1. Where to Stay
Perched on top of the Shawangunk Ridge, the elegant Mohonk Mountain House (from $440 including three meals) places you steps away from 85 miles of trails, classic rock climbs, and the sandy beach of Lake Mohonk. The resort clings to its Victorian traditions (men still wear jackets in the dining room), but a sixteen-room spa opened in 2005. Soak your sore muscles in the outdoor mineral pool.
Don’t be shocked by the girlie-pink exterior: The Lefèvre House Bed & Breakfast in downtown New Paltz (the base camp for the Gunks, located six miles to the west) provides a truly mellow vibe. Themed rooms (from $235) like “Purple Rain” are outfitted with plush, king-size four-poster beds, Versace bedding, and Jacuzzi tubs. The three-course breakfast includes poached pears in pink-Champagne mimosa.
The Minnewaska Lodge (from $135) is a clean, no-frills place to recharge after a day scaling rocks. The décor may be generic, but the location is spot-on, just minutes away from the climbs at Mohonk Preserve. Splurge on the ground-floor suite with views of the 1,200-foot cliff face.
2. Where to Eat
The Harvest Café Restaurant & Wine Bar is located on the top floor of the Water Street Market, an old lumberyard converted into an upscale shopping village. The chef-owner is a Culinary Institute of America graduate who pairs salmon with chorizo and duck breast with strawberry-pear compote. Dine on the deck for awesome views of the Shawangunk Ridge.
Named after the ship that brought the Huguenots to New Paltz in 1677, the Gilded Otter at the end of Main Street serves handcrafted beers made on-site. Sit on the outside patio and sip a light Rail Trail Pale Ale, or order the $7.50 sampler to taste the eight different brews on tap that day.
Fuel up at the Main Street Bistro at the center of town, where locals and visiting climbers chow down on the reasonably priced nomad frittatas, scrambled eggs with avocado, bacon, tomato, and Swiss. Brisk service will get you out the door and on your way to the crags.
The cozy Village Tea Room sits in a barn-red two-story house off Plattekill Avenue and draws a more genteel crowd. Pop in for an explosive cream puff, slathered with chocolate and stuffed with vanilla-bean custard (they’re fresh out of the oven by noon). For lunch, try the ultrarich turkey potpie.
3. What to Do
The Gunks are a world-class climbing destination, but the spring melt also brings day hikers, fat-tire enthusiasts, and hardy trail runners. The 6,500-acre Mohonk Preserve with its jagged cliffs and boulder fields, is a mecca for mountain bikers. If you don’t own a ride, rent one at Bicycle Depot in downtown New Paltz ($25 for half-day; $35 for a full day) and make sure to shove off early on weekends to ensure a parking space at the Spring Farm trailhead.
If you prefer to hoof it, lace up your boots and head to Minnewaska State Park. A 7.5-mile round-trip trek on the Upper Awosting and Castle Point loop trail offers views of the Hudson Valley and Catskills, and a stop at picture-worthy Rainbow Falls (3.5 miles from the trailhead). Dunk yourself in mile-long Lake Awosting midway along the hike.
And runners can train—without fear of trains—along the 12.2-mile Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, near New Paltz. The discontinued tracks, wending through quiet orchards and farmlands, used to run freight all the way to Manhattan.
4. Insider’s Tip
Sky Top, along the Shawangunk Ridge, is one of the classic rock-climbing spots in the Northeast, but the private property has been off-limits to climbers for more than ten years. This spring, the owners (who also run Mohonk Mountain House) have given resort guests exclusive Sky Top access. Hotel visitors can book a guide through Alpine Endeavors and scramble up some of the Gunks’ most sought-after routes (from $142 for a half-day; $189 for a full day). If you’re not staying at the resort—or you’re a rock novice—you can still hire a guide to show you the ropes at the Mohonk Preserve (open to the public).
5. An Oddball Day
You haven’t really seen the Gunks until you’ve viewed them upside down, in mid-air. At the Trapeze Club at Stone Mountain Farm, you’ll learn the tricks of a circus acrobat, including how to fall without breaking your neck. The farm’s owners bought the 23-foot-tall trapeze in 1999 (their children are aerial artists) and now offer two-hour classes ($40) from May through October.
While your head’s still spinning, check out the Rivendell Winery’s new tasting room on Albany Post Road (opening in late spring). The craggy panorama and the award-winning dry Riesling make this a prime picnic stop. Wind down with a walk through eighteenth-century stone Huguenot homes scattered along the banks of the Wallkill River in a sleepy corner of New Paltz.
6. Related Links
At Gunks.com, local climbers give detailed routes, safety and training tips, and info on the latest closures.
Brothers Jason and Jeff Karl host the Überfall, an alternative Gunks climbing site, with news and history about the sport.
Find a guide from the well-edited list at Rock & Snow.