signage.

Remain on designated paths.

Wear appropriate footwear.

Carry adequate water and food, appropriate for hike duration.


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