If you’re heading north to New York State, you need to spend a few days exploring the Catskill Mountains. It’s a beautiful area year-round and draws almost 2 million visitors each year. One of the best ways to capture the essence of the Catskills is to head out to a trailhead. The hiking opportunities in the Catskills are endless and provide spectacular views, luscious greenery, wildlife viewing, and hidden waterfalls. Let’s take a look at the best hikes in the Catskills so you can decide which trail you’ll hit up first!
What Are the Catskills?
The Catskills are a mountain range in New York State, about 100 miles north of New York City and 40 miles southwest of Albany. More than 30 peaks tower above 3,500 feet in this mountain range, which is part of the largest Appalachian Mountains. Within the Catskills is the Catskill Park, over 700,000 acres that are part of New York’s Forest Preserve. Hiking, skiing, and camping are common outdoor activities here.
Is Hiking in the Catskills Safe?
It’s always important to read reviews and know your limits before heading out on a trail. But generally, hiking in the Catskills is safe. In fact, visitors should take a hike when they visit to enjoy the stunning beauty of the area. There are easy and moderate hikes, and more challenging hikes reserved for experienced hikers. So, whether you’re looking for a steep incline to climb or an easy loop around a pond, there’s a trail for every type of adventurer.
No matter what time of year or how easy the trail is, it’s important to wear the proper gear. Keep up with the weather and dress accordingly. Proper footwear is essential. You might also want to invest in a couple of walking sticks for muddy conditions. It’s also recommended that you hike with someone else or at least tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll return.
Are There Bears in the Catskills?
There are black bears all over the east coast mountain ranges. According to the Catskills Mountaineer, “The Catskill Mountains have approximately 1,500 to 2,000 black bears…the highest density population of Black Bears in New York State. The north side of the Kaaterskill Mountain Range (around 1800-3,300′) has the highest density population in the Catskill Mountains.” However, black bears prefer to stay away from humans and usually stick with animal trails rather than human trails.
If you’re hiking in the Catskills, you could encounter a black bear. You might see claw marks on trees where they’ve marked their territory. Stay away from areas with ripe food like berry bushes, and always stay alert. If you do see a bear, don’t run away. Back away slowly and avoid staring. It’s always a good idea to hike with bear spray.
Pro Tip: Make sure to pack these 10 Hiking Essentials You Should Never Hit the Trail Without when heading to the Catskills.
7 Best Hikes in the Catskills You Shouldn’t Miss
Whether you’re looking to enjoy the blooms of spring or the colors of fall, there are amazing opportunities to connect with nature in the Catskills. Below are the best hikes in the Catskills, ranging from easy to moderate.
1. Giant Ledge
It will take you about four hours to complete the Giant Ledge Trail. The 1,981-foot elevation gain makes this hike somewhat difficult. You’ll encounter a rocky and steep first half, and some challenging inclines the farther you hike. Several ledges provide spectacular views for hikers. This is an out-and-back trail, so remember you’ll have to go back once you reach the top of Panther Mountain.
Hike Length: 6.3 miles
How to Get There: From Oliveira, take Oliveira Slide Mountain Road to the Panther Mountain Trailhead parking lot for a less than 10-minute drive. From Claryville, take Frost Valley Road to Oliveira Road to the parking lot for a 30 to 35-minute drive. The small parking lot fills up quickly, but road parking is nearby. Once you start the trail, follow the yellow blazes first, and then follow the blue blazes.
2. Sam’s Point
It’s easy to see why it’s one of the best hikes in the Catskills. Sam’s Point at the Minnewaska State Park Preserve provides hikers with a trail through an endangered ecosystem of a Rare Dwarf Pitch Pine Barren, one of the few remaining in the world. Hikers will also encounter cliffs and ice caves where snow is still possible even into July. Beautiful views of High Point Monument in New Jersey, the Hudson Valley. You can see the Catskills and Roundout Valley throughout the trail. In addition, hikers will pass the cascading Verkeerder Kill Falls and the Old Berry Picker Shacks.
Hike Length: 8.3 miles
How to Get There: From Ellenville, take Highway 52 to Cragsmoor Road to Sams Point Road to the Minnewaska State Park Preserve: Sam’s Point Area parking lot for a 15-minute drive. From Crawford, take Oregon Trail to Highway 52 to Cragsmoor Road to Sams Point Road to the parking lot for an 18 to 20-minute drive. Reservations are required for parking on weekends and holidays from May to October. Make sure to plan ahead. Note this is a 100% carry-in/carry-out park.
3. Ashokan Rail Trail
This out-and-back trail leads hikers along the banks of the Ashokan Reservoir from West Hurley to Boiceville. It parallels Highway 28. There’s only a slight grade with an overall elevation gain of 380 feet. As one of the best hikes in the Catskills, the gravel trail is about 10 feet wide, allowing for an easy passageway on high-traffic days. It offers a wooded hike with some beautiful views of the Ashokan Reservoir.
Hike Length: 11.2 miles
How to Get There: Follow Highway 28 from either direction. It’s a straight shot and easy to find.
4. Kaaterskill Falls
Taking hikers a little less than an hour to complete, the trail to Kaaterskill Falls has a slight elevation gain of less than 400 feet but a constant up-and-down path along steps to reach the waterfall. The path can be crowded because of its popularity, but it’s worth the hike for the spectacular scene at the falls. You can dip in the pool if you’d like to cool off before heading back out.
Hike Length: 1.6 miles
How to Get There: Located east of Tannersville and west of Palenville, the trailhead is off Laurel House Road. Follow 23A from either direction and turn onto North Lake Road near Twilight Park. Less than 2 miles will be Laurel House Road on the right.
5. Hunter Mountain Fire Tower
This is the easiest route to climb Hunter Mountain with no technical sections or rock scrambles. Follow the blue blazes to the yellow blazes. Once you switch to the yellow blazes, there’s an open ledge at the John Robb Lean-To. It offers spectacular views of Southwest Hunter, West Kill, North Dome, Mount Sherrill, Sleeping Lion, and the hamlet of Spruceton down in Spruceton Valley. Once you arrive at the fire tower, the 360-degree view can’t be beat. This hike has an overall elevation gain of over 1,800 feet for an uphill climb the entire way to the fire tower.
Hike Length: 6.9 miles
How to Get There: The trailhead is near Spruceton along Hunter Brook. Follow Highway 42 to Spruceton Road/Highway 6 at West Kill. After you pass West Kill Brewing on the left, start looking for the parking lot on the left. If it’s full, which is likely if you don’t arrive early, there’s an additional parking lot about 1,000 feet farther on the right.
6. Frick Pond Loop
This loop trail near Livingston Manor isn’t among the most popular trails in the Catskills, so you won’t encounter the crowds you might see on other hikes. The overall elevation gain is 826 feet. If you hike counterclockwise, the first 1.8 miles are uphill to the highest point on the trail at 2,751 feet. There’s a slight descent and then another shorter uphill climb before starting a steady downhill hike for the last 3 miles or so. It’s a beautiful well-marked loop around Frick Pond with wide paths.
Hike Length: 6.5 miles
How To Get There: The Frick Pond Trailhead is north of DeBruce in the Willowemoc Wild Forest. If traveling from Willowemoc, follow Willowemoc Road to Mongaup Road. At the fork, veer left onto Beech Mountain Road for a short 15-minute drive. If traveling from Livingston Manor, follow DeBruce Road to Mongaup Road to Beech Mountain Road for a 20-minute drive.
7. Catskills Scenic Trail
If you don’t want to hike all 24.9 miles of the trail, it’s still a beautiful, easy hike to whatever point you choose. The trail goes through woods, fields, and even small towns. There are nice views of the hill country and brooks along the way. The path varies between dirt and grass, but it’s level with no rock scrambling.
Hike Length: 24.9 miles
How to Get There: From Bloomville, take Highway 10 and turn left onto Feed Store Road to reach the trailhead parking lot. You’ll hike east towards Hubbell Corners from this location. If you want to start near Hubbell Corners, take Highway 30 north for about 1 mile to reach the other end of the Catskills Scenic Trail.
Pro Tip: Make day hiking easy by using one of these 10 Best Daypacks: Lightweight Hiking Packs for Your Essentials.
What Is the Hardest Hike in the Catskills?
On AllTrails, there are 71 trails near Catskills Park in New York with a “hard” rating. Black Dome is one of the most difficult and can be combined with several other trails to offer epic views. Another difficult hike is Dix Range from Elk Lake. It has an overall elevation gain of 5,500 feet, with five to seven summits to climb depending on your route. Only experienced hikers should attempt this 20-mile tough and rugged hike.
Finally, Devil’s Path is 24 miles of intense, technical hiking in New York State. It presents serious challenges for experienced hikers but also provides amazing views and captures the essence of the Catskills. The various summits include Indian Head, Twin, Sugarloaf, Plateau, Hunter, West Kill, and St. Anne’s for an elevation gain of almost 9,000 feet. If you hike Devil’s Path, you’ve earned serious bragging rights.
Enjoy the Best Hikes in the Catskills
The Catskills are a stunning escape from the bustling city life of New York City. Just two hours north, you can enjoy farm-to-table fare, shop farmer’s markets, and hop from winery to brewery. It’s not just a superb hiking destination, although that’s why many outdoor enthusiasts hit the road for the Catskills.
If you’re looking for an adventure – whether you’re an experienced hiker or a novice – there are great opportunities to enjoy nature through hiking. These are the best hikes in the Catskills. Try an easy trail and move your way up to a moderate hike. Or will you attempt to go home bragging about conquering the Devil’s Path?
Which trail best suits your abilities and desires? Tell us in the comments!
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