Sam’s Point Preserve, Minnewaska S.P., New York

Shawangunk ridge in the distance

Shawangunk ridge in the distance

Yesterday we were up in the Hudson valley to celebrate my upcoming birthday. We like to mix it up with a few different activities… a nice stay in an inn, a dinner somewhere nice, some history, and of course, some hiking!

The area has all that and more. There’s a booming winery and cidery business all over the county, as well as plenty of historical sites and outdoor activities. There’s no shortage of nice inns and hotels as well as restaurants and great towns to visit and explore.

Sam's Point from the parking area

Sam’s Point from the parking area

Despite a warmer spell we weren’t quite ready to backpack as there was still almost a foot of snow on the ground in many places we would go. But we wanted to keep in shape and do some hiking so we are ready for the season. Also, because we love being outdoors.

Various hike options

Various hike options

Our hike this time was in the dramatic Shawangunk mountains of New York. Just west of the Hudson river the range stretches from west of New Paltz (a great town!) south to Cragmoor about 15-20 miles south.

Fielden Stream below the Crags

Fielden Stream below the Crags

The northern end holds the famous Mohonk Mountain House and preserve, a dramatic Victorian era castle resort hotel towering high on a rocky peak and surrounding a sky lake.

They have many trails there as well as other activities. It is however quite a bit expensive with its award-winning farm-to-table dining, epic views and fancy spa, and if you are not staying there you have to pay a hefty $22 to park in their lot and enjoy their grounds. It was started as a retreat to enjoy nature and study ecology by a pair of Quaker brothers and has grown in size and popularity ever since. They have dedicated time and money throughout the generations to help with local stewardship and to improve the conditions of native peoples. So at least some of that money goes to good causes.  I have to say we’re curious and as we are going back here in March for our anniversary because the F.D.R home we planned to visit was closed from the government shutdown, and so we may also visit here to check it out. I’m afraid the cost is likely too prohibitive for an overnight stay for our current budget. But we will see if there’s any deals to be had at the time!

Couple selfie

Couple selfie

The rest of the Shawangunk range comprises what is known as Minnewaska State Park. It contains a large trail system, a sky lake of its own, the highest dwarf pine habitat in the region, ice caves, a dramatic waterfall and sweeping views from steep cliffs of stone all along its perimeter.  There is a visitor center at the southernmost end known as Sam’s Point.

On the edge of the cliff with a gusty wind a-blowin!

On the edge of the cliff with a gusty wind a-blowin!

They have a small exhibit on flora and fauna and geology in the area, guided tours with local naturalists and you can rent snowshoes. We really should have on this day but didn’t realize until after. Fielden Stream has always wanted to try them and I didn’t bring my microspikes and the snow was 6″ deep, though there was a trodden path about a foot wide which helped.  Being only .6 up to the viewpoint, and on a gravel road covered in snow, we managed…

A good view of the cliff edges

A good view of the cliff edges

There isn’t a tremendous vertical gain, maybe a few hundred feet. My phone was on the fritz so I could not use my tracking app to get that information. The only real steep angle was at the end, and it wasn’t bad, again because it was really just a gravel road.

On the western-facing ledge

On the western-facing ledge

The views to the south and then to the west from the second viewpoint were amazing. And our car did all the real climbing on this day. The elevation at the southern point is about 2,200 ft. The dramatic drop-offs and long views were well worth the minimal effort. I highly recommend it. When we go back in March we also hope to do one of the guided tours here on the native peoples, landscape and wildlife and check out the ice caves and the falls as well.

Miles: 1.2

– Linus

 

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First hike of 2018

History in the area

History in the area

As I sit here writing, the winter cyclone rages outside. Knowing it was coming, and doing what I could to escape the many plumbers and contractors in my house fixing busted pipes and walls from our recent deep freeze, I made my way to a trail yesterday to get some much needed time in the woods. It had been too long.

I have several local park or preserve options with nice trail systems, but I have done them so much and for the first hike in months, and of the year, I wanted to try something new.

I explored a bit on Peakery and AllTrails and found some other slightly farther peaks and trail systems, including one I had already looked up in the past – Seth Low Pierrepont State Park in Ridgefield.

Ready to head UP

Ready to head UP

In my past hikes over the peaks on the Ives Trail in Ridgefield and Danbury, Connecticut, I caught views of many other mountaintops that I was sure had to have some kind of way up because they had to have some kind of view. This was one of them. And i was excited to finally check this park out and see what it had to offer.

Just south of Pine Mountain and the Ives Trail, it has 4-5 trails that skirt a small lake and culminate on the summit of what is either Barlow or Barrow Mountain. I believe Barlow is the summit and Barrow is a smaller nearby prominence you crest on the way up Barlow. Either way, it was a nice hike with surprisingly good views and a few steeps that got the heart pumping!

Ice fangs!

Ice fangs!

The area is also wrought with history. As I approached the park I drove through historic Ridgefield, where the only inland battle in Connecticut of the Revolutionary war occurred. I passed many original homes from the 18th and 19th century, as well as the cemetery where those who fell in the skirmish lie beside the original colonial settlers. Just before the entrance were placards marking where the first of the three skirmishes of the battle of Ridgefield occurred, and where the American General David Wooster (nearby Wooster mountain is named for him) fought and died while taking on British General William Tryon.  We did manage to push back the British in that conflict, and no more battles occurred inland in Connecticut after that because of it. Nearby streets had the names Hessian (the German mercenaries the British employed to fight) and Continental (assuming after the army) in tribute to what went on here.  I am as you may know a huge history buff so I found this all very exciting.

Following the icy ledges

Following the icy ledges

Pierrepont himself lived in these lands in the 20th century, helped to create the lake from a former swamp and deeded his 300+ acres to the town for the park in his will upon his death. He also was fascinated by the local indian lore and relics he discovered on the property, and specifically requested the lake be not named after him but after one of the indian chiefs from the area who signed the original deed to their land to Ridgefield. HIs name was Naraneka.

From the main trailhead at the park entrance, a white trail follows the perimeter of Lake Naraneka for just under a mile. The blazing here needs re-painting, but the footprints in the snowpack helped me follow the trail adequately. I saw a man practicing ice hockey on the frozen lake, and another cross country skiing.

Western view, sun-shaded

Western view, sun-shaded

Many nice houses skirted the edge of the lake, and many more overlooked it from the rocky summit ledges of Seth Low Mountain above.  I hope one day to have a house on or above and near a lake where I can enjoy 4 season recreation right from my front door.  This is a particularly affluent area so the houses were quite nice, but I’d be happy with even a small cabin or house that had all the necessities while still being a retreat to the simpler life. We will see how that all goes!

The white trail then intersects with both blue and yellow trails, which form a loop up and over the main peak. The blue is the steeper of the two trails, and with about an inch of snow on the ground, I opted to go up the steeper slope and go down the gentler one. In hindsight I should have brought my microspikes but I managed this time around. I didn’t realize there’d be snow and ice here still.

Someone built a shelter against an old fallen tree trunk

Someone built a shelter against an old fallen tree trunk

The blue trail climbs fairly steeply up the southern flank of the mountain to a series of ledges on the western side. Here the best views were had, looking west and south over the lake. I met another hiker there and expressed my appreciation for this new discovery not all that far from home, and recommended Pine Mountain for her next hike. The trail then climbed again to the summit and while there was a view north and east, it was more obscured by trees and not as rewarding. I decided to do a slightly longer loop and continued on the white trail which had intersected on the summit with blue and which I’d take back in a bit. After descending the upper slopes of the mountain I took the yellow trail back along its western edge to the white trail which took me back to the base of the lake and the walk along the perimeter.

The final push up to the summit

The final push up to the summit

There were some lovely rock outcroppings throughout the hike, some towering hundreds of feet above, and where I previously followed the trail along their edge. And an old shelter someone had built against a large fallen tree’s exposed trunk.

Only about 30 minutes from home at the most, and filled with history and charm, I will be back in the area with family when we’re looking for a nice day of activities indoor and out. There are many museums and tours of the areas historical sites, as well as great options for food and drink afterwards.

Despite my love for travel and discovering new places each time I go on an adventure, its good to find gems like this that I can re-visit easily.  And it was good to get back out on the trails and start the new year with a great hike.

Miles: 3.3

— Linus