View along the Escarpment Trail in the Catskills

Best Hikes: Catskills Escarpment Trail to North-South Lake

Trail-head sign for Escarpment Trail on Scutt Road
Trailhead signs for Escarpment Trail on Schutt Road

Sometimes we should do things slowly. This hike is one of them. As Christian and I are getting ready for an upcoming backpacking trip, probably Devil’s Path, we looked for something easy to do that would give bang for our buck.

One of the most exciting sections of trail in the Catskills is the Escarpment Trail. It runs 23.9 miles from just outside the gate of North-South Lake State Campground to its northern terminus on Rt 23 near Windham.

Boulder Rock in the Catskills with Hudson Valley in Background
Boulder Rock in the Catskills with Hudson Valley in Background

With places like Boulder Rock, Inspiration Point, Split Rock, Layman Monument, Artists Rock and the many reminders of bygone resorts, everyone will find something to love about this place. If you pick a hot summer day you can even top off your hike with a swim at one of the campgrounds beaches. The views are simply spectacular.

There are points you can bailout, but you'll want to go all the way to North Lake.
There are points you can bailout, but you’ll want to go all the way to North Lake.

The Escarpment Trail when viewed as sections, North or South, North Mountain would be the dividing line. The section south of North Mountain full of views and history. One can even divide this section into two. The Escarpment and related trails south of the North-South Lake State Campground one section or loop and another for the trails north of the campground. We hiked the section south of the campground this day.

Section hiking this area makes sense.

You'll be at no loss for trails in this area
You’ll be at no loss for trails in this area. Watch the signs!

Because this trail passes through such a historic area, taking one’s time will increase the enjoyment. The trail south of the campground is generally pleasant to walk with some short steeper rocky sections. Just a note of caution, even though the Escarpment is well marked there are several side trails and unmarked paths which you can “lost” on.

On the Escarpment Trail

Ramp for horse mounting
Ramp for horse mounting at trailhead

Schutt Road is on your right just before the gate for North-South Lake State Campground. The trailhead is about 200 – 300 feet down the road on your right. The parking area has enough room for about 20 cars but this will fill up fast on many days as this is a popular hike. There is also a corral for horses and a ramp for people who need help mounting their horse.

Chris signing in on the Escarpment Trail
Chris signing in on the Escarpment Trail

This a good hike for families with kids given that you are never too far from roads, side connector trails, and the campground. Also, in terms of Catskill Mountain hiking with great views, this one’s relatively easy.

After you leave the parking area you’ll cross the road and follow a generally easy trail with a loss of elevation to the trail register. Unlike many registers, this one’s a ways from the trailhead (.65 miles). After the register, the trail begins a steady descent toward the edge of Kaaterskill Clove’s high northern walls. You’ll hear cars on the roads below.

Frank Layman Monument on the Catskill Escarpment Trail
Frank Layman Monument on the Catskill Escarpment Trail

You’ll pass the old Laurel House Site on the right as you drop. As the trail reaches the cliff line it will swing east and at about 1900′ elevation, you’ll reach the Layman Monument, erected for firefighter Frank Layman who lost his life during a forest fire here. You’ll have lost several hundred feet in elevation to this point from the trailhead and traveled about 1.25 miles.

Escarpment trail climbing before Sunset Rock
Escarpment trail climbing before Sunset Rock (#1)

After the Layman Monument, the trail will gradually climb for about tenth of a mile. Over this distance views will present themselves, stop at each one and get a slightly different perspective on the unfolding drama below.

The mass of Kaaterskill High Peak and Roundtop from the Escarpment Trail
The mass of Kaaterskill High Peak and Roundtop from the Escarpment Trail

You will reach a short uphill climb of about two hundred feet to the yellow trail junction then on to Sunset Rock. The views across the clove are wonderful. Once again on the level. Please remember that you are walking near steep drops so be careful!

Inspiration Point in the Catskills
Inspiration Point in the Catskills looking west. You can see the Escarpment Trail marker on a tree.

In a very short walk, you will burst out onto Inspiration Point at about 1.9 miles. This wide rock ledge will be your most dramatic view until you reach Boulder Rock. You’ll have sweeping views from Hunter Mountain to the west and the Hudson Valley to the East.

Panorama from Inspiration Point
Panorama from Inspiration Point in the Catskills (click for full size)

Across the clove will be the mass of Kaaterskill High Peak with Wildcat Ravine and falls. Look to the Twilight Park Association high on the shoulder of High Peak and you’ll notice a large landslide starting not too far from some homes!

Partial view from Boulder Rock looking at the east end of the clove and the Hudson Valley
Partial view from Boulder Rock looking at the east end of the clove and the Hudson Valley

From Inspiration Point the trail will climb and soon level following a contour line. This section of trail will be in the woods. Soon you’ll reach a red connector trail that bypasses a short loop with slight elevation loss and gain. You’ll want to take the blue trail as it will take you to Split Rock a place where the part of the cliff has fallen off! Be careful, you’ll be walking right along the edge.  At about 4.0 miles you will reach Boulder Rock with outstanding views over the Hudson Valley and the east end of the clove. How did such a rock get here? Probably left during glacial retreat!

View along the Escarpment Trail after Boulder Rock.
View along the Escarpment Trail after Boulder Rock looking down on the Hudson Valley. (click image for full size)

Explore the area around Boulder Rock as views are plentiful. Pick your way to view points but watch the steep drops. After departing from Boulder Rock you’ll be heading north toward The Catskill Mountain House site. The trail will pass one more large viewing ledge and then start to descend to the clearing where the great hotel once sat. At about 4.5 miles from your start, you’ll reach the Catskill Mountain House site.

Sign pointing to Catskill Mountain House site near parking area in Campground
Sign pointing to Catskill Mountain House site near parking area in Campground. South Mountain in the background.

From the site of the hotel, you can take the yellow trail along the lake or walk the road back to your car on Schutt Road. If you want you can continue on the blue trail to North Mountain. There are many things to do at the campground as it doubles as a day use area. In the summer, it is worth stopping for a swim to cool off. Or simply sit and enjoy the park. Happy hiking.

North-South Lake Campground & Day Use Area
Contact Information:Campground Phone: (518) 589-5058
Location: Address: County Route 18, Haines Falls, NY 12436 (Alternate for GPS Tannersville, NY 12485)
Map: Campground map
Amenities:7 camping loops; 219 tent and trailer sites; 2 lakes; 2 beaches; Two picnic areas: one on North Lake with two picnic pavilion rentals a 20' X 32' and a 44" X 24' (the larger of the two with electricity) and one on South Lake with a 40' X 60' picnic pavilion rental.; 2 picnic areas with tables and fireplaces or charcoal grills; playground; flush toilets; hot showers; boat launch (no motorized vessels); rowboat, canoe, kayak and paddle boat rentals; firewood sales; volleyball; horseshoes; fishing; playing field; trailer dump station; recycling center.
Weather:North Mountain Weather

Last Updated on by Scott L.

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