Love Letter

I Rediscovered My Happy Childhood at Mohonk Mountain House

by Joanna Prisco

Photo: Courtesy of Mohonk Mountain House

Brooklynite Joanna Prisco introduces her boyfriend to a childhood love in upstate New York. Mohonk Mountain House is a modern, old-fashioned resort for nature hikes, lunch by the lake, and lazy afternoons.

NEW PALTZ, New York – "I have to see a thing a thousand times before I see it once," wrote Thomas Wolfe in You Can't Go Home Again, and I wondered if the same held true for me. Could the modern-day Mohonk Mountain House resort possibly live up to the wood and Shawungunk stone castle that lived within my memories? Weaving down the familiar roads of my childhood in upstate New York, the question rolled around my head like an empty water bottle in the backseat.

I had spent countless hours hiking the 85 miles of Mohonk Preserve trails during my youth, pulling classmates and friends over its various rock scrambles, and wandering the gardens in moments of Smiths-fueled teenaged angst. Staring across Lake Mohonk toward the hotel from one of the scenic overlooks during autumn would always bring a still satisfaction. In the dappled light, the Victorian buildings cloaked with foliage seemed to me the most romantic place on earth.

"Are we almost there?" asked my boyfriend, who had gleefully driven our slick, maraschino red SL550 (thanks for the loaner, Mercedez-Benz!) the 90 miles north from New York City to the Hudson Valley. He had never visited the resort before, and this was our first trip together, adding another layer of pressure.

What if time had embroidered my recollections? What if the rooms had fallen into disrepair? What if the food was inedible?

But I needn't have worried.

Mohonk Mountain House

Mohonk Gardens

The Victorian buildings and sprawling gardens. Photos: Courtesy of Mohonk Mountain House

The Smiley family, which has operated the resort since its founding in 1869, embarked on a massive $13 million renovation a few years back, and the results seamlessly marry the property's traditional architecture with refreshed furnishings and updated amenities. And as soon as we checked in, I began to exhale.

The resort offers roughly 259 guest rooms in five different styles. But if one is available, you would do well to reserve a corner suite overlooking the mountains, and immerse yourself in the muted yellows and taupe décor that feels oh-so Anne of Green Gables.

Sky Top Tower

Sky Top Tower. Photo: Joanna Prisco

After changing into our sneakers, we spent the next few hours hiking the dirt paths and stony Labyrinth en route to The Lemon Squeeze, a crack between two rock formations just wide enough for humans to fit through single file and climb up to the highest point of the preserve: Sky Top Tower. The Lemon Squeeze requires a certain level of familiarity between you and your hiking partner, as one of you will likely be sticking your bottom in the other's face while trying to grip walls slick with condensation to find footholds that will allow you to shove yourself up through the hole at the top of the crevice. Ultimately, it's worth it.

After scaling the dewy walls of the Squeeze, the sprawling treetop views from 973 feet up should have been reward enough for our efforts. But after a few minutes of reflection, we decided that an outdoor lunch would also be appropriate.

Summerhouse and Lake

By the lake. Photo: Courtesy of Mohonk Mountain House

Room rates at the resort are inclusive of three daily meals and many activities. While dinners in the main hall require formal attire, midday lunches at The Granary or Picnic Lodge are shorts- and flip-flop-friendly. Lured by the smell of sizzling ribs and wings, we headed directly to the BBQ buffet overlooking the lake and loaded our plates high with burgers and mac 'n' cheese.

As our impromptu entertainment over al fresco fare, a group of children were competing to see who could remain standing on a floating log that was anchored to the lake bottom. They were so focused, they didn't even stop to take selfies.

To bookend that puerile scene, just two picnic benches away, a septuagenarian couple were enjoying lunch in their crisp tennis whites. They held hands across the table for the entire meal. It was so sweet, we didn't feel any need for dessert.

Mohonk Spa

A relexation veranda and indoor heated pool at the spa. Photos: Jim Smith Photography, courtesy of Mohonk Mountain House

A trip to the award-winning spa, on the other hand, was a must. The 30,000-square-foot wing was built using 600 tons of local Shawungunk Ridge rock, giving both the exterior and the interior a natural mountain aesthetic. An outdoor heated mineral pool offers a luxurious twist on the more rustic public basins at nearby Minnewaska, while the indoor swimming pool, saunas, and steam room provide ample pre- and post-treatment detox. Do yourself a favor and take time to partake in all of these restoratives. Then settle into the gorgeous solarium with a cup of tea and wait for whichever magic treatment you've booked, with or without your date.

If said date is not into that sort of thing, then he should bring a book and a cocktail to Sunset Porch, as my boyfriend was wont to do.

There are no televisions in the rooms at Mohonk Mountain House, but that's what a DVR is for. With so many outdoor distractions during the day — hiking, swimming, boating, paddle boarding, golf, tennis, horseback riding — sleep comes quickly at night, and you will unexpectedly rise again early the next morning to do it all over again.

And after your stay, you will find yourself clinging to those sun-soaked experiences as you drive back down the mountain, hands intertwined like the old romantic couple that has been returning year after year.

"We should come back," said my boyfriend before we'd even exited onto the main road. It was as if he'd read my mind.


Mohonk Mountain House
1000 Mountain Rest Rd.
New Paltz, NY 12561


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U.S. Road Trips: The Northeast

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