For me, there’s one element in particular that makes a hike special: variety. My perfect hike has steep inclines and rolling hills, mossy woods and rocky crags, babbling brooks and gushing falls. It might start beneath the cover of shady sycamores and end on a sandy lake shore, it might start in one state and end in another. Whatever it does, variety is key. One of my favorite hikes, a 6 mile loop through across Bonticou Crag and Table Rocks, illustrates this perfectly. From the tricky rock scramble to the trek through the woods, monotony will be the last thing on your mind during this jaunt through the beautiful Mohonk Preserve.

First things first – this hike is no walk in the park…er, preserve. That said, it’s no Breakneck Ridge, and the effort you put in is returned in spades once you come across some of the incredible views. I’ve seen some people do this hike with larger dogs, but I wouldn’t recommend it for younger pups or pooches of the smaller variety. Though the Mohonk Preserve has land in Gardiner, Marbletown, Rosendale, and Rochester in addition to New Paltz, the latter is nearest major landmark.

Snag a map from the guard shack at the entrance to the preserve’s parking area and start off with brief walk through a grassy meadow on the Crag Trail. If the time of year is right, you’ll be surrounded by wildflowers of every color imaginable. After dipping in and out of the woods, you’ll come across the Bonticou Ascent Path which will bring you to the foot of the rock scramble – get ready for the most fun you’ve had in a while.

For those who are unfamiliar, rock scrambling is somewhere between very steep hiking and full-on rock climbing. You’ll need to be able to hoist yourself up onto some large rocks, but nothing requires ropes or any sort of equipment. If you were the kid who climbed every tree in sight when you were young, you’ll be a natural. If you weren’t, it’ll just take a bit more concentration. Climb, shimmy, and leap your way to the top of Bonticou Crag.

Once you’re at the top, find a nice spot to take a seat and soak it all in. Without a doubt, this is one of the best views around. This is the time to refuel before the next part of the hike – take a rest, eat a snack, sip a cold beer (I recommend Carton Brewing’s Boat Beer), and snap some photos. When you’re all set, head towards the Table Rocks.

Heading away from the rocky cliffs, you’ll now spend some time in the shade of the dense forest. Keep an eye out for wildlife–this part of the preserve is fairly isolated and you never know what you’ll come across. If the sun has been beating down on you all day, the next couple of miles will be a welcome relief.

When you arrive at the Table Rocks, you’re in for a real treat. It’s kind of like being on top of one of those plateaus you see out west, except that it’s on a 45-degree tilt and instead of miles of red sand, you’re staring out at acres of evergreens. This vista is as majestic in the spring and summer as it is in the autumn and winter, and if it’s clear enough, you can see all the way to the Catskills. I like to use my backpack as a pillow and lay down for a while here before gearing up for the last leg of the trip.

You’ll go through another rolling meadow on the way back to where you started before finally hitting what is officially named “Million Dollar View”. Truth be told, if this view is worth a million dollars, the view from the top of Bonticou Crag must be worth the GDP of a small country. Nevertheless, it’s another wonderful view of the Catskills off in the distance, and you can really never have enough of those. From here, it’s just a few minutes back the parking area where you’ll have to, unfortunately, say goodbye to the great outdoors for now.

If you’re heading back into town, be sure to pull over and check out the sunflower field just before the bridge! You can also look back towards Mohonk and see how much more of the Shawangunk Ridge there is to explore.

I like to reward myself with a beer and a burger after a hefty hike like this, but whatever you’re in the mood for, you can probably find it in New Paltz –  just 10 minutes from where you’ll finish up the hike. Check out our post on New Paltz and Rosendale for some ideas!

If you’re looking for a gut busting New York State hike that’ll reward you with phenomenal views, look no further. Lace up your boots, pack your bag, and head towards Bonticou Crag.

For a full step-by-step trail guide, I highly recommend Mike Todd’s His site is a fantastic resource for hikes in the area and I’m constantly scouring his guides for new places to breathe in some fresh air.

To get here: head to New Paltz and drive all the way through town until you head over the Wallkill River. Turn right onto Country Road 7/Springtown Road and then left onto County Road 6/Mountain Rest Road. In a little over four miles, turn right onto Upper 27 Knolls Road and follow this windy road until you hit the guard shack!

Note: it’ll cost you $12 to get into the preserve for the day. I hate paying for nature as much as the next guy, but considering the fee goes towards the upkeep of Mohonk Preserve, I’ve always been happy to pony up. Believe me, it’s well worth it. Several photos courtesy of Chelsea Coleman.