Sam’s Point: Ice caves and a sky lake

Stephen by Lake Maratanza
Sketching in the wind on Sam’s Point- it almost blew my journal away!

I didn’t expect to be wearing a jacket on the 4th of July weekend (and wishing I had taken a warmer jacket), but that’s what hiking the Ice Caves Trail at Sam’s Point will do. We had a stunningly beautiful day for hiking– clear skies; bright sunshine; vivid colors in all shades of green, plus pinks, blues, and yellows; a brisk breeze (actually a strong wind); and incredible vistas. Sam’s Point, which is now a part of Minnewaska State Park Preserve, has a rare, dwarf pitch pine barrens ecosystem, one of the few such places remaining in the world. As we hiked, the fragrance of the pines in the sun rose around us, making the air delicious to breathe. Other sections of the trail are lined with sweet fern, also filling the air with fragrance, while mountain laurel blossoms filled the areas of deciduous woods with a pink and white  blanket of blossoms.

View from Sam’s Point- high rock bluffs and distant Catskill Mountains
Mountain laurels and ferns blanketing the woods

The ice caves are a real treat on a hot day, as refrigerated air wells up from ice deep in crevasses. These ice caves are formed by an open fault– the Ellenville Fault Line, which is the largest open fault in the United States– and rock debris from the Shawangunk Ridge, which formed deep caves that stay cool enough for ice to remain well into summer, providing air conditioning for the hiker and unique growing conditions for plants not normally native to our area.

Entrance to an ice cave at Sam’s Point


Lake Maratanza, a “sky lake” is the highest lake in the Shawangunk Ridge at 2,245 feet above sea level. With today’s wind, the lake’s surface was whipped into waves that made a wonderful lapping sound as we walked along the road beside the shore. On the west side of the lake we sat in a sheltered cove, where the water was still and a Common Yellowthroat serenaded us as I sketched.

Lake Maratanza at Sam’s Point Preserve

Minnewaska Hike

High flying flocks of geese heading south, honking their connection to one another; red, yellow, and orange trees overhanging tall rock slopes; Catskills clothed in shades of lavender, standing majestically to the north; the fragrance of fall making the air sweet to breathe.

Yesterday Stephen and I headed for Sam’s Point Preserve right after church to spend a perfect fall Sunday afternoon hiking, but when we got there, we found that everyone else had had the same idea and the parking was full and they weren’t allowing anyone else in. Figuring that nearby Minnewaska would also be overcrowded, Steve pulled out his geological survey map collection and did some searching. He found a small back way into Minnewaska through tiny Berme Road Park in Ellenville. We found our way to the park and headed up the Smiley Carriage Road– not one of the well-maintained carriage roads we’re accustomed to in Minnewaska, but not full of the Columbus Day weekend crowds either. 

We hiked up and up, along a very stony, sometimes rutted carriage road, slippery with leaves in some places, surrounded by beauty everywhere.

At one point we met a couple coming down, who told us there was a three-foot rattlesnake coiled in the path a few minutes farther along the trail. I grabbed my sketchbook from my backpack, thanked the couple, and headed up the trail, watching closely for the snake. Sadly, he had left by the time we got to wherever he had been, so my rattlesnake sketching will have to wait for another hike.

We made our way to Naparoch Point, a rocky overlook complete with the deep crevasses one expects in Minnewaska, opening to a view of the blue and lavender Catskills in the distance, the gold-tinged Shawangunks nearby, huge rocks with twisted pines and oaks in the foreground, and blueberry bushes in fall shades of red carpeting the ground.