Catskill Mountains

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Catskill Mountains

                            Catskill 3500 Mountain locator map
                                       (This link is worth checking out.)

The Catskill Mountains are a general region that is southwest of Albany and northwest of New York City.  The Hudson River valley escarpment (The abrupt jump up in height cliffy area.) is basically the eastern boundary.  The western boundary for the Catskill park is the blue line.  Ok what is the blue line?  I always thought it was a painted line on a hockey rink, and if you send a hockey puck over the two blue lines it is icing.  Well the blue line is actually the border of the Catskill park.  And no there is no blue man groups painting the line around the park.

The Catskill Mountains are really a dissected plateau, which is an uplifted area that has eroded sharply.  In other words the Catskills are mountains to everyone, except to people who are weenies or geologists.  The Catskill Park area has almost one hundred peaks over three thousand feet tall. (Or for the weenies, “Dissected plateau thing-a-ma-bobs”.)  Speaking of the whole Catskill plateau thing.  It is believed the Catskills were a part of the tectonic activity that formed the Appalachian mountains like long, long ago.  But in true New York fashion.  This part of the continental shelf said “Up yours!”, and did not follow along at all with the whole Appalachian mountain thing.  This part of the crust just rose up in a fairly uniform fashion.  This way the Donald "Tyrannosaurus" Trump could build his skyscrapers of more level ground, thus charging the triceratops tenants higher rates.  The owner of the Yankees baseball team, George "Velociraptor" Steinbrenner, spent so much over the salary cap, and beat the Boston Red "Brontosaurus" Sox in the world series.

There has been much erosion of the millions of years in the Catskills, but the many ice ages have affected the way the Catskill Mountains look today also.  A meteorite even landed around Panther Mountain millions of years ago.  The early settlers were the Iroquois Indians, well until whitey chucked them off their land.  The Iroquois don’t even have a mountain named after them in the Catskills.  There is a Big Indian Mountain and an Indian Head Mountain in the Catskills, and at least an Iroquois Peak in the Adirondack mountains of northern New York.  Then the Europeans came and did some clearing of the forests and farming.  Railroads were built and summer tourists started to come to buy cheap t-shirts.  So after some years in 1885 the Catskill Forest Preserve was created.  New York City gets much of their water supply from reservoirs in the area.  (If someone in NYC is reading this, well, I peed in the woods; and you are drinking it!)   The Catskill Forest Preserve is now almost 300,000 acres.  About sixty percent of the land inside the blue line is private land, and has some development restrictions in some areas. (Well unless you are really rich and a weasel.)  The other forty percent is the public land of the Catskill Park.

Yada Yada Yada!  So what does all of this mean?  Well....nothing.  The Catskill Mountains are a fun place to hike.  Sure the Catskill Mountains might not have some of the grandeur views of the White Mountains in New Hampshire or the Adirondack Mountains in New York.  But the Catskills have something else, a special cool quirkiness that should be enjoyed and respected.  The notches between some of the Catskill mountains have more elevation gain and loss than you would expect.  The rivers and streams of the area can become dangerously swollen after a rain storm.  This flash flood aspect surprised me, as this is the first time that the drainage of mountains seemed so powerful.  The several fire towers of the area are an interesting historical heritage, and the ones I have encountered still can be climbed giving outstanding sweeping views.  Several airplane crashes have occurred in the Catskills, and some of the wreckage at the crash sites can be respectfully explored near trails.  For some reason porcupines like to eat the paint off the planes.  Maybe porcupines are like those weird kids in first grade who ate Elmer's white paste glue.   The many miles of hiking trails in the Catskills are well marked and maintained.  (If you want to give back and do some volunteer trail work (trust me it is fun) a good place to start is the NYNJTC or the ADK Trails Program.  The Catskill 3500 Club is into conservation too, but I could not find a good link.  I bet they have many opportunities to help out if you contact them.)   The forests are mostly hardwoods, which makes bushwhacking trailless mountains much easier on paper.....Well except for those stinging nettles.  Ouch!!!!!  And the many summits that are broad and flat.  It is hard to get a visual bearing being constantly under the trees, in the pucker brush, and not able to see a distant mountain to help out with a direction.  This is where your compass skills (Ok, I'm not one to ask for help on this one.), utilizing a GPS, or having a great sense of direction can be an asset.  The erosion of the Catskill Mountains have produced some pretty cool bands of cliffs.  This characteristic of having a fair amount of hardwoods and the cliffs is really interesting to me.  Getting to trailheads down some of these funky narrow roads is a challenge in itself.  Of course my Honda Civic can handle all of this.  (Well except for HarryK  valetparking my car.)  There are so many mountains in the Catskills that I have not hiked yet.  The Catskill 3500 Club with the thirty five 3500 foot peaks (Plus four of those peaks repeated in the Winter for a total of thirty nine peaks.) is a good place to start.  This exposes you to a nice sampling of what is to be had in those quirky Catskills.  Plus the Catskill 3500 Club has the best awards dinner in the Northeast, so get your butt hiking!

This is a Google Earth KML file of the Catskills 3500 foot peaks.

I have day hiked two long distance trails in the Catskills. 

Devil's Path hike organizer JayH.
The first long distance day hike I did in the Catskills was the Devil's Path in May of 2004.  The Devil's Path is bad ass!  It is about 24 miles long with over 8000 feet in elevation gain.  Most people make it a three day and two night backpack.  But a bunch of us idiots did in one shot for a fund raiser. 
Hudson River from Escarpment Trail
The second long distance day hike I finished was the Escarpment trail in May of 2005.  The Escarpment Trail is about 23 miles long, and a has a large amount of elevation gain.  Many of the same idiots from 2004 did this hike for The Brain Tumor Society fund rasier again. (Come on...You can give some money too!)

Now that I have you attention, here are some things that can help you out in getting started in the Catskills.  The four items below are linked to the site that produces them, but cheaper prices may be out there.  
These are the best maps of the area period.  This five map set is a must for you, and the maps are waterproof and tear resistant.
This is the Catskill Mountain guide that will help you out.  David White, one of the co-editors, also helps new members in the Catskill 3500 Club.
If you are new to the area then this atlas will help you find your way around to trailheads and towns.  You can also use this atlas for the Adirondack Mountains.
This AMC map is a good overview map.  The map is made out of Tyvek (Waterproof and tear resistant), and costs $10.95.  This Catskill map isn't absolutely needed, but it is kind of nice to have.

Catskill 3500 Club List
Mountain Feet   Meters
 Slide 4180  1274
 Hunter 4040   1231 
 Black Dome 3980   1213 
Thomas Cole  3940  1201
Blackhead  3940  1201 
West Kill  3880  1183
Graham + 3868  1179 
Doubletop * 3860  1177 
 Cornell 3860  1177 
 Table 3847  1173 
 Peekamoose 3843  1171
Plateau  3840  1170 
Sugarloaf (Mink)  3800  1158
 Wittenberg 3780  1152
Southwest Hunter (Leavitt Peak)  3740   1140
Balsam Lake  3723   1135
Lone * 3721   1134
Panther  3720  1134
Big Indian  3700  1128
Friday * 3694  1126 
Rusk * 3680  1122 
 Kaaterskill High Peak + 3655   1114 
Twin  3640   1109
 Balsam Cap 3623  1104
Fir * 3620  1103 
North Dome * 3610  1100
Eagle  3600  1097 
 Balsam 3600  1097
 Bearpen + 3600  1097
 Indian Head 3573  1089 
Sherrill * 3540  1079
Halcott * 3537  1078 
Vly * 3529 1076
Windham High Peak  3524  1074
Rocky * 3508 1069 
* Trailless summits with registers
+Summits without maintained trails or registers

Slide 4180
Blackhead 3940
Panther 3720
Balsam 3600

The 35 summits of the official list and the additional four winter peaks have to climbed on foot. The four specified winter peaks have to be climbed between December 21st and March 21st, for a total of 39 climbs.