This post on Mohonk mountain hiking has come out of a family tradition of visiting over the years. Recently, our family drove up to see my dad’s childhood friend, who still lives in the area, and made a random weekday trip back to Mohonk for lunch and some socially distanced hiking!
Read on for a bit of family history, lots of family photos, as well as our tips on what to do in the Mohonk area.
While we’ve loved writing and posting this Woks of Life travel post, we do want to remind everyone to follow social distancing guidelines and wear a mask to help protect others around you. This recent day trip to Mohonk was our family’s first time “out” in months, but we figured hiking on a non-busy weekday was a safe option!
Returning Generation After Generation
Back when my dad (Bill to most of you) was a senior in high school, he and his close friend David—along with a bunch of other seniors—took a coordinated, senioritis-inspired skip-out day to hike the Lemon Squeeze outside Mohonk Mountain House. (Such academic mischief skipped a generation with me and Sarah.)
David used to hike the many trails as a kid, so he was the one to studiously corral everyone and ensure they did their best to miss class. AND to bring the requisite 40 oz. bottles of Old English. (Hooligans! As my dad reminded me, it was 1982, and the drinking age was still 18.)
Since those days, my dad has taken us on the same trails. When we were little, we strolled (or in my case, perhaps “strollered”) the easier trails with my grandparents. Though I don’t remember it, we took the path up to the lookout towers and gawked at Mohonk Mountain House’s luxurious lunch buffet spread.
A handful of years later, we went back again, this time, when Sarah and I were a bit older. We hiked some of the harder trails, fed the fish by the lake, and swung our legs off the side of the deck.
When we were even older, I remember having afternoon tea and cookies on the deck, back when day hikers were able to enjoy the house (more on that later). Apparently we also did enjoy the buffet that day, but my child’s brain was still too young to remember! Drat. I’m told by Sarah there was roast turkey and beef galore in the main dining room, with a heady assortment of pies. Sarah does love pie.
These days, my dad’s friend David still lives in the area, and somehow their friendship has stood the test of time—all the way from second grade! Whenever we visit, we always enjoy the peace and quiet, plenty of hiking trails, lakes and ponds to fish on, and maybe a little bit of backwoods ATV-ing!
Even though much has changed since my dad was a student at Liberty High School, there’s still something special about carrying on the tradition of spending the day at Mohonk Mountain House and the adjacent Mohonk Preserve, hitting the local watering holes for a quick dip, and having a roadside ice cream cone on hot summer days.
That said, we wanted to put together this guide. If you’re heading up to the Hudson Valley and your destination is Mohonk, there are a handful of spots to hit, not just Mohonk Mountain House. This is our definitive guide!
Mohonk Mountain House
Mohonk Mountain House is a self-proclaimed Victorian castle resort, and it’s a pretty accurate description!
The mountain house is nestled in the Shawangunk mountains right alongside glittering Mohonk Lake, with a dock for canoeing and a beach for sunbathers and swimmers.
If the slow lane is more your speed, there’s a spa and a deck full of rocking chairs where you can read a book or just take in the views.
You can also feed the fish by the lake.
Founded by the Smiley Family in 1869, it’s remarkable how little has changed over the years. It’s a real treat to see the historic house—especially to stop in for lunch or dinner in the dining room.
When you visit Mohonk Mountain House, there are a few options:
- Stay overnight (obviously the priciest option)
- Head to the spa (a less, but still pretty pricey option)
- Make a lunch or dinner reservation (the most reasonable option of the three—by most standards still pretty pricey—but you get a tasty meal!)
If you do any of those things, you’ll have access to the house.
If you want to hit the 85 miles worth of trails around Mohonk Lake, you can buy a hiking day pass, but won’t be able to visit the house, so keep that in mind!
Regardless of what you choose, Mohonk is a popular destination year-round, and they run a tight ship! It’s best to plan ahead and everything requires a reservation. If you’re day hiking, it’s easiest to buy timed tickets online ahead of time.
That said, there are separate parking lots for house guests and day hikers, so follow the signs when you arrive accordingly. Here’s a rundown of logistical info, along with a handy trail map.
Once at the house, you can enjoy the view of the beautiful house, as well as the gardens outside.
Perhaps the most famous hiking trails there are the Labyrinth and the Lemon Squeeze.
The hike is a steep rock scramble, complete with vertical wooden ladders. It ends with the famous lemon squeeze, a crack in the cliffs you shimmy through. Once at the top, you hoist yourself onto a broad ledge with views of the Shawangunk Mountains and Skytop Tower.
When I got to the Lemon Squeeze, I seriously doubted my ability to fit through. When David shimmied up though, I figured it had to be doable!
Sure enough, with some careful maneuvering our whole party made it up and through to the incredible views.
You can continue upward along the trail, all the way to the Skytop Tower.
Hiking in the Shawangunk Mountains
While trails at Mohonk Mountain House are within the Shawangunk mountain region, the entire region is a gem. Close to NYC, it has beautiful scenery and a large network of many easy-to-hike trails.
It can be a little daunting to figure out where exactly you want to start from. You could begin at Mohonk Mountain House, or plenty of other trailheads
Here are some potential spots to hit:
- Shawangunk Mountains scenic byway: If driving or cycling is more your speed, the scenic byway is a good option. It connects the towns of Crawford, Gardiner, Marbletown, Montgomery, New Paltz, Rochester, Rosendale, Shawangunk, Wawarsing, and the villages of Ellenville and New Paltz.
- Mohonk Preserve: The Mohonk Mountain House is situated within the 64,000-acre Mohonk Preserve. It’s a privately owned non-profit preserve with forests, fields, ponds, and streams, and you can gain access on a per-day or annual permit basis, with 5 primary trailheads and a visitor’s center. There’s the Visitor Center (that’s where you can buy your access pass), West Trapps, Coxing, Spring Farm, and Testimonial Gateway Trailheads. The networks of trails are technically connected to the trails on Mohonk Mountain House lands, but the preserve is LARGE. So choose your trailhead wisely, and if your ultimate goal is to check out the mountain house, it’s best to start there. Here’s a list of suggested hikes.
- Bonticou Crag: A well-known rock scramble about a mile from the Spring Farm Trailhead. We haven’t yet done it, but it’s on our list! With 1,194 feet in elevation change, it offers a surprisingly great viewpoint and vista. There are a few trails that lead to it that you can select based on difficulty: Crag Trail, Bonticou Ascent Path, and the Northeast Trail.
- Minnewaska State Park: A large state park preserve, west of the Mohonk Mountain House. There are three lakes, including the eponymous Lake Minnewaska, waterfalls, and streams. It’s a popular destination when the weather is nice, so get there early or go on a weekday if you can!
- New Paltz: For those in your group who want a more leisurely day free of rock scrambles and forests, New Paltz is the place to wait for the hikers to finish their hijinks. It’s also a great spot to pick up lunch or dinner after a day of hiking! We’ve visited New Paltz many times over the years. The downtown and historic Huguenot Street area is a charming spot to shop, grab a bite, have a cup of coffee, or sip a beer at one of the local breweries.
While these are some popular spots, there are plenty of hidden trails, lakes, and reservoirs where you can have a great time and avoid crowds. Luckily, there are plenty of great resources out there; these are just some of our go-tos!
Stay safe, everyone!