An Authoritative Guide To The Blackhead Mountain Range

Average read time 18 min

The Blackhead Mountain Range is home to the Catskill’s 3rd, 4th, and 5th tallest peaks. The major summits of Black Dome (3995′), Thomas Cole (3953′), and Blackhead (3940′) all approach the 4000′ mark. The peaks in the range offer fine hiking with outstanding views and high elevation boreal first growth forest. With 6 trails that provide varying and attractive ways to enter the range, the Blackheads are a place that you can visit many times with different experiences. The three major peaks are required climbs for the Catskill 3500 Club, with Blackhead being a winter-required peak.

Featured Photo: Blackhead Mountain Range from Windham High Peak. Above from left top clockwise: Chris in Winter on the Black Dome Trail at the first lookout below Caudal; Chris climbing the south face of Blackhead; Chris descending the north face of Blackhead; Camel’s Hump from the ridge on Thomas Cole; Devil’s Path from Black Dome summit; Hiking across the high col between Camel’s Hump and Thomas Cole; Chris in the high col with Thomas Cole behind (center); Climbing the north face of Blackhead; Climbing up on the Blackhead Spur Trail; Backpacking on Arizona Peak with Blackhead in the distance; High water bridge on the Batavia Kill Trail; Batavia Kill Lean-to; Stream along the Batavia Kill Trail with Blackhead behind; View from the top of the slide on the Blackhead Spur Trail; Black Dome from Blackhead in winter; Sign to Batavia Kill Lean-to; Chris in the high col between Camel’s Hump and Thomas Cole; Thoma Cole from Camel’s Hump; West trail register on the Black Dome Range Trail; Trail sign at the junction of the Batavia Kill and Escarpment Trails; View from Yellow Jacket Lookout.

Geeky Stuff

Elevations:Black Dome – 3995′
Thomas Cole – 3953′
Blackhead – 3941′
Camel’s Hump – 3537′
Caudal – 3323′
Lat/Lon (Black Dome):42°16′12″N, 74°07′21″W
Seasons:Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
Activities:Hiking, Snowshoeing, Camping
Nearest higher neighbor: ( for Black Dome)Hunter Mountain 8.4-miles SW
Line parent: (for Black Dome)Hunter Mountain 8.4-miles SW
Key-col: (for Black Dome)Platte Clove 1920 ft/585 m
Prominence: (for Black Dome) 2060 ft/628 m
Range:Catskill Mountains > Northern Catskills > Escarpment > Blackhead Mountain Range
Land Unit:Windham-Blackhead Wilderness Area
Summit forests:Boreal in first growth
First growth forest:Upper ridge from Blackhead to Caudal. (3.3 square miles)
Maps and GuideNY-NJTC Catskill Map Set
NY-NJTC Digital Trail Maps
ADK Catskill Trail Guide

The Dirt on the Range

The Blackhead Mountain Range lands are administered by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). 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 Blackhead Mountain Range is distinctive as its 3-peak profile is noticeable from many Catskill locations. In fact, a great view of the range is found as far a the City of Albany. The range is considered a branch of the Escarpment (Catskill Front). The main peaks hiked in the range are from west to east: Caudal, Camel’s Hump, Thomas Cole, Black Dome, and Blackhead. The two true summits not reached by the trail are Caudal and Thomas Cole passing south of both by about 250′ distance and 30′ elevation and 160′ distance and 10′ elevation. Close enough.

From a hiking perspective, the Blackhead Mountain Range’s geographic boundaries are to the North: Big Hollow Road, East: The Catskill Front, West: Barnum Road, and South: Colgate Lake. This would include an area of about 9500 acres. Having said this, the range may also include Van Loan, Round, Cave, West Cave, Tower, and Bald Mountains before ending at the confluence of the Batavia Kill and Schoharie Creek near Prattsville, some 15-miles away from Blackhead Mountain.

According to Micheal Kudish in his book “The Catskill Forest: A History,” many parcels of lands in and around the Blackhead Range were acquired by the state between 1909 – 1919. One notable exception is the summit of Blackhead, which was purchased and added to the Catskill Forest Preserve in 1979-1980.

It is wild and has extensive wildlife, including black bears, raccoons, fishers, shorttail and longtail weasels, mink, striped skunks, coyotes, rabbits, red and gray foxes, bobcats, woodchuck, porcupine, eastern chipmunk, varieties of squirrels, mice, voles. There are also dozens of fish, reptiles, and amphibian species. Finally, there are hundreds of bird species.

The area is rugged and has great opportunities for quick day hikes to multi-day backpacking. The upper ridges from Backhead to Caudal are shrouded in a first growth boreal forest. At the lower elevations, water is usually plentiful, but once on the ridgelines, one may be hard-pressed to find any. Plan accordingly.

Estimated Area of First Growth Forest
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Estimated Area of First Growth Forest

Guide to Trail Approaches

From the closest trailheads of all directions, there are about 18.5-miles of trail that lead into and cross the range—the most direct being from Barnum Road and Big Hollow Road. You can hike longer but exciting routes from either Colgate Lake or Storks Nest Road. No one trail traverses the entire range.

The trail options here are simply that, options. There are other combinations of routes and directions that we don’t provide. Give us a shout in the comments if you’ve done something unique, like a bushwhack!

Short day hikesBlackhead Loop from Big Hollow Road

Black Dome From Big Hollow Road
Longer day hikesThomas Cole and Black Dome from Barnum Road

Black Dome and Thomas Cole from Big Hollow
Point-to-pointsThe entire range from Barnum Road to Big Hollow

Thomas Cole and Black Dome from Barnum Road to Big Hollow

The entire range from Colgate Lake to Barnum Road

The entire range from Storks Nest Road to Barnum Road
Hardest RouteFrom Colgate Lake doing the entire range OR Stork’s Nest Road
Easiest Winter RouteFrom Big Hollow Road on the Black Dome Range Trail

From Barnum Road

The out-and-back from Barnum Road can be done in one day by people in good physical condition. Another option would be to spot a car at the Big Hollow Road parking area and hike it as a point-to-point. Finally, hiking Thomas Cole and Black Dome alone is a worthy hike. The hiking takes on a character of some short steep ledges with longer gradual climbs from Barnum Road. Once over Black Dome, the trail changes, and descents become more challenging.

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Private Property

Note, the first 0.4-miles of the Black Dome Range Trail from Barnum Road crosses private land and passes homes, please respect the rights of landowners and stay on the trail. Park only in the designated area on Barnum Road.

Out-and-back from Barnum Road (the entire range)
Distance:9.8-miles RTRoute type:Out-and-back
Total climb:3900′ RTHike type:Trails
How hard?DifficultTrailhead:Barnum Road
Barnum Road to state landBlack Dome Range Trail – Red markers0.4-miles
State land boundary to Caudal Black Dome Range Trail – Red markers0.9-miles (1.3-miles from TH)
Caudal to Camel’s HumpBlack Dome Range Trail – Red markers0.7-miles (2.0-miles from TH)
Camel’s Hump to Thomas ColeBlack Dome Range Trail – Red markers0.9-miles (2.9-miles from TH)
Thomas Cole to Black DomeBlack Dome Range Trail – Red markers0.8-miles (3.7-miles from TH)
Black Dome to Lockwood GapBlack Dome Range Trail – Red markers0.6-miles (4.3-miles from TH)
Lockwood Gap to BlackheadBlackhead Trail – Yellow Marked0.6-miles (4.9-miles from TH)
Return to Barnum Road from Blackhead9.8-miles RT
Black Dome Range and Blackhead Trail entire Blackhead Range Hike
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Black Dome Range and Blackhead Trail entire Blackhead Range Hike
Entire range point-to-point from Barnum Road to Big Hollow via the Escapement and Batiava Kill Trails
Distance:7.3-milesRoute type:Point-to-point
Total climb:2900′ (P-2-P)Hike type:Trails
How hard?DifficultTrailheads:Barnum Road (Start)
Big Hollow Rd (Finish)
Barnum Road to state landBlack Dome Range Trail – Red markers0.4-miles
State land boundary to CaudalBlack Dome Range Trail – Red markers0.9-miles (1.3-miles from TH)
Caudal to Camel’s HumpBlack Dome Range Trail – Red markers0.7-miles (2.0-miles from TH)
Camel’s Hump to Thomas ColeBlack Dome Range Trail – Red markers0.9-miles (2.9-miles from TH)
Thomas Cole to Black DomeBlack Dome Range Trail – Red markers0.8-miles (3.7-miles from TH)
Black Dome to Lockwood GapBlack Dome Range Trail – Red markers0.6-miles (4.3-miles from TH)
Lockwood Gap to Blackhead summitBlackhead Trail – Yellow Marked0.6-miles (4.9-miles from TH)
Blackhead to Batavia Kill TrailEscarpment Trail – blue markers0.9-miles (5.8-miles from TH)
Batavia Kill Trail to Black Dome TrailBatavia Kill Trail – Yellow markers0.9-miles (6.7-miles from TH)
Black Dome Trail to Big Hollow TrailheadBlack Dome Range Trail – Red markers0.6-miles (7.3-miles from TH)
Total from Barnum Rd to Big Hollow7.3-miles
Entire range point-to-point from Barnum Road to Big Hollow via the Escapement and Batiava Kill Trails
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Entire range point-to-point from Barnum Road to Big Hollow via the Escapement and Batiava Kill Trails
Out and Back to Thomas Cole and Black Dome

Related post: Best hikes: Camel’s Hump, Thomas Cole, & Black Dome in the Catskills

Distance:7.4-miles RTRoute type:Out-and-back
Total climb:2761′ RTHike type:Trail
How hard?Moderately-HardTrailhead:Barnum Road
Barnum Road to state landBlack Dome Range Trail – Red markers0.4-miles
State land boundary to Caudal0.9-miles (1.3-miles from TH)
Caudal to Camel’s Hump0.7-miles (2.0-miles from TH)
Camel’s Hump to Thomas Cole0.9-miles (2.9-miles from TH)
Thomas Cole to Black Dome0.8-miles (3.7-miles from TH)
Black Dome back to Barnum Road3.7-miles (7.4-miles total)
Barnum Road to Black Dome
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Barnum Road to Black Dome

From Big Hollow

The majority of hikes in the Blackhead Range originate from Big Hollow. The area is a hub for the Blackheads and Acra Point and Burnt Knob and the longer route to Windham High Peak. The ascents from Big Hollow are steep and dramatic.

The north face of Blackhead is exhilarating with its relentless steep climbing. It may be wise to climb up this section rather than descend it, especially in winter. Of course, a point to point from Big Hollow to Barnum Road is always possible.

Related post: Best hikes: Blackhead Mountain Day Hike in the Catskills

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Private Property

A short section of trail at the start of the Black Dome Trail from Big Hollow is on or very close to private property, be aware where you are, and please respect the landowner rights.

directions_car

Parking

Note that the gravel road to the trailhead is not maintained in winter. You may have to find parking on the road, which is limited. Do not park in the plow turnaround.
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When the parking area is reachable in winter it may be a sheet of ice due to water and snow-melt. Even 4WD vehicles have problems on the ice.

Blackhead Loop from Big Hollow
Distance:5-milesRoute type:Lollipop
Total climb:1815′ to summitHike type:Trails
How hard?Moderately DifficultTrailhead:Big Hollow
Big Hollow trailhead to Batavia Kill TrailBlack Dome Range Trail – Red markers0.6-miles
Batavia Kill Trail to Escarpment TrailBatavia Kill Trail – Yellow Markers0.9-miles (1.5-miles from TH)
Escarpment Trail to Blackhead Mountain summitEscarpment Trail – Blue markers0.9-miles (2.4-miles from TH)
Blackhead Mountain to Lockwood GapBlackhead Mountain Trail – Yellow marked0.6-miles (3.0-miles from TH)
Lockwood Gap to Junction with Batavia Kill TrailBlack Dome Range Trail – Red markers1.4-miles (4.4-miles from TH)
Junction with Batavia Kill Trail to trailheadBlack Dome Range Trail – Red markers0.6-miles (5.0-miles)
Total on loop5-miles
Blackhead Mountain Loop Hike
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Blackhead Mountain Loop Hike
Black Dome and Thomas Cole as an out-and-back
Distance:6.8-miles RTRoute type:Out-and-back
Total climb:2945′ RTHike type:Trail
How hard?DifficultTrailhead:Big Hollow
Big Hollow trailhead to Batavia Kill TrailBlack Dome Range Trail – Red markers0.6-miles
Batavia Kill Trail trail junction to Lockwood Gap1.4-miles (2.0-miles from TH)
Lockwood Gap to Summit of Black Dome0.6-miles (2.6-miles from TH)
Summit of Black Dome to Summit of Thomas Cole0.8-miles (3.4-miles from TH)
From Thomas Cole back to trailhead3.4-miles (total 6.-miles)
Extend hike: Add Blackhead Mountainplus 1.2-miles from Lockwood Gap and another 554′ of climbing
Black Dome and Thomas Cole from Big Hollow
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Black Dome and Thomas Cole from Big Hollow

Winter Route up Blackhead

Blackhead is a required winter peak for the Catskill 3500 Club. Given this, it sees moderate traffic in the winter months. Some years the snow is scarce, which makes for generally icy hiking. The shallow snow at the trailhead may lull one into the thought that a few inches of snow at the trailhead means little snow at the summit-this is probably not the case. It is not uncommon to find deep snow on the higher summits mix with ice on open ledges. Cold temperatures and higher winds produce wind chill below zero on many days. Snow squalls are common.

Climbing the north face of Blackhead requires crampons as the steep upper section is often packed with sustained sections of water ice. The west and easiest winter approach are from Lockwood Gap. This can be approached with microspikes. It would be best if you carried Snowshoes as per state guidelines.

Winter out-and-back to Blackhead Mountain
Distance:5.2-miles RTRoute type:Out-and-back
Total climb:1830′ to summitHike type:Trail
How hard?Difficult (winter)Trailhead:Big Hollow
Big Hollow trailhead to Batavia Kill TrailBlack Dome Range Trail – Red markers0.6-miles
Batavia Kill Trail trail junction to Lockwood GapBlack Dome Range Trail – Red markers1.4-miles (2.0-miles from TH)
Lockwood Gap to top of steep climbBlackhead Mountain Trail – Yellow marked0.25-miles (2.25-miles from TH)
Top of climb to Blackhead summitBlackhead Mountain Trail – Yellow marked0.35-miles (2.6-miles from TH)
Summit and return to Big Hollow parking2.6-miles (5.2-miles total)
Harder variation: Climb North FaceSee Blackhead Loop from Big Hollow above.
Winter out and back or loop
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Winter out and back or loop

From Colgate Lake

The Colgate Lake Wild Forest is situated south of the Blackhead Mountain Range. It offers a less-traveled way into the range, albeit longer. The hike from the Colgate Lake parking area to Dutcher Notch is beautiful and, at times, unusual. Keep your eyes on the trail markers as the trail twists and turns at times.

Related post: Best Hikes: The Catskill’s Escarpment Trail from Colgate Lake

The route from Stork’s Nest Road, technically in the Windham-Black Dome Wilderness Area, is shorter than the Colgate Lakeside of the ridge, but it comes with steeper climbing out of the Hudson Valley.

Most people that hike from this area only climb Blackhead Mountain as an out-and-back. But a fine can do a point-to-point with a second car at Barnum Road. The climb up the south face of Blackhead is as almost difficult as the north face!

Colgate Lake to Blackhead
Distance:13.6-miles RTRoute type:Out-and-back
Total climb:2700′ RTHike type:Trails
How hard?DifficultTrailhead:Colgate Lake
Colgate Lake trailhead to Dutcher NotchColgate Lake Trail – Yellow marked4.35-miles
Dutcher Notch to Arizona PeakEscarpment Trail – Blue marked1.4-miles (5.75-miles from TH)
Arizona Peak to Blackhead SummitEscarpment Trail – Blue marked1.05-miles (6.8-miles from TH)
Blackhead back to parking6.8-miles (13.6-miles total)
Option: Second car at Barnum RoadAdd: 4.9-miles to the 6.8 at Blackhead (total 11.7-miles).
Stork’s Nest Road to Blackhead
Distance:8.7-miles RTRoute type:Out-and-back
Total climb:3200′ RTHike type:Trails
How hard?DifficultTrailhead:Stork’s Nest Road
Stork’s Nest Road Parking to Dutcher NotchDutcher Notch Trail – Yellow marked1.9-miles
Dutcher Notch to Arizona PeakEscarpment Trail – Blue marked1.4-miles (3.3-miles from TH)
Arizona Peak to Blackhead SummitEscarpment Trail – Blue marked1.05-miles (4.35-miles from TH)
Blackhead back to parking area4.35-miles (8.7-miles RT)
Option: Second car at Barnum Road Add: 4.9-miles to the 4.3 at Blackhead (total 9.2-miles).
Colgate Lake and Stork's Nest Road Approach
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Colgate Lake and Stork’s Nest Road Approach

Primer on Camping in the Blackhead Range

Closest camping
Batavia Kill Lean-toBatavia Kill Trail
2 Primitive campsitesBatavia Kill Trail
4 Primitive campsitesColgate Lake Trail

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.

Related reading: 10 Things to Think About Before Using a Lean-To or Backcountry Shelter

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 the map or here for an interactive version of the map

Blackhead Mountain Range Trail/Camping Map
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Blackhead Mountain Range Trail/Camping Map
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