Minnewaska State Park: Rainbow Falls Hike

I rely on AllTrails.com almost as much as I rely on AllRecipes.com. I have no idea whether the two are related. But they’re both great resources! 

Lake Minnewaska, one of the parks several “sky lakes” and for which, the state park is named.

So during our visit to the Hudson Valley area, I’d planned out a couple of short hikes, to waterfalls, of course, based on the Alltrails info, within Minnewaska State Park. 

The view from a roadside overlook, looking over the valley to the Catskill Mountains.

Minnewaska State Park Preserve, located on the Shawngunk Mountain Ridge in Ulster County NY, is a gorgeous park with many hiking trails that offers beautiful scenery. There is plenty of parking, trails are well marked and maps available at the visitors center. Within the preserve, there’s about 50 miles of trails, a combination of well groomed fine gravel carriageways and rough paths. The Shawangunk Mountains rise more than 2,000 feet above sea level and is surrounded by rugged, rocky terrain. Pronounce it like a local: “Shwan-gun” with the variant “Shawn-gum.” 

We decided to head to the visitors center — honestly, I can’t remember what question we were going to ask — but after chatting with one of the park employees, we changed our plans dramatically. Instead of three short hikes and a scenic drive, we now committed to one longish out-and-back hike — about five miles, give or take a few tenths of a mile — to a waterfall that is only dramatic after heavy rain, in addition to the two shorter hikes. 

Our original plans were to check out Awosting Falls, Compass Rocks, and Peterskill Falls. He suggested that we’d get all the views along the longer hike to Rainbow Falls PLUS we’d get to enjoy Rainbow Falls. He had us at “Rainbow Falls.”

The park employee patiently explained that our third planned hike, to Peterskill Falls, was not actually on the park’s hiking trails, that in this case, Alltrails was misleading and wrong, and that we’d have to do some bushwacking to get to the falls and of course, he recommended that we actually stay on the trails. So we scratched that hike, but in stead of that, he also recommended we do the short and sweet Stony Kill Falls hike, so we added that one instead of Peterskill Falls. Our entire day just got re-arranged and we loved it!

The park employee promised that the hike out to Rainbow Falls would be lovely, offering in addition to the waterfalls, some views looking over to the Catskill Mountains as we hiked along the ridge on the well-groomed carriage trails.

He directed us to the trailhead (although of course we took a wrong turn and headed DOWN the mountain side for a good quarter mile). 

Since we were the first in the visitors center, we were the first on this particular trail, and that made it kind of fun — we appreciated that on our way out, we encountered no one. But we did encounter a plethora of song birds, including one bluejay that seemed to follow us a bit along the trail, shrieking at us all the while. 

And then we saw the porcupine. 

Those of you who live in the northeast might be more familiar with these cute rodents, but this was a first for me, and seeing one NOT in a zoo was also a bucket list item. We encountered the porcupine, which seemed completely unbothered by us, about 10 feet off the trail (we stayed on the trail). He was ambling along his way, barely seeming to notice us, and soon enough headed into the brush and disappeared. It.was.so.cool.

We high-fived each other over seeing this cool little creature. It literally made our day. We could have just turned around and we would have been well pleased with the day. 

But this is a trail that just kept on giving. What made this hike so spectacular in early May (and after two days of rain) was the sheer number of trail-side, unnamed waterfalls. Throughout almost the entire hike, we walked to the burble of streams and waterfalls. 

After about 2 miles from the visitors center, we encountered a clearing on the side of the carriage way, a water fall cascading over the cliffs down to the forest below. We took numerous photos, not realizing that this was only our first view of Rainbow Falls. 

Not long afterward was the side trail leading to the base of Rainbow Falls. We turned right onto the trail, immediately heading down the side of the mountain. There were a few water crossings, but mostly we were able to jump from rock to rock for these stream crossings. 

If you google rainbow falls, you’ll discover that about 25 out of the 50 U.S. states have waterfalls named “Rainbow.” Also, please note that the route we took was quite a bit different than the one featured on AllTrails.com. We followed the Upper Awosting Carriageway from the visitors center to the intersection with the Rainbow Falls footpath. If you continued along the Upper Awosting Carriageway, you’ll come to Lake Awosting and can add the loop around the lake to your hike, before returning to the visitors center parking.

Getting there: 5281 Route 44-55, Kerhonkson, NY 12446

Hours: 9 a.m. – 8 p.m.

Websites: https://www.nynjtc.org/park/minnewaska-state-park and https://parks.ny.gov/parks/minnewaska/details.aspx

Looking for other daytrip ideas within the area? Check out the following articles!

Or head to New York Daytrip Destinations to find other great things to see and do in New York!

These mysterious ruins were along the carriageway.

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