The Hudson Valley is nothing if not watery. You move here thinking there must be dozens of places to swim- and there are- but you have to find them first. The most obvious place to start is with the state parks. D&P came for a visit last weekend, and swimming was on the agenda. As a newbie to the area I did my research online, and came up with Minnewaska State Park on the Shawengunk Ridge near New Paltz. After a tasty breakfast at Outdated- a place I haven't blogged about b/c sometimes I take my very favorite spots for granted- we headed southwest out of Kingston towards Kerhonkson on the 209, then up the ridge on its only road, the 44/55. We paid the eight dollar parking fee, got the rather useless *free* map, parked and headed towards Lake Minnewaska. Found out that the only designated swimming area (unless you join the distance swimmers association) is tiny and crowded. So thinking we were smart, we followed a trail that we kept seeing wet people emerge from, between the swimming beach and the kayak launch. It had a cement pad on which was painted "no swimming." The four of us waded quietly on the rocks. We considered going in deeper, as the ledge dropped off pretty dramatically, until we saw a snake swimming across the surface before it dove down. Shortly after a group of Russians came down the trail and without hesitation, dove in and swam to the boat launch. The last one of their group arrived and as she was changing we told her that we saw snakes. She blithely said "oh," before diving in and catching up with her friends. Eventually a couple of park rangers appeared from above, and called down to us from the main trail. They politely told us that the area was off limits to swimmers and that if they caught us here again, we might not be able to return. We politely started to pack up as the Russians returned. One stayed behind to talk with the rangers as the others scurried off, pretending not to understand English, as one of the rangers shouted at them; "weren't you here last week? aren't you from Williamsburg?"
Refreshed from the cool lake water, we hiked a bit up a trail. We could see people standing on top of cliffs from where we had been bathing- some scurried down the cliffs and got into the water from that side. Not that we were going to do that. When we got to the cliffs a guy of about 17 was there. His friends called to him from where we had just been, telling him to jump in. At first he said no incredulously and Bryan was telling him not to jump- the rocks jutted out too far. A kayaker came over and the kid asked him to measure the depth of the water. Pretty soon his two friends came along and they found a lower spot from which to jump. The wiry guy went first, then the athletic-looking one, but their chubbier friend hesitated. After his friends jumped twice- the drop was about twenty feet- he tore off his shirt and did it himself. This went on until the park rangers called from across the way and even the lifeguard at the beach was whistling like crazy. We hiked up the trail a little bit more, passed a couple of abandoned buildings, and found a gazebo perched high up, overlooking the lake. We sat there and talked, enjoying the shade and breeze. We could have sat there all day except Pamela was thirsty and I had to use a restroom. Minnewaska State Park is a low-amenities, carry in-carry-out, port-a-potty type place. Meaning that perpetually broke New York State and Ulster County would rather pay two guys to drive around in a golf cart harassing people than build and staff a second beach. But after talking with my cousin who lived in New Paltz for years, I found out that there is a second lake in the park, Awosting, two miles in. I assume that the rangers don't make it out that far. Conclusion- stunning lake, okay for swimming if you don't mind playing cat and mouse with the rangers, probably great for hiking in cooler weather. The park is enormous- 21,000 acres- and we only saw a tiny part of it.
Across from the cliffs, the unsanctioned beach. The official beach is off camera to the left, and the boat launch is to the right.