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Hiking Trails in the Catskills Mountains of New York

Hiking is perhaps the most popular activity in the Catskills.

The origin of many hiking trails in New York State have their roots in the Native American-made paths to various seasonal hunting grounds. Later, loggers with ponies pulled hemlocks out the Catskill forests to make tanning solution and bluestone quarriers dragged out huge slabs of this dense blue-grey rock to pave New York City. The intrepid artists of the Hudson River School used these trails to find beautiful panoramas to sketch and later paint in their studios. Naturalists such as John Burroughs recorded the variety of flora and fauna unique to the Catskill High Peaks while Ralph Waldo Emerson is inspired to write his groundbreaking essay Nature by the very same Catskills.

Fortunately for today’s Catskill hiker, there is a wide variety of hiking trails ranging from the most easy such as the paved and flat like the path along the Ashokan Reservoir. to extremely difficult three mountain loop of Devil’s Path or the ascent to Slide Mountain. Whatever the hiking level you desire, we have chosen the best of Catskills hiking that gives beautiful views; the payoff for what can be a most vigorous exercise!

How to Plan for a Catskill Mountain Hike

There are a few sensible precautions that need to be considered before embarking on a hike whether in New York or anywhere else. While the Catskills can be easily traveled to and are close to New York City, knowing your terrain is guaranteed to make for a more pleasant day. Not sure about hiking in the mountains on your own? Add some luxury and amenities to your New York getaway; look for local area resorts such as the Emerson that offer hiking packages with guided hikes and lodging.

What You Will Need To Hike the Catskill Mountains:

1) Water: Bring plenty of it as natural sources can be contaminated with giardia- unless it is marked as a natural spring.

2) Bugs: The hiking trails of the Catskills are cool and damp, so expect mosquitoes. And while lymes-disease carrying ticks generally prefer hot and dry conditions, its good practice to tuck pants into socks and use a strong insect repellent.

3) Gear: Do wear good hiking shoes with sturdy socks to prevent blisters. Dress light but carry a sweatshirt and rain poncho in your pack as the weather can change suddenly. A walking stick can be an excellent stabilizer if the terrain should get rough.

4) Animals: The Catskills are full of wildlife and none are dangerous as long as you respect their space. Bears are only a nuisance if you are camping with lots of unprotected food. Bears tend to be shy but if encountered; make some gentle noise and they should run off. Another concern can be snakes but if you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you. If you should see a rattler, admire it from a distance. Snakes are most often found on the sunny side of cliffs among large rocks and boulders.

5) Plan: Make sure you let someone know before you go off into the wilds. Take a map and don’t expect to rely on your cell phone GPS.

6) Respect: Lastly, bring out what you bring in. Paper and plastic have no place in nature.

Where to Hike: Choosing the Perfect New York Getaway in Nature

Very Easy Trails: Ashokan Reservoir & Colgate Lake
These hiking trails are good for families from grandparents to kids who need a level walking surface without dips or climbs.

• Ashokan Reservoir:
The Ashokan Reservoir’s two long walkways, one an actual promenade and the other a closed road the public now uses, provide a panorama of the Catskill Mountains and the pristine Ashokan Reservoir that serves as the drinking water for New York City.

Great for bicycles, walkers and wheelchairs, the two paths are beautiful stretches of wide paved paths that curve for 3 miles along the Ashokan Reservoir. To get to this wide mountain vista, travel to Winchell’s Corners on Route 28, turn onto Reservoir Road. At the junction of “BWS road” make a left and at 28A, make another left. Travel ¼ mile and make the next left and at the end of the road is a roundabout parking area for both paths.

• Colgate Lake:
A magical hidden gem off of Route 23A near Tannersville, this pristine, man-made lake is open for swimming, although there are no lifeguards or roped in areas so visitors need to take appropriate precautions. There is a small trail that circumnavigates the entire lake that is bowled in by mountains. Caution must be used around Colgate Lake as there can be poison ivy.

Easy NY Hiking Trails: Kaaterskill Falls, North-South Lake, and Diamond Notch Falls

• Kaaterskill Falls: 
The two tiered falls of 175 and 85 feet are the highest waterfalls in New York State. The lower Kaaterskill Falls is reached by a trail beginning on Route 23A. Driving east from Tannersville and Haines Falls, park on the area to the right before the highway makes its steep descent down the mountain. Then, walk carefully along the road until you reach a hairpin turn and the falls are seen on your left. To reach Kaaterskill Falls from the top, travel east on 23A and make a left onto Country Rd 18 by the Twilight Deli and then, about a mile later, a right onto Laurel House Road. Park at the end of the road and follow the trail 1/5 of a mile to a worn bank supported by wooden beams.

This is the top of Kaaterskill Falls and extreme caution must be used to descend onto the huge boulders to get a look at the valley below. We do not recommend a descent as the ground is slippery and there are many injuries, but there is a small short trail that runs to the right. Walking with care, you can get a nice side view of the falls and the natural amphitheater it has carved out over the centuries.

• Escarpment trail North-South Lake:
The short hike to the site of the Catskill Mountain House provides the reward of incredible vistas of the Hudson Valley and the Berkshires beyond. Longer and more strenuous hikes can bring you to such spots as Artist’s Rock, Sunset Rock, Newman’s Ledge, Boulder Rock, and the Kaaterskill Hotel and Laurel House sites. Follow the well-marked trails and maps to lead you where you want to go. Swimming is permitted at North-South Lake, but only when there is a lifeguard present.

• Diamond Notch Falls: 
This hike has an amazing variety of indigenous, native plants and flowers that grow along the path. Please note that any digging or picking of greenery is strictly prohibited. The walk is steep in places, but not difficult to navigate. The waterfalls add a special interest and there is a wooden bridge above the falls that offers a different view of the cascade. Travel up Route 214 to Lanesville, turn left onto Diamond Notch Road and park at the very end. The trail starts at the far right corner of the lot.

Catskills Mountains

Moderate NY Hiking Trails: Hunter Mountain, Overlook Mountain & Giant Ledge-Panther Mt. Trail

• Hunter Mountain: 
For a unique experience, take the Sky Ride from the Hunter Mountain Ski Center. The lift will take you up a 1600 foot vertical from the valley floor. A 2 mile hike from there will take you to the fire tower with beautiful views of the Catskill High Peaks, but this is a steep challenge. Less active hikers may want to enjoy the view from where the Hunter Sky Ride leaves you off and just hike back down to the base.

• Overlook Mountain: 
This popular hike is located a couple of miles north of the Village of Woodstock. Take Rock City Road north from the Village Green all the way to the top of Overlook Mountain where it will change its name to Mead’s Mt. Road. Parking is on the right and the trail is to the left. The climb is steep and uphill for 2.5 miles but the 360 degree view from the fire tower at the mountaintop is the best in the Catskills! Also note an abandoned ruin of a stone hotel from the 1930s about 2 miles up. Great for dramatic photographs or an eerie romantic picnic!

• Giant Ledge-Panther Mt. Trail:
This trail starts out easy with yellow markers and then switches to the more challenging blue markers after the spectacular view of Giant Ledge. Giant Ledge is located roughly 1.6 miles up the trail and afterwards, the trail follows a North-South Ridge for another mile that offers more lovely Catskill Mountain vistas.

Difficult NY Hiking Trails: Slide Mountain & Devil’s Tombstone

• Slide Mountain 
Another tough hike, but the Slide Mountain Hiking Trail is also the most rewarding! With an elevation of 1780 feet and a 5.4 mile round trip, you will need lots of water and good hiking boots. Slide Mountain is the highest peak in the Catskills, so the view from the summit is unparalleled. To get there, drive to the end of Woodland Valley Road off Route 28 near Phoenicia and travel to the very end to the Woodland Valley Campground. The trail head will be on the left with parking on the right.

• Devil’s Path: 
Also known as Devil’s Tombstone, this trail is known as the toughest hiking path in the Eastern United States. Nonetheless, hikers are drawn to it as it allows them to cover 5 mountain peaks in one excursion. The Devil’s Path is a self guided trail that can be done in three sections or combined. The first section, Plateau Mountain, is 8 miles roundtrip and it culminates in a nice view over to Hunter Mountain. Then the trail levels out (hence the plateau) and the highest point is at the far eastern end about 2 miles away. Continue on a short distance from the summit and a view of Sugarloaf Mountain opens up. The Hunter Mountain Section is 4.15 miles and the West Kill Mountain Section is 7 miles for a total of 24.20 miles of hiking. The best access is to drive from Phoenicia 8 miles north on Route 214 and park at the Devils Tombstone day use parking area on the left. The trail head starts on the right after the enormous rock that purports to be the actual Devil’s Tombstone.

Whatever your chosen skill level, it will be easy to find just the right hike in New York’s Catskills.

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