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Hiking the Catskill 3500

Slide Mountain from Cornell. Notice battered and flagged trees.
Average read time 8 min

The idea of climbing the peaks over 3500′ began with Bill and Kay Spangenberger in 1949. The couple had climbed the peaks over 3500′ in 3-years. After they finished Bill and Kay talked about starting a club promoting climbing all the high peaks, nobody was interested. Fast forward about a decade, one day while Bill was coming off of Doubletop he and Brad Whiting an ADK Mountain Club member discussed the idea of starting a club to climb all the Catskill high peaks. That discussion leads to the Catskill 3500 Club being founded in 1962 by a group of hiking enthusiasts who enjoyed the Catskills and the realization of an idea proposed 10-years earlier was born.

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Access to Graham and Doubletop N. Peak has been Permanently CLOSED

The property owners of Graham and Double Top have closed the property to all hikers.
Read more here regarding the changes to membership climbs for the Catskill 3500.

Thoughts on getting started

I’ve hiked all the 3500 peaks at least three times. The following peaks I’ve hiked in excess of 10-times: Slide, Hunter, Windham High Peak, the Black Head Range, Indian Head, West Kill, Sugarloaf, Twin, and Rusk. One of the questions I get asked often is how do I get started?

In part, the answer is based on your experience as a hiker. If you’re an inexperienced hiker, go with someone who has experience, or even better get signed up for club hikes and meet some other like-minded people! 

Get the maps and guide book

Whether you’re experienced or not, two must-haves are the NYNJTC map set and the ADK Catskill Trail guidebook.

Some of our thoughts on getting started in hiking:

Get to know the Catskill areas

Peak Hiking combinations

You can hike them by height order, but that means taking on peaks one at a time in many cases. If you want to do this, see the list with elevations here.

Slide Mountain Trailhead Sign - Tallest Peak in the Catskills
Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking Slide Mountain Trailhead Sign – Tallest Peak in the Catskills

Hiked one at a time:

Even though almost every peak can be hiked one at a time, some lend themselves to a single climb due to geographic location, interest, or both. For example, Hunter Mountain could be paired with SW Hunter, but you may wish to spend lots of time enjoying the views from the tower and other viewpoints rather than adding SW Hunter to the hike. Kaaterskill High Peak stands on an “island” next to Roundtop, most of the time it is hiked by itself.

Chris goofing around on the summit of Rusk on a chilly Winter day
Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking Chris goofing around on the summit of Rusk on a chilly Winter day

So these peaks are often hiked by themselves.

  • Windham High Peak
  • Hunter
  • Balsam Lake
  • Halcott
  • Rusk
  • Southwest Hunter  (Leavitt Peak)
  • Kaaterskill High Peak
  • Fir
  • Balsam
  • West Kill
  • Panther
  • Plateau
  • Sugarloaf
  • Twin
  • Indian Head
  • Blackhead
  • Slide

Some peaks are hiked in pairs.

  • Wittenberg and Cornell
  • Peekamoose and Table
  • Rocky and Lone
  • Friday and Balsam Cap
  • Hunter and Southwest Hunter
  • North Dome and Mount Sherrill
  • Fir and Big Indian
  • Eagle and Big Indian
  • Bearpen and Vly
  • Twin and Sugarloaf
  • Indian Head and Twin
  • Black Dome and Thomas Cole

Peaks that can be “extreme hiked”

  • Slide, Cornell, and, Wittenberg
  • Indian Head, Twin, Sugarloaf, and Plateau
  • Thomas Cole, Black Dome, and Blackhead
  • The Bushwhack Range (Lone, Rocky, Balsam Cap, Friday)**

Longer outings usually backpacked

  • Indian Head, Twin, Sugarloaf, and Plateau, and West Kill on Devil’s Path (can add Hunter, SW Hunter, North Dome, and/or Mount Sherrill)
  • Big Indian, Eagle, and Balsam on the Pine Hill-West Branch Trail (can add Fir)
  • Thomas Cole, Black Dome, Blackhead, and Windham High Peak on the Horseshoe route or loop with road walk in the Black Dome Valley
  • Wittenberg, Cornell, Slide, and Panther on Woodland Valley Loop or to Fox Hollow

35er Peaks by difficulty

Peaks by difficulty are hard to rate. It depends on your fitness, distance and elevation gain/loss, specific route chosen, weather and time of the year, load in your pack, if it is a trailed or trail-less hike, and many other factors. We have attempted to put peaks into 2-broad categories.

You’ll notice there are NO easy peaks

Even though the term may be used when comparing peaks in the area by some hikers. In reality, there are no 3500′ peaks that could be considered an easy hike which someone with poor fitness could complete.

The list includes sample routes, but not for trail-less peaks.

Difficult to Extreme

  • Wittenberg and Cornell (Out-and-back from Woodland Valley)
  • Indian Head (lollipop route on Devil’s Path return on Jimmy Dolan Notch Trail)
  • Twin (Out-and-back from Roaring Kill over the summit to lower summit)
  • Sugarloaf (lollipop route up Pecoy Notch Trail over summit return on Mink Hollow Trail)
  • Plateau (Out-and-back on Warner Creek Trail)
  • SW Hunter ++ (from either Stony Clove or Spruceton)
  • West Kill (from either direction on Devil’s Path)
  • The Bushwhack Range**
    • Lone,
    • Rocky,
    • Balsam Cap,
    • Friday
  • North Dome and Sherrill**
  • Peekamoose and Table (out-and-back from Denning or Peekamoose Rd)
  • Panther (from Slide Mtn Road or Fox Hollow)
  • Fir**
  • Blackhead (lollipop route up the north face from Big Hollow Rd)
  • Black Dome (Out-and-back from Big Hollow Rd)
  • Thomas Cole (Out-and-back from Barnum Rd)
  • Balsam (lollipop route on Rider Hollow Trail and Mine Hollow Trail)
  • Rusk**
  • Halcott**
  • Kaaterskill High Peak++ (lollipop route up the peak and on the Loop Trail from and back to Steenburgh Road Parking Area)

Moderate to Challenging Peaks

  • Windham High Peak (Out-and-back from Rt 23)
  • Slide (Out-and-back from Slide Mtn Road)
  • Hunter (Out-and-back from Spruceton Rd)
  • Balsam Lake Mtn (Out-and-back from Balsam Lake Mountain TH or Mill Brook Rd)
  • Big Indian++
  • Eagle (Out-and-back from Seager)
  • Bearpen and Vly++

Extreme Peaks

** this denotes trail-less peaks. Some may have herd paths that are marked with ++.

Many of these peaks can be considered extreme as they have NO marked trail which increases the amount of physical and mental work a hiker must do to reach the summit. These peaks should only be attempted by experienced hikers with good map and compass skills. Even peaks with herd paths should be treated as one without trail as storms can cause blowdown and obliterate the path which will not be maintained.

Other ways to think about the 3500 peaks (our lists)

Fine vistas on or near the summit

Slide Mountain from Cornell
Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking Slide Mountain from Cornell
  • Wittenberg
  • Cornell
  • Slide
  • Hunter
  • Balsam Lake
  • Black Dome
  • Windham High Peak
  • Indian Head
  • Twin
  • Sugarloaf
  • Plateau
  • West Kill
  • North Dome
  • Lone
  • Rocky
  • Balsam Cap
  • Friday
  • Balsam
  • Kaaterskill High Peak
  • Peekamoose
  • Table

Peaks that best match the name

  • Indian Head
  • Balsam Cap
  • Lone
  • Twin
  • Blackhead
  • Black Dome
  • Table
  • Plateau

Scratch your head names

  • Sugarloaf
  • Friday
  • Vly
  • Bearpen
  • Eagle
  • North Dome

Peaks that don’t blow your skirt up!

First, all Catskill peaks are beautiful! But some are more beautiful than others…

  • Eagle
  • Fir
  • Halcott
  • Bearpen
  • Vly
  • Mount Sherrill
  • Big Indian

Peak with the coolest summit

  • We think Graham (closed to hiking by landowner), sorry you’ll have to find your own.

Peaks with Lean-tos nearby

  • Table
  • Balsam Lake
  • Balsam
  • Hunter
  • Windham High Peak
  • Halcott
  • West Kill
  • SW Hunter
  • Sugarloaf/Plateau
  • Indian Head
  • Wittenberg
  • Fir
  • Eagle
  • Blackhead

Peaks with plane wrecks

  • Kaaterskill High Peak
  • Friday
  • West Kill
  • Panther
  • Slide

Peaks by time of year

Not all peaks are equal. Some peaks have wonderful vistas. Some have no views. Some have nice trails that lead to their summits. Some have no trails. Some are long hikes, some not so long.

Our advice is to pick your climbs by the time of year when the trees are leafed out, bare, or in full color. It may be better to hike a trail-less peak when the trees are bare or a summit like Halcott is in full color! Off-trail peaks are easier to hike in open forests when the ground cover has not filled in yet.

However, the short days and deep snow of winter can make climbs arduous and at times almost impossible!

Chris taking a break on the way up Plateau Mountain
Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking Chris taking a break on the way up Plateau Mountain

Below are some examples:

Spring (temps are warming, days are getting longer, trees are still bare, spring wild flowers, snow will persist at higher elevations)

  • Halcott
  • Rusk
  • Bearpen and Vly
  • Eagle
  • SW Hunter

Summer (hot, long days, trees are leafed out, no snow)

  • Peekmoose and Table
  • Wittenberg and Cornell (Slide)
  • Peaks on Devil’s Path
  • Blackhead Range
  • Kaaterskill High Peak

Fall (cooling, days getting shorter, fall colors, trees thinning out, possible snow and ice at upper elevations)

  • North Dome and Sherrill
  • Lone and Rocky
  • Balsam Cap and Friday
  • Big Indian and Eagle

Winter (short days, cold, snow and ice, heavier packs physically demanding)

  • Slide#
  • Panther#
  • Balsam#
  • Blackhead#
  • Windham High Peak

# winter required peaks

Your Catskill 3500 is a journey

As I said above, I’ve spent a lot of time in these mountains. Currently, we are picking our way through the lesser Catskill 67 peaks and finding small state forests to explore.

Our advice to you as an aspirant is to take your time. Sit and look at your maps and plan your hikes before you hit the trail. Sketch out in your mind what peak would you like to finish on. Do that first, what peak do you want to celebrate your last climb?

Chris resting and signing the summit register on Friday Mountain.
Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking Chris resting and signing the summit register on Friday Mountain. #39!

With my eldest son, we finished our 39th climb on Eagle in 1999, Jarrett was 10-years old. For Chris, he finished on Friday, with its great view, and a loop out over Slide! He was 17. It was great to finish with each of my sons but I learned from Jarrett’s 35er adventure.

View from Friday Mountain at the canister of Devil's Path
Challenged Hiker | copyright Challenged Hiking View from Friday Mountain at the canister of Devil’s Path

In the Adirondacks, the Adirondack Forty-sixers call Allen Mountain the champagne peak. It is a long and hard 20-mile round trip hike with about 4-5 miles off-trail. It has NO view from its summit. But many people push it off, and it becomes the last climb. Hence the place they pop the champagne bottle. My son Jarrett and I decided to finish in the Great Range learning from our Eagle experience in the Catskills. Our last climb was on Basin with a hike back over Saddleback. Jarrett finished his 46 a few days after his 18th birthday.

Your 35er adventure will be filled with stories and memories, hopefully, all good. One last thing, be ready for anything, the Catskills are not forgiving to those who are not prepared!

Map of the Catskill 3500 High Peaks

Click the map or here for an interactive version of the map

Catskill 3500 Peaks Map
Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking Catskill 3500 Peaks Map

Last Updated on February 6, 2021

Any thoughts? Leave a comment!