Short and Scenic Loop Hike on Bullwheel, High Peters Kill and Red Trails
Directions to trailhead
Take the New York State Thruway to Exit 18 (New Paltz). After paying the toll, turn left onto Route 299 and continue west through the Village of New Paltz. When you cross the bridge over the Wallkill River at the west end of the village, continue ahead on Route 299 (do not turn right towards the Mohonk Mountain House). In another 5.6 miles (from the Wallkill River bridge), Route 299 ends at a T-intersection with Route 44/55. Turn right and follow Route 44/55 as it negotiates a very sharp hairpin turn and climbs to pass under the Trapps Bridge (a steel truss overpass). Continue for about two miles past the Trapps Bridge to the entrance to the Peters Kill area of Minnewaska State Park Preserve, on the right side of the road (a parking fee is charged at the gatehouse).
Bus service to New Paltz from New York City, Nanuet, Newburgh and Kingston is available via Adirondack Trailways, www.trailwaysny.com (800) 776-7548. Limited weekday bus service to New Paltz from Kingston and Highland is available via Routes R and H of Ulster County Area Transit, www.co.ulster.ny.us/ucat (888) 827-8228. Ulster County Area Transit also offers bus service from the Metro-North station in Poughkeepsie to New Paltz via their Ulster-Poughkeepsie Link. Taxi service from New Paltz to Minnewaska is available from New Paltz Taxi, www.npztaxi.com (845) 255-1550.
Although this hike is relatively short, it offers some of the most attractive scenery in the “Gunks.” The average hiker should be able to complete the hike in an hour and a half, but you might want to allow extra time to pause and take in the beautiful scenery.
From a kiosk at the western end of the lower parking area, head north on a gravel road, following the Red Loop Trail. At the top of a rise, a sign and a triple-white blaze on a tree on the right mark the start of the Bullwheel Trail. Turn right onto this trail, which climbs gradually on an old carriage road. After a short descent, the trail bears right at a fork and continues to climb on a rougher route.
After narrowing to a footpath, the trail reaches the crest of the rise, where it passes a concrete slab, with steel bolts protruding. A tower that was anchored to the slab via the bolts once supported a pulley for a ski lift – part of the Ski Minne downhill ski area, which operated from 1964 to 1978. The pulley is commonly referred to as a “bullwheel” – hence the name for the trail.
The trail now descends gradually, passing through mountain laurel thickets and blueberry bushes. Several side trails for rock climbers leave to the left. After passing the cliffs of Dickie Barre on the left, the Bullwheel Trail ends at a junction with the blue-blazed High Peters Kill Trail. Turn left onto this trail, which climbs briefly to cut through a notch in Dickie Barre (notice the tilted blocks of conglomerate rock on the left), then begins a long, gradual descent through mountain laurel thickets and blueberry bushes to the Peters Kill.
About halfway down, the trail emerges on exposed rock ledges, with pitch pines growing from the bedrock, and bears right. Before continuing ahead, you should bear left and cross the ledges to reach a dramatic viewpoint from the edge of the cliffs, with the Catskills visible in the distance to the right. Then return to the trail, which descends more steeply for a short distance. The grade soon moderates, and the trail runs close to the edge of the escarpment, with sheer drops on the left.
At the base of the descent, just before reaching the Peters Kill, turn left onto a yellow-blazed trail (at a sign “Peters Kill parking lot”). The trail parallels the picturesque stream amid hemlocks, rhododendron and mountain laurel. After passing an interesting cascade, where the stream flows over slanted rock slabs, the Yellow Trail bears left, away from the stream, and it soon ends at a sign for the Red Trail. You’ll notice nearby another concrete slab with protruding bolts and steel cables along the ground - more remnants of the downhill Ski Minne operation.
Turn left onto the Red Trail, but in only 20 feet turn right and follow the red blazes parallel to the stream. This trail section is even more scenic than the previous one, as you pass numerous cascades and flumes in the stream.
After reaching a small waterfall and a pool on the right (a good place to stop and take a break), the Red Trail bears left, leaving the stream, and climbs back towards Route 44/55. At the top of the climb, the trail turns left and follows a gravel path through successional fields, soon returning to the parking area where the hike began.