Best Guide: Windham High Peak in the Catskills

Average read time 6 min

Windham High Peak is the most northern of the Catskill 3500 Club high peaks. It towers over other peaks and valleys from various points even though being one of the lowest of the 3500. It is one of the most frequently climbed mountains in the Catskills due to its outstanding views, relative ease, and proximity to a major Catskill tourist town. Windham High Peak makes for an excellent winter outing.

Featured Photo: Windham High Peak from a ledge near Burnt Knob. Above clockwise from top left: Windham High Peak from Burnt Knob; Chris at summit view; Trail sign near Elm Ridge Lean-to; Jarrett on wide viewing Ledge on WHP; Burnt Knob and Acra Point from WHP; Young Chris at Elm Ridge Lean-to; Windham High Peak from RT 23 Parking Area; Blackhead Range from view on Windham High Peak

Geeky Stuff

Elevation3525′ (1074.42 m)
Lat/Lon:42°18.89′N / 74°8.59′W
SeasonsSpring, Summer, Fall, Winter
ActivitiesHiking, Camping, Mountain Biking
Nearest higher neighborCamel’s Hump (3550′) 3-miles SSW
Line parentBlackhead Mountain
Key-col2766 ft (844 m) at col between Burnt Knob & Acra Point
Prominence759 ft (227 m)
RangeCatskill Mountains > Catskill Front
Land UnitWindham-Blackhead Range SWA
Summit forestMixed in First Growth
Maps and GuideNY-NJTC Catskill Map Set
NY-NJTC Digital Trail Maps
ADK Catskill Trail Guide

The Dirt

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) administered the lands on Windham High Peak. The DEC works with numerous organizations to maintain the trails, lean-tos, and campsites. In the Catskills, the maintenance is done by a volunteer force.

The peak is situated in the Windham-Black Dome Wilderness Area. The adjacent Elm Ridge Wild Forest contains about 25-miles of Mountain Biking trails. The start of the Escarpment Trail and all of the Elm Ridge Trail traverses through the Elm Ridge Wild Forest.

Approaches

Main trailsEscarpment Trail, Elm Ridge Trail
Shortest approachPeck Road
Trialhead: 2042 ft (622.40 m)
Easiest winter routeElm Ridge Trail to Escarpment Trail

The steepest and longest approach to Windham High Peak is over Burnt Knob and ascending the mountain on the Escarpment Trail on the SE ridge. It is a beautiful and worthwhile out-and-back or point-to-point.

The other two more common approaches start at State Route 23 in East Windham or Peck Road. Peck Road being the easiest. These are the preferred winter routes. Snowshoes and/or microspikes are needed in the winter.

Trails

From Peck Rd via the Elm Ridge Trail (parking area)

  • 0.84-miles from the trailhead to Escarpment Trail on the Elm Ridge Trail.
  • 2.2-miles from the junction with Elm Ridge on the Escarpment to the summit.

Total mileage: 6.08 miles RT; Vertical ascent: 1483′

From State Route 23 via the Escarpment Trail (parking area)

  • 1.2-miles from the trailhead to the junction with the Elm Ridge Trail.
  • 2.2-miles from the junction with Elm Ridge on the Escarpment to the summit.

Total mileage: 6.80 miles RT; Vertical ascent: 1750′

From Big Hollow Road over Burnt Knob (parking area)

  • 1.0-mile from the trailhead to Escarpment Trail
  • 2.44-miles from the junction between Burnt Knob and Acra Point to summit

Total mileage: 6.88 miles RT; Vertical ascent: 1803′ to summit plus 407′ on return 2210′ total

Camping

Closest campingElm Ridge Lean-to

Camping at the lean-to is first come, first serve, and hikers cannot reserve a lean-to or designated campsite. Lean-to capacity is about 7-8 people. All designated primitive tent sites have yellow and black “Camp Here” markers. Many sites on lakes and ponds are identified by a yellow number against a dark brown wooden plaque typically attached to a tree near the water’s edge.

At-large backcountry camping is also allowed. Campsites must be below 3,500 feet in elevation and at least 150 feet away from the nearest road, trail, or body of water.

Camping for more than three nights or in a group of ten or more requires a permit from a Forest Ranger.

Safety and Wellness

Please sign in at all trail registers, here’s why.

Bears

There are an estimated 1,800 to 2,000 black bears in the Catskills. The following are the recommendations from the DEC on bear management:

  • Use bear-resistant food canisters. These are a highly effective means for preventing bears from getting your food, toiletries, and garbage. Use of bear-resistant canisters is encouraged throughout the Adirondack and Catskill backcountry, and are required in Eastern High Peaks Wilderness of the Adirondack Park.
  • Pack a minimal amount of food. The less food to store the better. Use lightweight and dehydrated foods.
  • Cook and eat before dark. Bears become more active after sunset.
  • Cook away from your campsite. Choose an area at least 100 feet away from your sleeping area.
  • Be neat and clean while cooking. Avoid spills and drippings. Do not pour grease into your fire pit.
  • Keep food in storage containers. Only take out the food you plan to cook. Keep containers nearby and store food immediately if a bear approaches your cooking area.
  • Avoid leftovers. Carefully plan your meals and eat all that you cook.
  • Never leave food unattended. Bears may watch from a distance waiting for opportunities to steal food.

DEC Fact Sheet on Bear Encounters (PDF)

If You Encounter a Bear at Your Campsite

Do:

  • Use noise to scare bears away: Yell, clap, or bang pots immediately upon sighting a bear near your campsite.
  • Stay calm: Walk slowly and speak in a loud and calm voice.
  • Leave slowly: Cautiously back away from the bear and leave the area.

Don’t:

  • Approach, surround, or corner a bear: Bears aggressively defend themselves when they feel threatened. Be especially cautious around cubs as mother bears are very protective.
  • Run from a bear: They may chase.
  • Throw your backpack or food bag at an approaching bear: This will only encourage bears to approach and “bully” people to get food. By teaching a bear to approach humans for food, you are endangering yourself, other campers/residents, and the bears.

A note on water

Drinking and cooking water should be boiled for 5 minutes, treated with purifying tablets, or filtered through filtration device to prevent instances of giardia infection.

Contact and Map

Windham-Blackhead Range Wilderness
Contact Information:DEC Region 4 Stamford
Office hours: M-F 8:30AM - 4:30PM
Phone: (607) 652-7365;
Email: r4.ump@dec.ny.gov
Backcountry Emergency: (Search, Rescue & Forest Fire): 518-408-5850 or dial 911
Location: Towns of Cairo, Hunter, Jewett, Windham and Durham in Greene County
Map: View Windham-Blackhead Range Wilderness Map - PDF (2.82 MB)
Amenities:Dining opportunities, as well as gas, food and other supplies can be found in the nearby communities of Cairo, Windham and Palenville.
Weather:Blackhead Mountain weather
Cell Service:Never count on your cell phone for rescue. Cell service in the Windham-Blackhead Wilderness is okay and one may have problems in ravines. We have not had problems with service.

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

Windham High Peak Topo Map
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Windham High Peak Topo Map
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