Hiking at Sam’s Point (Minnewaska)

My friend told me about this trip she took to Sam’s Point over the summer and when I heard about the (a) amazing views (b) ice caves and (c) huge waterfall, I was immediately sold. Fast forward to this weekend, I set off for Sam’s Point (part of Minnewaska state park) with two friends. It took a little over an hour to get there by car.

When we arrive at the trail entrance/visitor center, the park rangers tell us that the parking lot is full. “You’ll have to turn back around. There’s another parking lot in Minnewaska,” they say. Upon consulting the GPS, we realize that the parking lot they’re referring to is almost an hour away, so: bad idea. We decide to park illegally in the small town we just passed by in an empty space behind the post office. While walking back down the road towards the trail entrance, we’re stopped by a couple of other cars who got turned around as well and were wondering where we parked. One of the cars had come all the way from California on their college fall break. We had to walk for about 20 minutes back to the trail entrance, but it was a nice day and the houses were beautiful. The shortage of parking space probably attests to the popularity and high-usage of Sam’s Point as an outdoor recreation site, but also may serve as an interesting way for park authorities to cap the number of people going in (so as to prevent over-usage and damage to the area.)

The visitor center was pretty crowded, which explained the parking lot situation. We take the trail from the entrance that takes us straight up to Sam’s Point itself. After about half an hour of climbing, we reach the rocky cliff platform (i.e. Sam’s point), with a 360 degree view of the surrounding landscape. It was a clear sunny day, so we could see miles and miles out into the Hudson valley, with the distant Catskills on the horizon. You could make your way right up to the very edge of the cliff and look down into the dizzying depths. According to a website I’d read before the trip, folklore has it that a guy (Sam?) had jumped off this cliff after being chased by some Native Americans and he apparently survived. I highly doubt that’s true. 

There weren’t that many people, but the profile of those who’d made it up to the top weren’t exactly “hardcore” hikers: in the time we spent up there admiring the view, we were joined by families with young kids, older folks, and tourists in their fancy clothes. Some people were picnicking out on the flat rock and the atmosphere was in general very chill and family-friendly. It was interesting to see how such a famous hiking spot (almost as famous as Breakneck, apparently), was (unlike Breakneck) accessible to such a wide range of visitors. Makes sense, because it wasn’t too hard a climb up to Sam’s Point, and the trail was paved at the main area surrounding Sam’s Point. I feel like I usually have to work much harder for a view like that.

After Sam’s Point, we turned off on a trail to the Ice Caves. The first was small, but we decided to climb over a couple of boulders and explore the narrow path at the back with the help of our phone torchlights, but eventually the path got too narrow to squeeze through. The second cave was bigger, with a wooden platform and stairs down to the bottom. We didn’t see any ice, possibly because it was late summer/early fall, but apparently at other points in the year, there are ice formations in the cave. But it was still a really interesting experience- entering the cave felt like entering a fridge; the temperatures inside were so much colder than they were outside.

 After the ice caves, we followed a third trail that led to the Verkeerderkill waterfall. Up till this point, there had been a constant trickle of visitors, and we were never alone – but along this trail we were mostly alone. Just the sound of crunching leaves beneath our feet, the smell of pine cones and fresh earth, the open sky and sun on skin. The trail was much longer than the other two we’d taken, and I found myself slipping almost into a trance-like state, just putting one foot in front of the other, conscious thoughts melting away into quiet contentment. I love hiking because I love feeling this way- enveloped by the world around me and completely immersed in the moment.

The fact that this trail took us through varying scenic landscapes also added to the enchantment of the hike: it was like passing through three different worlds – the first part was an open plateau with reddish shrubbery with some short burnt tree skeletons, which gave way to a meandering path around small wooded groves and finally, to tall, pleasant forest-land. According to people we met along the way, the park had recently been ravaged by a wildfire (and had been closed till mid this year), so we were lucky), which explained the short burnt tree skeletons.

My favorite segment of the trail was the open plateau, which was unlike anything I’d seen in America: it was unobstructed by trees and at a pretty high altitude, so walking through it meant constant amazing views of the distant mountain ranges and cliffs and valleys. The landscape actually really reminded me of hiking in Australia. 

Finally we reached some small wading pools, where kids and dogs were splashing around. There was a group of Korean tourists there too, and a couple who’d found a shady spot under some trees. A little bit further up the path there was a rocky outcrop much like Sam’s Point, with a view of Verkeerderkill falls. We sat there, ate sandwiches we packed from the Deece, admired the waterfall, and rested before heading back the way we came. 

All in all, the hike took us from about 11 till 5, with lunch in between and a 1 hour walk to and from the small town to the trail entrance. It was an amazing trip, and one that was so close to Vassar and the surrounding towns of the Hudson Valley region. With its accessibility, moderate difficulty (the only one that was rather long was the Verkeerderkill trail) and interesting scenic features, Sam’s Point is probably one of the crown jewels of the Minnewaska state park and a prized outdoor recreation amenity to be enjoyed by all sorts of people from New York, the rest of America, and even other parts of the world.


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