Blue Hole Loop, New York
This is an 83-mile loop through the southern Catskill Mountains from New Paltz, New York. It includes a nice camping site at about the halfway point. Although sections of the route share the road with moderate volumes of traffic governed by posted speed limits of 55 mph, those sections are reasonably safe for someone with at least intermediate bike riding skills and experience. There is some climbing but I wouldn't say it's terribly challenging for someone in reasonable physical shape. The ride starts/ends at a 254-foot elevation and reaches a maximum of slightly under 1,800 feet. Total climbing is 6,571 feet. Most of the route is rural and very scenic -- it passes the famous 'Gunks' rock climbing walls, several of New York City's Catskill reservoirs, low mountains, rivers and streams, well-maintained small villages, and a high railroad trestle. It finishes up on a rail trail. The best part is the access. New Paltz is within a three-hour drive of much of the Northeast. -- Rich Ehli and Rich Moore
Our destination: a popular swimming hole a few miles east of the hamlet of Sundown on Peekamoose Road. If it is a hot day and you are camping nearby at Bull Run or returning from a hike up Peekamoose Mountain, it is nice to know it’s there. A short walk from trailhead parking for Peekamoose brings you to a path leading down to a large, deep pool with a sandy bottom.
On a hot day in the summer, you may find a small crowd of locals gathered here by the cold, clear waters of Roundout Creek. The Rondout begins a few miles away on the slopes of Rocky, Balsam, and Peekamoose, several of the higher points of the eroded plateau known as the Catskill Mountains. From Blue Hole, it flows southwest to a New York City reservoir, and what’s not captured for the city’s needs circles back eastward to join with the Walkill River before emptying into the Hudson at Kingston. It was at the mouth of this creek where early settlers established a trading post with the local tribes and a redoubt (spoken as “rondout” in Dutch) for protection. For a good part of the way, the route parallels the Rondout or its main tributary, the Wallkill.
This bike overnight ride brings you to picturesque pastoral and forested settings far from the daily existence we might call the ‘real world.’ Yet it is surprisingly accessible to most of us who live within that great swath of urban sprawl stretching from Philadelphia to Boston. Since this is a loop ride, you’re free to choose your own starting point -- but we’d recommend the public lot in New Paltz near the corner of North Chestnut Street (SR 32) and Mulberry Street. Unlike some other municipal lots in town, this one allows overnight parking (up to 72 hours) and offers direct access to the Walkill Valley Rail Trail. The route leaves west from New Paltz on SR 299. The Shwangunk Ridge appears on your right as you cross the Walkill and remains your companion as you reach its base where SR 299 meets US44.
The sport of rock climbing in the U.S. began here, and it continues to be a popular destination for climbers. US 44/55 ascends up through the “Trapps,” a cliff face of considerable renown within the climbing community, and the grade steepens to an average of 10 percent for the next 1.5 miles. But the shoulder widens, giving the rider more room to attack the hill. Should you stop to rest along the way, look carefully at the cliffs above for the presence of tiny figures inching up the face.
A second climb begins a mile past the first one and brings you over Shwangunk Ridge. After a 6-mile downhill coast to US 209, the hills diminish and the countryside transitions from rural to forest. At Bull Run you will find a choice of spacious campsites along the left bank of Rondout Creek easily reached from the road.
The site is operated by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, but it's not actively managed. Camping is primitive but comfortable. Water is available from the Rondout, and cold beverages from the convenience store passed in Sundown, 2 miles back. The return to New Paltz continues east on Peekamoose Road to SR 28A at West Shokan. In between, the road climbs gradually at a 4 percent grade for six miles and then plunges at 10 percent over the next mile. Be careful not to blow a tire from an overheated rim on the descent (as happened to one of us). SR 28A curves around the Ashokan Reservoir to Olivebridge, where SR 213 offers a more direct route south to Rosendale. Alternatively, you can continue farther on 28A and return via Hurley, which adds an extra five miles.
Both alternatives meet at CR 7 in Rosendale, which will return you to New Paltz directly or via the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail. The CR 7 route and the rail-trail route are about the same distance from Rosendale to New Paltz. The trail is popular with cyclists and joggers despite its unrefined surface of packed dirt and gravel, and a downed limb here and there.
Route Directions: The following links connect to complete route maps in Bikely.com. In the menu bar above the map, you can navigate to a cue sheet and elevation profile for each route (Show/Whole Route, Elevation Profile, Cue Sheet). Wait about six Mississippi’s for the cue sheet to appear. And enjoy. The mapped New Paltz-Blue Hole Loop is an 80-mile circuit that returns to New Paltz via High Falls and CR 7 (Springtown Road). A longer return option, by about five miles, is Olivebridge to Rosendale via Hurley, which takes SR 28A around to the east side of Ashokan Reservoir before turning east to Hurley and then south to Rosendale where the rider has a choice of Rosendale to New Paltz via Springtown Road (CR 7) or the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail. One Last Word: safety first, always. Make no mistake, this is a great ride on mostly quiet country roads, but considering the sometimes skimpy shoulders, fast-moving traffic, and occasional long climb or descent you’ll encounter along the way, it is probably too intense and physically demanding for most children age ten years and under. Nor can we recommended it to the inexperienced or out of shape of any age.
Tip for this adventure: Bring a bathing suit!