To stay at the family-owned Mohonk Mountain House on a weekend might cost upward of $500 a night -- but to enjoy the grand historic lodge's grounds as a daytripper costs as little as $25 a person. With a drive of about 75 miles to New Paltz from New York City, a day trip is worth the travel time for Long Islanders.


EXPLORING THE GROUNDS

Upon arrival, guests park in a lot at the entrance to Mohonk's vast property and are presented with a hiker's map to the grounds, part of the Shawangunk Mountains (also known as the Gunks). From there, it's either a 2 1/2-mile walk to the main campus or a free shuttle bus ride. I'd recommend the shuttle -- our driver regaled us with the history of Mohonk Mountain House, established in 1869.

The hotel is a National Historic Landmark, and the building didn't disappoint: The 266-room Victorian castle has a two-level wraparound porch filled with rocking chairs overlooking Lake Mohonk. Beyond the building is an enormous recreational property offering rowing on a placid lake, hiking the surrounding majestic cliffs or horseback riding on carriage roads. In winter, sports such as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and ice skating are available.

Three hikes of varying difficulty lead to the most popular destination on the property -- the Sky Top Tower, a stone memorial to Mohonk founder Albert Smiley. Visitors can climb stairs to the top. On a clear day, you'll see six states. Hikers pass rustic gazebos the hotel quaintly calls "summer houses."

Daytrippers can rent canoes, rowboats, paddle boats or kayaks for $12 per half-hour through October, weather dependent. There also are carriage rides (from $13 a person) and one-hour horseback rides ($38). Visitors can play a round of golf ($17-$25 for 9 holes) or check out the free flying disc course if they bring their own Frisbee.

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A MEAL (AND MORE)

Although we brought our own picnic, visitors can opt to take a meal in one of the resort's dining rooms. Springing for breakfast, lunch or dinner grants access to the hotel's interior. Meals cost $40.59-$70.73 a person ($23.99-$36.90 ages 4-12) and include grounds admission as well as access to a wider range of activities, such as bike rental ($30 for 4 hours), complimentary shuffleboard and croquet or the tennis courts ($12-$17 an hour per person). Reservations are required.

Alas, neither day hikers nor meal guests are allowed to swim in the lake.

Naturally, fall foliage season is a big draw to Mohonk. Day visitors should arrive before 11 a.m. because the grounds can reach hiking capacity and the trails will close. Those with meal reservations are guaranteed hiking access.


IF YOU GO

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Mohonk Mountain House

1000 Mountain Rest Rd., New Paltz.

800-772-6646, mohonk.com

ADMISSION $20-$25 adults ($15-$20 ages 4-12) or $50-$65 for two adults and two children.