Winter, with its long nights and cold temperatures, can induce a bad case of cabin fever, but there’s no reason to remain indoors. Winter has its advantages: The views are better, there are no bugs to contend with and one doesn’t have to worry about getting overheated from the steamy humidity. Once it snows, a pair of snowshoes or cross-country skis conveys you through the woods with more freedom than on foot in summer, since there are no brambles blocking your way or steep, stony ground. The secret is to be prepared by dressing warmly: to wear a coat, hat, scarf, mittens or gloves and waterproof shoes and socks that sufficiently insulate you from the cold.
A wonderful way to experience Nature in winter is on a guided hike in the Shawangunks. Minnewaska State Park Preserve offers a full schedule of guided treks in January, along with discounted snowshoe rentals for participants. The 21,000-acre Preserve, located just to the south of Mohonk, is located on Route 44/55, five miles west of the intersection with Route 299 in Gardiner.
The fun starts on New Year’s Day, with a snowshoe outing from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. led by environmental educator Laura Conner. The mile-and-a-half hike up a couple of hills climaxes in stunning views of the Rondout Valley and Clove Valley. On Wednesday, January 4 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and on Thursday, January 5 from 10 a.m. to 12 noon, a snowshoe hike is offered to homeschooled children aged six to ten that will teach them how to identify animal tracks; each child will make a plaster cast of a track to take home. Children must be accompanied by a parent or guardian over age 18. The hike will start from the Nature Center and travel along the Beacon Hill Carriage Road.
On Saturday, January 7 from 10 a.m. to 12 noon, Park Preserve educator Nick Martin will lead a beginners’ snowshoe hike down the Beacon Hill Carriage Road, pointing out signs of animal activity. The hike leaves from the Park Office at the Peterskill Climbing Area. A park ranger is leading treks every second and fourth Tuesday of the month through May from 10 a.m. to 12 noon. The trek on January 10 follows the mile-and-a-half Red Loop hiking trail through the Peterskill area, passing through coniferous forests and traversing one steep hill. The trek on January 24, which follows the Jenny Lane hiking trail, is a bit more strenuous: The four-mile hike will traverse several hills and requires participants to carpool between two parking lots, since it will begin at the Jenny Lane Parking Area and end at the Awosting Parking Area.
On Sunday, January 15 from 1 to 3 p.m., Laura Conner will be leading a four-mile cross-country ski outing to Kempton’s Ledge. The trail follows along the Lake Minnewaska and Castle Point carriage roads, including two challenging hills. Participants must bring their own skis. On Monday, January 16, Conner will be leading a shorter, mile-and-a-half snowshoe hike along the Beacon Hill trail. The hike goes from 1 to 3 p.m., and on a clear winter day offers spectacular views. On Saturday, January 21, another 1-to-3 p.m. snowshoe hike is being led by Park Preserve educator Nick Martin, along the Bullwheel and Red Loop hiking trails: a two-mile trek that offers striking views and a visit to the picturesque Peterskill stream. The month’s guided hikes end on Sunday, January 29 with a snowshoe trek to the Upper High Peterskill from 2 to 4 p.m. The two-mile trail weaves among mountain laurel and offers scenic vistas. Participants meet at the Awosting Parking Area.
All of the guided hikes require preregistration; call (845) 255-0752. Snowshoe rentals are available at the Park Preserve Office, located at the Peterskill Climbing Area, for the discounted rate of $5. (The normal rate for visitors is $15 per adult and $14 per junior.) Children must be accompanied by an adult over age 18. Participants are advised to dress warmly and bring water and a snack. The Preserve is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the parking fee is $8 per car. Once trails are groomed for cross-country skiing, a per-head trail fee of $6 per adult and $5 per junior is charged instead.