In 1819, Asher Brown Durand created his most famous painting, Kindred Spirits, depicting fellow Hudson River School artist Thomas Cole and poet William Cullen Bryant standing on a rocky promontory in the Catskill Mountains. Then and now, the same region that inspired authors and artists alike is an ideal expanse for anyone to hike.
November is an excellent month to explore the mountain trails of Greene County. After all, it’s too chilly for the recreational activities you enjoyed in the summer, but not snowy enough for the festivities of winter. In November, all that huffing and puffing up a hiking trail will keep you warm enough to see expansive views of waterfalls, neighboring mountains, and in some cases, even several states bordering New York.
If you’re not sure where to start your hiking adventures, consider joining a hiking or outdoors club, such as the Catskill Mountain Club, created by Chris Olney and Aaron Bennett in 2004, the centennial anniversary of the Catskill Park. Hiking is only one of the club’s recreational activities—the others being camping, fishing, hunting, canoeing, kayaking, biking, and climbing. With approximately 700 members devoted to the outdoors, you’re more than likely to find a hiking buddy who’s willing to explore Greene County with you. Anyone can join, and members are invited to lead hiking or other outdoor events, typically scheduled twice a month. And the most appealing fact yet—there are no dues. “Our group is much more diverse than most other similar groups because typically, 20-to-30-year olds aren’t going to spend $30 on a membership,” Bennett explained.
If joining a club isn’t your prerogative, there’s certainly no shortage of mountains or trails to hike in Greene County that are easy to start with. Chair members of the Catskill 3500 Club as well as guidebook authors of Catskill Day Hikes for All Seasons, Carol and David White, suggest many easy hikes in Greene County, including several to the Catskill Mountain House site. Hikes centered around the site of the once famous hotel near Palenville (which catered to the elite, including several presidents in its heyday in the 1800s) tend to be fairly popular because not only are the routes great for novice hikers, they also provide a look back in time, Carol White explains. White, who compiled and edited Catskill Peak Experiences: Mountaineering Tales of Endurance, Survival, Exploration and Adventure from the Catskill 3500 Club, describes a hike that begins at the mountain house as, “a broad path, much of it on flat bedrock, that passes old foundations and two stone posts.” White continues by explaining that, very shortly into the hike, there is “an open expanse [that] featured this enormous hotel with 13 Corinthian columns, built almost up to the cliffside.”
For a strenuous hike, Bennett recommends Devil’s Path, a 27-mile continuous trail that goes over seven of the Catskill High Peaks: West West Kill, West Kill Mountain, Hunter Mountain, Plateau Mountain, Sugarloaf Mountain, Twin Mountain, and Indian Head. Bennett said that the name was derived years ago from “locals who thought that only the devil could traverse such a range with big feet and a tail for balance.” Bennett said that Backpacker magazine once called Devil’s Path a day hike. “It’s really not, but people have done it in a day.” One of the benefits of this trail is that it has several bail-out points along the way if you feel like you just can’t quite make it to the end.
If you’re a very experienced hiker looking to challenge yourself, then the Escarpment Trail will definitely test your limits. At over 18 miles long, from Windham to North Lake in Haines Falls, with elevation changes over 10,000 feet, rocky footing, various ledges and steep cliffs, the Escarpment Trail is “just a whole heap of trouble,” says Dick Vincent, organizer of the Escarpment Trail Run, held annually in July. “This is considered a highly technical trail,” he says. “It tests every aspect of a mountain runner.” Vincent warns that even the most experienced hiker or runner can incur an injury on the trail—the injuries that have occurred on the trail run the gamut: broken fingers, toes, ribs, sternums, even split skulls. To many, the threat of a looming injury is worth the view of the southern Adirondacks and Green Mountains, the Berkshires and Taconics, the Hudson Highlands around West Point, and the white-hued Shawangunks. Vincent recommends that you allot three days if you’re planning on a hiking or backpacking excursion along the 30-mile route, which includes loops at each end.
Alright, we get it. No amount of hiking will quell your desires to bundle up and hit the slopes. If Mother Nature permits, you may be able to start feeling the wind whip across your face as you zip past trees soon. “There’s a lot of data that says it’s going to be a very cold and snowy winter,” said Jessica Pezak, director of communications at Hunter Mountain. “We’re already seeing frost at night [in early October],” Pezak added. Hunter Mountain plans to start making snow for its visitors the third week of November, and Windham Mountain’s ski season will officially begin on November 29 with their annual Ullr Fest, a festival celebrating the Scandinavian God of Snow. “We have our annual sacrifice to Ullr, where we burn old skis as an offering to bring us snow,” explained Rick Hodge, event manager at Windham Mountain.
So the next time you find yourself grumbling that November is such a “limbo” time—the summer activities have come to an end and winter activities aren’t in full swing yet—remind yourself that there are hundreds of miles of hiking trails in Greene County that are open to the public for the first time in years. Grab your water and trail mix; it’s time to explore Greene County.
This is the second article in a six-part series exploring Greene County.
Escarpment Trail Run