When I joined MTBR 7 years ago I enjoyed pouring over photo essays from exotic riding destinations and dreamed about going there. I didn't have much experience on a mountain bike nor did I have the resources to travel, so I had nothing to contribute at the time. I lived vicariously through pages of photos posted on this very sub-forum.
Since then my skills and resources have grown and I've been lucky enough to bounce around the country for a little bit. Multiple trips to Moab and Fruita. Most of the big-name riding destinations in Colorado. Northern California, from Demo to Tahoe. Yearly trips to Ray's Indoor park. Plenty of places in between. But only recently did I begin to discover the options in my own backyard.
The Shawangunk Ridge is part of the Appalachian mountain range and is better known for its rock climbing than its mountain biking opportunities. It's mere miles from the town of New Paltz, NY which was founded by French Protestants in 1678 and claims to have the oldest street in America. While singletrack is minimal here, there are miles upon miles of carriage roads built over the past 200 years. There are spectacular views at every turn and you can reach the trails from town - no driving required. I always struggle with the concept of driving long distances to ride my bike and it's a nice little perk to be able to jump on the bike and go. But enough blathering...on to the ride details...
From downtown you ride a mile on pavement until the dirt starts here at Gate House Road. Aptly named for the historic stone gate house, pass through the archway and enter into a scene right out of a movie. Trees line the farm road on either side forming a leafy canopy over the tread surface.
From here we get a better look at what's to come. Skytop Tower off in the distance. While I didn't make it there on this particular ride, Skytop is the centuries old lookout tower that gives the ridge its iconic profile. You can walk the 100 steps to the top and on a high visibility day see clear to New Jersey. This is my target. Whether I intend to stop there or not, it sits at about the same altitude as the high point of my ride. Visible throughout my adventure, it's a constant indicator of how far I've climbed.
My loyal steed at the beginning of the climb. Not a gravel grinder by anyone's definition, but more than comfortable on the rocky and rooty sections I'll encounter over the course of the next four hours. Given the cooler weather provided by autumn, I've elected to forego my Camelbak in favor of water bottles. My jersey pockets are filled with my phone, camera, peanut butter sandwiches and an extra jersey. I'll be sweating profusely on the way up and freezing my giblets off on the way down. Can't wait!
The climb is long, but interesting. In additional to the mountain vistas there are interesting historical relics from when the area was first civilized. I weave through wooded doubletrack, occasionally crossing gravel roads before delving into short sections of technical singletrack.
After cleaning a technical climb I arrive at Duck Pond and Skytop reappears, still distant but much closer than before. A small indicator of the progress I've made.
A few minutes later I'm rewarded with a view of where I started, reaffirming the elevation gain that my legs have alerted me to. I press on, back into the woods.
One of the many carriage trails I will traverse. Most of the terrain is pretty typical of this. A lot of finely crushed stone over hardpack. Not particularly exciting or difficult, except for the steeper pitches I'll encounter later on.
After 16 miles I reach Awosting Falls at the base of Minnewaska State Park. We haven't had much precipitation recently and the falls have slowed to a veritable trickle. Come spring time the combination of rain and snow melt will return these to a roar. From here the trail pitches up, QUICKLY and presents me with the steepest part of my 43 mile trip.
The west side of the ridge and the not-so distant Catskill mountains which reach almost 4,000ft (comparatively tall since I started the day at 400ft above sea level).
At the top of the climb, I reach Lake Minnewaska. Protected by trees on all sides, wind is minimal and the water surface looks like absolute glass. With my late start, the afternoon sun light is just about perfect reflecting off the rock. I continue on.
Finally, Castle Point: the highest point I'll reach today. I stop to don my extra jersey, eat my sandwiches and refuel. The wind combined with the higher altitude results in much cooler temps than I had anticipated, but the sun feels good on my black jersey and black shorts. Hamilton Point is easily visible from above. Our foliage is past peak but the view is magnificent nonetheless. Just when I think I'm completely alone a helicopter appears out of nowhere. I smile, temporarily believing that they're coming to get me because I didn't pay the $17 entry fee. Whatever, I rode my bike here from town. I begin the descent but neglect to take photos because my heart rate dropped and I'm cold. I pass two other bikers headed up - they probably drove up the mountain and parked at the Minnewaska trailhead. I don't blame them - it's not a ride for the faint of heart. They can't see the subtle smugness that I get from riding my bike this distance.
I get home shortly before dark. My GPS shows 3,200 feet of climbing which is the bare minimum for riding up here. If I had linked together some of the adjacent Mohonk trails, or done additionally loops at Minnewaska I could easily tack on another 2-3,000ft. At this point in the season, I'm satisfied with that.
Mountain Bike Ride Profile | 43miles near New Paltz | Times and Records | Strava
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