This spectacular mountain castle offers an extraordinary wilderness resort experience.
Ninety miles north of New York City, one enters a silent nature preserve at the ridge of the Shawangunk Mountains. Perched in this 1,000-acre oasis is the tranquil Mohonk Mountain House, with 85 miles of hiking trails to call its own. Unlike many Victorian-era mansions, this one has not only maintained its original splendor, but it has upped the ante several times over.
If you’re expecting someplace small and cozy, you’ll quickly discover that the word “house” is a misnomer. While not quite a castle, this impressive Hudson Valley resort-which is almost an eighth of a mile long- it recalls the royal residences of Europe. Adding to the striking appearance is its perch, fitted into massive rock formations on Shawangunk Ridge, overlooking Lake Mohonk. Thousands of acres of preserved land, webbed with 85 miles of hiking trails, surround it, and it’s easy to see how this landscape inspired the hotel’s founders.
Alfred K. Smiley came to this spot for a picnic in 1869, and within a year, along with his twin brother Albert, he owned the land and opened a ten-room inn and tavern. Now comprised of nine buildings, Mohonk Mountain House is a designated National Historic Landmark. It provides a quiet escape and comes by its peaceful ambience honestly. From 1895 to 1916, it hosted world peace conferences, and the Smileys—who were Quaker pacifists—were seminal in Andrew Carnegie’s creation of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The resort preserves its original 19th-century character in details such as carved woodwork, period furnishings and hearty hospitality. Guestrooms have a pleasant B&B feel to them, with their old-fashioned Victorian style. Each is individually furnished—you’ll find everything from wicker to brass to Mission-style oak—and many have balconies or fireplaces. There are also four seasonal guest cottages set 1,200 feet above the Wallkill and Rondout Valleys. One sits off the golf course’s second tee and is exclusive to adults only, while the most secluded cottage, Oakwoods, offers a particularly rustic mood, with a pine paneled living room, stone fireplace and screened-in porch.
While the accommodations are welcoming, guests are generally found outdoors. Recreation abounds, including ice skating (at the resort's own Skating Pavilion), daily hikes, fishing, carriage rides and golfing on a 9-hole course inspired by Scottish greens. Best of all, most of this is included in the price. In addition, the resort's 30,000-square-foot spa wing features 16 treatment rooms, a solarium and an outdoor heated mineral pool. There are also an indoor heated pool with an underwater sound system, a comprehensive fitness center and a yoga/motion studio. Seeking a little something extra on top of all these extras? Programs include culinary courses, tango dancing, rock climbing and gardening lessons, as well as comprehensive kids and teen programs.
The resort offers a Full American Plan, complete with meals in the elegant Main Dining Room (jackets for men) and seasonal outdoor barbecues and lobster cookouts. Spirits on the Sunset offers drinks and light fare overlooking the Catskills, and the Old-Fashioned Soda Fountain is a charming spot for coffee or milkshakes. Given that there are more than 300 fireplaces, many of them gorgeously hand-carved, it's hard not to feel relaxed and comfortable here, especially in the guest rooms. While tower rooms are pricey, they come with sweeping views and verandas. Individual cottages are surprisingly economical and have a rustic, homey feel. With six bedrooms, Grove Lodge, set in a scenic fern grove, is a top choice for family gatherings.