October 13, 2019 – Wawarsing, NY
Difficulty: Moderate (1 steep ascent on stone steps and back down the same way)
Length: Approximately 6 miles
Max elevation: 1,926 ft.– total elevation gain approximately 879 ft.
Route type: Out and back
Trailhead parking: Shaft 2A Road – Wawarsing, NY 12446
Located in Ulster County, NY Minnewaska State Park Preserve is situated on the dramatic Shawangunk Mountain ridge, which rises more than 2,000 feet above sea level and is surrounded by rugged, rocky terrain. The park features numerous waterfalls, three crystalline sky lakes, dense hardwood forests, incising sheer cliffs and ledges opening to beautiful views, clear streams cut into valleys, 35 miles of carriage roads and 50 miles of footpaths on which to bike, walk, hike and simply enjoy. And, all this within an hour and a half drive from New York City.
Lake Awosting, roughly three times larger than Lake Minnewaska and the largest lake on the Shawangunk Ridge, is one of five glacially-formed, rain-fed “skylakes” running from north to south: Mohonk Lake, Lake Minnewaska, Lake Awosting, Mud Pond, and Lake Maratanza. Four of the five sky lakes on the Shawangunk Ridge lie within Minnewaska State Park Preserve. Mohonk Lake, is on the property of the Mohonk Mountain House to the north of Minnewaska.
Lake Awosting was originally known as Long Pond. Once acquired by Alfred Smiley and renamed, it became an appealing destination for guests of the Minnewaska Mountain Houses, some three miles to the north. The Lake Awosting Carriage Road was built to allow carriages to reach and circle the lake. In 1903, a camp for boys, known as Camp Awosting, was established on the west side of the lake. For many years, the camp prospered; it was succeeded by Camp Laurel, which operated from 1949 to 1965.
~Historic Roads and Trails
The historic landscape of Lake Minnewaska and vicinity was laced with an extensive network of horse-drawn carriageways and pedestrian paths. Typically, they measured 8-12 feet in width and were paved with crushed shale. Traditionally, they provided the means for vehicular (i.e. carriage) touring, and the linking of Lake Minnewaska with other places such as Lake Awosting, local communities, scenic escarpments and the Mohonk Mountain House. Many of these historical routes remain in use today. They provide a very important means of touring the Minnewaska landscape for a variety of users including hikers, cyclists, equestrians, snowshoe users and cross-country skiers. The Preserve landscape was also crisscrossed by a network of footpaths. These routes led to scenic viewpoints and other more remote areas of the landscape. Like the carriageways, many of these historic routes still remain in use today.
Unlike the area around Lake Minnewaska, the Lake Awosting area is relatively remote. The lake itself is over three miles by foot or bicycle from the Lake Minnewaska parking areas. Once at Lake Awosting, it is possible to circumnavigate the lake on the Awosting Lake Shore Road, also known as the Lake Awosting Carriage Road, marked with black diamonds. This should not be undertaken lightly however, because the loop around the lake is approximately 3.5 miles long, which must be added to the 6 mile round trip to and from the lake.
In 2017, the Stony Kill Area Trail Project at Minnewaska State Park Preserve, created a formal, sustainable hiking trail to provide safe access and views of the Stony Kill Waterfall. The trail includes two footbridges, multiple stone steps through a boulder field and a sustainable route up the steep slope to access the upper falls. The Stony Kill Falls Trail ends at a junction with the Stony Kill Carriage Road, which runs south for 1.5 miles until its terminus, at a T-intersection with the Smiley Carriage Road. This is now possibly the shortest route to the Lake Awosting area.
The Old Smiley Carriage Road, which was built around 1900, used to bring travelers disembarking from the O&W train station at Ellenville up to the hotels on the lake at Minnewaska. The historic broken stone road system, which was developed by the Smiley brothers, was subject to continual use for over a century and many sections of roads fell into disrepair. The Open Space Institute (OSI) in 2019 completed the $1.9 million restoration of a 4.5-mile section of the Smiley Carriage Road at Minnewaska State Park, from Lake Awosting to the High Point Carriage Road Intersection in the Napanoch Point Area. Now visitors are able to enjoy this part of the park like never before.
This hike follows the Stony Kill Falls Trail for about a 1/2 mile, past the lower and upper Stony Kill Falls, to the junction with the Stony Kill Carriage Road. The Stony Kill Carriage Road travels south, gradually uphill, gaining about 550 feet in elevation. Turning left on the Smiley Carriage Road, and continuing south, again gradually uphill to the northern side of Lake Awosting.
This is a scenic hike, but there are limited views of the lake between the trees, in the area traveled on this hike. The hike can be extended around the lake for better views, but keep in mind that from this point, back to the parking lot, is about 3 miles mostly downhill.
Please note: The distances shown in parentheses are approximately the distances traveled during this hike and not necessarily the total length of the actual trails.
- Stony Kill Footpath – red blazes (1 mile) – This footpath leads to the base of Stony Kill Falls, which drops 87 feet over quartz conglomerate cliffs. Beginning with an easy walk along a shale footpath, before crossing two footbridges that span the Stony Kill. The trail then climbs stone steps to a viewing platform. The trail then ascends steeply on rock steps which includes a short scramble with anchored hand holds. The trail then passes by the upper falls area, parallels the Stony Kill and ends at a junction with the Stony Kill Carriage Road.
- Stony Kill Carriage Road – not blazed (3 miles) – This old road, which is not maintained and eroded in places, is at the end of the Stony Kill Footpath. This old road, which for most of its length is no wider than a footpath, ascends gradually to the south, ending at a T-intersection with the Smiley Carriage Road.
- Smiley Carriage Road – not blazed (1.7 miles) – This newly refurbished carriage road travels south then southeast, uphill, ending at a T-intersection with the Lake Awosting Carriage Road, just before reaching Lake Awosting.
- Lake Awosting Carriage Road – marked by black diamonds (0.4 mile) – This rough carriage road provides access around Lake Awosting.
This is a pretty straightforward out and back hike that is perfect during the fall foliage season.
The new parking area opens at 9:00 am, or thereabouts. We arrived just shortly after 9 am as a park worker was unlocking the gate. There is roadside parking for several cars just outside the gate, but do not block the gate. It is encouraged that visitors park in the new lot.
The Stony Kill Falls Footpath begins at the southern end of the parking area just past an access gate. The trail is marked with red blazes and soon leaves the open area and ducks into the woods. The trail continues on a crushed stone tread, constructed of shale, from the piles quarried from the Aqueduct shafts. The path is packed down so firm, that it resembles blacktop.
In a short distance, the trail crosses the Stony Kill on rustic timber footbridges, built by Tahawus Trails LLC in 2017. The bridges are constructed with Black Locust railings and decking. The first bridge is 30 ft. long and is framed with Galvanized I-beams. The second bridge is 19 ft. long and framed with Pressure Treated Pine.
The trail now ascends stone steps. The Jolly Rovers Trail Crew built the 35 step stone staircase leading to the stone paved viewing platform, overlooking the falls. The stone paved 12′ by 12′ viewing platform with a keyhole view of Stony Kill Falls was constructed as a collaborative effort with Tahawus Trails LLC and the Rovers.
Normally a sight to behold, on the day of our visit, the falls were dry. A disappointment no doubt, but after an extended dry spell, it was expected.
Below are images from previous visits.
From the viewing platform, Tahawus Trails LLC constructed the remaining ascent up the steep bedrock ledge to the summit of the Falls. The trail switchbacks using stone steps and paved landings. The trail includes 140 linear feet of Stone Paved Tread Surface. In total, Tahawus Trails installed 230 steps, shaped from stone on site.
The stone steps seem to disappear into the hillside.
There are 6 Iron Rungs to help navigate a short steep section, along with 70 linear feet of Barrier Railings.
The trail then turns right and heads southwest above the gorge. A 9-foot plank bridge is bolted down and secure over a wet area.
The trail reaches the top of the falls, where normally there is a 30-foot cascade.
Below is an image from a previous visit when the Stony Kill cascades down the staircase-like rock formation before it plummets 87 feet off the cliff..
The trail heads upstream along the Stony Kill (mostly dry on this day), which flows northeast from Minnewaska State Park to Rondout Creek.
The Stony Kill Falls Footpath ends at the northern end of the Stony Kill Falls Carriage Road, where we turned right. A short distance away is the “nudist pool,” that is lined with smooth rock slabs. Beyond the pool, the Stony Kill can be followed upstream for several miles, where the hiker will come across many pools and small cascades, as it flows from Minnewaska State Park.
Retracing our steps, we walked past the junction with with Stony Kill Footpath and proceeded ahead on the Stony Kill Carriage Road. The unmarked Stony Kill Carriage Road is easy to follow as it runs south for 1.5 miles and ends at a junction with the Smiley Carriage Road, just north of Lake Awosting.
The Stony Kill Carriage Road ascends gradually, starting out as a wide woods road then eventually narrowing to a footpath.
After 1.5 miles, the Stony Kill Carriage Road ends at a T-intersection with the Smiley Carriage Road, where we turned left, crossing the new bridge that spans Fly Brook.
Looking back after crossing the bridge, it looks like a postcard. After approximately 2 miles and 550 feet of elevation gain, this makes for a good spot for a break.
The Smiley Carriage Road snakes its way uphill, gradually gaining elevation as it heads south, then veers southeast as it descends to its terminus near Lake Awosting (approximately 0.7 mile from the junction with the Stony Kill Carriage Road).
At the T-intersection with the Lake Awosting Carriage Road we turned left and walked a short distance to the abandoned Ranger Cabin for another short break.
We then headed west on the Lake Awosting Carriage Road searching for views of the lake. Sadly, the only views are between the breaks in the trees. We walked about 350 yards and from the look of things there weren’t any expansive views to be had.
We turned around and headed back towards the Ranger Cabin and as it turns out, the best views over the lake are from there. Unless of course, if one hikes to the other side of the lake. Something we didn’t feel like doing.
We spotted a young Timber Rattler by the steps of the Ranger Cabin. It had a tiny rattle segment called a “button,” signifying its young age. The tip of the tail of a new born Rattlesnake ends in a smooth rounded, slightly pear-shaped, “button,” which is the first segment of the future rattle. As the young snake grows, it sheds its skin. Each time shedding occurs, a new, loosely overlapped and interlocked segment to the rattle is added.
We then returned to the junction with the Smiley Carriage Road and began retracing our steps. The road climbs gradually and once at the top of the rise, it’s all downhill the rest of the way.
After crossing the bridge over Fly Brook, we immediately turned right onto the Stony Kill Carriage Road.
After 1.5 miles, we turned right onto the Stony Kill Footpath, past the dry falls, scrambling down the steep path and crossing the footbridges over the Stony Kill.
In about 1/2 mile, we returned back to the parking area, where the hike began.
The most colorful foliage that we saw throughout the hike was right by the parking lot. When we returned to the parking area at about 2:30 pm, the lot was mostly filled, with cars coming and going.
A truly nice and peaceful hike through a gorgeous area of Minnewaska State Park. The area around Stony Kill Falls attracts crowds. We were the first ones in so we didn’t see anyone until our return. We did not encounter any other hikers on either the Stony Kill Carriage Road or the Smiley Carriage Road, although we saw several bikers on Smiley. We also saw bear scat on both the Stony Kill Carriage Road and the Smiley Carriage Road. The area around Lake Awosting was quiet, with only several hikers and bikers passing by during the time we were there. This is a hike better done in Autumn when the leaves are at or near peak and Stony Kill Falls has some water flowing over it.
The Stony Kill Footpath and the Smiley Carriage Road are two of the most attractive trails that I have hiked on, Stony Kill Falls, easy to follow trails, lesser traveled area, scenic landscape, great fall colors.
In times of low water Stony Kill Falls can be dry, area around the falls can get crowded.
Take a hike!