Outdoor enthusiasts accustomed to the dramatic scenery of the American West tend to look at landscapes in the eastern U.S. and smirk, “You call that a mountain?” While most of the Appalachians lack the grandeur of, say, the Canadian Rockies, there are nonetheless places back East that can hold their own anywhere, and New York’s Shawangunk Ridge and the surrounding cliffs is one such place. Widely recognized as the rock-climbing capital of the east, “the Gunks” is the most popular climbing destination in all of North America, with about 50,000 climbers scaling its heights each year. One of these climbing routes, “High Exposure,” is frequently cited as the single best route in the world for the technical challenges it presents.
Located roughly 90 miles (145km) north of New York City, the area around the Gunks is a patchwork of private land, state parks, and private land preserves, most notably Mohonk Preserve, which manages almost 7,000 acres of wilderness. The Gunks’ most popular climbing cliff, the Trapps, is located within Mohonk Preserve, as are several other climbing sites. Most of the documented climbing routes in the Gunks are from 150 to 300 feet in height, and are vertical or near-vertical rock faces, so inexperienced climbers may want to visit one of the several local outfits that sponsor rock climbing instruction in the Gunks. These offer a range of classes from beginner to advanced, as well as group outings that are a popular way to meet fellow climbers.
Besides climbing, the Gunks are known for a number of outdoor activities. There’s swimming in nearby Lake Minnewaska, hiking around the historic Mohonk Mountain House hotel, blueberry picking in summer, and bird-watching for the local population of peregrine falcons. To cool off, try visiting one of the area’s famed ice caves, where deep fissures in the rock create microclimates that preserve ice and snow through the summer. With all these options and some of the best scenery in the Northeast, it’s no wonder the Nature Conservancy listed the Gunks as one of its “75 Last Great Places on Earth.” —ML
Mohonk Preserve ( 845/255-0919; www.mohonkpreserve.org).
When to Go: Apr–Nov.