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July 5, 2014

There's plenty to do at the Ellenville Fault Ice Caves

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The Daily Star

---- — Have you ever been asked, “What do you want to do today?”

Well, here’s a great answer. Take a drive down to Cragsmoor and visit the Ellenville Fault Ice Caves and Verkeergerkill Falls.

About two hours south of here, at the Sam’s Point Preserve, is the largest exposed rock fault system in the country. The upthrusting of rock resulted in numerous above-ground tunnels that are ripe for adventure and exploration. Owned by the Nature Conservancy, the area is open to the public. Hiking is free, but there is a $10 parking fee.

It is best to go during the middle of the week because parking is limited, and it’s more fun to work your way through the deep crevices and narrow passageways without fighting a crowd.

The hiking trail leaves the parking area and quickly climbs to Sam’s Point. From there, you can catch some wonderful views of the Shawangunk Ridge with its high rock cliffs. The trail leads on through the Pine Barrens, a dwarf forest of pitch pines that only grow between three- and six-feet tall.

Soon, you arrive at the Ice Caves and descend down a winding footpath. It’s steep in places and the temperature drops dramatically as you go deeper into the caves. Lights turn on to illuminate your way, large boulders are wedged into the rock above, and ice can be found in some crevices until late summer. There are wooden steps, bridges and ladders in some of the areas of the caves.

Trails lead you up stone steps, under exposed rock outcroppings and by spectacular cliffs before finally ending on the ground above. After exploring the ice caves, you head back toward the Loop Road.

A trail turns off to the right and leads you to Verkeergerkill Falls. It’s about two miles to the falls, but they are well worth the effort. You end up at a spectacular, 180-foot waterfall — the highest in the Shawangunk Range. You must watch your footing because it is a sheer drop off the ledge all the way to the bottom of the falls.

This is a great place to take a break and have lunch before heading back.

The entire hike is about six miles out-and-back, so plan for plenty of time. It’s not a difficult hike, but there are steep places and a few steady climbs. The trail, however, is kept in great shape and would be a great family day trip.

Along the trail, you will see a sign that says, “One of the World’s Last Great Places.” They aren’t kidding. The day’s adventure was spectacular.

To get to the Sam’s Point Preserve, head over the hills through Walton and Downsville. Once reaching Route 17, head east to Exit 100 and take Route 52 East. It’s about 25 miles from there, and it’s well worth the trip.

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. Email him at robrockway@hotmail.com.