New Paltz, NY

Take a hike: Mohonk Mountain House offers 85 miles of trails and nearly as many ways to relax.

Photograph: Courtesy of Alpine Endeavors

If you’ve ever walked the six-mile perimeter of Central Park and felt wistful leaving the North Woods—which were designed to resemble a forest in the Adirondacks—then it might be worth heading out of town to tackle some serious hiking. It’s hard to believe, but a transformative, nature-filled weekend starts at the Port Authority Bus Terminal ( A little more than an hour and a half after boarding a Greyhound bus destined for New Paltz, I was deposited at the historic Mohonk Mountain House (1000 Mountain Rest Rd; 800-772-6646,

Situated at the top of the Shawangunk Ridge—an area that the local rock climbing community has nicknamed The Gunks (—the resort overlooks the half-mile-long Lake Mohonk and is a National Historic Landmark that has been owned by the same family for almost 140 years. While staying at this 265-room Victorian castle with a full-service spa isn’t exactly roughing it, photos of long-gone relatives, fireplaces and the lack of TVs in each room add some rustic charm. The best reason by far to visit Mohonk is to get outside and explore its extensive hiking trails, which are set in 2,200 acres of forests.

Check-in time conveniently coincides with the serving of tea and cookies—gratis—in the Lake Lounge. Fortified with some sugar, I left the comfy rocking chairs overlooking the lake and started on my walk. One of the most popular hikes is a relatively easy trek up to Sky Top Tower, a stone structure that was built about 85 years ago in honor of one of the resort’s founders, and which offers fantastic views of the surrounding area. All of the hiking trails are well marked and maps are provided, offering hikers everything from a beginner path to some serious rock scrambles located along a network of paths situated on lakeside cliffs.

Photograph: Michael Grimm

While hiking can be pretty exhilarating, I decided to take my adventure up a notch and try rock climbing. Alpine Endeavors (845-658-3094,, a local climbing outfitter, provides all the necessary equipment, and its guides have impressive bios, with official-sounding certifications like AMGA Certified Rock Guide, AMGA Advanced Alpine Course Graduate and (my personal favorite) Wilderness First Responder. My guide, Joe, was happily chatting about ice climbing and other fun adventures as we hiked through the forest and scrambled over several obstacles just to get to the climbing site. While I had tried the climbing wall in my neighborhood gym on a few occasions, I was not at all prepared for the real thing. À la Spider-Man, Joe ascended the cliff to secure devices into the rocks, but I had a harder time. It took me several attempts of going up and down to make it about a third of the way to the top one of the tamest of the world-famous Gunks. By the time I was done, I made it up about 25 feet.

After a heart-racing morning of climbing, I retreated to the resort’s spa, where I proceeded to take advantage of every treatment possible. Well, almost: The Mohonk Red massage (80 minutes for $170)—named after the red witch hazel that is grown on the property—includes a mix of Swedish massage, Hawaiian lomi lomi massage and traditional Thai stretches. I was swaddled in warm towels soaked with witch hazel, and the session ended with a “Guided Power Nap” (as if I needed a guide for that). Afterward, I sat in the solarium, drank an elixir of berries and herbs and then joined a few other tired hikers in the heated outdoor mineral pool, which is filled with Dead Sea salts and surrounded by 100-foot-tall trees. Serenity found.


two nights, one person

Bus (round-trip) $37
Hotel (includes three meals, tea and most activities), $240 per night for a double room
+ Massage $170


Day trippers can purchase a one day hiking pass for $22.

Travel time

1 hr 30 mins