weekend adventure, the gunks new york, climbing, biking

Weekend Adventure: The Gunks

Words + Photography: Chris Brinlee Jr.

Adventure abounds just a stone’s throw from New York City.

Tell anyone that you’re flying into JFK or La Guardia for an outdoor adventure and they’ll look at you like you’re crazy. But what they probably don’t know is that The Gunks (the nickname given to the nearby Shawangunk mountain range), located within the Mohonk Preserve, is a mere hour and a half from New York City and offers some of the best rock climbing in the world. In the same area, there’s also equally epic hiking and mountain biking

Got a weekend to burn in the Empire State? Here’s the best way to get your adventure kicks in the land of the Knicks.

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Send the gnar on some uber-classic rock routes.

weekend adventure, the gunks new york, climbing, biking

Chris Brinlee Jr. hangs tough on CCK, also known as Colliding Crystal Kaleidoscope. 

© Christian Lanley

Climbing in The Gunks is exceptional. The crag is best-known for its short approaches and horizontal cracks. Plus, some of the earliest and most difficult climbing routes in the country were put up there, as far back as the 1930s. As such, many of the grades there are stiff. For example, the popular “High Exposure” route is graded at 5.6, but feels more like an exposed 5.8 compared to other crags. When climbing in the Gunks for the first time, it’s not a bad idea to start with a route graded well within your comfort zone before progressing onto harder climbs.

Another really interesting characteristic of The Gunks is its strong ethics. The area is defined exclusively by traditional climbing. With the exception of well-maintained bolted rappels, very rarely will you find any bolts placed for protection. All of these characteristics make The Gunks incredibly unique and a must-visit for any climber. Here are a few classic routes to get your stoke up:


Statistics: Traditional Climbing, 120 feet, 1 Pitch, 5.5 Difficulty, 1 Hour

Climbing on Horseman is so steep that it doesn’t feel like a 5.5 route. This is a great, quick introduction to climbing in The Gunks.


Statistics: Traditional Climbing, 250 feet, 2 Pitches, 5.6 Difficulty, 2-3 Hours

High Exposure is probably the most classic Gunks route and its name is incredibly fitting. The route is often described as flawless. But even more impressive is that it was put up in 1941 by Fritz Wiessner (who almost summited K2 two years earlier) and Hans Kraus.

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weekend adventure, the gunks new york, climbing, biking

This route is called “High Exposure” for a reason.


Statistics: Traditional Climbing, 250 feet, 3 Pitches, 5.7 Difficulty, 2-3 Hours

CCK,” as it’s more colloquially known, is iconized by its third pitch, which is often described as the single most memorable pitch for its grade…anywhere. It starts with a traverse, that in itself is arguably the most photogenic site in the entire range, if not the country. Make sure your belayer has a camera.


Statistics: Traditional Climbing, 250, 2 Pitches, 5.9 Difficulty, 2-3 Hours

Bonnie Prudden shattered her pelvis in a skiing accident in 1937. She was condemned to a life without skiing, climbing, dancing or children by her doctor (who also said that she would be limited by a lifelong limp). Fifteen years later, she went on to make the historic first ascent of Bonnie’s Roof after Hans Kraus backed down. How’s that for a comeback? The route follows the cliffs’ most obvious dihedral (a corner crack system) and is described by most as “very enjoyable.”


Shred some singletrack at Stewart State Forest.

weekend adventure, the gunks new york, climbing, biking

Get off the crag and onto a bike for 55-plus miles of singletrack riding trails.

If you’re ready to take a break from climbing, the area around New Paltz boasts some of New York’s best mountain biking. Stewart State Forest is located just 35 miles from the town and features over 50 miles of technical singletrack that can accommodate riders of all skill and experience.

Mohonk Preserve also features dozens of miles of carriage roads, many of which are steep and winding, providing additional opportunities to riding in an area that’s as beautiful as it is close.

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Where to stay

New Paltz is only a 10-minute drive away from the cliffs at the Gunks and just 35 minutes away from Stewart State Forest. The quaint college town has a variety of hostels, hotels, and bed & breakfasts. If you feel like roughing it, the Shawangunks campgrounds are located just outside of the preserve.

Where to eat

Breakfast - Main Street Bistro serves delicious, hearty and sweet or savory breakfasts.

Lunch - Pick up some sandwiches and snacks from the Mountain Harbor Deli on your way to The Gunks. It’s just a five minute drive from the cliffs. 

Dinner - Try the variety of daily dinner specials at Main Course, which is an award-winning farm-to-table restaurant and catering service.

weekend adventure, the gunks new york, climbing, biking

Showing up to The Gunks empty-handed or with an empty belly? No worries…we got you.

Where to get equipment

Climbing and Outdoor Gear Rentals - Rock & Snow, located in New Paltz, has been serving the area for over 40 years. They specialize in climbing and skiing gear and have equipment for both rental and purchase.

Cycling Gear and Bike Rentals - Bike Depot, also located in New Paltz, has a wide array of modern mountain bikes for rent, as well as bikes, parts, and equipment for purchase.

Need to hire a guide?

Alpine Endeavors is a locally owned-and-operated, AMGA accredited guide service; they’d be happy to show you the ropes while introducing you to The Gunks’ world class climbing sites.

Chances are that Chris Brinlee, Jr. wrote this from the road (or on a boat, plane, or train) while traveling around the globe. Wanna see what he’s currently up to? Follow his adventures and stories on Instagram.

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