NOTE: Because of a forest fire that destroyed almost 2,000 acres during spring 2016, some of the trails at Sam’s Point are closed until further notice in order to preserve resources. Please check NY State Parks website for more information.
Since spring began, Denny and I subscribed to a number of outdoor magazines and bought several books about hiking in the Hudson Valley. We’d been itching to go on an epic hike for several months now, but it’d been so damn hot that we avoided it. Thankfully our prayers were answered when we saw the write-up about Sam’s Point Preserve in Backpacker Magazine, which was featured as the best summertime hike in this region, party because of the portion through above-ground ice caves. The preserve is considered to be “one of earth’s last great places,” as it’s also home an enormous waterfall, a pygmy pine forest, massive rock formations, and incredible views of the Shawangunks from its highest point. The preserve is only 90 miles away from New York City, and about a two hour drive. Plan to be on the trails for 5 hours–you should show up before noon–but with multiple stops and a picnic, you’ll hardly notice the time pass.
The first (and last) portion of the hike is through a pygmy (read: miniature) pine forest. Because of frequent fires and poor soil, the pines have adapted by rarely growing taller than five feet–though most of them are around one foot tall. As Hike the Hudson puts it, if you were a gnome, this would definitely be your hangout spot. About 20 minutes into the hike, there’s an incredible overlook called Sam’s Point (can’t miss it, on the right side) where legend has it that a man named Sam, being chased by Native Americans, leapt to his presumable death.
The hike to the ice caves is a little less than an hour. The hike through the ice caves is, on average, 30º cooler than it is outside. When we went in mid-July, though we had to search for it, some ice patches were scattered about. (By the way, the cold air feels lovely after you’ve been hiking in 80º weather.) The path through the ice caves is exceptionally easy, save the two wooden ladders you have to climb–though the rungs are wide enough that we watched a dog climb it. After you’ve hiked through the caves, the path opens up to a massive rock formation with 360º views of the surrounding landscape. This is the highest point in Shawangunk Ridge, and also happens to be a lovely place for a picnic and several beers.
Once you’ve through the caves, you can either turn around, or continue on through the berry fields to Verkeerderkill Falls. This portion of the hike is through a narrow path of two-foot high huckleberry and bluerry bushes–both ripe in July and August. Don’t be afraid to snack on them! The waterfall is beautiful, and if you hike to the lookout we found (the path is clearly marked) it makes yet another wonderful place for a snack and a couple beers. We hung out there for an hour before heading back; the entire hike back without stopping is only about an hour.
All this said, though it’s a good half-day, the hiking isn’t difficult at any point. With three major attractions (Sam’s Point, Ice Caves and Verkeerderkill Falls), plus the baby-pine forest and berry fields, this really is one of the last great places on earth. This hike is going to be really, really hard to beat.
After you’re done, your options are pretty limited on the drive back to the city, but we stopped in Goshen at Craft 47 which was pretty good. It serves Amerian tapas and lots of, you guessed it, craft beer. The menu is pretty big, with a balanced ratio of healthy to totally greasy. We feasted on tacos, grilled asparagus salad, a couple skewers, and fondue-style beer cheese. Because it’s tapas style, it’s easy to pig out here–making it a perfect pitstop after a full day of hiking.