Kaaterskill Wild Forest

The Kaaterskill Wild Forest is a historic area with wonderful hiking, outstanding views, many waterfalls, camping opportunities, plane wreckages, and an unusual “island” of high peaks. The wild forest is located on the Catskill escarpment with its southern border at the precipice of Platte Clove and the Indian Head Wilderness and northern border adjoining North-South Lake Campground. It also contains the Kaaterskill Falls Area that will have its own page. It is bisected by Kaaterskill Clove creating a section south and north of Route 23A.

As most people hike either in the south to Kaaterkill High Peak or in the north on the Escarpment Trail near North-South Lake – for ease of use this page will present the wild forest in the south as the Kaatterskill High Peak section and in the north as the Kaaterskill Clove Section.  Having said that, we encourage the hiker to explore beyond High Peak and visit the deep walls of the Kaaterskill Clove and see Buttermilk and Wildcat Falls plus the beautiful Poets Ledge! Kaaterskill Falls area has its own page due to its uniqueness and intense interest.

Kaaterskill High Peak section

In our description, the Kaaterskill High Peak section is bordered on the north by Kaaterskill Clove and RT 23A, on the east by the steep Catskill Front or also known as Wall of Manitou, on the south by Platte Clove and the Indian Head Wilderness, and the west by NYC DEP land and the Schoharie Valley. Kaaterskill High Peak and Roundtop dominate the scene as they stand alone almost like an island.

The Long Path (9.11 miles, ascent/descent +1892′ -3069′ starting from the south, blue marked) Steenburgh Road Parking Area | Harding Road Parking Area

This beautiful section of the Long Path cuts through the Kaaterskill High Peak section climbing to and passing the Huckleberry Point Trail at one mile. After this, the trail on the level for about 0.35 miles and begins climbing again to the col between Kaaterskill High Peak and Kaaterskill High Peak, east peak (the col is barely noticeable).

Once in the col, the trail will parallel the Loop Trail which will be about 0.20 to the left. The trail will be gentle all the way to the path that connects the Long Path and The Loop Trail that provides access to the herd path up Kaaterskill High Peak. This is reached at about 3.35 miles from the parking area.

Continuing on the Long Path, with downhills and one long level stretch, the Harding Road Parking Area is reached in another 5.75 miles. This is an exciting section of the trail. As you’ll pass several excellent views, especially the Poet’s Ledge which is best viewed in the morning, three waterfalls, and first growth boreal forest. At-large camping can be found with generally good water. At points, you’ll be hiking in a first growth forest.

Be warned this is an isolated part of the trail, bears are common, people are not. You can’t see the bottom of two of the waterfalls, one requires a steep climb down one is a technical climb down! The spillway on the falls is slippery don’t stand on them, one slip may be your last!

In the winter, the trail doubles as a snowmobile trail to the point of The Kaaterskill High Peak Loop Trail.

Huckleberry Point Trail (1.3 miles, ascent/descent +257′ -431′ to the point, yellow markers) Steenburgh Road Parking Area

The Huckleberry Point Trail takes the hiker to one of the finest views in the Catskills. Situated above the Platte Clove, a deep gash in the Catskill Front, one feels like they have climbed to a grand summit, but the fact is you are standing on a plateau extending off of High Peak. The views of the mass of Indian Head, the distant Hudson Valley, and the depths of the Clove are inspiring!

From the Steenburg Road Parking Area, hike steeply uphill for 1-mile to the junction with the Huckleberry Point. Follow the yellow marked Huckleberry Point Trail up and over a knob and drop down to Huckleberry Point at 2.3-miles from the trailhead.

The Kaaterskill High Peak Loop Trail (6.5 miles, ascent/descent +1015′ -752′, red-marked snowmobile markers) Steenburgh Road Parking Area | Gillespie Rd (1) | Gillespie Rd (2)

Junction on the loop trail
Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking Junction on the loop trail with wrong milage

The “Loop Trail” is a 6.5-mile trail that has a 5.7-mile loop around Kaaterskill High Peak and Roundtop with an additional 0.8-mile stem to Cortina Road. The trail is marked with red DEC snowmobile disks. It is very rough in spots as ATV users use the trail. There is the wreckage of an old plane on the eastern side of the loop (42.1585, -74.0709).

The trail up High Peak is on a herd path that is not maintained but easily followed. The Loop Trail also provides access to bushwhack Roundtop Mountain.

Herd Path to Kaaterskill High Peak (0.9-miles, ascent/descent +638′ -666′, NO markings)

Kaaterskill High Peak had the stature of being thought of as the highest peak in New York until the mid-19-century. This was finally proven wrong when geologist and geographer Arnold Guyot measure Black Dome as higher. Before this, the mountain received intense attention and was home to a summit observatory and tower. The land above the Loop Trail is in first growth minus the small area where the observatory and tower were and at the site of the Tory Fort on Roundtop.

The herd path starts west of the junction with the Long Path and Loop Trail. The herd path climbs steeply for 0.45-miles gaining 638′ to the summit of High Peak. There is a nice view of the Blackhead Range on your ascent. The summit is viewless. Hiking about 0.18-miles past the summit you’ll reach Hurricane Ridge which provides outstanding views.

Continuing south on the herd path you’ll drop through some of the steepest terrains in the Catskills. The herd path drops 666′ in 0.24-miles to reach the Loop Trail. This section of the herd path should be taken very seriously. It does, however, make an exciting loop to the plane wreckage.

Poet’s Ledge Spur Trail (0.45-miles, -309′ to view, yellow markers)

The Poet’s Ledge trail leads to one of the finest views in the Catskills. Like many of the views in the area, it has been painted by a famed landscape artist in this instance, Sanford Robinson Gifford one of the artists associated with the Hudson River School.

From the south, it is reached at about 6.2-miles from Steenburg Road Parking Area and the north from Harding Road at about 2.85-miles with a steep climb up the wall of the clove. The distance to the view on the Poet’s Ledge Trail is 0.45-miles. About 0-3-miles down you’ll reach open areas with berry bushes, this is not Poet’s Ledge. Again, watch out for bears!

The view from the ledge shows more than mountains and Kaaterskill Clove, which are impressive. It is also a step back in time. One may be able to imagine the glacial ice packed into this valley with torrents of sub-glacial water carving out the clove.

Map of the Kaaterskill High Peak Section

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

Kaaterskill High Peak Section of Kaaterskill Wild Forest
Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking Kaaterskill High Peak Section of Kaaterskill Wild Forest

Kaaterskill Clove Section

We define the Kaaterskill Clove Section of the Kaaterskill Wild Forest as the area north of Route 23A. For our purposes, the geographic borders are to the north Windham-Blackhead Range Wilderness at Badman Cave and North-South Lake State Campground, east is the Catskill Blueline and private lands, south the Kaaterskill High Peak section of the Kaaterskill Wild Forest as described above, and west the Schoharie Valley.

The Long Path (12.59 miles, aqua blazes)

The Long Path uses a combination of the Harding Road Trail and Escarpment Trail to cross the section north of RT 23A in the Kaaterskill Wild Forest.

Escarpment Trail (9.8 miles in the Kaaterskill Wild Forest, 23.9 miles total, blue marked) Schutt Road Parking Area

The Escarpment Trail is one of the longest and most beautiful trails in the Catskills. Its views along its 23.9-mile path are outstanding. The section through the Kaaterskill Wild Forest is among the most exciting. The Escarpment is too packed with information in the Kaaterskill Wild Forest to detail on this page. See the links below for that information. From its intersection with the Harding Road Trail it becomes part of the Lomg Path.

North-South Lake from the Escarpment Trail
Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking North-South Lake from the Escarpment Trail

For descriptions from Scutt Road Parking Area to the lakes click here and from the lakes to North Point click here.

The Sleepy Hollow Horse Trail Network

Harding Road Trail (2.79 miles, ascent 1683′ from parking area, red markers) Harding Road Parking Area

Harding Road Trail was built by George Harding, the owner of the Hotel Kaaterskill which was located near the summit of South Mountain. It was used to shuttle guests from the lowlands in the Hudson Vally to his hotel. It must have been a wild ride. The trail is now a section of the Long Path and horse trail. It has some good views of Kaaterskill Clove along the way. The trail is part of the Long Path and will be blazed with aqua Long Path markings.

Sleepy Hollow Horse Trail (5 miles, ascent 1963′ from valley, Red marked) Mountain House Road

The Sleepy Hollow Horse Trail was once part of the Little Delaware Turnpike that connected the Hudson Valley and Schoharie Valley and shuttled people to the Mountain House at North Lake. Like the Harding Road, it must have been a wild ride. Today with a reroute it makes the journey to a junction with the Harding Road Trail.

The trail is filled with history, passing Rip Van Winkle’s supposed homestead and Rips Rock where he slept his years away, crossing the Otis Elevated Railway, swift streams, lookouts such as Little Pine Orchard, Palenville Lookout, and access to Indian Head Lookout on an unmarked trail.

This entire area was the hub of the Catskills when it was America’s first wilderness!

Map of the Kaaterskill Clove section

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

Map of the Kaaterskill Clove section of the Kaaterskill Wild Forest
Scott L. | copyright Challenged Hiking Map of the Kaaterskill Clove section of the Kaaterskill Wild Forest

Camping in the Kaaterskill Wild Forest

Kaaterskill Wild Forest features one accessible primitive campsite which is located off of the Escarpment Trail. Additionally, at-large backcountry camping is also allowed.

Campsites must be at least 150 feet away from the nearest road, trail, or body of water. Camping for more than three nights or in groups of ten or more requires a permit from a Forest Ranger. Campers should store all food, garbage, and toiletries in a bear-resistant canister or food hang. Treat all water before use. Read more on primitive camping on the NYSDEC website.

Kaaterskill Wild Forest
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 Hunter and Catskill in Greene County and the town on Saugerties in Ulster County
Map: View Kaaterskill Wild Forest Map - PDF (3.0 MB)
Amenities:Lodging and dining opportunities, as well as gas, food and other supplies may be found in the communities of Hunter, Tannersville, and Pallenville.

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. Read more here!

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