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Sometimes it takes a move to the Adirondacks to get to the Catskills

Summer Fun 2017

Sometimes it takes a move to the Adirondacks to get to the Catskills

I’ll admit that I went in with different hike planned
Sometimes it takes a move to the Adirondacks to get to the Catskills
The relatively easy hike to Boulder Rock pays off big time with expansive views across the Hudson River valley.
Photographer: ZACHARY MATSON

It wasn’t until I moved inside the Adirondack blue line that I made it to the Catskills.

When I moved to New York less than two years ago, all I wanted to do was see more of the Adirondacks. I drove the over two hours north from Schenectady to the Garden trailhead or Dix Wilderness and started racking up High Peaks. In the rush north, I put off a necessary and essential trip to the great forest preserve of the north's southern cousin: the Catskills.

To get there from from the Capital Region head south on I-87, and start looking to get off at Exit 23 — the couple of exits after that will also get you near the preserve. Drive east on 23, south on 32 and into the park on 23A. From there a right onto N. Lake Road will take you past some homes up to some trailheads. The popular Kaaterskill Falls are nearby — look for the signs.

CATSKILL HIKING SUMMER MATSON 1.JPG

The Scutt Road trailhead is less than 90 minutes from the Daily Gazette’s Schenectady newsroom – about two hours from my new Adirondack home. So I went down there in May to see what I have been missing.

As soon as you cross into the state parkland, the setting quickly turns from near-interstate river valley to rugged terrain. The quicker-than-expected climb pays off with dramatic views out across the Hudson River and east across central New York toward New England.

I’ll admit that I went in with a different hike planned but had to adapt after an early but recoverable hiking error. I confused one trail start with another and had my map all flipped around.

So instead of heading uphill to North Mountain and the beautiful-looking — according to online pictures and hiking reports — overlook at the ledge there, I zipped past the North-South Lake state campground and met up with the Escarpment Trail. The Escarpment Trail runs over 20 miles — and extends along the even longer Long Trail.

Once you reach that trail you are enchanted by broad views across a deep valley. Down below a stream runs down to the Hudson, with the roads following too. Across the open expanse, Kaaterskill High Peak and Round Top Mountain rise in a massive dome.

The trail skirts through a mix of pines and hardwoods, open and more along the sloped edge of the ravine, moving toward the even broader views down the Hudson River valley. Large, flat ledges — great for a simple backpack picnic — jut out toward the deep ravine, providing views up the stream valley. Large homes — nice camps with pricey views — dot one large hillside. Untouched tracts of forest stretch out in all directions.

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After the trail loops back into the deep woods, a secondary trails heads a short distance to Boulder Rock. This outcropping sits on the eastern edge of the Catskills, affording the most expansive views of the day.

Remember the quick turn up the hill after a long ride down from the Capital? That put you up high enough that all these views can be yours with only gradual uphill climbs and a few moderate miles of hiking.

Websites to check out

  • CNY Hiking: Chock-full of information about trails in the Adirondacks as well, this website spells out in detail hikes many of the best-tread trails in the Catskills region. The summaries are helpful and the pictures and maps give you a good idea of what you are in for.
  • Catskill Mountaineer: For a more locale-specific take on the Catskills, check out this website. It covers the area's highest peaks, but lots of other hikes too and local news about the trails.
  • Catskillhiker.net: Another nice compilation of Catskills hikes that can easily be found on the web.

A few hikes that look good for a return trip

  • Escarpment: The little bit of the trail that I did see was worth every penny, so taking a little more time from the hustle and bustle to bang out nearly two-dozen miles on foot is on the list. Hit another section or try hiking the whole trail in a weekend if your up to it, but make sure to schedule a pick-up or park a second car at the end of the trail.
  • High Peaks: Like any mountainous region of the world, there are the Catskills High Peaks. Down there, they count from 3,500 feet and up. But that still leaves 35 summits to tackle before you have mastered the park’ hilltops. That gives you 81 forest preserve summits before you have to start stressing about your grids. Slide Mountain is the tallest mountain in the Catskills and clocks in at nearly 4,200-feet-tall.
  • Hunter Mountain Fire Tower: With fire towers you can usually count on a good view, and the Catskills have plenty of them.
  • North Point: It will be hard to feel complete without bagging the peak that I hoped would be my first in the Catskills. Another spectacular view of the big river – not to mention farms and rolling forest and more hills in the distance – some nice-looking scrambles and New York’s varied weather: Sign me up.   

Hiking the Catskills

Want some Catskill hiking possibilities? Here are a few, courtesy of the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Most state-maintained trails, the department notes, are marked, but hikers should use topographical maps or other guides when planning to venture into the backcountry.

More extensive information on the hikes is available on the DEC website.

Waterfalls and streams

Kanape Brook, Sundown Wild Forest
Town of Olive, Ulster County
Distance: 5.3 miles. Ascent: 500 feet. To high point summit: 7.5 miles. Ascent: 1,480 feet

Diamond Notch Falls, Hunter-West Kill Mt. Wilderness
Town of Lexington, Greene County
Distance: 2 miles. Ascent: 300 feet.

Vernooy Falls, Sundown Wild Forest
Town of Rochester, Ulster County
Distance: 3.6 miles. Ascent: 250 feet.

Rochester Hollow, Shandaken Wild Forest
Town of Shandaken, Ulster County
Distance: Up to 6 miles. Ascent: Up to 800 feet.

Kaaterskill Falls Trail, Kaaterskill Wild Forest
Town of Hunter, Greene County
Distance: 1.2 miles. Ascent: 340 feet.

Scenic vistas and fire towers

Giant Ledge, Slide Mt. Wilderness
Town of Shandaken, Ulster County
Distance: 2.7 miles. Ascent: 1,000 feet.

Hunter Mountain fire tower, Rusk Mountain Wild Forest
Town of Hunter, Greene County
Distance: 4.2 miles. Ascent: 900 feet.
Trails also reach the Hunter fire tower and summit: 1) via Spruceton (Greene County Route 6, Spruceton Road, off Route 42-see Diamond Notch Falls above. This trail is a 7-mile moderately difficult hike on an old woods road marked with blue disks); 2) via Diamond Notch, Stony Clove Notch or Becker Hollow (these trails are off Route 214, connecting Phoenicia-Route 28- with Route 23A, between Hunter and Tannersville). Stony Clove and Becker Hollow are very steep/very difficult and not recommended for children.

Catskill Mt. House Site, North-South Lake
Town of Hunter, Greene Co.
Distance (Mt. House): 0.5 mile. Ascent: 80 feet. (Access at other times is free, but the hike is longer, about 2 miles from South Lake dam parking lot.)

Alligator Rock and Boulder Rock, North-South Lake
Town of Hunter, Greene Co.
Distance: 1.5 miles. Ascent: 200 feet.

Mary’s Glen and Ashley Falls, North-South Lake
Town of Hunter, Greene Co.
Distance: 0.6 miles. Ascent: 20 feet.

Artist and Sunset Rocks, North-South Lake
Town of Hunter, Greene Co.
Distance: 1.6 miles. Ascent: 300 feet.

Balsam Lake Mountain fire tower, Balsam Lake Mountain Wild Forest
Town of Hardenburgh, Ulster County
Distance: 3.5 miles. Ascent: 1,250 feet.
Or, from the north, follow the blue-marked Dry Brook Ridge Trail on Mill Brook Road south of the hamlet of Arkville. From here, it is a longer but more moderate 5.5-mile hike. Ascent: 1,123 feet.

Overlook fire tower, Overlook Mountain Wild Forest
Town of Woodstock, Ulster County
Distance: 4.8 miles. Ascent: Gradual, but a nonstop incline of 1,370 feet.

Red Hill fire tower, Sundown Wild Forest
Town of Denning, Ulster County
Distance: 2.2 miles. Ascent: 890 feet.

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