Exploring the Shawangunks: Hiking Bonticou Crag

Hiking Bonticou Crag

Written by Michele De Vincentis

Mohonk Preserve is New York’s largest visitor and member-supported nature preserve that’s home to 165,000 annual visitors and 8,000 acres of forests, cliffs, fields, ponds, and streams. It is located on the Shawankgunk Ridge, a section of the Appalachian Mountains that’s just 90 miles north of New York City.

Hikers who are itching for the thrill of some serious rock scrambling will find their habit worth scratching in the form of Bonticou Crag. This less than 3 mile loop leads adventurers on a scenic jaunt through to the woods, before scrambling up the steep Bonticou Crag, and giving way to 360-degree views of the surrounding countryside – including the Wallkill Valley, Catskills, Gunks, and more.

Start off in the Spring Farm trailhead parking area and hike north along the lot on Farm Road. Be sure to stop and enjoy the “Million Dollar View” (dubbed by mohonkpreserve.org), which is a short walk from the parking area. The field and wildflowers perfectly frame the surrounding mountains of the Catskills.

million dollar view Mohonk Preserve
A beautiful way to begin the hike at Bonticou Crag.

Backtrack a short distance along the dirt road and follow the red Crag Trail across an open meadow, staying straight when crossing Cedar Drive and Spring Farm Road. The Crag Trail will eventually end at an intersection that includes Cedar Drive and Bonticou Road. Turn left, but be sure to stay right to take Bonticou Road. Eventually you’ll happen upon the yellow Bonticou Ascent Path. This is the first chance you’ll have to glimpse Bontciou Crag in all its jagged glory.

Seeing this view means that hikers have made it to infamous scramble.
The first sight of Bonticou Ascent Path will leave hikers breathless.

CAUTION: This trail is not to be taken lightly. This section of the Bonticou Ascent Path is a short but treacherous trail that climbs up talus piles of the crag. It’s marked by yellow blazes and requires both a healthy dose of athleticism and height to complete. This trail is not suitable for small children or dogs. Also, due to the cliff-side exposure, this hike should not be scheduled during inclement weather. Wet rock, angled and slippery, is sure to bust an ankle at best. Plan to complete this hike during optimal conditions.

Scramble at Bonticou Crag
If you look hard enough, there are foot and hand-holds for days!

The sight of Bonticou Crag is simultaneously daunting and majestic. Some valuable advice is to take this section of the hike slow, resolving to focus wholly on each and every foot and hand placement. There will be plenty of hoisting and pushing, especially when encountering the chimney section near the top of the crag. Sturdy shoes make the ascent easier. Hikers should opt for boots that have a sticky rubber sole. Approach shoes provide sure-footed confidence when encountering tricky scrambles and climbs.

hikers climbing Bonticou
Some perspective: hikers make their way up the fabled Bonticou Ascent Path.

The summation of the adventurist’s reward is being perched atop conglomerate quartzite sandstone and basking in expansive views. It’s the perfect time to explore and take advantage of numerous breath-taking photo opportunities.

Top of Bonticou
Nicholas Hernandez indulges in the incredible views at the top of Bonticou Crag.

Once hikers have sufficiently rested, refueled, and enjoyed the scenery, it’s time to continue along the yellow-blazed Bonticou Ascent Path northbound along the ridge. Follow the trail as it descends through pines and laurels, until it ends at the junction with the blue-blazed Northeast Trail. Turn left and follow the steeply descending trail until reaching a junction that joins with the red-blazed Cedar Trail. Turn right and follow the trail through a wet area, past an old stone foundation, across a stream on rocks, and through a former field that’s now overgrown with young trees.

Upon reaching Cedar Drive, turn right and follow the gradually descending carriage road. Bear left at the next Y-intersection and follow the sign for “Cedar Drive,” turning right when arriving at the red-blazed Cedar trail. From here, it’s a short jaunt to the blue-blazed Table Rocks trail. Turn left and follow this trail half a mile back to the Spring Farm parking area. Hikers will know they’re on the right track when passing the Slingerland Pavillion and historic buildings of Spring Farm.

This hike with its strenuous conditions, will take experienced hikers around two hours to complete. If planning to spend a significant amount of time at the top of Bonticou Crag (as all hikers should), three hours is a safe guestimation.

If interested in other hikes of the scrambling variety, check out the Labyrinth trail (on the border of Mohonk Preserve and Mohonk Mountain House) in High Falls, NY. The 1.8-mile excursion leads hikers to the top of Smiley Tower and is often hiked in conjunction with the Lemon Squeeze. – Read more at – Hike the Hudson Valley 

Another hike is Breakneck Ridge, a highly trafficked hike in the Hudson River Valley, located in Putnam, NY. – Read more at – Outdoor Fest

This article was written by Michele De Vincentis. To see more of her work and photos, visit her online portfolio and blog.

Looking for more adventures in the Shawangunks?

Hiking – Sam’s Point – The Gunks’ Natural Wonderland

Climbing – The #TimetoClimb America Tour: The Gunks

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