Getting to the Gunks – Travel Information
A Word About Communications
Before you plan your trip, if you have to meet up with people or call a cab, note that the cell phone service is spotty and unreliable once you get behind the cliffs. That includes the West Trapps parking lot, Minnewaska State Park Preserve, and Peter’s Kill climbing area. Your mileage may vary based on your phone and carrier. Many establishments in downtown New Paltz have wi-fi available, including CafeTeria (a chill hangout spot with coffee, couches) and Starbucks. Last time I checked, I also got wi-fi at the Mohonk Preserve Visitor’s Center.
Where to Get Good Beta
If you want beta on climbing at the Gunks, your best bet is to visit Rock and Snow, the local climbing ship in downtown New Paltz (44 Main Street). They are staffed with climbers who really know the area and really know the Gunks. Also check out their events. During the climbing season, they often have excellent free slideshows and presentations by well-known and respected climbers. While you’re there, buy something. These guys contribute gear and money to just about every fundraising event in the area. They really support the climbing community. They have truly earned our business. On your way to the Gunks, at the main intersection of Rt. 299 where it ends at Rt. 44/55, you’ll see a deli across the street (3124 Route 44/55, Gardiner, NY). This has historically been THE pre-climbing hangout spot for climbers. Sit at the picnic tables, have breakfast and a hot cup of coffee and chat with fellow climbers. As of May 2014, the Deli has re-opened under new management with the new name, the Mountain Harbor Deli. There’s a small EMS store next to the deli as well. Need a partner? Need information? Most of the friendly folk hanging out on the deli’s deck are probably climbers and can help you out.
The closest airport to the Gunks is Stewart Airport in Newburgh, NY (SWF). Only problem is that not a lot of airlines fly there. Somewhat equidistant would be either Albany, NY (ALB) to the north, or Newark, NJ (EWR) to the south – both of them about a 1 1/2 hour drive to the Gunks. Newark gets a lot of air traffic and probably would get you lower airfares since it’s a hub. The other New York City airports, John F. Kennedy in Brooklyn (JFK) or LaGuardia in Queens (LGA) aren’t much further than Newark but Newark airport allows you to avoid New York City (and its traffic) altogether when you drive from there to the Gunks.
The Gunks are relatively easy to get to. Take the New York State Thruway to exit 18, New Paltz. After paying toll, make a left onto Rt. 299 west. You will drive through the town of New Paltz, cross over a bridge over the Wallkill River, and drive past farmlands and apple orchards. When Rt. 299 ends at a “T”, make a right onto Rt. 44/55 West (that’s two different highways that run together for a while). It’s about 30 minutes drive from the Thruway exit to the Gunks. Below are the major places of entry you may be interested in if you are climbing here.
First, a Word about the Parking Situation
The Gunks are a very popular destination for all sorts of recreation, and it’s only 1.5 hours from a major metropolitan area. In other words, it gets a lot of visitors. On nice weather weekends, especially in the fall, the parking lots fill up FAST. How fast? Most decent weekends probably by 9:30am. On nice fall weekends, by 8:15am! So a few words of advice. First of all, get here early if you want a parking spot. If you are meeting friends, why not bring less cars to the parking lot so there is room for more? If you know it’s a busy weekend, park extra cars in the empty lot diagonally across the street from the Mountain Bistro Store (“the deli”) at the corner of Rt. 299 and Rt. 44/55. Just bring one car to the parking lot. When you get to the parking lot, park close to the next car so you don’t waste space.
Mohonk Preserve Visitor’s Center
The Mohonk Preserve visitor’s center is 1/2 mile on the right. Here you can get day passes, trail maps, as well as take advantage of their nice bathrooms and informational displays. Occasionally they hosts events in their beautiful building, and there is a large diorama of the Mohonk Preserve and its cliffs in the middle of the room. They have a large parking lot that can actually fill up on busy fall weekend days. It’s a pretty long walk to the crag from here and is a “last hope” if you want to get a spot within walking distance to the crag.
Warwarsing “Stairmaster” Parking Lot
Enter the Visitor’s Center on your right to get to the Warwarsing Parking lot, also known as the “Stairmaster” lot for the steep trail steps leading up from the parking lot to the main carriage road under the Trapps cliff. Go straight to the end of the lot for the closest spots to the trailhead. On busy days, the Warwarsing lot fills up in the intermediate lot closest to Rt. 44/55 and in subsequent lots below that. This lot is appropriate if you want to climb on the Trapps Cliff of the Mohonk Preserve from the climb “Shockley’s Ceiling” and beyond to the north. It is an example of some impressive trail building and consists of many large stone steps that wind their way up to the carriage road known as Undercliff Road. On most busy days, a ranger may be in the lot at the start of the trail to collect day fees. This lot is the second to fill up on busy weekend days.
West Trapps Parking Lot
The West Trapps lot is probably the largest and most popular parking lot for Gunks climbing and other Mohonk Preserve visitors. There is a ranger booth at the entrance of the lot to collect day fees. There is also a nice bathroom with pit toilets in the lot. On busy weekend days this lot fills up quickly. On a beautiful fall weekend, I’ve seen it completely full by 8:15am. There are a few spots by the entrance marked off by traffic cones. These are reserved for Mohonk Preserve members when the lot is almost full. The trailhead for the climbing is at the far end of the parking lot, off of the small cul de sac. This trail, the West Trapps Connector Trail, takes you back up to the road where there is a steel bridge spanning Route 44/55. There are trash bins and outhouses here as well. If you cross the highway here (be careful!) and walk to the left, you’ll find the trail to the Near Trapps cliff just before the scenic overlook parking lot. However, if you stay on this side of the highway and walk up the stairs to the carriage road, you’ll see the steel bridge on your right, and a large boulder in the trail intersection on your left. This is often referred to as the “Welcome boulder”. Turn left from the stairs, straight past the Welcome boulder and towards the view of the valley onto Undercliff Road to take you to the start of the Trapps cliff. Note: The parking lot at the scenic overlook is patrolled and you may get ticketed if you are parked there for more than 30 minutes, especially on busy weekends.
Coxing Parking Lot (Split Rock)
The Coxing parking lot is a bit far for climbing at the Trapps or Near Trapps, but this is the appropriate parking lot if you are climbing at Lost City. It’s also the same parking lot for the popular Split Rock swimming hole. On nice summer weekend days, this lot easily fills up with people who want to picnic and swim by the falls. On busy fall weekends, it’s a lot of last resort for those willing to hike from there to the Trapps, or to climb at Lost City. There is a red blazed trail from the parking lot called Shongum Path, which will take you to the Connector Trail off of the West Trapps parking lot in around 15-20 minutes.
Peter’s Kill Parking Lot
This lot is only for the Peter’s Kill and Dickie Barre climbing areas and is part of the Minnewaska Lake State Park Preserve. To get there, continue on Rt. 44/55 west past the steel bridge and the West Trapps parking lot, past Clove Road, past Trapps Road, and then look for the Peter’s Kill entrance of Minnewaska on the right. There is a booth at the entrance of the lot to register you to climb there. If it’s your first time there for that year, you’ll need to sign a liability waiver. You’ll pay your entrance fee and put your name on the list of climbers for that day. They limit the number of climbing permits for each day, but I’ve yet to see them totally fill up. On only the most crazy busiest days in the fall do they have the chance to fill up, especially when climbers find all the Mohonk Preserve parking lots full.
Minnewaska State Park Preserve Parking Lot
Shortly past the Peter’s Kill Parking lot on the left side of Rt. 44/55 west is the main entrance to Minnewaska State Park. It is very popular with hikers and bicyclist and not as many climbers. But it is the closest access point to the Millbrook Cliff, the wildest and most remote of the Gunks cliffs accessible for climbing. There are multiple ways to get to Millbrook, which involve a long hike on trails from the Steel bridge of the Mohonk Preserve, or taking a winding carriage road from the main parking lot of Minnewaska State Park, or a trail from the far trip of Lake Minnewaska – all of them requiring from 45 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes approach time. Best to consult the guidebook and a trail map to find the best way for you. Millbrook requires rappelling down from the top and climbing up.
Mohonk Mountain House Parking
If you have arrangements with the Mohonk Mountain House Resort to climb with a guide at Skytop, you will be allowed to park at the hotel instead of the parking lot at the entrance gate. You’ll have to stop at the entry building where they will ask you what you’re there for and direct you accordingly. To get to the Mohonk Mountain House from the town of New Paltz, turn right onto Springtown Road very soon after leaving town on the bridge over the Wallkill River. After driving past a farm field for 1/4 mile, the road will split. Springtown Road goes right, and Mountain Rest Road goes left. Bear left onto Mountain Rest Road and follow it and the Mohonk signs to their Gatehouse building on the left.
The closest commuter train station to the Gunks is in Poughkeepsie, on the east side of the Hudson River. Metro North (800-638-7646) runs regularly from Grand Central Station, NY to Poughkeepsie and back. Amtrak (800-872-7245) leaves from Penn Station in NYC and also stops in Poughkeepsie on their Ethan Allen Express, Empire Service, Maple Leaf and Adirondack routes. From Poughkeepsie by car, it’s about 20 minutes to New Paltz, or 30 minutes to the Gunks (of course, depends on if you take a bus that has a number of stops in between). You can grab a taxi cab waiting at the station, or use the UCAT bus service (Ulster County Area Transit ) which links communities in Ulster County to the Poughkeepsie train station. The closest you can get dropped off is in the town of New Paltz, where you’ll need a taxi or hitch a ride to the Gunks.
Adirondack Trailways buses (845-255-6520 or 800-858-8555) stop in downtown New Paltz at the corner of Main and Prospect Streets, as well as the park and ride lot near the Thruway exit. It’s a pretty comfy ride from New York City. Ulster County Area Transit or UCAT bus service (845-340-3333) also stops in downtown New Paltz from Poughkeepsie and other towns in Ulster County. Buses don’t get any closer to the cliffs than this. It’s another 15-20 minutes from the bus station in New Paltz to the Mohonk Preserve’s Visitor’s Center. So plan to meet up with friends to give you a ride to the cliffs, get a taxi cab, or hitch a ride. One thing to consider if you take a cab is that cell phone signals are unreliable on the back side of the cliffs, which is where the West Trapps parking lot is. Stay in front of the cliffs for better reception.
One alternative to get to the cliffs from downtown New Paltz is hitchhiking. This area is usually safe, but I can’t guarantee anything. If you walk to the outskirts of New Paltz, just over the Wallkill bridge, with your climbing gear showing, you’ll probably have a decent chance of catching a ride with fellow climbers.
I don’t know these services personally, just saw them listed as taxi services in New Paltz: Glenn Stagecoach Lines: 845-255-1550, and Joey’s Taxi: 845-255-8294
If you’re coming up from New York City, I recommend carpooling. Try posting on Gunks.com‘s bulletin boards, or check out some of the area Meetup Groups that are focused on Rock Climbing. I know one of the Meetup groups has an ongoing carpool “trip” every Sunday to the Gunks for whomever wants to carpool together.