A getaway to a majestic resort in New Paltz near the Catskills offers a marked contrast to our Sound Shore landscape.
By Janice Llanes Fabry
A getaway to a majestic resort in New Paltz near the Catskills offers a marked contrast to our Sound Shore landscape. Set in the Hudson Valley, Mohonk Mountain is pristine and placid, never more so than in the crisp autumn air and during fall foliage. While it has more than enough amenities, activities, and events for a weekend stay, it’s worth taking the hour-and-a-half drive just to spend the day.
This weekend, Mohonk is celebrating its 145th anniversary, as well as the region’s harvest season with an Expo featuring local farmers, artisans, crafters, and food purveyors. There will be food demonstrations, tastings, candied apple making, and a bounty of great food and drink.
As tempting as that sounds, Mohonk is pretty special without special events. What began as a Victorian castle, built around Lake Mohonk by Quaker twin brothers Albert and Alfred Smiley in 1879, is now a full-service resort, Mohonk Mountain House, with boating, golf, swimming, and award-winning spa amenities. Pioneers of green practices, the Smileys have been lauded for the stewardship of their land, which adjoins the Mohonk Preserve. Still operated by their descendants, Mohonk has remained an eco-friendly, peaceful retreat and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986.
Recently, my husband and I yearned for a complete change of scenery, as well as some outdoor activity. We drove there via I-684 to I-84 West over the Newburgh Bridge to the New York State Thruway, a more pleasant ride than taking the Thruway alone. It is best to arrive early to ensure the day visitor parking lot isn’t full. A day’s grounds/hiking pass gives you access to 85 miles of winding trails with varying degrees of difficulty, delineated in their helpful hiker’s map, “short and easy,” “moderate,” and strenuous. Some of the half-day and all-day hikes take visitors along part of the surrounding 40,000-acre Shawangunk Ridge.
We decided to stay closer to the House and hike up to Sky Top, a stone lookout tower via the East Porch and Mossy Brook path. There are glorious nooks and crannies wherever you turn. Handcrafted gazebo-like observation points built into its rocky cliffs provide seemingly endless views of the preserve. You can’t help but marvel at the fact that the Smileys left no stone unturned.
Although Sky Top’s observation deck was under construction and closed to the public (we missed that memo), hiking up and then looping down along the bluff overlooking the lake was gratifying and picturesque every which way.
Rock climbers come from all over the world to scale the climbing cliffs of the Shawangunks, fondly known as “Gunks,” an eight-mile round-trip. No thank you. We settled for exploring the maze of crevices on our way to Sky Top, made up of huge slabs of white conglomerate rock. I have to admit my claustrophobia, which I thought was confined to MRI machines, kicked in. I scurried to an alternate route, taking a photo of my husband in the crevices for Instagram beforehand.
A far less daunting walk over to Mohonk’s award-winning gardens is a must. An ode to Albert Smiley’s love of horticulture, the garden’s elaborate Victorian maze planting schemes are dazzling. Garden Manager Andrew Koehn happened to be there on our visit. He and his crew take pride in displaying a striking, colorful array of plants and foliage each season.
When we asked him how he keeps his gorgeous gardens from becoming breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the deer, as they do in Rye, he instructed us to spray “Deer Out” in the early mornings or evenings, out of the hot sun. We came home to find it’s the very spray that has been sitting idol in our garage all summer, but he inspired us to give it another try. During the winter months, we hear Mohonk’s year-round greenhouse is meticulously cared for as well.
Lunch al fresco at the Granary is the way to go; just make reservations ahead of time. It’s a quaint spot with red and white-checkered tablecloth-covered picnic tables overlooking the lake. Swimming is reserved for overnight guests, but the lake makes a lovely backdrop to any meal. A buffet of barbecued chicken, spare ribs, burgers, corn on the cob, homemade pies, and sundaes is available through mid-October.
We worked off lunch by signing up for an hour-and-a-half bike ride at WheelWorks, the bike shop on the grounds. For $30 each, a very friendly and knowledgeable guide took us along a challenging trail around the Trapps’ cliffs. The ride culminated with a visit to a lily pond that we would have never discovered on our own. Sparkling and in full bloom, it would have given Monet pause.
It would take weeks to unearth Mohonk’s many hidden gems, so we drove home planning our return.