Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Hiking is a Zen Experience In The Great Western Catskills

New York State’s Great Western Catskills in Delaware County have long been a place for those who love to get away to the beauty and quiet of the mountains. With summer in high gear, it’s time for hiking, and camping in and around the mountains and rivers of the western Catskill Mountains.
Hiking in the Catskills really is one of the best kept secrets of the region.

Most travelers consider the Catskills home of the borscht belt resorts of decades gone by. Ignore this label if you are an outdoor adventurer. The ability to trek almost completely alone, through pristine forests, passing breathtaking vistas, traversing mountains creeks, amongst the wild forest animals and plants – finding your own special mountain peace, will make you a true believer in the zen to be found in the mountains.

Catskill Forest Preserve
In 1885 a law was passed by the NY State Congress which established the Catskill and Adirondack Forest Preserve. From the beginning this land was protected by the State constitution as ‘Forever Wild’ land, never to be subjected to development or extraction of natural resources. In 1904 the Catskill Park was designated, which established a boundary, or ‘blue line’, around the Forest Preserve, and private land as well. Over the years the Forest Preserve and the Catskill Park grew, with the Catskill Park now comprising approximately 700,000 acres, about half of which is public Forest Preserve.

Hiking opportunities abound in the Catskill Park. There are approximately 300 miles of marked, maintained hiking trails on public Forest Preserve land. Stewardship and development of these trails is shared by the New York State Forest Rangers and local chapters of hiking clubs such as the New York/New Jersey Trail Conference and the Catskill Mountain Club (

The favorite local park trail is the Balsam Lake Mountain Wild Forest Area and it’s Dry Brook Ridge Trail. Located in the southwest corner of the Catskill Park, Balsam Lake Mountain Wild Forest contains more than 13,500 acres of "forever wild" Forest Preserve. With an extensive trail network to several ponds, this wild forest is ideal for hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, backpacking, canoeing and cross-country skiing. The Balsam Lake Mountain Wild Forest can be accessed from the Village of Margaretville along State Hwy 28, or from parking areas along Dry Brook Rd to Millbrook Road.

The terrain is a combination of high mountain ridges, steep sided valleys, numerous brooks and ponds, with elevations ranging from a low of 1,740 feet along Mill Brook to a high of 3,723 feet at the summit of Balsam Lake Mountain.

Catskill Scenic Trail
The Catskill Scenic Trail lies on top of the former rail bed of the Ulster & Delaware Railroad. The 26 mile Rails to Trails project offers a hard-packed surface that makes it perfect for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing. The Trail's very gentle grade is a unique feature, with only a four hundred foot change in elevation over the entire 26 miles. The young and the young-at-heart will find this an easy trek through some of the most beautiful scenery in the state.
The trail can be accessed at several points between Bloomville on State Hwy 10 to South Kortright. Moving on to Stamford, the trail turns east, mirroring State Highway 23 to Grand Gorge and then south along State Highway 30 to Roxbury. Look for the small parking areas and blue and gold "CST" signs.

The Trail is owned and maintained by the Catskill Revitalization Corporation, a not-for-profit organization. For more information on the Catskill Scenic Trail visit For a FREE trail map call 866-775-4425.

Headwaters Trail System
Headwaters Trails are a mix of over 30 miles of public and private trails and focus on the Bald Mountain Recreational Area. Headwaters Trails is actually 30 miles of trail, with linkage to the Catskill Scenic Trail, which adds another 26-1/2 miles of trail. Most of Headwaters Trails is on privately-owned land that allows public access – so please be respectful of the land and the generosity of the owners. They are enjoyed mostly for hiking, mountain biking and snowmobiling. Horseback riding is also a popular use of the trails, as is snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Best access to Headwaters Trails is off Murphy Road along Route 23 east of the village of Stamford, or on the Catskill Scenic Trail off Crestline Drive going south on Route 10 out of the village. There is parking along the street and at the mouth of the farm road. The best three accesses to Headwaters Trails’ Bald Mt Rec area in general are, in order, 1) Archibald Field (Route 10 north out of the village across from NYSDEC) 2) The Belvedere parking lot (Prospect Street) in the village, and, 3) Blazer and Travis Ponds both have excellent and direct access to Headwaters Trails, as well as parking.

Emmons Pond Bog
The history of the pond and bog date back 11,000 years when the retreat of the last glacier left a depression which was soon filled with water. Sphagnum moss and other bog plants grew in the shallow water around the edge of the pond. Plant materials broke down slowly because of the acidity and low temperature of the water. As a result, the plant materials accumulated to form a floating doughnut-shaped mat around the pond. Beavers dammed the outlet stream in the late 1970s, so the bog mat is now ringed with water.

The striking and somber view of the pond and bog includes the Sphagnum moss and special plants that can survive the acidic environment (such as leatherleaf, buckbean, cottongrass, pitcher plant, and sheep laurel). Wildlife includes blackbirds and frogs.

North of the pond, the trail passes through mature woods where you will see old stone walls and a majestic oak tree. West of the pond, the trail passes a smaller pond--a good location for bird watching. The trail is easy and is marked with orange markers and is 1.4 mi long, circles the pond in a counter-clockwise direction.

The site is situation in the Town of Davenport about 4 miles southeast of Oneonta. From the Exit 15 ramp off I-88, turn left toward Rte. 28 South, then right on 28 South. In 0.7 mi, at the first traffic light, turn hard left onto Southside Drive. Continue 2.7 miles on Swart Hollow, then left on White Hill Road. The preserve entrance, which is well-marked, is on the left in 1 mile.

Both primitive and amenity camping opportunities abound in the Catskills. Primitive camping is allowed in the Wilderness and Wild Forest areas of the Catskill Forest Preserve, so long as you follow certain guidelines designed to protect sensitive summit forest communities and water quality of the streams. Wilderness camping rules include not camping within 150ft of a trail, stream, or pond, and not above 3500ft elevation except in winter.

Three-sided, roofed ‘lean-to’ shelters have been constructed on several Catskill backwoods trails. The NYSDEC maintains seven public campgrounds in the Forest Preserve; North/South Lake, Devils Tombstone, Kenneth Wilson, Woodland Valley, Mongaup Pond, and Little Pond. These campgrounds have tent and trailer sites, restroom facilities, and other amenities varying by location. For more information regarding Forest Preserve Camping opportunities, contact the DEC Region 4 at (607) 652-7364.
To obtain a free copy of maps for state lands, contact the NYSDEC Region 4 office at 607.652.7365. New York/New Jersey Trail Conference hiking maps of the Catskills can be ordered by visiting their website at Check out our new blog on hiking at

Great Western Catskills Tourism
The Great Western Catskills is an easy day trip from New York City metro area, Albany, or Binghamton and a great weekend getaway or vacation destination for all. To learn more about outdoor resources, Stay-and-Play Packages or any other activities in the western Catskills, log on to: Call toll-free: (866) 775-4425 for a FREE copy of our guide to Recreation and Cultural Attractions. Any time of year, come visit the Great Western Catskills of Delaware County and “Let the magic of our mountains move you.”