Despite the one snowfall and cold snap back in December and last week’s modest dusting, winter has yet to unveil her full majesty in the Hudson Valley.
With warming winters and decreased snowfall on the ground most years, it’s becoming harder to know when one might be able to strap on cross-country skis or snowshoes and hit the trails. That makes it all the more important to guard those groomed trails for the Nordic ski lovers and enjoy the plethora of paths in the Valley that are dazzling with or without snow.
One of the classic walks in the region that never disappoints, regardless of weather, begins at the Testimonial Gatehouse trailhead, part of the 8000-acre Mohonk Preserve off Route 299 in New Paltz, just past the flats west of the Wallkill River.
The trail’s signature feature, the 113-year-old tower, a stone edifice with a large archway that served as the formal entryway to the mountain hotel until 1945. The gatehouse was constructed and completed in October 1908 in honor of the fiftieth wedding anniversary of mountain house co-founders Albert Keith Smiley and Eliza Phelps Smiley.
The trailhead allowing preserve visitors to enjoy the original gateway to the Mohonk Mountain House only opened in May 2020. Prior to the use of automobiles for transport, hotel guests would arrive via train or trolley in downtown New Paltz, where they would take horse-drawn carriages across the Wallkill River and the flats to check in at the gatehouse tower and then be led along carriage roads to the hotel.
Because it’s not located top of the ridge, the trailhead is almost never closed due to inclement weather. It’s easily accessible and has ample parking.
This walk is stunning right from its beginning. Its stone tower and archway provide an iconic presence in the region’s landscape, turning the visitor into a time-traveler back in the splendor of the late nineteenth century.
The pin-oak allee is lined by trees in such symmetry that it’s breathtaking. On either side are meadows with red-tailed hawks floating on the wind currents above, looking for field mice. Frosted or frozen wildflowers and grass make one feel as though they’re parting a wave walking toward the mountain.
This walk can be as short or long as one wants it to be — a half-mile, a mile or the beginning of an epic walk through the Mohonk Preserve and Minnewaska State Park and beyond. Those looking for a gust of winter wind and a hardy, invigorating stroll do not have to commit to an arduous hike to get the benefits of being outside.
Beyond the formal entrance to the foothills is the bridge that takes the carriage road across Butterville Road onto Lenape Lane. From there, the options are limitless. Walkers can loop around a 1.5-mile trail that passes two farms and curves back by an old barn, or they can continue up to Duck Pond, Forest Drive and Glory Hill – and beyond.
If it snows, one can slide along, put on hiking boots with some treads, slip on traction like yak tracks or micro spikes, or if winter unleashes its white powder do some postholing or strap on snowshoes.
This trailhead is less utilized by tourists, which makes it a bit more magical for local folks. It does not disturb groomed ski trails that the Mohonk Preserve and Minnewaska State Park help maintain when the snow accumulates up on Trapps Road, Overcliff and various loops at lakes Minnewaska and Awosting.
While the carriage roads make for smoother hiking and running, those who want single-path trails can enjoy two different size and styled single-track footpaths that are accessed just to the right of Duck Pond.
One is the short but worthwhile hike through the woods that wraps around Duck Pond. The other Duck Pond trail can take winter hikers up a steep and rocky ascent to Oakwood Drive and eventually Forest Drive, from which they can decide to go back down the path or continue on the carriage roads. This peaceful, quiet hike is a bit on the rigorous side and requires careful footwork when there is snow and ice. If you’re up for the challenge, it’s a very worthwhile trail that follows along a mountain stream.
Any or all these trails can be found on the Shawangunk Trails map set created by the NY-NJ Trail Conference www.nynjtc.org They can be purchased online or by stopping in Rock & Snow in downtown New Paltz or the Mohonk Preserve’s visitors’ center on Route 44/55.
Visitors must have a Preserve membership and/or purchase a day pass. For more information on memberships, day-passes, trails or closures go to www.mohonkpreserve.org