Local Adventure #2: Mohonk Mountain

We're still driving.

It's been a good bit longer than the hour-and-a-half my friend Matt said it would take to get to the Labyrinth rock scramble, so much longer that my mind is beginning to wander and I feel almost entertained by the fantastic notion that he's tricked me and we are actually embarking into the film Labyrinth, where at any moment he will morph into a glam-hair-having, makeup-wearing, spandex-sporting Bowie-esque character, and I of course will be the weeping male infant in a striped onesie with whom he absconds into the Goblin Kingdom's castle, built beyond an unsolvable maze.

Almost. But god I love that movie, so when the possibility of going to any kind of real Labyrinth is proposed, whether it's an indoor entertainment center a la Discovery Zone or an elaborate torture structure (a la Discovery Zone), I will agree before the sentence is even finished. And thus we find ourselves in Matt's Subaru driving on some numbered highway through the Hudson River Valley, feeling just a little bit astonished at how long this is taking. 

This summer Matt has become my spirit guide, experienced and all-knowing in the ways of outdoor entertainment, never afraid of a long drive or a sweaty day, and unfailingly gracious in his patience to sponsor a dumb city girl like myself on an adventure to which I can only contribute enthusiasm in lieu of any helpful skill or information. Together we have formed the People Scouts of America, and our mission is two-fold: to spend time outside and also mitigate the pain I still feel at being excluded from Boy Scouts simply because I am female**!

The Mohonk Mountain Preserve is 8,000 acres of privately maintained land, so for a fee you can access the area for hiking, walking, jogging, running, and other stuff you do with your legs. Biking too. The internet said the day fee was $21, but upon arrival, the cost for the day was actually $26 - which in the grand scheme of things is not outrageous, but when compared to the cost of a day at Discovery Zone, feels pretty steep.

And you might be saying, "Alison, why not sneak on to the property, surely it is vast and wooded and no one would care." To which I would say, "Don't do this, because you are wrong!" We had been walking to the Mountain House for about 15 minutes when what I can only describe as a nature preserve bike cop stopped us and asked to see our day pass wristbands. It was clear that he would've loved nothing more than to bust two stupid city-kids who thought they could game the system and take advantage of poor old Albert and Alfred Smiley by enjoying their piece of nature free of charge. Too bad for you, bike cop, today is not your day. 

Bike cop avoided and another 20 minutes later we got to the actual property, and I was all like, "Daaaammmn!" 

It is immaculately maintained and utterly gorgeous - beautiful, overflowing flower gardens abound, lawns are lushly green and expertly trimmed, and there is a noticeable lack of riff-raff, all probably due to that $26 entrance fee & hyper-observant security (and 30 minute hike from the parking lot for poor day trippers. I see what you did there.) 

Looking at the Mohonk Mountain House for the first time, I truly couldn't make sense of it. It's so big. "How could this thing possibly make money??" is a weird thing I often think, probably the result of living in New York for too long and seeing businesses open and close overnight. The notion of something this huge that is by all accounts entirely frivolous and totally removed from my own life was confusing to see up close. 

But, it was very grand, and very gorgeous, and reminded me of The Stanley Hotel from The Shining, so I immediately liked it for it's undoubted ghost connection and we began spinning stories and conspiracy theories about what's really going on on this property (I'm guessing Nazi gold.)

After feasting our eyes on the beautiful property and how the 1% presumably lives, we made our way over to the start of this Labyrinth, marked with this threatening sign. 

Again I was reminded of the Jim Henson film. But if I was the sort of person who let threatening signs scare me, I'd never do anything, like eat in restaurants, or use public bathrooms. So, in we went.

Matt promptly sat on his phone and broke the screen. I can't believe he's done this.

If you can tackle a few flights of stairs without getting dizzy, this climb shouldn't faze you; it's fun and fairly easy and doesn't require any special equipment. However, if you're afraid of heights or get claustrophobic, I'd say steer clear. 

While most of the more daunting parts (climbing through interior rock holes and squeezing through crevices) have easier routes that allow you to go around, there is a very steep (like 90°), roughly 15 foot climb up a ladder between two very-close-together rock faces. I'm an average-sized human but at the top did need to remove my pack and do some maneuvering to get through and crawl out, so be aware of that.

When you get to the top, the view is outstanding, hence one million photos (also getting my $26 worth). 

This amazing tower at the very top is a memorial to Albert K Smiley, one of the two Quaker brothers who spearheaded the preservation of the land, and, who, upon Googling, sounds a little bit too nice, which makes me even more suspicious, and sure in my Nazi gold theory. 

There's also this strange  kidney-shaped pool next to the tower, which is supposedly a reservoir for the property, or, in going with my crackpot theories, some sort of Fountain of Youth experiment or home to a sea monster of some kind.

Seeing as the People Scouts of America have an endless thirst for adventure, our day didn't end with the Labyrinth. We had spent the day sweating and scrambling and decided that a swim was in order, so we made our way to Blue Hole (hehe) on Peekamoose Mountain (hehe), also in the Catskills.

Unfortunately, by the time we made it to Blue Hole, the combined setting sun and increased altitude had us feeling not quite hot enough for a swim in the very cold water, but it was still a lovely spot. To observe peak blueness, the swimming hole is best seen in full, bright sunlight, but even at around 5pm it emanated an interesting shade of turquoise.

There were quite a few people who had set up camp for the day, barbecuing and swimming, so while I had never heard of it before and it is quite a ways from a populated area, it hardly seems to be a secret, especially on a hot summer day.

Exhausted, sweaty, and perhaps a little delirious, we ended the day as it began, by driving for quite a while, though this time, with a stop at a nondescript Mexican restaurant in a forgettable town somewhere along the way. 


  • Mohonk Mountain Preserve is about 2 hours outside NYC
  • Summer weekends cost $26 per person for the day
  • Dress comfortably, wear sneakers or hiking boots
  • Bring your own food and plenty of water
  • Bring a camera too, the views are amazing
  • Don't bring much else, you need to stay small, light, and agile

And now for the end-of-post question, which at this point, I am requiring as a matter of tradition: so dear reader, if you're so great, what's your favorite way to spend $26?

**lawsuit pending