Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Shawangunk Ridge Trail

A handmade sign for the SRT
This post will be the first in a series throughout these upcoming months highlighting some of the beautiful trails that we have here in our region. I blogged very little about my personal adventures over the spring and summer largely because I was too busy frolicking in the forest...I mean who afterall wants to sit in front of a computer screen on a warm sunny day, even a writer? Therefore I hope that these stories of the trail lend themselves to your own inspiration and dreams as our days grow colder and shorter. The cold months are perfect for planning your next adventure!

The Shawangunk Ridge Trail (SRT) runs for 71 miles from High Point monument in High Point State Park to the Mohonk Preserve in New Paltz, New York. It is just the right length for a week-long thru-hike or an ambling series of taking-your-time section hikes. This past summer and fall my love and I chose to take on the latter and are still whittling away at it. I must say...although I tend towards hitting the trail and not returning until the venture is complete, sectioning has been so rewarding and a whole different experience....one in which I can spend the entire afternoon hiking 4 miles and taking in every detail along the way.
Typical blazes for the SRT and Long Path 
Our first outing was from Rt. 61 in NJ over Gobbler's Knob and back down to Rt. 61. We were pleased to see two trail blazes in the parking lot and soon learned that the Long Path runs concurrently with the SRT for 34 miles of its length. I guess we have started our section hike of the Long Path now as well!

View from Gobbler's Knob

These roughly 3 miles of trail afforded a beautiful view of the valley below and was well marked and rolling. However, what struck our eye first was how few feet had trodden this path. The trail approaching the view was soft and springy, carpeted with some of the greenest moss I have ever seen despite the dry conditions. Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) vines wove through the moss like stitching, Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) whorls grazed our bare ankles, and single leaves of Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) danced in the light summer's breeze; all likely inhabitants in this mossy environment. Once cresting Gobbler's Knob, the trail ran along the wooded ridge remaining flat for just a while and weaving between low bush blueberry bushes (Vaccinium spp.)and Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida), bees that were busy this time of year buzzed about our heads and followed us on our way. As the trail descended, it rolled up and down and we thought of each downward slope we would be climbing on our way back...alas the downside of a sectionhike with one car.

Mossy trail to Gobbler's Knob

This tiny taste was enough to ignite our curiousity in the Shawangunk Ridge Trail. I prefer the trails less traveled and our first venture had indeed evidenced that it was a lesser known gem. We soon got to planning a multi-day venture, beginning in Wurtsboro and hiking to....hmmm...we didn't know.

Scott along the Shawangunk Ridge in Wurtsboro Ridge State Forest
We parked outside a modest VFW hall under some shady trees, packed up our gear, and entered the woods where we spied a blue disk on a tree. This trail too was covered in green moss but with sodden leaves clinging to lichenized rocks. It had rained early that morning and the forest was still holding on to the precious moisture. Being mid-September, the leaves were just beginning to brighten, yellows lined with green veins and scarlet reds all the redder from the rain. However when the trail climbed here, we did not all that soon reach its ridge...

View from ridge in Wurtsboro Ridge State Forest 
We climbed up large boulders for what seemed like a long while before reaching the ridge where we walked along the rocky spine of the mountain. White Shawangunk slab rock sufficed for the trail that was lined with Scrub Oak (Quercus macrocarpa), low-bush Blueberry (Vaccinium spp.), Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida), and Sassafras (Sassafras albidum). For nearly 3 miles we walked with views to our left of the road that we had driven below to Wurtsboro. However the sun was setting quickly as we had gotten a late start...due to...ahem...some parking issues.

I hesitated to include our adventures in parking for the SRT because this is a trail I want to encourage others to hike...however, being that it is recently born as a long distance trail in a region that is traditionally that of day-long treks, the parking bugs are not yet all ironed out. We had initially tried to park one vehicle at the Mohonk Preserve, thinking we might end up here and if not, we could easily cab it to this destination from wherever we did...lemme just say I wish you could have seen the faces on those gatehouse attendees. I will never forget the look of horror as one employee exclaimed to her partner, mouth agape,

"They want to hike to NJ or something!!"

Our two pick-up trucks sat at the picturesque stone archway gurgling and whirring, while we stared at the empty parking lot and explained that yes, that was exactly what we intended to do. We were informed that there was no over-night parking but we would be welcome to park for the day after we each paid $21. They were so kind to let us turn around in that empty parking lot when we promptly exited and followed their directions down the hill to Spring Farm trailhead where they thought we might be able to do something so bizarre as parking through the night-time hours. We were also warned not to park alongside the road at any of the pull-offs as the authorities would surely impound the vehicle and charge us a hefty $1000 fine. My oh my...since when did a walk in the woods become so difficult? At Spring Farm trailhead we found a nearly empty lot but were greeted by a sign that stated there was no over-night parking and a box to slip some money into for daytime parking. Hmmm. We called the number on the sign and informed the person on the other end of our plans and asked if we might pay for several days parking as we would be hiking for 3 days back to our vehicle.

"Why would you want to do that?" A perplexed voice asked...they weren't referring to the paying part.

We followed the road to another entrance to the trail that we thought might be available for parking, but there was barely a pull-off in this residential area. Nonetheless we ended up driving back to where we had rented a room at a motel in New Paltz the night before and dropped one truck there, hoping it would go unnoticed for a few days. So this is why...our hike had started several hours later than expected that day. Stay tuned throughout this post and you'll get quite the punchline about...ahem...parking.

Anyway, back to our walk in the woods...

At camp near creek

We bedded down for the night along a slow-flowing creek and a stonewall in Wurtsboro Ridge State Forest. That night my luv dreamt of a green woman who shared her knowledge of Jewelweed (Impatiens spp.). In the morning we marveled at the Jewelweed that lined the rocky creek before us. Jewelweed is one of the best plants for cooling a Poison Ivy rash or itchy bubites. The woods seemed to welcome our presence.

Fire tower along SRT

That day we hiked...straight up...large white boulders that provided more of an obstacle course than stairs and soon crested a ridge of burned out forest. White and black skeletons of trees lined the way as well as a host of scrubby bushes, pines and rhodendrons. We could see that if only the clouds would clear we would have views to either side of us and when we reached a lookout tower we lamented the clouds all the more. We decided a snack was in order. During that break of almond butter and rice cakes, the heat of the day burned through the surrounding fog and we glimpsed the autumn mountains in the distance. Perfect. We climbed the well-maintained tower and got our view afterall. And this is the magic of the mountains...so often you find yourself in just the right place at the right time.

Scott taking in the view from firetower

Looking out at SRT ridge walk from firetower 
From here we walked along the ridge for roughly 3 miles, passing more large slabs of stone and carefully piled rock cairns that looked more the work of an artist than a hiker. The burned out woods continued, providing views as far as the eye could see as well as our path laid out before us over the continuing ridgeline. This was indeed the Shawangunk Ridge Trail. Although this forest was scorched we did have the pleasure of meeting tiny Mountain Laurel, a close relative to Rhododendron and classified as vulnerable in NY state...a lesson learned in why it pays to take your time. Hike too fast and you'll breeze by the subtle beauties along the way.

Scott walking the SRT though a burned-out ridge

Mountain Laurel (Kalmia)
When we descended, we suddenly found ourselves in forest that had at one time been inhabited...I am guessing by cattle or sheep. White stonewalls still sturdy and strong squared plots throughout the woods and we walked alongside the stone wall that composed this ridge as we switchbacked our way down to a road. Here, our experience could not have been more different as we walked old route 52, which clearly had also been inhabited at one time...evidenced by a burned out trailer and an old stone foundations...but now was the dumping ground of present-day inhabitants. Improved Route 52 ran along the top of the embankment and it was evident that this was the mode of cheap and easy waste removal. I had visions of getting pegged in the head with a Big Gulp paper cup or pummeled with a broken microwave. Neither happened luckily and after a mile and a half we made our way back into the woods.

Stone walls along SRT
That evening after we set up camp, after a mere 7 miles, we were blessed with a nearby rushing creek, tiny waterfall, and a visiting owl. We sat in the pitch blackness and listened as the owl that surely perched in a tree just yards away shared his tales and we did our best to hoot back our own. He stayed for quite sometime and even called his lover to hoot by our tentside. Again, although the mountains had been challenging, we felt embraced by its life.

Enjoying South Gully waterside
On the last day we truly meandered, making a point to hike as leisurely as our minds would allow. We brunched creekside, hiked up and up and up along the deepening gorge of the South Gully and reveled in being in the woods for our third day. We soon arrived at the Sam's Point Preserve where we were welcomed by park employees. I had cell service for the first time in days and suddenly wished I didn't when I saw the slew of text messages and voicemails. The NY State Police had traced my truck that was parked at the VFW hall in Wurtsboro to my parents' address in Milford, PA and had sent a PA State officer to assess the situation at their home. My parents were in a frenzy, concerned that my truck had by now been impounded, and the warnings of the Mohonk House attendents resounded in my ears...although there had been no signage suggesting parking was not allowed at the VFW hall and it had been marked as an SRT parking area on the map. I promptly put down my pita and hummus and called the NY State Police barracks. When I finally got the officer that was handling the case, he was friendly and amiable, explaining,

"Oh no! You are fine to park there. We were alerted to the truck after someone noticed it had been sitting there for a couple days. We didn't know why someone would go hiking and not return. We were concerned that you were okay."

Again I asked myself...since when did a walk in the woods become so difficult? Now don't get me wrong I appreciate an officer's concern for my well-being, but if you thought I was indeed injured or lost in the woods, why would you look for me at my parent's house? This came on the heels of a terrorist bombing in NY days before...therefore I am guessing it had a whole lot more to do with being certain the truck was indeed registered to me. Nonetheless we decided we had better call that cab and get back to the other truck sitting at America's Best Value Inn.

We were overjoyed to find it untouched and unticketed upon arrival.

After our overnight advenures on the SRT from Wurtsboro to Sam's Point...we decided dayhiking might be the preferrable mode of travel along this trail. We have since returned to its southern terminus at High Point Monument, following it along an easy ridge walk and descending into the woods at Cedar Swamp (a glacial bog worthy of a blog all its own) and to the New York border.
A boardwalk through High Point State Park's Cedar Swamp
Most recently we also hopped on the SRT at the Basha Kill Wildlife Refuge which offers miles of hiking along the prisitine wetlands that comprise the refuge atop an old railroad bed. With boardwalks and carefully constructed overlooks along the way, this portion of the SRT proved far more beautiful than either of us had ever anticipated. The views were stunning, the chill wind invigorating, the leaves colorful, and birds many of which I could not name brought this marsh to life.

Marsh in Basha Kill Wildlife Refuge

Bird's nest in refuge
We were also stunned by how moderate the southern portion of the SRT proved to be. Turns out we had hopped on the trail in Wurtsboro right where the trail increased in difficulty. We had been lured in by its description of its offering the most astounding views in the Shawangunk region...and that it had...as well as some ego-bruising trail. However... I welcome a humbling from trail...a reminder to slowdown and show reverence for our natural world that we all to often stomp on through with our own agenda.
Scott walking along the Bashakill Kill Wildlife Refuge on the SRT
All in all we have hiked roughly 25 miles of the Shawangunk Ridge Trail...and I hope that we can manage to maintain our walking meditation on this trail...taking our time to navigate its boulder climbs, creep along its rough edges, pause at its pristine waters, gasp at its views, sit by its trees, listen to its inhabitants, and above all else, allow it to leave us breathless and wanting for more.


  1. Enjoyed your blog and hope you don't mind if I post the link on the facebook page, Shawangunk Ridge Trails

    1. Hi Kenneth, Glad you enjoyed the blog and thank you for your assistance in route logistics! I don't mind at all - I was meaning to do that very thing!

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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