This hike is arguably one of the hardest and most beautiful outings in the Catskills. It is one of our favorite three-day backpacking loops. Simply day hiking Wittenberg and Cornell is outstanding! Getting the ADK trail guide for the Catskills and NYNJTC Map set or NatGeo Catskill Map will help plan your trip. 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. Your entire hike will be in the heart of the Slide Mountain Wilderness. Get ready for a great adventure!
|Hiking Distance:||15.1-miles||Route Type:||Loop|
|Total climb:||4000’+||Hike type:||Trails|
|How hard?||Difficult +||Trailhead:||Can vary; this description starts at Woodland Valley|
|Best Time to go:||Mid-week, in summer., fall, and spring. Winter for experienced only.|
|Features:||Views, steep climbing, first growth forest, more climbing, more views, camping, wildlife, rapid weather change, lots of hikers; did we mention views and climbing?|
Click the map for an interactive version of the map.
You can hike the Wittenberg-Cornell-Slide loop from one of several trailheads. This description starts from the Woodland Valley Campground Day Use parking area.
Hikers can use the Slide Mountain Trailhead or the Giant Ledge Panther Mountain Trailhead as alternatives.
Backpacking and Trail Description
Woodland Valley Trailhead to Slide Mountain
The trail begins at the Woodland Valley Campground on Woodland Valley Road. This trailhead in the Catskills is somewhat remote, so make sure your car is in working order, especially in winter.
Parking at Woodland Valley
In season, there is a charge for parking at this trailhead we recommend calling the campground to get the current fee.
The trail begins at the north end of the campground between two campsites, and please be respectful of campers, especially if you are leaving very early. Immediately you will cross a 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.
After the initial steep climbing, the trail will swing left and level at 0.5 miles hugging the edge of cliffs looking into the Terrace Mountain/Wittenberg Ravine with some nice but limited views when the leaves are out. However, when the trees are bare, the views are more extensive and impressive.
In this section, the trail will undulate, and you will cross several drainages. At about 1.75 miles, you will reach an unmarked spring that is off the trail. These are often dry in times when the area does not get much rain.
This is a wonderful section of the trail. The generally easy walking moving back and forth from the cliff, the large hemlock, many streams, and rock outcrops make this especially enjoyable.
Dig deeper: The Slide Mountain Wilderness a Complete Guide
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.
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..”
The trail will 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.
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 a 180-degree panorama, including many 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.
You’ll want to linger here for a while, 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 walk. 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.
At about 4.6 miles, you’ll reach a rock ledge with a V-cut in it – this is the “Cornell Crack.” The first part of the climb to the shelf below the “V” is easy. However, the “V” or the crack itself is more challenging with limited handholds.
It is easier ascending the Cornell Crack than it is going down.
Once above the Cornell Crack, you’ll get a view back at Wittenberg, and the going is easy to the summit of Cornell, which is found on a side path at 4.7 miles.
The view from the summit, known as Cloud Cliff, 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!
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. A spot we camped in the col in our Nemo Veta 2-person tent.
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 the trail. You will encounter several ledge scrambles, two of which are quite hard.
At points, some great views present themselves. Stop catch your breath and enjoy some of the Catskill’s 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 the trail.
Recommended reading: How Much Water Should You Drink on a Hike and Why?
Soon after the junction with the spring, you will reach a short set of ladders and a much longer one to help you up some steep terrain.
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.
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 Burroughs memorial. Even though the views from the “summit” ledge have 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.
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.
Slide Mountain Summit to Slide Mountain Parking area
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, Wittenberg and Cornell, and Panther and Giant Ledge.
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.
You will walk on an old woods road from the junction and 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 Trailhead 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 hiking the loop, it may make sense to take the unmarked path.
You will enter state land marked by yellow paint on trees and large slabs of rock crossing the trail along the unmarked path. 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, which 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.
You will have saved about .25 miles of hiking and 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 its unsurpassed views!
For the backpacker, you’ll have two options for the second night of camping. There are a couple of designated campsites on the trail leading to Giant Ledge and then again on the summit, but keep in mind that Giant Ledge is one of the most frequently visited peaks in the Catskills, so you’ll likely share these spots with other campers.
Related post: How to Finding an Outstanding Campsite
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. Its fore longing calls echoing in the mountain col was extraordinary.
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.
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.
Wittenberg-Cornell-Slide Loop Map
Click the map or here for an interactive version of the map.
DEC Contacts and Information
|Slide Mountain Wilderness|
|Contact Information:||DEC Region 3 New Paltz Office:
phone (845) 256-3000 (M-F 8:30AM - 4:30PM), email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Law Enforcement, Emergency & Ranger: 518-408-5850 or dial 911
|Location:||Towns of Shandaken, Denning and Olive in Ulster County|
|Map:||Slide Mountain Wilderness Map|
|Amenities:||Food, gas, and other supplies can be found in the nearby communities of Phoenicia and Boiceville.
Dining opportunities can be found in the nearby communities of Boiceville, Mount Tremper, Phoenicia and Shandaken.
Lodging may be found in the nearby communities of Mount Tremper, Oliverea, Phoenicia, Shandaken.
|Weather:||Slide Mountain Weather|
|Cell Service:||Never count on your cell phone for rescue. Cell service in the Slide Mountain Wilderness is sparse and one may have problems gaining a signal.|
Backwoods wanderer with a passion for backpacking, hiking, kayaking, and exploring the wilds of the Catskills and Adirondacks in New York. A Catskill 3500 Club Member and Adirondack Forty-Sixer. Climbed Mount Rainier. Professionally an Exercise Physiologist.