Sam's Point, Indian Rock, High Point and Verkeerder Kill Falls Loop
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, then 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 of $10 per car is charged.
From the parking area, walk around the gate and take the left fork of the Loop Road (a gravel road, closed to private vehicles, but open to service vehicles). Follow the road uphill, passing several dilapidated shacks on the left, built to house the “berry pickers” who lived there seasonally while harvesting the blueberries and huckleberries which are found in abundance in the area. In 0.3 mile, a wooden sign on the left marks the start of the South Gully Trail, the route of the aqua-blazed Long Path. Continue ahead on the gravel Loop Road, which now levels off.
About a mile from the start, you’ll notice several radio towers on the left. Soon, an unmarked side trail begins on the right (opposite a road on the left that leads to one of the towers). Follow this side trail a short distance down to the scenic Lake Maratanza, the highest of the five “Sky Lakes” (the others are Mohonk Lake, Lake Minnewaska, Lake Awosting and Mud Pond). Lake Maratanza serves as the water supply for the Village of Ellenville, so no swimming is permitted.
After taking a break at the shore of the lake, return to the Loop Road and turn right. Soon, you’ll reach a junction marked by a wooden sign. Turn left here and begin to follow the High Point Road, which begins as a wide gravel road. In 0.4 mile, you’ll notice a sign on the left that marks the start of the yellow-blazed Indian Rock Trail. Turn left and follow this trail, which crosses a wet area on a long set of puncheons and continues through pitch pines, with a dense understory of blueberries.
In about a third of a mile, the trail curves to the right, with an open rock ledge straight ahead. Walk out to the ledge, which offers a panoramic view to the west and north. The mountains you see to the right are the Catskill Mountains, including Slide Mountain, the highest in the Catskills. You’ll want to stop here and enjoy the broad scenic view.
Continue ahead on the Indian Rock Trail, which now begins a winding downhill course. In another quarter of a mile, you’ll emerge on an open expanse of rock. Watch carefully for the blazes, which take you down through a narrow crevice and lead out to Indian Rock, for which the trail is named. This large fractured boulder is perched near the top of a cliff and balanced on a smaller boulder. There are views to the west and north from the base of the boulder, but the viewpoint you passed along the way offers broader views.
After spending some time at this fascinating boulder, retrace your steps back to the High Point Road and turn left. In another three-quarters of a mile, the improved gravel road ends and the road becomes grassier and somewhat narrower. Just beyond, you’ll come to a west-facing view, with a bench for those who wish to take a break. Continue ahead on the High Point Road, soon passing a view, on the right, of High Point, which you’ll soon climb.
In another half mile, you’ll come to a junction, marked by a wooden sign. Ahead, High Point Road is somewhat overgrown, and you should turn right, now following the red-blazed High Point Trail, which will be your route for the next 2.5 miles. Most of the blazes are painted on the rocks on the footpath, but you will also notice some blazes on trees along the way.
The trail begins by climbing rather steeply to a T-intersection. Here, the blue-blazed Berry Picker Trail begins on the left, but you should turn right to continue on the red-blazed High Point Trail, which is now joined by the Long Path (along the route of the High Point Trail, the Long Path is marked only by occasional logo blazes). In a short distance, you’ll emerge onto a panoramic viewpoint from an open rock ledge, with views to the west and north. You’ll want to stop briefly to take in the view, but don’t spend too much time here, as you’ll soon come to an even more spectacular viewpoint. Continue along the High Point Trail, which ascends very gently through dense stands of pitch pine. In about a quarter of a mile, you’ll reach High Point, the highest point in the area (2,240 feet), marked by a USGS benchmark.
Although it is not the highest point in the Shawangunks (that point, elevation 2,289 feet, is just to the west of the High Point Road a short distance north of the Loop Road), High Point offers a panoramic 360-degree view. To the north, you can see the Catskills, with Slide Mountain and the Burroughs Range in the foreground, and the peaks of the Devil’s Path (Plateau, Sugarloaf, Twin and Indian Head) to the right in the distance. The radio towers you passed previously are visible to the southwest, and to the northeast, you can see Gertrude’s Nose in Minnewaska State Preserve. The Hudson Highlands can be seen to the east, and on a clear day, you might even get a glimpse of the Hudson River. Although High Point is surrounded by a dense growth of pitch pines, the trees grow only about six feet high in this harsh environment, so you can easily see in all directions over the treetops.
When you’re ready to continue, follow the High Point Trail as it steeply descends from the rock ledge and continues through a dense stand of pitch pines, with an understory of blueberries. For the next mile, you’ll follow a footpath through the dense pines and blueberries, with several steep descents of rock ledges and occasional views to the right. After about a mile, you’ll emerge onto a rock outcrop which offers panoramic views to the west and south. To the southwest, across the valley, you can see the radio towers that you passed earlier in the hike, and the Wallkill Valley is visible to the south. For the next half mile, you’ll be following a dramatic escarpment, with many views along the way. Finally, the High Point Trail goes back into the woods and descends to reach a T-intersection, marked by a sign.
The light-blue-blazed Scenic Trail begins on the left, but you should turn right, following the Verkeerder Kill Falls Trail (also the route of the Long Path). The trail is now marked with the aqua blazes of the Long Path. You will note that the pitch pines that you’ve seen for most of the hike have been replaced by deciduous trees in this area. A short distance ahead, you’ll come to a fork. The Verkeerder Kill Falls Trail bears left here, but you should take the right fork, which leads to a exposed rock ledge, with two glacial erratics, that offers views to the west and south.
Return to the trail and follow it as it descends, steeply in places, towards the falls. As you approach the falls, the trail turns right, but you should continue ahead to a rock ledge overlooking the 180-foot-high Verkeerder Kill Falls – the highest waterfall in the Shawangunks. Use extreme care, as there is a sheer drop from here to the bottom of the falls! The falls are most dramatic after heavy rains, and might be reduced to a trickle in times of drought.
You’ll want to take a break here to appreciate this natural wonder. When you’re ready to continue, turn left on the Verkeerder Kill Falls Trail/Long Path, which almost immediately crosses the braided Verkeerder Kill above the falls. Crossing the stream on rocks is usually very easy, but it can be challenging if the water is high.
The trail now begins a gradual climb to the Loop Road near Sam’s Point. You’ll be gaining about 500 feet in elevation over the next two miles, but most of climb is gentle. At first, you’ll pass through an area dominated by tall deciduous trees – a contrast to the stunted pitch pines that have surrounded the trail for most of the way. When you reach the 2,100-foot contour, the pitch pine-blueberry forest returns.
Just beyond, the trail makes a sharp left turn (the overgrown path to the right, now abandoned, once led to the Loop Road near Lake Maratanza). The trail now levels off, and a short distance beyond, the vegetation changes to a birch forest with an understory of ferns. After the trail crosses an intermittent stream (the outlet of Lake Maratanza), the pitch pine/blueberry forest resumes, and the trail climbs some more.
Soon, views appear to the northeast over Minnewaska State Park Preserve. The three rock formations that you see are (left to right) Castle Point, Hamilton Point and Gertrude’s Nose. After bending to the right and passing through an area dominated by blueberry bushes, with only occasional pitch pines, the Verkeerder Kill Falls Trail ends at a junction with the road that leads to the Ice Caves. If you’d like to visit the Ice Caves, turn left on the road, but if you’ve done enough hiking for the day, turn right and head uphill to the Loop Road, where you should turn left.
Follow the Loop Road (here, a deteriorated paved road) for about half a mile until a wide road goes off to the right. Turn right and follow this road for about 250 feet to Sam’s Point, which offers panoramic views to the southwest. Legend has it that, during the French and Indian War in the 1750s, a frontiersman named Sam Gonsalus leaped off this promontory to escape from Native Americans and landed safely in the bushes below. To prevent modern-day visitors from attempting the same feat, a stone wall has been erected around the lookout point.
Return to the Loop Road, turn right, and follow the road as it descends on switchbacks below the cliffs of Sam’s Point and returns to the Conservation Center and the parking area where the hike began.