I’ve hiked around many lakes in my life, but only a very few can compare to the incredible beauty of Lake Minnewaska in Minnewaska State Park Preserve in the Catskills.
Lake Minnewaska is a natural lake that is one of the five sky lakes on the Shawangunk Ridge in Ulster County. These lakes, four of which can be found in this state park, were carved by glaciers during the last ice age.
The lake is half a mile long and about an eighth of a mile wide, with a trail encircling it that is a bit less than two miles in length. Along the way, the trail passes by the fantastic visitor center, the lake’s small beach, several great vistas, and the towering cliffs on the eastern side of the lake.
The Lake Minnewaska Trail is also used to access trails that lead to other popular spots in the park such as Patterson’s Pelt, Gertrude’s Nose, and Castle Point. However, for this article, we are going to focus simply on the trail that encircles the lake.
The Lake Minnewaska Trail starts on the northern end of the lake. Here, you’ll find a large parking area and a fantastic visitor center. It is also possible to use this lot for the hike to Awosting Falls.
The path around Lake Minnewaska is one of the park’s carriage roads. And, while there are a few ups and downs, it’s overall a fairly easy hike and very well marked.
At the suggestion of the park’s office, I did hike in a counterclockwise direction. However, there’s no real reason you couldn’t do it the opposite way. And, if your goal is solely to see the lake from the top of the magnificent cliffs (which is the highlight of the hike) in the shortest route possible, you’ll want to go in a clockwise direction.
Directly behind the visitor center, you are treated to a fantastic view of Lake Minnewaska from the northern end of the lake. The views here are quite stunning, and those that aren’t capable of hiking far can still get a great view from this point.
Starting the hike in a counterclockwise direction, you’ll soon come to the lake’s small beach. During the warmer months of the year, this is a great spot to cool off after hiking some of the park’s many miles of trails.
After leaving the beach, the trail climbs somewhat steeply before leveling off. It’s worth noting that most of the hike on the western end of the lake is through a wooded area with few views of the lake. Nevertheless, it’s still quite scenic.
Along the way, you’ll pass trails that branch off and lead deeper into the park. While there are some fantastic destinations along these trails, we’ll save those for another article and focus this one just on the trail around Lake Minnewaska.
After hiking for about three-quarters of a mile, the trail reaches a series of switchbacks as it heads back down to the level of the lake.
Soon, you’ll reach a wide-open clearing along the southern end of the lake. The views here are quite beautiful, and this is a great spot to stop and rest for a bit while enjoying the incredible beauty of Minnewaska State Park Preserve.
From the southern end of the lake, the trail once again climbs a small hillside towards the top of the rocky cliffs on the eastern end of the lake.
Along the climb, take a moment to take a small side trail to your right, which immediately offers a fantastic vista overlooking the Ulster County countryside.
Continuing on the trail, it soon reaches the flat area atop the cliffs.
In this space, you’ll find a nice grassy field and picnic tables perched near the cliff edge.
The views from up here are spectacular and are the best part of this entire hike. Make sure to use caution here though as there are no railings along the cliff edges and a fall into the water could cause serious injuries.
It was atop these cliffs that the Minnewaska Mountain House once stood.
This was a luxurious hotel that was initially part of the nearby Mohonk Mountain House, which is still privately owned. The hotel was built in 1879 and had enough space for more than 200 guests. A second hotel was opened years later, but both hotels burned down by the mid-1980s.
For many decades, staying at the hotels was the only way to see this beautiful lake. However, in 1987, the state of New York purchased this land and opened Minnewaska State Park Preserve in 1993.
Today, little remains of these hotels, but the incredible views of the lake from atop the cliffs remain.
Once you’ve finished enjoying the breathtaking views from the cliffs, continue following the Lake Minnewaska Trail as it meanders through the woods and back towards the visitor center to complete the 1.9-mile loop around the lake.
Overall, the Lake Minnewaska Trail is one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve done in New York. While it’s not overly long or difficult, those wanting to experience an incredible scenic corner of the Catskills will definitely want to make sure they don’t miss this New York State Park.
Note that Minnewaska State Park Preserve has an actual opening and closing time, unlike most parks. It opens each day at 9 am with the closing time varying seasonally based on the sunset time.