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Ice Caves and Verkeerderkill Falls Trail Hike
Directions to trailhead
Take NJ 17 north to the New York Thruway and continue to Exit 16. Proceed west on NY 17 to Exit 119, turn right at the end of the ramp, and continue north on NY 302 for 9.6 miles to Pine Bush, where NY 302 ends. Turn left onto NY 52 and continue for 7.3 miles. Just before the crest of the hill, turn right onto Cragsmoor Road. In 1.3 miles, turn right in front of the Cragsmoor post office, take the next right onto Sam's Point Road, and follow it for about 1.2 miles to its end at the parking area for the preserve. A parking fee is charged.
Bus service from New York City to Ellenville is available via Short Line buses, www.coachusa.com/shortline or call (800) 631-8405. The Ulster County Area Transit (UCAT) E Route provides weekday bus service from SUNY Ulster to Ellenville, with connecting service to Kingston available via UCAT’s U Route. For schedules, go to www.co.ulster.ny.us/ucat or call (845) 334-8458. Taxi service from Ellenville to Sam’s Point Preserve is available from Abe’s Taxi Service in Ellenville, (845) 647-5656 (approximate taxi fare is $22 each way).
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.