From the parking area, walk around the gate and take the right fork of the Loop Road (a gravel road, closed to private vehicles). Follow the road uphill on switchbacks...
From the parking area, walk around the gate and take the right fork of the Loop Road (a gravel road, closed to private vehicles). Follow the road uphill on switchbacks through a deciduous forest. In about half a mile, you'll pass dramatic cliffs of Shawangunk Conglomerate on the left, with excellent views from rock outcrops on the right. Just beyond, you'll see a wide dirt road that goes off to the left. Turn left and follow this road, which leads in a short distance to the top of
Sam's Point, with even more spectacular views to the south along the Shawangunk Ridge and to the east over the Wallkill Valley. This is a good spot to take a break.
After taking in the views, return to the Loop Road (now paved) and turn left. The road levels off, and the vegetation changes dramatically. The deciduous forest that you have encountered up to here is replaced by a ridgetop dwarf pitch pine forest, with a thick understory of blueberries and huckleberries. Most of the pitch pines grow only about three-to-six feet high - not much higher than the blueberries in the understory!
Continue along the road for another half a mile until you reach a junction where a gravel road descends to the right. Turn right, following a sign to Ice Caves Road. In a short distance, you'll notice a sign marking the start of the Verkeerderkill Falls Trail to the left. Continue ahead along the road, but note this turn, as the continuation of the hike will use this trail. As the road descends, it curves to the north, with views ahead over the northern part of the Shawangunk Ridge, including Castle Point and Gertrude's Nose in Minnewaska State Park.
At the end of the road, you'll come to a large open area that formerly was used for parking when the road was open to vehicular traffic. Towards the end of the open area, a sign marks the start of the Ice Caves Loop Trail. Developed as a commercial tourist attraction by a private individual in 1967, the Ice Caves were closed in 1996 when the property was acquired by The Nature Conservancy. In 2002, they reopened, but some artificial features (such as colored lights) have been eliminated.
Turn right and descend on a winding footpath, with wooden guardrails, steeply in places. Soon, you’ll descend stone steps into a crevice in the rock, passing underneath a rock wedged overhead. The difference in temperature is quite noticeable! After turning left and passing through a narrower crevice, the trail emerges into the open. Follow the white blazes, which cross several wooden bridges and lead along the base of cliffs on the left, passing beneath overhanging rock ledges. At one point, you’ll have to climb a short wooden ladder.
Soon, the trail turns left and continues through a rock crevice deep below the surface. Motion-sensitive lighting has been installed to illuminate your passage through this cool, dark area. When you leave this crevice and again emerge into the open, you’ll descend wooden steps, climb stone steps and a wooden ladder, and continue past more dramatic cliffs and under overhanging rock ledges.
A short distance ahead, the trail bears left and goes through another narrow crevice on a raised boardwalk. The Ice Caves are named for this spot, where ice and snow can usually be seen even in late summer!
Leaving this rock crevice, you’ll climb a wooden ladder and emerge on a open rock outcrop where a solar panel has been installed to provide power to the lighting in the caves. This marks the end of your spectacular trip through the Ice Caves. Here, the white-blazed trail turns right and returns to the start of the loop. Before following this trail, turn left and proceed a short distance to exposed rock outcrops, with excellent views to the north and east. After enjoying the views, continue ahead on the white-blazed trail and follow it back to the open area where you started the descent into the Ice Caves.
Now retrace your steps up the dirt road to the junction with the Verkeerderkill Falls Trail (just before you reach the main Loop Road). Turn right and follow this trail, marked with the aqua blazes of the Long Path, which proceeds through a dwarf pitch pine forest, with a thick understory of blueberries. There are good views ahead of the northern Shawangunk Ridge.
After about 20 minutes, you'll cross the outlet stream of Lake Maratanza. Here, the vegetation briefly changes to a deciduous oak-birch forest, with an understory of ferns. Soon, the pitch pines reappear. A short distance ahead, you'll reach a T-intersection where you should bear right. As the trail begins to descend towards Verkeerderkill Falls, the pitch pines first increase in size, then disappear altogether, with deciduous trees and other evergreen species becoming more prevalent.
In about an hour from the beginning of the Verkeerderkill Falls Trail, you'll reach the Verkeerder Kill - a braided stream in an area of hemlock and rhododendron. Unless the water is very high, the stream can be easily crossed on rocks. The open rock slabs along the stream provide a pleasant setting to take a break, but you'll want to continue ahead a short distance along the aqua-blazed trail. After passing a sign designating this area as one of the world's "last great places," the trail makes a sharp turn to the left. Bear right here and follow an unmarked path to a rock ledge overlooking the dramatic 180-foot-high Verkeerderkill Falls - the highest waterfall in the Shawangunks. Be careful, as there is a sheer drop from here to the bottom of the falls! You'll want to spend some time at this place of special beauty.
It is possible to make a longer ten-mile loop hike by continuing ahead on the aqua-blazed Long Path for another 0.4 mile, turning left onto the red-blazed High Point Trail (a relatively difficult route, requiring the use of hands as well as feet), then turning left and following the High Point Carriageway back to the Loop Road. However, the most direct return route is to retrace your steps along the Long Path to the Ice Caves Road, turn right for about 200 feet along the road, then turn left and follow the Loop Road back to the parking area where you began the hike.Publication: Submitted by Daniel Chazin on 09/04/2003 updated/verified on 08/12/2012
This trail hike climbs to Sam's Point, with spectacular views, follows a narrow path through the crevices of the Ice Caves, and continues to Verkeerderkill Falls - the highest waterfall trail in the Shawangunks.
Whether you are going for a day hike or backpacking overnight, it is good practice to carry what we call The Hiking Essentials. These essentials will help you enjoy your outing more and will provide basic safety gear if needed. There may also be more essentials, depending on the season and your needs.
Hiking Shoes or Boots
Water - Two quarts per person is recommended in every season. Keep in mind that fluid loss is heightened in winter as well as summer. Don't put yourself in the position of having to end your hike early because you have run out of water.
Map - Know where you are and where you are going. Many of our hiking areas feature interconnecting network of trails. Use a waterproof/tear-resistant Tyvek Trail Conference map if available or enclose your map in a Ziplock plastic bag. If you have a mobile device, download Avenza’s free PDF Maps app and grab some GPS-enhanced Trail Conference maps (a backup Tyvek or paper version of the map is good to have just in case your batteries die or you don't have service). Check out some map-reading basics here.
Food - Snacks/lunch will keep you going as you burn energy walking or climbing. Nuts, seeds, and chocolate are favorites on the trail.
Sunscreen and insect repellent
Rain Gear and Extra Clothing - Rain happens. So does cold. Be prepared for changing weather. Avoid cotton--it traps water against your skin and is slow to dry. If you are wearing wet cotton and must return to your starting point, you risk getting chills that may lead to a dangerous hypothermia. Choose synthetic shirts, sweaters and/or vests and dress in layers for easy on and off.
Compass - A simple compass is all you need to orient you and your map to magnetic north.
Light - A flashlight or small, lightweight headlamp will be welcome gear if you find yourself still on the trail when darkness falls. Check the batteries before you start out and have extras in your pack.
First Aid Kit - Keep it simple, compact, and weatherproof. Know how to use the basic components.
Firestarter and Matches - In an emergency, you may need to keep yourself or someone else warm until help arrives. A firestarter (this could be as simple as leftover birthday candles that are kept inside a waterproof container) and matches (again, make sure to keep them in a waterproof container) could save a life.
Knife or Multi-tool - You may need to cut a piece of moleskin to put over a blister, repair a piece of broken equipment, or solve some other unexpected problem.
Emergency Numbers - Know the emergency numbers for the area you're going to and realize that in many locations--especially mountainous ones, your phone will not get reception.
Common Sense - Pay attention to your environment, your energy, and the condition of your companions. Has the weather turned rainy? Is daylight fading? Did you drink all your water? Did your companion fail to bring rain gear? Are you getting tired? Keep in mind that until you turn around you are (typically) only half-way to completing your hike--you must still get back to where you started from! (Exceptions are loop hikes.)
Check the weather forecast before you head out. Know the rules and regulations of the area.
The Leave No Trace Seven Principles
- Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you'll visit.
- Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
- Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
- Visit in small groups when possible. Consider splitting larger groups into smaller groups.
- Repackage food to minimize waste.
- Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.
- Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.
- Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
- Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary.
- In popular areas:
- Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
- Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
- Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.
- In pristine areas:
- Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
- Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.
- Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter.
- Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
- Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
- To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.
- Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
- Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
- Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
- Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.
- Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
- Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
- Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
- Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.
- Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
- Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
- Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
- Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
- Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.
- Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
- Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
- Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
- Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
- Let nature's sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.
The Trail Conference is a 2015 Leave No Trace partner.
(c) Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org.