The Catskills Mountains offer a wide variety of hiking opportunities. There are steep rugged climbs to peaks so thick with fir trees that there’s no view to be seen. There are gradual climbs that offer breathtaking vistas that include landscape from multiple states. The Escarpment Trail is a 23.9 Mile hike that offers all of the above. Not only does the Escarpment offer outstanding hiking, but given that much of this terrain was the inspiration for nineteenth century artists such as Thomas Cole and Frederic church, there’s a sense of history that can be felt as you gaze upon some of the very same views that these artists captured on canvas over 150 years ago.
There are many ways to tackle the Escarpment Trail. Ambitious day hikers may hike the entire thing during the daylight hours of a long summer day. Many backpackers turn this into a 3 day journey. It can also be done in sections, but for some sections you will need a couple cars or a friend to drop you off at your starting point.
The trail starts just outside of Haines Falls, near the North-South Lake State Campground. The first several miles are a pretty easy loop around the North-South Lake Campground area offering spectacular views of the Hudson River Valley from the site of the historic Catskill Mountain House, Artist Rock, and Newman’s Ledge. After 7 ½ miles, the trail reaches North Point which despite having a relatively low elevation of 3,000’ has great views due to the lack of foliage. Another half mile of hiking reaches the 3,180’ summit of North Mountain.
One more mile of hiking will bring you to Stoppel Point’s 3,420’ summit. Near the summit, and within sight of the trail, are the remains of a plane crash from 1983. It’s a pretty eerie feeling seeing the wreckage for the first time, but certainly makes the summit of this peak quite memorable.
The next 5 miles get pretty tough, especially towards the end as the trail makes the steep ascent to the summit of Blackhead mountain. The elevation at the summit is 3,940’ making it the 4th highest peak in the Catskills, and the first 3500 footer in this hike. Despite the temptation, don’t follow the signs towards Black Dome and Thomas Cole mountains. Though they are two more 3500 footers, adding these peaks to your hike will add several more miles and a lot more climbing. Instead, follow the trail towards the Windham High Peak and the Route 23 parking area.
The descent off Blackhead as the trail continues on toward Acra Point is very steep. In wet conditions it can be quite a challenge. It’s less than 3 miles until the 3,100’ summit of Acra Point. Just past the summit, there are some great overlooks providing views of the Maplecrest Valley to one side, and views towards Albany and the Adirondacks to the other side. Another mile of hiking leads the trail over the top of Burnt Knob with only a couple more miles to the summit of Windham High Peak. Windham High Peak has an elevation of 3,524’ and is the second 3500 footer on the Escarpment.
The descent off Windham High Peak is fun, with varied terrain, and perfectly placed stepping stones through dense conifers, the two miles off the mountain go by quickly. At that point, the trail makes its way past the Elm Ridge Lean To. This is a great overnight stop for backpackers…and a fun place to grab a quick snack for those passing through. Another long mile of hiking leads to the end of the Escarpment Trail and reaches the Rt. 23 trailhead.
In total, the 23.9 trail has over 5,100’ of climb, and at the end, there’s no question that you’ve climbed every one of those 5,100 feet. Despite the strenuous effort required, and despite only checking off 2 of the 35 3500 footers, this trail offers a great challenge that is rewarded by outstanding views, gorgeous landscape, and forests ranging from dense hemlocks to sparse firs to majestic hardwoods. This is definitely a must do trail for all Catskill Mountain hikers.
Check our our full series on hiking in the Catskills…