Hiking the crown jewel of Mohonk Preserve – Times Union

Hiking the crown jewel of Mohonk Preserve  Times Union

Lots of hikes in the Hudson Valley offer scenic views. But this particular loop, which is part of the 8,000-acre Mohonk Preserve, is special for the natural eye candy throughout and its accessibility. Being located near two beloved, longstanding dining spots for a post-hike reward doesn’t hurt.

Iconic and well-traveled, the 4.7-mile Undercliff Carriage Road to Overcliff Carriage Road loop, located in the Shawangunk Mountain Range in Gardiner, is a year-round destination for every flavor of outdoor enthusiast: runners, hikers, bikers, snowshoers, cross-country skiers, boulderers and rock climbers.

The oval circuit is by far one of the most popular treks for Preserve members and visitors alike. The carriage road trails are wide enough to accommodate its many visitors, and aside from a half-mile section where climbers congregate in the summer and fall, it rarely ever feels crowded.

The views also make this trek a memorable one. With ample parking at the West Trapps trailhead, located just past the hairpin turn on Route 44, the loop is flanked by stunning views of the Catskill Mountain Range on the western side (via Overcliff) and the Hudson River Valley to the East (along Undercliff).

Along Undercliff, travelers can even get a few postage-stamp-sized frames of the historic Sky Top Tower, perched on top of the Gunks, especially when all the leaves have fallen.

Within those five miles there is so much natural and cultural history that it’s hard not to stop and take a deep, piney breadth.

Scenic by design

Undercliff Carriage Road was built in 1907 by the Smiley family, owners of the Mohonk Mountain House and the originators of the Mohonk Land Trust (now known as the Preserve). The road is 2.3 miles long from Trapps Bridge to where it connects with its twin sister, the 2.4-mile Overcliff Carriage Road, which was built about 100 years ago. The construction of the twin roads required skilled stone cutters, blasters, and heavy labor, and together were viewed as engineering feats at the turn of the 20th century.

The trails yield stunning views of the Catskills to the west and the Hudson Valley to the east.

Erin Quinn

The additional connection of Overcliff Road across the Trapps Bridge allowed for visitors to gain different viewpoints as they traveled from the Mohonk Mountain House to Minnewaska Lake and back. Legend has it that horse and carriage drivers back in the day were told to take guests to Minnewaska via Overcliff Road, but to drive them back along Undercliff so they could get several glimpses of Sky Top Tower as they inched closer to the hotel.

These historic carriage roads are part of an intricate and deliberate design aimed to highlight existing romantic elements of the landscape while at the same time blend into, and preserve, its innate character. The curves of the road provide a constant unfolding of scenery while continually changing the traveler’s point of view.

A circuit that suits every outdoor activity

Today, the historic carriage road encircles what is known as the “Trapps,” arguably the most heavily visited and utilized climbing area in the Northeast.

If the weather is climbing friendly, anyone travelling the Undercliff carriage road will pass by dozens of climbers either belaying a partner, scaling the white, conglomerate cliffs, or dangling from a rock ledge hundreds of feet above.

There is also plenty of low-hanging fruit for bouldering, and you’ll often see specially designed mats neatly tucked under chalk-laden boulders as people test their strength, agility and ability to master the rock holds and grips, knowing there’s a safe fall below.

What makes this loop so enticing to every level of athlete and outdoor adventurer is that it is easily accessible, while being wide, dirt packed, and stone-lined — which allows for multiple activities.

Seasoned runners of the Under/Over loop have an ongoing debate as to which direction might lend a faster time: Over to Under, or Under to Over? The majority of racers, during the annual Shawangunk Summer Series at the Preserve, take Undercliff first and end along Overcliff, which ends on a slight, but perceptible downhill.

The last mile, marked by those who run it often, is a small rock that helps to denote that exact moment when the trail begins its mile descent.

The Overlook and Undercliff carriage roads date back to the early 20th century, designed at the time to blend in with nature, and highlight the surrounding beauty of the Gunks.

Erin Quinn

Ironically enough, it’s the walk from the parking lot to the beginning of Under/Over that people often huff about as the most challenging part. It is a steep, albeit short and charming, footpath that connects the West Trapps parking lot to the top of the crest where the loop begins.

Beyond the gentle grade, and the trapeze-like movements of climbers on the cliffs above, Undercliff/Overcliff can lead visitors to more than 35 miles of interlocking carriage roads and footpaths, making it easy to extend your adventure in Mohonk.

The loop is also a wonderful jumping off point for amateur hikers and bikers, and a perfect training loop for veterans who are looking for a bucolic boost as they traverse the Gunks.

When the snow falls, the trail is also groomed for cross-country skiing, and there are ample paths for snowshoers to enjoy as well.

Post-hike dining

Refuel after your Gunks adventure at one of two longstanding family-owned and operated restaurants just down the road from the West Trapps parking lot. Mountain Brauhaus (3123 US-44), a German restaurant located at the base of the Gunks, has been in operation by the Ruoff family since 1955. Known for its bratwurst and schnitzel and other authentic German dishes, Brauhaus also offers a variety of vegetarian or vegan options made with local, farm-fresh ingredients. (The Ruoff family takes their annual winter break from Dec. 19 – Jan. 19, then reopen for the rest of the year.)

The family-style Lombardi’s Restaurant (2808 Benton Cors) is renowned for being one of the few Italian restaurants in the region that makes its own pasta and Italian bread fresh on site.

Tips before you go

Mohonk Preserve members can access this route for free as part of their $60 annual fee. Otherwise, visitor day fees are $15 for foot travel and $20 per day for skiing, climbing or horseback riding (cash or credit card).

Those planning a trip to the Preserve can also call the Mohonk Preserve Visitor Center to see if the parking lot is full or if the trails have been groomed for skiing: 845-255-0919.

During peak weekends, visitors and members can also access the Undercliff/Overcliff route by parking a little farther away at the Visitor Center and taking a quarter-mile-long connecting footpath.

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