Climbing Ledge on the Wittenberg-Cornell-Slide Woodland Valley Loop

Wittenberg-Cornell-Slide Woodland Valley Loop

This hike is arguably one of the hardest and most beautiful outings in the Catskills. It is one our favorite three-day backpacking loops. Starting at the Woodland Valley campground and looping over the Burroughs Range and returning via the Phoenicia East Branch Trail will surely test even the most seasoned hiker.

The trail begins at the Woodland Valley Campground on Woodland Valley Road. In season, there is a charge for parking at this trailhead we recommend calling the campground to get the current fee. This is also one of the trail heads in the Catskills that somewhat remote, so make sure your car is in working order, especially in winter.

The trail begins at the north end of the campground between two campsites, please be respectful of campers especially if you are leaving very early. Immediately you will cross a bridge over Woodland Valley Creek.

Chris on Bridge over Woodland Valley Creek
Chris on Bridge over Woodland Valley Creek

The Burroughs Range Trail will begin to climb away from the stream and reach the trail register quickly at 0.2 miles. After the register, the trail will continue to climb through a beautiful rocky section of the trail.

Making the rocky steep climb away from the campground through the boulders
Making the rocky steep climb away from the campground through the boulders

After the initial steep climbing, the trail will swing left and level at 0.5 miles hugging the edge of cliffs looking into the Wittenberg Ravine with some nice but limited views when the leafs are out. However, when the trees are bare the views are more extensive and impressive.

View from the Burroughs Range Trail above the Wittenberg Ravine
View from the Burroughs Range Trail above the Wittenberg Ravine

On this section, the trail will undulate and you will cross a number of drainages. At about 1.5 miles you will reach an unmarked spring which is off the trail. These are often dry in times when the area does not get much rain.

This is a wonderful section of trail. The generally easy walking moving back and forth from the cliff, the large hemlock, many streams and rock outcrops make this especially enjoyable.

The trail will drop about 100′ and reach a junction with the Terrace Mountain Trail at about 2.6 miles from the trailhead. The Terrace Mountain Trail leads to the Terrace Mountain lean-to which is located at 0.9 miles with a 300′ descent from the junction.

Trail junction sign at the Terrace Mountain Trail
Trail junction sign at the Terrace Mountain Trail

Turning right at the junction the trail will make its ascent to Wittenberg’s summit. Not too long after leaving the junction you will reach the junction with the Long Path leading to Phoenicia some 8 miles away. If you are looking for this keep your head up, as of this post (9/2016) there is only one sign and only facing southbound hikers that says “Lane St.”.

Trail sign for the Long Path
Trail sign for the Long Path

Except in an emergency or between December 21st and March 21st, camping is prohibited above an elevation of 3,500 feet in the Catskills.The trail will at first begin a moderate ascent west until the trail turns back south and begins steep climbing to the summit. The climb in this section of trail will take you up, through and over rocky terrain. Views will open up at some points as you ascend.

Remember once you pass the 3500-foot sign you cannot camp until the col between Cornell and Slide Mountains.

Rocky outcrop on the way up Wittenberg Mountain
Rocky outcrop on the way up Wittenberg Mountain

You will reach Wittenberg summit at 3.9 miles and be rewarded with one of the best views in the Catskills. The summit ledge offers an 180-degree panorama which includes summits including parts of the Blackhead Range, Devil’s Path, Ashokan Reservoir, Sams Point, Ashokan High Point, the Hudson Valley to Friday Mountain in the south.

View from Wittenberg Mountain
View from Wittenberg Mountain (click to enlarge)

You’ll end want to linger here for awhile, so give more time for this hike as views will most surely slow you down.

Heading to Cornell you’ll make the quick and easy descent to the col. Notice the terrain as you hike. You will hike along a narrow strip of land called “Bruins Causeway”. Look to each side and notice how the land drops away! When the ground is wet look down for all kinds of animal tracks.

Views of Wittenberg from Cornell
Views of Wittenberg from Cornell with Devil’s Path on the horizon

At about 4.6 miles you’ll reach a rock ledge with a V-cut in it. The first part of the climb to the shelve below the “V” is easy. However, the “V” itself is more challenging with limited handholds.

Chris standing blow the V cut on Cornell Mountain
Chris standing blow the V cut on Cornell Mountain

Once above the V-cut, the going is easy to the summit, which is found on a side path at 4.7 miles. The view from the summit is grown in and limited. The descent to the col between Cornell and Slide begins after the side trail. Soon as you drop down two good views will open up looking south and west. Slide and Panther will dominate the scene. Standing on these rocky outcrops you can peer down to Woodland Valley over 2,000 feet below!

Slide Mountain from Cornell
Slide Mountain from Cornell

You will descend on moderate grades and at 5.3 miles reach a seasonal spring (off the trail to your left) and soon after the first designated campsite in the col.

Designated campsite in the col between Cornell and Slide Mountains
Designated campsite in the col between Cornell and Slide Mountains

The trek across the col is a wild scene. It passes through one of the largest sections of red spruce in the Catskills. As you cross the col you will find several more designated campsites with the final one being perched just below the 3500-foot mark going up Slide. Watch for some small outcrops on the Slide side of the col for a few nice views.

After the 3,500′ sign you” begin a moderate to steep climb toward the summit of Slide. This is an exciting section of trail. You will encounter 4 ledge scrambles, two of which are quite hard.

Chris scrambling up a 30 - 40 foot rock wall heading up Slide Mountain
Chris scrambling up a final section of a 30 – 40-foot rock wall heading up Slide Mountain

At points some great views present themselves. Stop catch your breath and enjoy some of the Catskills best scenery. After a long steady climb on the edge of the ridge, you will reach a side path to one of the best springs in the Burroughs Range (the main trail will make a left turn). In most cases, it will have cold mountain water running. However, for the first time in decades of hiking by it, I found it dry (9/2016). Make sure you carry enough water while on this section of trail.

Soon after the junction with the spring, you will reach a short set of ladders and then a much longer one to help you up some steep terrain.

Looking down the second set of ladders on Slide Mountain
Looking down the second set of ladders on Slide Mountain

After the ladders climbing continues, but you are close to the summit. Enjoy this short section of trail with more views and some interesting rock. You’ll also be hugging the top of a cliff, even though trees line the trail there are still steep drops to your left.

A nicely framed picture of Devil's Path looking out over a 15' rock jutting out like a diving board!
A nicely framed picture of Devil’s Path looking out over a 15′ rock jutting out like a diving board!

The grade will ease and you will reach the summit rock at 7.0 miles. Stop and take a moment (and a picture) at the John Burrough memorial. Even though the views from the “summit” ledge has grown in over the years they are still nice. Chris and I have made it somewhat of a tradition to have breakfast on the summit while backpacking in the Burroughs Range.

Getting breakfast ready on the "summit" viewing ledge on Slide Mountain
Getting breakfast ready on the “summit” viewing ledge on Slide Mountain

The true summit is at 7.05 miles near a foundation block for a past fire tower. You now have climbed a total of 3,720′ from Woodland Valley. The Burroughs Range Trail will continue past the summit and you will soon reach a few lookouts on your right. There are great views into the Woodland Valley, of Wittenberg and Cornell and Panther and Giant Ledge.

View of Wittenberg and Cornell form the Burroughs Range Trail
View of Wittenberg and Cornell from the Burroughs Range Trail

The trail will descend first gently then more moderately toward the Phoenicia East Branch Trail. Along the way, you will pass the junction with the Curtis – Ormsbee Trail (a beautiful route) and much farther down a designated campsite and finally reach the end of the Burroughs Range Trail at 9.1 miles where you will turn right on the yellow blazed Phoenicia East Branch Trail.

Phoenicia East Branch Trail junction
Phoenicia East Branch Trail junction

From the junction, you will walk on an old woods road and will find a pipe fed spring on your right. The woods road will be blocked as it continues onto private land and you will turn left and start a steep rocky descent to the Slide Mountain parking area. You have now traveled 9.85 miles from Woodland Valley.

Slide Mountain Trail Head to Woodland Valley Campground

During this section of the loop, you will have some choices. You can follow the yellow trail to the Panther Mountain / Giant Ledge Trail Head. This requires a 1.95-mile road walk and a large descent. The road walk, although nice can be dangerous at times with no or small shoulders and tight turns.

An alternative is to hike the road/trail past the Winnisook Club to an unmaintained trail that has a short easement provided by the club. This trail which is easy to follow and level will take you to the junction with the Giant / Panther Trail. If you are doing the loop it may make sense to take the unmarked path.

Sign indicating the path.
Sign indicating the easement on the unmarked path found just after the club’s lake.

Along the unmarked path, you will enter state land marked by yellow paint on trees and large slabs of rock crossing the trail. The path is at first a wide woods road and eventually becomes more overgrown and has the feel of a footpath. You will cross a major drainage and this will mark the halfway point to the Giant Ledge / Panther Trail junction. You will reach the junction at about 2.5 miles from the Slide Mountain Parking area.

Trail signs at the Giant Ledge / Panther Mountain Trail junction
Trail signs at the Giant Ledge / Panther Mountain Trail junction

You will have saved about .25 miles of hiking but also several hundred feet of climbing by taking the unmarked path. If you are day hiking this route you can add 1.5 miles by visiting Giant Ledge and it’s unsurpassed views!

For the backpacker, you’ll have two options for the second night of camping. There are a couple of designated campsites on Giant Ledge, but keep in mind that Giant Ledge is one of the most frequently visited peaks in the Catskills.

If you are looking for some quiet, there is a designated campsite a few hundred yards on the yellow trail toward Woodland Valley. We have camped in both spots and both have merit. Recently, camping along the yellow trail, we were serenaded by an owl for much of the night. It’s forelonging calls echoing in the mountain col was extraordinary.

Our campsite on the Phoenicia - East Branch Trail near the Giant Ledge / Panther Mtn Trail
Our campsite on the Phoenicia – East Branch Trail near the Giant Ledge / Panther Mtn Trail

From the campsite, you will have about 2.6 miles to the Woodland Valley Campground. This section of the trail is mostly downhill. It will initially follow the top of a headwall and then swing down a ridge which it will cross and then descend to a stream.

Once you reach this stream be prepared to climb partway up Fork Ridge. Your climb will be aided by an extensive stairway (100+ steps). Then you’ll climb in a boulder field before the trail levels and begins the final descent to the Campground.

Chris on the stairway on Fork Ridge
Chris on the stairway on Fork Ridge (stairs continue)

On this part of the trail, notice on your left the large cliffs and then the right as the land drops off into the valley below. You will get some views of Slide way above you, but this is best when the trees are bare. As the cliffs on your left run-out, the trail will make the final descent to the trailhead parking area in Woodland Valley 15.1 miles from your start.

Area resources: NYS DEC Region 3, 21 South Putt Corners Road, New Paltz, NY 12561
Telephone: (845) 256-3000
Prerecorded Trail Conditions Report: (845) 256-3188, ext. 4182
Forest Preserve Management: (845) 256-3083
Fishing: (845) 256-3161
Law Enforcement: (845) 256-3013
Forest Rangers: (845) 256-3026
Hunting: (845) 256-3098
Woodland Valley Campground: (845) 688-7647 (mid-May thru mid-October)
Maps: NYNJTC Map # 143 (Buy Here)

DEC Slide Mountain Wilderness Map (pdf)

On-line resources:

NYSDEC Slide Mountain Wilderness Info

Slide Mountain Weather

Trails referenced: Wittenberg – Cornell – Slide Trail (AKA Burroughs Range Trail) Red Marked
Terrance Mountain Trail – Yellow Marked
Curtis-Ormsbee Trail – Blue Marked
Phoenicia East Branch Trail – Yellow Marked

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Sal
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Great hike. We loved doing this one a few years ago. Thanks for sharing!

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