Mysterious Cave and Rock Formation Found on Hudson Valley Hike
A short hike will lead you to one of the most fascinating sights in the Hudson Valley.
This weekend our family met up with some friends for a hike in the eastern part of Dutchess County. We've heard the legend of Stone Church but had never visited, so Labor Day weekend seemed like the perfect time to check it out.
We set out for Dover and, with the help of GPS, were able to locate the entrance on Route 22 in the center of town. With nothing but a small marker pointing to a hidden path, it's easy to miss. The lack of any official parking area was also difficult to navigate, but once we got our bearings we were ready to hike.
As we got further from the main road we were greeted by a tree-lined path that leads to the hiking area. The scenic walkway was an effective way to transition from our long drive to the peace and quiet of Stone Church.
Before the trail officially begins you can read up on the history of the strange rock formation. Legend has it that the giant natural cave was used as a hideout for Native Americans in the 17th century and was a popular wedding venue in the 1800s.
The trail to Stone Church is just 1.2 miles long. Most of the path is flat and easy, but as you get closer to the cave the dirt path disappears and is replaced with uneven rock formations. Our group of middle-aged adults and young children had no trouble navigating the rocks, but those who have mobility issues may find it a bit challenging, especially if it's recently rained and the rocks have become slippery.
As we got closer to Stone Church, we realized what all of the fuss was about. The enormous cave was simply breathtaking. When we visited, the Hudson Valley was experiencing drought conditions, so the waterfall inside the cave was just a trickle and the brook leading from it was barely flowing. While we weren't able to see Stone Church in its full glory, the dry spell allowed us to explore deeper inside the cave, which was a special treat.
A newly built bridge across the front of the cave offers a great spot to take in the enormity of this cave. A large triangle-shaped entrance that resembles a church window leads into a darkened, cool interior. Cracks and openings in the rocks above let in just enough sunlight to see the "altar" of the church seated at the bottom of the waterfall.
While the sights inside the Stone Church are simply breathtaking, it was almost more fun to watch the expressions on the faces of other hikers as they entered the massive cave and took in the impressive interior. We didn't run into anyone who wasn't blown away by the experience. Even a couple of grumpy hikers we witnessed complaining about the rough terrain admitted the Stone Church was totally worth it.
After a trip to the church, we opted to continue on the hiking paths. There are three trails that wind through the preserve. We decided we were up for a challenge and took the blue trail to the scenic overlook. After walking entirely uphill for one and a half miles we were a bit sweaty and sore, but it paid off with a magnificent view.
If you're looking for a fun hike and don't mind navigating some moderately rocky terrain, a trip to the stone church should definitely be on your short list of places to explore in the Hudson Valley.
Parking is available on weekends at the local elementary school and at a nearby shopping plaza. You can spend as little as an hour hiking to the cave and back or the whole day exploring the trails.
For those looking for even more adventure, the Harlem Valley Rail Trail is just a few miles up Route 22.