3 Reasons You Need To Visit The Shawangunks

Three Reasons you Need To Visit The Shawangunks Now

Shawangunk ridge stretches from the border of New Jersey, through New York, ending at the Catskills. Known as the Kittatinny mountains in New Jersey, and Blue Mountain in Pennsylvania, this mountain ridge is part of the Appalachian mountains and begins in Virginia before running north. The Northernmost part of the ridge is the widest, and offers those who visit stunning views of the Hudson Valley, as well as lakes, waterfalls, and beautiful nature.

The Gunks, as they are affectionately called by those who know and love them, are one of my favorite places on the planet to explore. While they may not have the name recognition of the larger Catskills and Adirondacks, there are some reasons that this should be on everybody’s list of beautiful spaces to check out and explore. Here are three reasons you need to visit the Shawangunks.

1. Incredible Biodiversity

Waterfalls dot the ridge

Waterfalls dot the ridge

If you love nature, the Shawangunk Ridge has a lot of it. The ridge itself is composed of a conglomerate of quartz and sandstone, which is layered on top of shale. The layered strata of the rock gives it unique texture, but is also responsible for the shape of the cliffs and overlooks that line the ridge. The mountains are home to dozens of rare species, and a number of special ecological communities.

The Gunks have a wide range of vegetation, from Oak forests, to pockets of Hemlock and Northern Spruce. Species of plants from both north and south of the ridge find the edge of their range along the mountains. The presence of ice caves allows for the presence of trees that would normally be farther north, like the Black Spruce. The flatter parts of the ridge are also home to wetlands and the “sky lakes”, such as Lake Minnewaska, Lake Awosting, and Lake Mohonk. Besides lakes full of clear water, there are a number of waterfalls and streams.

There was an early focus on protecting the wild landscape, and the Gunks offer a number of protected lands and preserves. If you have an interest in geology, biodiversity, or conservation, the Shawangunks offer lessons in all three. There are miles of hiking trails to explore, including the Shawangunk Ridge Trail that runs the entire length, with something for everyone to discover along its route.

Sky Lakes

Sky Lakes

2. Rock Climbing

One of the nicest things is the range of outdoor challenge these mountains offer. If you are looking for meandering carriage roads, there are a ton. If you’re an avid hiker and want to wander and explore the depths of the forest, you can do that. And if you are a rock climber, well, then you’ve really come to the right place.

The Gunks have become a world-class climbing destination. Not only that, but they have some of the absolute best climbing for those who are just getting started. The two most popular sections for climbers are the Trapps and Near Trapps, with more remote cliffs at Millbrook Mountain and Sky top. For those who are really unsure to begin, the popularity of climbing has lead to a number of guides and classes being available in the area.

There are climbs for everyone from the very beginner to those who have been climbing around the world. There is no better way to get acquainted with the mountain than to get your hands dirty and climb it. Not only is climbing a lot of fun, but like hiking, you can meet new people and get closer to nature.

Located close to the Trapps and Near Trapps, there is also Peterskill Falls. Technically a part of Minnewaska State Park, and not part of the Gunks, this is still in the area and offers even more climbing and bouldering opportunities. There is also a limit of climbers allowed there at one time, so while it is first come, first serve, it’s also less crowded than some other spots.

3. Incredible Views

Even if you’re not a climber, it’s worth the trip to the Gunks for some outdoor adventuring. Like I mentioned before, there are miles upon miles of hiking trails of varying difficulty. From wide carriage roads, to strenuous, all day treks, you can explore the area however you are most comfortable. Which means that you can access some of the most stunning views around.

A view toward the Hudson River

A view toward the Hudson River

The top of Shawangunk ridge is a wide, barren expanse of stone that is dotted with trees and shrubs. There are a bunch of different destinations in the Gunks – Bonticou Craig, Gertrude’s Nose, and Sam’s Point, just to name a few. Each offers a different experience of the area, but all of them are breathtaking. I recently trekked out to Castle point, getting to sit on a rock ledge and find the spot on the horizon where the hills dropped off to accommodate the Hudson River.

You can see all of New Paltz as it spreads out from the base of the mountain, as well as take in views of the Catskills in the northern distance. There are spots where you can look across the forest and see the sky lakes, reflecting the clouds, with the sound of the wind behind you. A recent ten mile loop trail allowed me to enjoy a giant waterfalls, a view of the Catskills, and getting to sit on a rock ledge while watching the day pass by.

Even if you’re not up for a major excursion, there are a few spots in the area that still offer a great place to catch a sunset. Roadside pull-offs are often packed with cars as the day ends so people can watch the sun fall behind the Catskills.

When I first started spending time in New Paltz, before moving to the area, I never fully understood how awesome the Shawangunks were. It wasn’t until I had lived in the area some time and made friends with the local hikers that I was initiated to the wonderful adventures the area has. Since then, those trails have become my home away from home, and one of the first places I want to share with people when they come to visit.


So much beauty to explore!

I will always love the Adirondacks, having grown up with their high peaks and pine trees, and the Catskills, which offer their own adventure. The Gunks offer something entirely different from the more famous New York ranges, and it shouldn’t be passed up. If you’re looking for a place to explore, climb, or enjoy the rich ecological variety, the Shawangunks are where you want to be.

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