New York’s Scenic Shawangunk Mountains

By Charlene Mixa

Sam’s Point Preserve for Hiking and Honors Haven Resort for Respite
Sam's Point PreserveHikers, bathe in the pristine vistas and untouched landscape of the Shawangunk Mountains of New York’s Ulster County. With thousands of acres of forever wild land, Ulster County is a primary destination for hiking and delighting in panoramic views of these scenic mountains. Adding special excitement are the Ellenville Fault Ice Caves, the largest known open fault in the United States with corresponding ice caves. After a full day enjoying the splendor of the mountains and exploring the ice caves, rejuvenate at the Honors Haven Resort. All within just two hours of Manhattan!

The next destination on a driving trip of the east coast mountains is New York state’s captivating Catskill and Shawangunk Mountains. During our scrumptious Mexican lunch at Gaby’s Café in downtown Ellenville, we chat with local patrons on hikes in the area. On their suggestion and directions we head up the mountain to Sam’s Point Preserve, a 5000-acre preserve located in the northern Shawangunk Mountains.

A top the rock at Sam's Point Preserve we have expansive views.

A top the rock at Sam’s Point Preserve we have expansive views.

At the Preserve we pay the attendant, sign in and, as required, provide our cell phone number. We assume this is to locate us if we do not return in time. Perched atop the highest point of the Shawangunk Ridge, Sam’s Point Preserve has seven well-marked trails that criss-cross the preserve, winding through pine barrens, ice caves and open slabs of rock, providing terrific views of the Catskills, Gertrude’s Nose and other scenic vistas. With options of trails to Sam’s Point, Verkeerderkill Falls, the Ice Caves, High Point and Indian Rock we decide on the hikes of Sam’s Point Overlook and the Ice Caves.

Initially, the trail follows roadbeds initially built as fire roads in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. An easy .6 mile hike, the trail slowly ascends to Sam’s Point where we follow the sign for the Ice Caves. The old roadbed, along the top of the ridge, provides great views as well as one of the best examples of ridgetop dwarf pine barrens in the world. It is only a .7 mile hike from Sam’s Point Overlook to the Ice Cave. As the road descends, we spot a sign directing us down a steep rocky path to the Ice Caves.

Exploring the Ice Caves

Exploring the Ice Caves

Carefully watching our footing, we climb down to the first opening of the Ice Caves. A blast of “cold air” hits us as we enter this unique phenomenon. The caves were formed along fractures in the bedrock and in a jumble of boulders that have fallen from the face of the cliff. Snow and cold air enters the caves through the openings at the top and is unable to escape, creating a refrigerated environment year round.

The Ice Caves are an exciting adventure.

The Ice Caves are an exciting adventure.

Absolutely fantastic! Cool! Cool in both temperature and the uniqueness of the Ice Caves themselves. We climb up and down rough, log ladders, scramble over boulders, and even through a dark damp cave remembering to close the door as we enter. A one of a kind experience, the ice caves are terrific. Glad we experienced these awesome and unique Ice Caves.

Backtracking we stop for some scenic photos from Sam’s Point Overlook. As the story goes, a man named Sam, pursued by Indians, jumped off the cliff to avoid capture and miraculously survived the drop. Spectacular views of the Shawangunk Ridge stretching for miles to the southwest and northeast greet us on this clear afternoon. From Sam’s Point we have splendid views of the 90,000-acre Northern Shawangunk Mountains featuring cliffs, summits, and plateaus.

After our fun hike, we head to Honor’s Haven Resort & Spa, tucked between the picturesque Catskill and Shawangunk Mountains on 250 pristine acres. This stylish four season resort is finishing a multi-million dollar renovation that reestablishes it as the region’s crown jewel. The outdoor fountain and circular drive create a welcoming atmosphere as we arrive. Entering the glittering lobby, we are immediately greeted by the staff. Our newly renovated king room is oversized with a décor of bright bold colors. A separate vanity room is a unique feature as well as amenities of wireless internet, LCD TV, refrigerator, and work desk with chair. We roam the resort locating its beautiful outdoor pool, large indoor pool, and workout facility. The outdoor terrace in the back offers a wonderful place to relax with views of the 9-hole Robert Trent Jones Golf Course, a shimmering lake and the picturesque mountains. We stop to admire the view and watch golfers playing a few holes. The course is in fantastic shape!

Lake and golf course views from Honor's Haven Resort & Spa

Lake and golf course views from Honor’s Haven Resort & Spa

During our tour a young girl around 10 years old accompanies by a young boy approaches me and requests an interview. She is from Korea and is here for a language camp to learn English. Her assignment is to interview an American. Taking my photo and taping the interview, she carefully asks me each questions and jots down my answer. She is extremely courteous and excited to get the interview.

With meals included we arrive at the dining room looking forward to an award winning gourmet dinner. Featuring picturesque views of the golf course, the lake and the Shawangunk Mountains, the dining room pairs modern elegance with a classic feel. The buffet style dinner provides choices of assorted dinner rolls, crisp salads, fresh pasta as well as meat, poultry & seafood options. The freshly baked deserts are great! Seated next to another couple we share stories of hiking trails in the area and our adventures in the Ice Caves and Sam’s Point Preserve.

After dinner, we join couples relaxing in the serenity of the front terrace under large shade trees with views of the water fountain and the well manicured grounds. We chat with a couple who stay the entire summer at Honors Haven Resort. The husband explains the 9-hole course is excellent and he plays several times a week. The oversized room gives them space and the great food makes it their perfect summer retreat.

As the sun sets, we agree that Honors Haven is a place where man and nature converge harmoniously among the vast woodlands, tranquil lakes, and crisp mountain air. The Shawangunk mountains of Ulster County offer awe-inspiring views and plenty of activities for those seeking mountain adventures.

If you go:
Honors Haven Resort & Spa
1195 Arrowhead Road, Ellenville, NY 12428
Toll Free : 877-WOW-HAVEN / 877-969-4283
Sam’s Point Preserve
400 Sam’s Point Road,
Cragsmoor, NY 12420
845 647-7989

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About Charlene Mixa

Seeing new places, learning about cultures and seeing the sights has always been my dream. Growing up I was blessed with parents that enjoyed traveling and thought nothing of taking a family of seven on excursions. My career in Human Resources and later as a consultant for an international Human Resource firm offered some travel, but I knew as my husband and I approached retirement, my goal was to do more traveling and broader trips. The nine years since retirement has been filled with fantastic adventures from short local one day trips to several week excursions. Living in Florida, it is especially enjoyable to be away in the summer to cooler climates. Multi-week driving trips across the good ol' USA, settling in for a month in the mountains to explore the local area, or a combination of both fill much of our summer season. Our travels are predominantly self-orchestrated, bringing the fun and challenge of getting everything to click. It's all about doing and sharing! Experiencing a travel adventure is exciting. Reliving a special travel moment with a friend or family is exhilarating. I feel my heart race and pulse quicken, as I sharing that special moment. Thank you for joining in my travel adventures and allowing me to hear your stories.