Hiking Balsam Mountain on the McKenley Hollow Trail

McKenley Hollow Trailhead sign
Average read time 5 min

Summary

A hike up a Catskill 3500 peak in a deep glacially carved valley with steep and beautiful scenery

The hike on the McKenley Hollow Trail to Balsam Mountain is rugged and more challenging than it looks on your map. The distance out and back to the Balsam Mountain Overlook is 5.6-miles. With over 2,000 feet of climbing, this hike is a real thigh buster. In one sustained section, the maximal grade is 36%, one of the steepest in the Catskills! A lean-to, beautiful streams, first-growth forest, and a boreal summit make this a great day in the woods. On lovely days the view from the Balsam Mountain Overlook is inspiring. The vista is best when the leaves are down but can be enjoyed any time of the year.

Hike stats

Distance:5.6-miles RTTotal climb:2060′
Difficulty:HardRoute typeOut-and-back
Hike type: TrailsTrailhead:McKenley Hollow

Balsam Mountain on the McKenley Hollow Trail step by step

  1. From the trailhead, cross a bridge to the trail register and walk across a ridge at 0.25-miles descend to the junction where the original trail came in (stay left).
  2. At 0.38-miles, reach your first of two stream crossings fording McKenley Hollow Brook. It can be tricky during high water.
  3. Climb gradually and reach the McKenley Hollow lean-to at 0.75-miles from the trailhead.
  4. Quickly after the lean-to a second brook crossing. It can be tricky during high water.
  5. After the stream crossing, the steep climbing begins gaining almost 1,200-feet to the col.
  6. At 1.2-miles from the trailhead, you reach an extensive section of rock stairs and some switchbacks to help control erosion with the steep terrain.
  7. After the switchbacks, the grade lessens, and the valley widens.
  8. Just before the col, on the left is an at-large campsite.
  9. At 1.8-miles, you reach the col between Haynes and Balsam Mountains.
  10. Heading north on the blue marked Pine Hill – West  Branch Trail, it is 0.8-miles to the summit with about another 600’ climbing.
  11. The actual summit is reached by a short path off the trail with a small monolith marker.
  12. Walk another two-tenths of a mile on the trail to the overlook. You’ll lose about 40’ elevation.

Photos

Chris signing register at McKenley Hollow
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Chris signing register at McKenley Hollow
Bridge crossing brook at trailhead
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Bridge crossing brook at trailhead
First stream crossing on the McKenley Hollow Trail
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking First stream crossing on the McKenley Hollow Trail
McKenley Hollow Lean-to
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking McKenley Hollow Lean-to
Foundation near McKenley Hollow Lean-to
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Foundation near McKenley Hollow Lean-to
Chris descending to second stream crossing
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Chris descending to second stream crossing
Start of the rock stairs
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Start of the rock stairs
Trillium in the spring
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Trillium in the spring
Weather worn sign at the Pine Hill - West Branch Junction
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Weather worn sign at the Pine Hill – West Branch Junction
Rock ledges enter about 3200'
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Rock ledges enter about 3200′
Chris that the 3500-foot sign on the Pine Hill - West Branch Trail
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Chris that the 3500-foot sign on the Pine Hill – West Branch Trail
Balsam Mountain Summit
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Balsam Mountain Summit

Dig Deeper: The Big Indian Wilderness a Comprehensive Guide

Balsam Mountain View looking NE
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Balsam Mountain View looking NE
Balsam Mountain View looking E
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Balsam Mountain View looking E
Balsam Mountain View looking SE
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Balsam Mountain View looking SE

NYSDEC contact and other information

Big Indian Wilderness
Contact Information:DEC Region 3 New Paltz Office:
phone (845) 256-3000 (M-F 8:30AM - 4:30PM), email: r3admin@dec.ny.gov
Law Enforcement, Emergency & Ranger: 518-408-5850 or dial 911
Location: Towns of Denning, Shadaken and Hardenburgh in Ulster County
Map: Big Indian Wilderness Map
Amenities:Gas may be found in the nearby communities of Arkville, Fleischmanns, Livingston Manor and Pine Hill.
Food and other supplies can be found in the nearby communities of Margaretville and Livingston Manor.
Dining opportunities can be found in the nearby communities of Arkville, Big Indian, Fleischmanns, Margaretville and Pine Hill.
Lodging may be found in the nearby communities of Arkville, Big Indian, Fleischmanns, Oliverea and Pine Hill.
Weather:Big Indian Mountain Forecast
Cell Service:Never count on your cell phone for rescue. There are many spots in the Big Indian Wilderness that service is poor.

Trail Map

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

Balsam Mountain trail map
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Balsam Mountain trail map
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