Upstate New York: Hiking the Shawangunks

Pinaki Chakraborty on top of Gertrude's nose on the Shawangunk Ridge in upstate New York - photo by Esha Samajpati
Pinaki Chakraborty on top of Gertrude’s nose in the Shawangunks in upstate New York Photo by Esha Samajpati

Hiking the Gertrude’s Nose Trail

By Esha Samajpati

The ‘Gunks

Nature works in mysterious ways. Otherwise, how does one explain the striking structure of the massive Shawangunk Ridge which extends from the northernmost point of New Jersey to the Catskill Mountains?

Nature has been at its powerful best while creating the layered silica-cemented Shawangunk conglomerate with bold strokes of pure white quartz pebbles and sandstone.

The vegetation is dense and the lakes around it are crystal clear. The Shawangunks contain mostly private land as well as land owned by the Mohonk Preserve, Minnewaska State Park Preserve and Sam’s Point Preserve with more than 100 miles of hiking trails and several areas for rock climbing.

The clear waters of Lake Minnewaska right at the beginning of the hike
The clear waters of Lake Minnewaska right at the beginning of the hike

Starting point Minnewaska State Park, New Paltz, New York Highlight This hike runs along the cliffs of the Shawangunk conglomerate, with breathtaking overlooks.

Length: About eight miles.

Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous.

Time: About five hours.

Map: New York-New Jersey Trail Conference Shawangunk Trails Maps #9 and #9A

Dogs: Permitted on leash.

How to Get There

We took the New York State Thruway to Exit 18 (New Paltz). After paying the toll, we turned left onto Route 299 and continued west through New Paltz. Then we crossed the bridge over the Wallkill River at the west end of New Paltz and continued ahead on Route 299.

The hike begins...
The hike begins…

In another 5.5 miles (from the Wallkill River bridge), Route 299 ended at a T intersection with Route 44/55. We turned right here and followed Route 44/55 as it passed under the Trapps Bridge. Then we continued for about three miles past the Trapps Bridge and reached the entrance for Minnewaska State Park, on the left side of the road.

A parking fee of seven dollars was charged at the gatehouse. From there, we drove uphill for 0.4 mile to the parking area by Lake Minnewaska.

Description

My husband Pinaki and I started off on a carriageway keeping the aquamarine water of Lake Minnewaska to our left. Soon we came to Patterson’s Pellet, a glacial erratic precariously balanced at the edge of a ledge. No amount of shoving could topple it over. We know, because we tried!

This is the famous Patterson's Pellet; now I know what it means to be 'steady as a rock.'
This is the famous Patterson’s Pellet; now I know what it means to be ‘steady as a rock.’

Following the red trail, after almost a mile of walking slightly uphill, we reached a sign pointing us towards the Gertrude’s Nose Trail.

So we went on the narrow trail, with shrubs brushing against our legs and the red marks keeping us on track… until the trail began dipping steeply.

The rocky decline continued for quite a while till we came upon a woodland which was on level ground, thankfully. The area was capriciously dotted with tall lean trees and we could hear a stream gurgling nearby.

Misreading the trail map we had with us, we started going towards the stream, determined to cross it.

After minutes of scrambling about in an overgrown obscure path, we stumbled back to the red trail and went over to the other side of the stream through a craggy trail where there was a significant decrease in plants scratching our faces. Now we know why trail maps should be followed fastidiously.

Fresh blueberries, just perfect for hungry hikers
Fresh blueberries, just perfect for hungry hikers

Bare ledges of white rock with scenic overlooks greeted us the moment we stepped on the other side. Each step had to be placed cautiously to avoid the deep fissures on the trail itself and the sheer drop to the right!

Whenever we dared to peer down, we could see huge blocks of rock debris scattered randomly making us feel as if we had stepped into Nature’s workshop. As you have probably guessed, this hike is not meant for anybody with even a trace of acrophobia.

Flora

Blueberries and dwarf pine trees lined our path and we had to be very careful not to get off the trail and venture into the greenery as a few rare species of plants are found here. These plants are protected by the State of New York and are not to be touched on any account. We could taste the blueberries though and were pleasantly surprised by the burst of flavor and the sweetness.

Deep Crevices along the trail
The Ravine – justifying all superlatives Deep Crevices along the trail

The views over the Palmaghatt Ravine to our West was mesmerizing; no wonder this section has been voted one of the most scenic in the entire Shawangunks.

We did it!

After some more ledge walking, we finally reached the famous Gertrude’s Nose which majestically looks down over the lowlands from an envious height of 1730 feet! Mission accomplished.

We continued ahead on the Milbrook Ridge Trail and passed the Mohonk Preserve on our way to the Milbrook Mountain Path. We alternated between blue and red trails as specified by our trail map.

After crossing Lake Minnewaska’s outlet stream, we reached the end of the Millbrook Mountain Path and from there we were back on carriageways which led us back to the parking area.

All along the picturesque hike, the deep crevices cutting through the bare ledges grimly reminded us of things to come. Well, that’s how Nature works and it is best not to interfere.

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Esha Samajpati

Esha Samajpati

Esha worked in advertising in India, before moving to Connecticut and becoming a travel writer. "Even now, when I visit a city, the billboards draw my attention," she says. "How a city advertises tells me a lot about the place and the people."