Thanks to Instagram, my fall travel fixation was visiting Mohonk Mountain House. A friend posted a picture taken there on a work retreat and I was entranced. A majestic estate surrounded by rocky cliffs and lush forest on an alpine lake – it seemed like a real life American Hogwarts. Sold! I was already considering an early October little solo retreat somewhere so I thought this place would be perfect…until my budgetary reality check.
The rooms are typically over $600 a night. While this included all meals, it was a still bit more than I was able to spend at the time. Fortunately, I did find another way to have a daylong Mohonk Mountain House experience within my budget. Learn how I did it in my post below!
The resort offers various day guest packages including for those dining in their restaurants or receiving a spa service. You can enjoy the house and grounds, including the 85 miles of hiking trails, that day starting at 8:30 am. My revised budget friendly plan was to drive up with my friend, Connie in the morning and stay for lunch and into the afternoon.
Pre-paid reservations for a meal are a most and you have to call them… on the phone! I called a few days ahead and booked lunch at a specific time. Mohonk serves breakfast, lunch and dinner but in terms of maximizing our time there, lunch was the best option. The buffet lunch was about $90 a person including tax and tip, so not cheap, but much more affordable. I was told the dress code was casual but not athletic wear, which could mean an outfit change if you plan to do some serious hiking.
It was an easy drive about 2 hours from my home in Jersey City. Their website casually mentions a public transit option of taking Metro North to Poughkeepsie then taking a taxi. Sounds easy, but don’t be fooled! The train is across the Hudson river about a 40 minute drive away. I didn’t realize this until my “taste of Mohonk” plan was fully in motion and we were mapping the route to drop Connie off at the train. Oops. It worked out but just not what we expected.
The first thing you’ll encounter once you arrive to property is a stone gatehouse with a friendly attendant with a clipboard. They will check said clipboard for the name on your meal/spa/hotel reservation and let you through. Yes, no playing on the reservations! It’s then a 2 mile scenic drive up hill to the mountain house.
A Little History
At the top, you’ll find massive resort overlooking rolling hills below. I was surprised that the building was a bright green. When we walked in through the unassuming entrance, it immediately cozy, nostalgic and a bit luxurious.
We took the free and very popular daily house tour at 11:15 am and learned about the 150 year old resort that is still owned by the founding family, the Smileys. While an all inclusive mountain resort is unusual today, it was common back in the late 1800’s when well healed families would “summer” for months at a time at mountain houses where all their food and activities could be enjoyed at one location. Today, Mohonk is the only remaining mountain house in New York.
The founders were Quakers and educators and they used the resort to support causes that were important to them; most notably hosting early gatherings for what ultimately became the United Nations. You’ll see pictures of American presidents, religious leaders, and founders of universities who stayed as guests on the tour.
The tour ends by the the massive dining room and we decided to try and head to lunch an hour ahead of our reserved seating because we were hungry. That was NBD and we were promptly seated at a table near the expansive windows overlooking the valley.
The room has high ceilings and warm wood paneling with the buffet stations in the middle. I’d describe the food as contemporary American with a little for everyone. The menu varies by day, but we had made-to-order ramen, tacos and pasta options as well as a steak and fish carving station and hot and cold self-serve bars. One special touch was a chef artfully plating a composed fall salad. It was nutty so my allergic self appreciated it from afar. After sampling many dishes, the greatest hits were the lemongrass carrot soup, asparagus, roasted chicken, cheese plate and of course, desserts!
My favorite dessert was a light and tender almond cake with sour cherry compote. I’d mentioned we were celebrating Connie’s birthday when I made the reservation, so in addition to the excellent cakes, mousse and tarts on the bar, we also got a personalized birthday molten chocolate cake. Better yet our server offered us to-go boxes so we could back up extra dessert for the road…at a buffet. Unheard of! We accepted, of course, and also got our coffee to go so we could take them on our much needed hike around the grounds. All of this was included in the price I’d paid online. We did treat ourselves to wine, which was the only additional cost.
To Those Views
Given that I treated the buffet lunch like it was my last meal, I was in serious need of a walk afterwards. We chatted with the person at the information kiosk outside and decided on a short scenic hike to Sky Top Tower.
It’s basically a paved trail with very cute covered lookout points capturing resort along the way, which was great for ducking out of the intermittent rain. It was somewhat steep but easy. We saw a couple of octogenarians walking along the way.
At the top, there’s a stone tower dedicated to Albert Smiley the founder.
You can enjoy the views from the grounds surrounding the tower or take the winding stairs to the top of the tower for an even more majestic perspective.
Good Vibes All Around
We could feel a sense of pride from everyone we encountered working there. The grounds are well taken care of and overall, it’s a very welcoming environment. We felt at home roaming and wandering around and we were encouraged to do so.
Back down at the house, you’ll find many nooks, crannies, porches and alcoves for relaxing and taking in the lake and house. We rocked in chairs on a deck overlooking the lake and quietly read (from our phones) in a study. Bringing a physical book would be a great move too. ha. Also, if you’re a low key napper the possibilities are endless.
Tea Time On Set
Tea and cookies are served at 4pm each day at Mohonk Mountain House. Somehow, we were able to find space to eat a few shortbread cookies and take tea after our gigantic lunch. Hey, we like “free things”.
We took our tea and settled into a cozy room with antique lamps and plush arm chairs. It legit felt like we were on the set of murder mystery sans murder of course. I watched all of the BBC Agatha Christie’s “Miss Marple” series and am well acquainted with “Murder She Wrote” so I know what I’m talking about. Jessica Fletcher or Miss Marple would have felt right at home here. I loved it.
Till Next Time
That wraps up my trip to Mohonk Mountain House. The genuine hospitality, rich history and beauty come together to create a singular American experience. I hope to return again and do more hiking and exploring in another season especially now that I know my Instagram fantasy can be realized within budget.