New York may be known as the concrete jungle, but did you know it is also a hiker’s paradise? In fact, New York is home to some of the most incredible state parks in the country. 180 parks stretch from Long Island beaches, to the 5,000 foot peaks of the Adirondacks and stunning gorges and waterfalls of the Finger Lakes region. Oh, and don’t forget Niagara Falls, of course. Less than 2 hours from NYC and Albany, Minnewaska State Park is the perfect day trip to escape the big city chaos. The park features the stunning waterfalls, dramatic cliffs, and year-round recreation. Minnewaska is a beautiful introduction to the natural wonders of the Empire State. Interested? Keep reading for the best hikes in Minnewaska State Park and the complete guide for visiting this incredible area.
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Minnewaska State Park: Getting There
The Minnewaska State Park Preserve is located in the Shawangunk Mountains (known as “The Gunks” to locals) in Ulster County, New York. The park is just outside the city of New Paltz, about an hour and a half from New York City to the south, and the state capitol, Albany, to the north. The Shawngunk mountains rise 2,000 feet and connect New Jersey’s Kittatinny Mountains to the Catskills range upstate.
Like most NY State Parks, Minnewaska charges an entrance fee per vehicle to enter the park. The current rate is $10/per vehicle. The Empire Pass is an annual day-use pass that covers entrance to most New York State Parks and facilities. The Empire Pass is $80/annually and is definitely worthwhile if you plan on visiting frequently, or want to start exploring New York’s incredible state park system.
The park is not accessible by public transportation and parking fills quickly on the weekends and sunny days during spring through fall. If you’re heading out during one of these days, I would recommend arriving at the park as early as possible.
Want to bring your hiking buddy? Pets are allowed on hiking trails but must be on a leash at all times. Pets are not allowed in buildings or campground areas.
The 3 Best Hikes in Minnewaska State Park
Hike to Awosting Falls
For most visitors, Awosting Falls is the main event when headed to Minnewaska. This 60 foot falls over Peter’s Kill creek is one of the most scenic waterfalls in the state, and one of the best hikes in Minnewaska. There are multiple ways to hike to Awosting Falls, depending on how far you want to hike and where you can find parking. Keep in mind that swimming is prohibited at the falls at all times.
From Awosting Parking Lot: 1 mi / Easy Difficulty
Enter the park via the Main Street / Highway 44 entrance. Almost immediately past the entrance station, follow signs for Awosting Falls parking on the right hand side.
The 0.5 mile trailhead starts directly in the parking lot. Follow the trail signs down to the beautiful falls via a short series of easy switchbacks. This trail is family friendly and easy for kids. Because of it’s easy proximity to the falls, this parking lot fills quickly in the morning. I would suggest arriving at any of Minnewaska’s parking lots before 9 a.m., especially on weekends.
From Lake Minnewaska Nature Center via Sunset Carriage Trail: 2 mi / Easy Difficulty
If you’re looking for a slightly longer hike to Awosting falls, the 2 mile Sunset Carriage Trail is a great option. This hike can easily be combined with hikes and activities in the Lake Minnewaska area of the park.
After entering the park via Main Street, drive the main road to the top of the hill, following signs for the Lake Minnewaska Nature Center. Park in the main lot and follow the signs for the Sunset Carriage trail.
There are several trailheads that depart from this location, so don’t hesitate to stop into the beautiful nature center and ask a helpful park ranger for directions to the correct trail. If you’re visiting in colder weather, the nature station has a beautiful and warm fireplace to warm up next to after your adventure!
Follow the Sunset Carriage Trail downhill for 0.8 miles before intersecting with the Awosting Trail. Continue right on the trail and follow Peter’s Kill creek before descending a few switchbacks to the bottom of the falls.
This hike loses approximately 350 feet in elevation from the Nature Center to the bottom of the falls. Catch your breath on the way back up and enjoy the beautiful views of the southern Catskills mountains along the way.
Hiking to Awosting Falls in Winter
Awosting Falls is a beautiful spot in all seasons and remains accessible throughout the year. I highly recommend visiting in winter to enjoy the spot with far fewer crowds. Don’t forget to bring microspikes when hiking here in the winter, as the switchbacks get treacherously icy.
Hiking at Lake Minnewaska
Lake Minnewaska Loop Trail: 1.9 mi / Easy Difficulty
The Lake Minnewaska look is an easy, well maintained trail that follows the dramatic cliffs surrounding Lake Minnewaska. Parking is available at the Lake Minnewaska Nature Center. Access the trail from the back of the nature center. This easy 1.9 mile loop follows the shoreline of the lake through evergreen pitch pine forests and across the picturesque cliffs.
Lake Minnewasksa is one of three “sky lakes” in the region, carved by glaciers from the quartz rock Shawangunk ridge.
The Loop trail meets the Sunset Carriage trail near the Nature Center. Combine the loop trail with the Sunset Carriage trail to Awosting Falls for a back-to-back tour of the park’s most famous sights.
Hiking in the Sam’s Point Area
The Sam’s Point preserve, located in the southernmost corner of the park, is the highest point in the Shawangunk mountains. This rare and fragile ecosystem of pitch pine barrens features sweeping vistas, excellent hiking, and access to the 187 foot Verkeerder Kill Falls.
Sam’s Point area cannot be accessed via the other areas of the park. To access the Sam’s Point area, enter via State Route 52 in Cragsmoor, New York, approximately 20 miles (40 minutes) by car from the main Minnewaska State Park entrance.
To prevent overcrowding and to minimize impact on the fragile ecosystem, the parking lot at Sam’s Point is small. If you want to explore this spectacular area, plan to arrive early (before 9 AM) to secure a parking spot.
Sam’s Point, Ice Caves and Verkeerderkill Falls Trail: 7.4 Miles / Moderate / Out and Back
This signature Sam’s Point trail packs a punch with scenic vistas, an epic waterfall, and seasonal ice caves to explore in summer. The 6.8 mile hike takes approximately 3-4 hours to complete, so come prepared with plenty of snacks, water, and extra layers of clothing.
From the Sam’s Point parking area (see important notes on parking above), follow the Loop road to the right towards Sam’s Point. A series of switchbacks leads you through rare pitch pine forests that are unique to the Sam’s Point area. After less than a mile, follow the dirt road to Sam’s Point and take in the incredible views of the Shawangunk Mountains.
Continue on the Loop Road for another 0.5 miles to the Ice Caves trail junction. If the caves are open, follow the trail to the right
The Ice Caves are open seasonally starting in late spring to the fall. Follow to this road to the 0.5 mile Ice Caves loop. The trail descends steeply into several rock crevices to explore. Getting out requires climbing a series of small ladders to return to the main trail.
Turn right onto the main trail from the Ice Caves to continue 1.7 miles, or about one hour of hiking, to Verkeerderkill Falls. When the trail comes to a “T”, keep right, following signs for the Falls. The trail descends quickly as you approach the falls. A posted sign announces your arrival at one of “Earth’s Last Great Place.” Follow the unmarked path to the viewpoint for this stunning 187 foot drop! Take extra care around the falls, there are NO railings along the cliff’s edge.
Take the opportunity to refuel with a quick picnic before returning the way you came. If you’re looking for a longer or more strenuous adventure, continue the Loop trail all the way around, adding approximately another 2 miles and a stop at the High Point viewpoint.
Verkeerderkill Falls is located on private property. Please respect posted trail signs and stay on the trail in order to preserve access to this incredible sight for other hikers.
Other Activities in Minnewaska State Park
Swimming and Water Sports at Lake Minnewaska
Swimming is permitted at the Lake only during the summer when a Lifeguard is present. The lake is accessible via a small beach near the Nature Center. Scuba diving is also accessible via the lake’s shoreline.
Kayaks and other non-motorized boats can be hand launched via the Diver’s Beach by the Nature Center.
The towering cliffs of the Gunks aren’t just for admiring, they’re also for climbing. Thanks to the local geography, Minnewaska is one of the most popular rock and ice climbing spots along the east coast.
First time? Check out the Eastern Mountain Sports School located in New Paltz with lessons for absolute beginners to more experienced climbers. EMS offers group and private lessons as well as gear rentals.
Winter in Minnewaska: Snowshoeing, Ice Climbing, and Winter Hiking
Minnewaska is the perfect place for beginners looking to try out winter hiking, snowshoeing and even ice climbing! In fact, Minnewaska is the very first place I ever went winter hiking, and it’s held a special place in my heart ever since.
If you’re brand new to hiking in snow and ice, check out my guide to winter hiking for beginners.
Minnewaska maintains several snowshoe and cross country ski trails when enough snow has accumulated in winter. Cross country ski and Snowshoe rentals are available at the Visitor Center for $10/$15 dollars a day. Rentals cannot be reserved in advance, so arrive extra early if you plan to pick up equipment inside the park.
Looking for a winter adrenaline rush? Eastern Mountain Sports also teaches ice climbing lessons, with both private and group lessons available.
What to Pack for a Hike in Minnewaska State Park
Hiking Shoes and Socks: While most hikes in Minnewaska can be done with a pair of sturdy sneakers, I always appreciate the extra support and traction of a proper hiking shoe or boot. The Merrell Moab 2 is an excellent all-around pick, available as both a hiking boot and hiking shoe. If you’re looking to upgrade to a more hardcore boot, I love my Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid boot.
Remember, the best hiking shoes are only as good as the socks you wear. Darn Tough socks come in a variety of fun colors and have never let me down! Trust me, these bad boys are worth it to avoid blisters and comfortably break in any boot.
Hiking Tops: No matter the weather, choose tops that are quick-drying and moisture wicking. Avoid cotton, especially in the winter as it stays wet and can cause hypothermia. Try the Patagonia Capilene Cool tanks and shirts, or check out more women’s performance tops on Backcountry.com.
Hiking Backpack: Your backpack should be lightweight with enough support to carry a full day’s worth of supplies without hurting your back and shoulders. I use the Osprey Sirrus 24 daypack which has plenty of storage and space for a 2L hydration reservoir.
Water and Snacks: Dehydration is probably the number one safety issue beginner hikers experience. Wondering how much to bring? Pack at least 0.5 liters for every hour of moderate activity – more in the hot and humid summer. If you plan to be out for more than an hour, pack energizing snacks, like protein bars, nut butters, or fruit.
Sun Protection: Take care to protect your skin no matter how far you hike I recommend at least 50 SPF plus a hat and sunglasses.
As a reminder: This post does contain some affiliate links, which means if you buy something, my blog will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. I will never recommend products or links on this blog that I have not personally used or fully endorse.
Where to Eat, Drink and Stay near Minnewaska
After enjoying the best hikes in Minnewaska state park, drive back into the town of New Paltz. Here you can find vintage shopping, craft brews, cocktails and a quick bite to eat. This town is home to SUNY New Paltz and buzzes with artsy-town energy. Take a stroll along main street for eclectic shops and art galleries.
Looking for burger and a local brew? Check out the Gilded Otter (now the Clemson Bros. Brewery at the Gilded Otter) brewery and pub.
Where to Stay
Minnewaska State park is a great day trip from nearby New York City and Albany, but if you have time, spend the weekend nearby to explore all the best hikes in Minnewaska. There are no camping or lodging options inside the state park. However, there are several options very close to the main park entrance.
The Samuel F. Pryor III Shawangunk Gateway Campground is a tent-only campground with 24 drive-in spots and 26 walk-in spots. The campground is open during summer and fall (May-November). Reservations and more information can be found on the American Alpine Club’s site.
If you’re looking for the ultimate in all-inclusive luxury, and you’re willing to pay for it, head to Mohonk House in New Paltz. Mohonk is consisntently named one of the top hotels in the world. The property offers numerous onsite activities, including hiking, boating, and winter sports, as well as a view that cannot be beat.
I’ll admit that I’ve never splurged on a stay at Mohonk (if you have, drop me a comment, I want to hear all about it!), but when I win the lottery, you can bet this is the first place I’m headed.
If you’re looking for incredible views and beginner friendly hikes within 2 hours of New York City, you absolutely must check out Minnewaska State Park. I hope my guide to the best hikes in Minnewaska has inspired you to get outdoors and explore everything the Empire State has to offer.
Looking for more amazing hikes and State Parks? Check out my the rest of my Trail Guides!