The sun came out briefly on the Saturday morning of an otherwise chilly, overcast and ultimately rainy Memorial Day weekend, and I wasn’t going to waste the only good weather we’ve had in the last week. I got up early and headed up to the Shawangunk Ridge for a long loop through Minnewaska State Park and the Mohonk Preserve.
This 9-mile loop is the same one I attempted back in late April with a few little tweaks. Rather than starting at the Coxing trailhead in Mohonk Preserve as I’d planned then, I deployed my Empire Pass and parked in the Minnewaska State Park Preserve lower lot in order to get the boring half of the hike out of the way first. In the parking lot, I put on my boots and hat, slathered on the bug stuff and sunblock, started my MapMyHike app (which I was trying out for the first time) and hopped onto the red-blazed Awosting Falls Carriageway. My use of the word boring up there refers specifically to flat, wide carriage roads and not to the quality of the surrounding landscape, which is basically gorgeous at any time of year. In fact, the first geographical feature on this route is also a spectacularly awe-inspiring one, even by Shawngunk Ridge standards: The 65-foot tall Awosting Falls.
I do a lot of complaining about the weather, especially how much rain we’ve had this May, but, oh boy, the chance to see and hear the volume and power of this waterfall almost makes it all worth it. I’ve visited Awosting Falls in drought conditions, when a slight dampness in the cliff provides the only indication that there’s a waterfall here at all. A friend and I, in my younger and riskier days, actually free-climbed the dry cliff one August fifteen years ago. That’s not something I’d consider attempting while the falls are this huge.
I stood and gaped at the waterfall for a good few minutes, then continued on my way down the carriageway alongside the Peters Kill, which meanders away from the trail after about a quarter mile. In about a mile and a half, just after Awosting Falls Carriageway crosses paved Lyons Road, it passes into the Mohonk Preserve and becomes Trapps Road, which I followed for the next two and a half miles, intermittently crossing, paralleling, and re-crossing the Coxing Kill. Normally, Trapps Road crosses Route 44/55 on an overpass to dead-end into Undercliff Road, but the overpass is currently under construction (or something–it’s actually being replaced I think). A temporary detour, blazed with red diamonds and marked with a hard-to-miss sign, departs on the left and crosses the road to connect with the West Trapps parking area/trailhead. Here, I briefly picked up the yellow-blazed West Trapps connector trail before hanging a left onto the red-blazed Shongum Path.
Shongum Path features several long stretches of wooden boardwalk. When I walked the path back in April the boardwalk spanned dry ground, but I suspected this area must be seasonally swampy. And I was right! The thick foliage and spongy marsh really transforms this trail. After a thoroughly enjoyable, basically flat mile it dead-ends into Old Minnewaska Trail, where I turned left and immediately hit the Coxing Kill. The trail crosses the creek on a big wooden bridge. First, though, I rolled up my trousers, pulled off my boots and socks and waded into the creek upstream of the falls known as Split Rock. The water was very cold and felt wonderful on my 5-mile fatigued feet.
After a nice, soothing 10-minute soak, I walked up to a nearby picnic table and enjoyed a banana. Then I strolled across Clove Road to the Coxing parking lot, which features a little comfort station that, while by no means glamorous, offers such luxuries as walls and a roof, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer. At the northwest corner of the Coxing parking lot, a kiosk marks the start of the light blue-blazed High Peters Kill trail, which this route follows for the last four miles of the loop.
The High Peters Kill trail has it all. Steep climbs through talus, steep descents through evergreen forest, flat paths through knee-high mountain laurel, fast running little brooks, lazy old marshes, and plenty of dazzling overlooks. About a half mile past the start, the trail crosses back into the Minnewaska State Park and presents the most challenging climb of the whole loop, and the only part of this hike that made me wish I hadn’t weighted my pack to 25 lbs. The top of the climb makes it all worth it, though, with views to Skytop on a clear day. A bit beyond that the trail intersects an open rock ledge with some more showstopping views, then continues steeply downhill to meet up again with the Peters Kill, then back up again to head basically due west high above the Peters Kill. At some point during the last two miles of the loop a raven scared the bejeezus out of me be jumping up out of the mountain laurel and squawking at me until I ran away. After a total of about four miles, the trail dead ends into Route 44/55 right across from the Minnewaska State Park lower parking lot, where I’d left my car.
I absolutely loved this hike. I don’t know why I’d never tried this loop before–maybe the length scared me off–but I will definitely do it again, and hopefully soon.
Difficulty: Moderate (due to length, and one steep climb)
Length: 8.9 miles
Total Elevation Gain: ~1350 ft
Hiking Time: 3.5 hours
Training Grade: B
Enjoyment Grade: A+