Looking for trails in the Catskills where crowds don't go!
July 10, 2020 3:45 PM   Subscribe

Discovering the Catskills. I am looking for trails moderate +. I do not like crowds. Just a decent climb, or hike, without a lot of people. Do you know of any that fit this bill? If I see a bunch of cars at a trailhead I keep on driving. (PS a swimming hole is a plus) If you don't want to make it public, MeMail me. (Added plus - a good meal, outside)
posted by ebesan to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I haven’t been there in several years, but I used to hike Windham High Peak from Route 23 and usually encountered few others. It’s a nice hike.
posted by jkent at 4:02 PM on July 10, 2020

The Catskills have a ton of amazing trails, and even many of the busier ones are still much more under control than what you find closer to New York City. The entire Breakneck Ridge area closer to the city has been closed because of too much usage is crazier than almost anything in the Catskills.

Using the parking level can be a useful up to a point, but it is often much less crowded on the trails as long as you aren't hitting them at the exact same time as everyone else. Honestly the best thing is to just arrive as early as possible. For example, a few weeks ago, we went to Panther Mountain/Giant Ledge. It was chock full of cars when we arrived, but the trail itself was not bad at all. And once past Giant Ledge, the number of hikers drops precipitously and Panther mountain is amazingly serene. (Panther mountain is also on top of a massive asteroid crater!)

That being said, I don't think you'll find a swimming hole that isn't crazy busy - I know they've been having serious problems with some of the 'discovered' ones, as well as instagram ready spots like Kaaterskill Falls which had to be closed down.

Generally speaking, the best hikes often are the ones that take you above 3500 feet, at that level the forests at the top become smaller, darker more intimate and beautiful.

As jkent mentioned above, Windham High Peak has a fantastic view at the top and is usually pretty quiet. Plus it has some of the most magical forests in the Catskills on the way up.

Hunter mountain, though from West Kill, is a pretty great loop and has a fire tower at the top and easier parts of the Devil's Path.

While North-South Lake park can be really busy around the lake and campground, the trails around it aren't too bad or too difficult. The Escarpment Trail loop can be a lot of fun, with great viewpoints. Just avoid Kaaterskil Falls if you can, the main trail to it is closed currently.

Another one that can be a lot of tasty fun, in the right season, is Huckleberry Point. It's got both the views at the end, and a high delicious quotient.

Ashokan High Point is pretty good as well, some nice views and interesting things like plane wrecks...

You should check out resources like AllTrails and The Hiking Project for a sense of what is available, and the terrain and all. And if you haven't gotten them, the maps and books from the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference are excellent.

As for dining and drinking, the Phoenicia Diner, Woodstock Brewing, Westkill Brewing are worth visiting, among many. You should also check out Saugerties and Kingston for great restaurants as well.
posted by rambling wanderlust at 5:11 PM on July 10, 2020 [6 favorites]

Everything rambling wrote is great, but Huckleberry point is pretty easy, and short, so in recent years it's gotten super busy. Go there early (8/9 am) and it's beautiful. Slide mountain is less scrambly than most in the area, and usually not too crazy busy.

Giants ledge is beautiful,but yes, the crowds will be crowdy.

If you don't mind no views, the stuff near bearpen is a nice walk through a few different forest types, along old logging trails.
posted by larthegreat at 5:24 PM on July 10, 2020

Def avoid Kaaterskill Falls right now!
posted by functionequalsform at 5:42 PM on July 10, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks. I can start real early. And the more difficult ones are OK!
posted by ebesan at 7:48 PM on July 10, 2020

The Catskills have been hammered since the start of the epidemic particularly since it’s gotten warmer. I would urge you to opt for the way less popular options. This means no Huckleberry Point or Giants Ledge or the ilk. (And I wouldn’t drive on 23A at all, it’s that crowded.)

Swimholes are not going to be doable. There are a couple spots that have been “discovered” on social media and are now teeming with way too many people. Blue Hole got so bad a permit is now required and the DEC was posting a ranger to deal with the parking. If you are very familiar with the area you may find a place to swim far from a trail.

Please buy a set of NYNJTC maps if you haven’t already. Available online!

I can give you some recs later when I get to my maps and desktop.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 12:52 AM on July 11, 2020 [2 favorites]

What we’ve been doing to avoid the crowds is to research the trails heavily beforehand (for example looking at the reviews for both interestingness, total number, recent activity and conditions on AllTrails), and not limit ourselves to just one area of the state. There are tons of lesser known parks around the Hudson valley that are beautiful but aren’t well known. Additionally, there are amazing trails in the Taconics, Farhnestock, the ‘gunks, the areas west of Harriman, etc...

If you have any questions feel free to shoot me a message.
posted by rambling wanderlust at 3:44 AM on July 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed Gertrude'S Nose several years ago but cant speak to what its like now with covid. There were some people near the beginning (and end) of the loop but once i hiked a half hour or so from them i saw other people infrequently. I went early on a weekday.
posted by WeekendJen at 6:39 AM on July 11, 2020

I’m living in the Rondout Valley right now, so not in the Catskill, but close by. Trails here are getting hammered on the weekends, but seem relatively calm during the week. I don’t do a ton of hiking, but I like riding my bike on dirt roads and trails and spend a lot of time finding combinations that let me ride loops. I spend a lot of looking at google maps, Ride With GPS and All Trails looking for routes. I’ve found trails that don’t show up on maps and are very untraveled. They aren’t trespassing or anything, just areas with old forest roads and trails that haven’t been developed yet.

Some suggestions:

Look at the fringes of the parks. The parts that are easy to access from the Thruway will get crowded first. The western edges of the Catskills will be less busy.

Look for obscure trails. Minnewaska gets overwhelmed on weekends. I’ve heard the parking lots are closed by 10am. A lot of the other trailheads that lead into the park are closed. But not all of them. You can still hike in via the Long Path and trails from Ellenville. If you enter from those areas, you’ll hike for a while before you get to the areas that are busier.

If you’re adventurous, you can try bushwhacking. “Peak bagging” is hobby up here and some of the peaks don’t have trails. You should have good navigation, map reading, and basic survival skills if you’re going off trail.

Like someone else mentioned, if you can start really early, you can probably get deep into the woods before the areas around the parking lots get busy.
posted by Drab_Parts at 6:50 PM on July 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

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