Big Indian Wilderness

The Big Indian Wilderness is home to the Catskill’s largest area of first growth forest. This area is home to some of the best backpacking in the Catskills. With 33,500 acres and 30-miles of foot trails, it’s a hiker’s playground. Elevation ranges from 3860′ on the south peak of Doubletop Mountain to as low as 1500′. Major peaks with trails located in this section include Eagle Mountain (summit several hundred feet off trail) and Balsam Mountain both over 3500′. Major peaks off-trail include Fir Mountain (Bushwhack) and Big Indian Mountain (0.2-mile herd path). The area is also home to many lesser peaks.

Catskill 3500 PeaksCatskill 67 PeaksOther Peaks
Big Indian (HP)
Fir (BW)
Eagle (TR/HP)
Balsam (TR)
Winnisook (BW)
Spruce (BW)
Willowemoc (TR)
Beaverkill Range (BW)
High Falls Ridge (BW)
Belleayre (TR)
Mongaup (BW)
Sand Pond (TR)
W. Winnisook (BW)
Hemlock (BW)
Hirams Knob (BW)
Haynes (TR)
Doubletop-South Peak (BW)
Mongaup Middle
Mongaup East
BW – BushwhackHP – Herd-PathTR – Trailed
Peaks in the Big Indian Wilderness

Trails in the Big Indian Wilderness

Pine Hill-West Branch Trail (14.1 miles, total ascent 3575′, blue markers) Biscuit Brook Parking Area | Woodchuck Hollow Road

This is the longest continuous trail in the Big Indian Wilderness. It provides an opportunity for a 2-3 day point-to-point backpacking trip through some of the most beautiful first growth forests in the Catskills. Although few grand views are found, solitude is more likely on this trail than in other more frequented areas in these mountains.

Access to two lean-tos on the trail and another three accessible by side trails, passing over 5-summits with also providing good spots to bushwhack 2 other major peaks (Doubletop and Fir) the Pine Hill-West Branch Trail has a lot to offer! You will also pass the herd path to Big Indian which takes you 0.20 miles to the summit, it’s almost trail-like.

Backpacking from south starting at the Biscuit Brook trailhead and hiking north is easier as the grades are more moderate than the opposite direction.

If you plan to bushwhack Doubletop please contact the caretaker for permission. Contact Bill ONLY at his office number: (845) 586-4099. He will be responding during Mon-Fri business hours. This is a landline, so texts will not work.

Oliveria-Mapledale Trail or aka McKinley Hollow-Rider Hollow Trail

The following are two sections of one trail, Mckinley Hollow and Rider Hollow trails are part of the Oliveria-Mapledale Trail or aka McKinley Hollow-Rider Hollow Trail.

The Mckinley Hollow section is on the east side of the Eagle Mountain Range ridge and the Rider Hollow section on the west side. As they are generally not hiked as one they will be described in sections. The Oliveria-Mapledale Trail was used as a cattle trail to bring cattle from the Dry Brook Valley to Kingston. “Dry” Brook is a corruption of the German term “Drei” meaning three. The Dry Brook as we know it today once had three bridges crossing it and was called Drei Brook.

McKinley Hollow Trail (1.9 miles, 1440′ ascent to col, red markers) Mckinley Hollow Parking

The Mckinley Hollow Trail, also known as the Oliveria-Mapledale Trail or even the McKinley Hollow-Rider Hollow Trail is a connector trail that provides good access to the Pine Hill-West Branch Trail and Balsam Mountain. The trail takes you to the col between Haynes and Balsam Mountains. The red marked trail continues down to Rider Hollow, thus the name McKinley Hollow-Rider Hollow Trail.

It is less attractive than the Rider Hollow-Mine Hollow Loop if one’s objective is climbing Balsam Mountain. Having said that it does have a lean-to and good water as you’ll be camping/climbing next to and crossing McKinley Hollow Brook. The climbing gets progressively steeper as you approach the headwall.

Rider Hollow Trail (1.75 miles, 1160′ ascent to the col, Red Markers) Rider Hollow Parking Area

The Rider Hollow Trail provides a wonderful hike up a pretty ravine. It has the Rider Hollow Lean-to with ample water which makes it a nice place to camp. With the Mine Hollow Trail and the Pine Hill-West Branch Trail going over Balsam Mountain, it makes for an outstanding 4.8-mile loop.

Junction of the Rider Hollow and Mine Hollow Trails
Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking Junction of the Rider Hollow and Mine Hollow Trails

You’ll cross Rider Hollow Brook several times once on a steel bridge. At 1.15-miles at about 2300′ elevation you’ll enter first growth forest. Below this first growth, point look for several European Larch plantations. They are surrounded by stone walls.

Mine Hollow Trail (1.0 mile, 859′ ascent to Pine Hill Trail, Yellow Markers)

The Mine Hollow trail is a short connector trail that connects the western section of the McKinley Hollow-Rider Hollow Trail to the Pine Hill-West Branch Trail. It is most commonly used as part of a wonderful loop hike over Balsam Mountain. It starts about .35-miles from the Rider Hollow Trailhead.

The trail follows an old bark road used by tanners to an elevation of about 2400′ where it enters a beautiful stand of hemlocks. As you reach the Pine Hill-West Branch Trail junction you will have entered first growth forest!

Seager-Big Indian Trail (2.92 miles, 1260′ ascent to Pine Hill Trail, Yellow Markers) Seager Parking Area

The Seager-Big Indian trail is a long almost 3-mile approach trail the leaves the hiker on the shoulder of a small bump between Big Indian and Eagle Mountains. It is also a common trail to pick a herd path for bushwhacking Double Top.

One should note that the first 1.9-miles of this trail is on private land after which it enters the Big Indian Wilderness. Hikers should respect the landowners by staying on the trail. If you are climbing Doubletop or Graham please contact the caretaker.

Contact Bill ONLY at his office number: (845) 586-4099. He will be responding during Mon-Fri business hours. This is a landline, so texts will not work.

Cascade Shandaken Brook on the Seager-Big Indian Trail
Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking Cascade Shandaken Brook on the Seager-Big Indian Trail

Lost Clove Trail (1.3 miles, ascent 1295′ to Pine Hill-west Branch trail, Red marked) Lost Clove Parking

The Lost Clove Trail provides access to the Pine Hill-West Branch Trail and Belleayre Mountain with 2 lean-tos (not in the Big Indian Wilderness, but close enough!). For hikers backpacking on the Pine Hill-West Branch Trail, it provides an alternative to parking on Woodchuck Hollow Road.

Neversink-Hardenburgh Trail (5.6 miles, ascent 695′, descent 744′, Yellow marked) Black Bear Road Trailhead | Hardenburgh Trail parking area

The Neversink-Hardenburgh Trail bisects the Big Indian Wilderness connecting the Willowemoc Wild Forest with the Balsam Lake Wild Forest. The trail is a bumpy ride as you’ll gain 695′ elevation and drop 744′ during the 5.6-mile length.

There is one lean-to and two designated campsites and its part of the Finger Lakes Trail.

Mongaup-Hardenburg Trail (6.4 miles, Ascent 2032′, Blue markers) Beaverkill Road Parking area | Mongaup Campground

With moderate hiking, this area is quite enjoyable. It will provide the hiker or backpacker a break from the crowds in the high peaks to the north and east. When combined with the trail system in the Western Catskills nice 2-3 day backpacking loops are possible.

It can be accessed from Beaverkill Road in the north or Mongaup Campground in the south.

Camping in the Big Indian Wilderness

There are five lean-tos located trailside throughout the area, each supported by a seasonal water source and pit privy. Other designated campsites are marked with a yellow “Camp Here” disc.

Lean-tos:

  • Fall Brook – Neversink-Hardenburgh Trail
  • Biscuit Brook – Pine Hill-West Branch Trail
  • Seager – Seager-Big Indian Trail
  • Rider Hollow – Rider Hollow Trail
  • McKinley Hollow – Mckinley Hollow Trail

At-large camping is also allowing. Camping must be 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. Camping is prohibited above an elevation of 3,500 feet in the Catskills, between March 21 and December 21.

Water is relatively scarce in the Catskills. It is not unusual for the springs and streams in this area to run dry during the summer months. Boil all water for 2 minutes, filter, or treat chemically.

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 spots in the Big Indian Wilderness that service is spotty.

Big Indian Wilderness Map

Click on map or here for an interactive version of map

Big Indian Wilderness Map
Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking Big Indian Wilderness Map

Information about COVID-19
Please note changes in access and rules for hiking and camping in the Adirondacks and Catskills during the COVID-19 outbreak. Please act responsibly during this stressful period. Please read the DEC info carefully.
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