I love to hike. I guess when you boil it down, a hike is really just a walk with a little more purpose. There’s something pure about stepping foot onto a trail with an intended destination. Oftentimes, that destination rises above a valley floor reaching towards the heavens in such a way that you can actually see it from where you stand. Other times, your only indication of your destination is a point listed on a wooden sign with a number indicating how many miles you have to go to reach it. What I also love about a hike is that it is an experience relatively unchanged and undestroyed by technology. Sure, we may now carry a GPS instead of a compass, and a cell phone instead of an old Kodak Instamatic camera, and our clothes may have fancier properties that the marketing types use to convince us of their worth, but it’s still a hike and the experience is still the same. I often hike the same trails my grandfather hiked 50 years ago, and I picture him on those trails, and realize that the emotions I am feeling at that exact moment are likely very similar to those he felt decades earlier. If I were forced to give up all my hobbies, I think hiking and music would be the last two I’d hang on to…and if it really came to a final choice, I’d likely choose hiking, cuz I could always sing while out on the trail.
There are a lot of great hikes in the Catskill Mountains. Many offer challenging climbs, or great distances, or nice views, or cool things to check out along the way. The Overlook Mountain and Echo Lake hike is one that checks off every box and should definitely be on your “hikes I need to do in the Catskills” list.
Before I go much further, you will see that there are a lot of hike articles out there on the interwebs with detailed mile markers, special instructions, GPS tracks, tips and tricks to guarantee your hiking success, and much much more. This will clearly not be one of them. Think of this more like story time with Mr. Rogers, minus the cardigan, stuffed animals, and trolley.
The trailhead for Overlook Mountain is on Meads Mountain Road, about 3 miles outside of the village of Woodstock, NY (the actual town…not to be confused with the site of the epic musical festival that took place in 1969). The great thing about this particular hike, is that depending on your energy level, you can either make the full trek over Overlook Mountain to Echo Lake and make it a 9+ mile hike, or just climb Overlook Mountain, making it about a 5 mile hike.
The Overlook Mountain summit is at 3,140’ and is home to one of the Catskill Mountain Fire towers. The climb to the summit is steady, gaining about 700’ per mile, but since it follows a service road the whole way, it is not a very technical hike. One of the real treats of this hike comes at about the 2 mile mark, the site of the Overlook Mountain House. The mountain house went through several iterations of being built, burning down, and being rebuilt from the early 1800’s through the early 1900’s. The current ruins were never actually completed (per advanced research on wikipedia) and became the property of New York State in the 1940’s, suffering one final fire in the 1960’s. However, due to its concrete construction, there’s a lot of structure still standing providing some great photo ops. If you’re interested in more details of questionable accuracy, do a google search on the Overlook Mountain House…there’s a lot to read out there.
Getting back to the hiking, rumor has it, that the next 3 miles or so are home to literally hundreds of Timber Rattlesnakes. We were hiking on a crisp fall day, and did not have the privilege of seeing any along or on the trail, but the posted warning signs would indicate that the rumors hold some truth. So, if snakes cause you any stress in life, especially poisonous snakes, this may not be the hike for you. The climb after leaving the mountain house site remains steady to the point where you can continue on to the summit and the fire tower, or head towards Echo Lake. The day we hiked it, we chose to go to Echo Lake first and leave the fire tower for the way back.
As you head to Echo Lake, the trail descends at a pretty good clip and you lose most of the elevation you gained. At this point, the trail is a typical Catskill Mountain single track. After a couple miles, you arrive at Echo Lake. There is a lean-to and a few primitive campsites, and a trail around the lake. As you walk around the trail, there are several downed trees, the handiwork of beavers…and a dam at the outlet end of the lake, also the handiwork of beavers. Oh, and in case you were wondering, if you let out a yell or even a yodel, you will hear an echo that usually resembles the thing you originally yelled or yodeled. I can’t tell you that Echo Lake received its name based on the reverberating effect at the lake, but if it did, I can honestly say it would not be a lie.
At this point, you have to back track the trail you just came down, and head back up to the junction of the Overlook Mountain trail. The final ascent to the Overlook Mountain summit is steady, but a little more gradual at this point. As you reach the top, you’ll see the fire tower. We were hiking later in the season, so the observation deck was not open, but you could still climb just shy of that point….and despite the rickety steps, and the strong wind, the views from the tower were well worth the climb. One thing about this particular hike, perhaps due to the proximity to Woodstock, or the non technical nature of the climb, is there are quite a few people. So, don’t be surprised if the summit is a bit crowded.
The hike back to the trailhead parking is once again a non technical stroll down the access road, but with 7 miles on your legs by this point, an easier descent to end your hike may be a good thing.
If you do the whole hike, you will have ended up logging 9.4 miles and climbing just a tick under 2,400’. Though a relatively good workout for an afternoon hike, the great sights along the way really make this one of the more enjoyable hikes in the Catskill mountains. No, this one won’t count towards the Catskill Mountain 3500’ peak list, but sometimes, it’s just fun to take a hike for the sake of taking a hike.
A quick trip into the village of Woodstock to check out some of the local shops and grab a coffee is a great way to end a day on the trails and complete the Catskill Mountain experience.
If you’re in the Catskills and looking for an approachable hike that provides all the best a hike can provide, I would highly recommend the Overlook Mountain and Echo Lake hike. Great climbs, spectacular views, and really neat points of interest make it a tough one to beat.
Yeah, I really like hiking… and if you try this one, you may just find that you might like hiking too!