Minnewaska State Park Preserve is one of the most beautiful places on Earth, full stop. This is not a matter of opinion. And when you’re the proud owner of an Empire Passport, like I am, you park there for free. Saturday’s weather forecast said 50°F and sunny and I knew exactly how I planned to spend it: hiking out to Gertrude’s Nose.
The forecast was too optimistic, as it turned out. I got up nice and early, laced up my boots and stepped into the morning, then had to duck back inside for a warm sweatshirt, hat and gloves because it was only 35°F. Temperature notwithstanding, it really was a perfect morning to head up to the Shawangunk Ridge for my first real hike of the season. Nice, clear air and bright blue skies with the kind of friendly, fluffy clouds that just make you feel better about life.
I don’t know if it was the early hour or the cold weather or if I just got lucky, but for the first time in years I got to park in the upper lot near Lake Minnewaska. I was willing to sacrifice a visit to Awosting Falls for the opportunity to skip an otherwise boring uphill slog on the Sunset carriage road. So I got to launch right into the loop.
The Gertrude’s Nose loop starts by turning right on the red-blazed Lake Minnewaska (LM) carriageway from the parking area and following it about halfway around the lake. Early April is a nice time of year for this part of the hike. Leafless trees make for a nice view of the lake and add some much needed interest to what is basically a completely flat road. (I had a job in local tourism that required me to give hiking advice to visitors and the Lake Minnewaska loop was one of my go-to recommendations for those who expressed more interest in scenery than exercise.) After about 3/4 mile, the loop route hangs a superlatively marked right turn onto the yellow-blazed Millbrook Mountain (MC) carriageway, which is also basically a completely flat road. It does lead the way to a really stunning feature of this hike: Patterson’s Pellet, a glacial erratic just chilling on the edge of the cliff, gorgeously pointing up the fact that something geologically dramatic happened here.
Not too far past Patterson’s Pellet, about 1.25 miles from the start of the MC, the route hangs another amazingly well marked right turn onto the red-blazed Gertrude’s Nose (GN) trail. The route stays with this trail for 2.7 dazzling miles, down a few sweet rock scrambles, across breathtaking cliff tops, up a few more sweet rock scrambles and across a landscape of exposed rock spangled with pitch pines. I cannot stress enough how wonderful this trail is.
The Gertrude’s Nose trail dead ends into the also red-blazed Millbrook Mountain (MM) trail, which the loop route follows straight back down to Lake Minnewaska. The first half of this 1.2 mile trail dips into the Mohonk Preserve and is accompanied by a fairly strongly-worded sign to that effect, but considering the trail follows the border between these contiguous parks and it only takes about 10 minutes to cross back into Minnewaska I’ve always felt safe ignoring that sign.
Another interesting thing about the MM trail: it’s a literal creek. This presented the perfect opportunity to test my boots’ wet-surface traction and impermeability. I won’t keep you in suspense–my feet stayed wonderfully dry and I never once tripped, slipped or fell. The MM has an especially enchanted quality this time of year with of all of the best sights, sounds and smells of springtime. Melting snow on its way downhill drips out of hillsides. Brooks cascade toward the trail, rush across it, and cascade down away. It’s gorgeous. This part of the loop is also the best protected from wind. I finally had a chance to (briefly) take off my knit hat and gloves.
The MM trail dead ends back into the Lake Minnewaska carriageway, where I had to quickly re-don my hat and gloves in defense against the blasts of arctic wind coming off the lake. At this point, one could turn right or left to walk around the lake back to the parking area. The MM dumps you pretty much dead center on the LM carriageway, so mileage-wise it’s probably a wash either way. I chose to turn right to complete the loop. Then it’s just an easy, flat mile back to the the parking area.
I was especially psyched to have gotten a sweet parking space in the upper lot at this point because it had become painfully obvious that my blister-proof socks had failed spectacularly. Another mile downhill, even on a carriageway, would have been unpleasant. I was so glad I happened to have a pair of comfy Crocs in my car to change into! Aside from that little hiccup, though, the 6.5 mile Gertrude’s Nose loop was a perfect first hike of spring.
Length: 6.5 miles
Elevation change: ~1,200 feet
Hiking Time: 4 hours
Training Grade: A-
Enjoyment Grade: A+