Backpacking in the Catskills: A Comprehensive Guide

For those seeking a unique and awe-inspiring hiking experience, a sunrise hike in the Catskill Mountains is sure to deliver. The intimate connection to nature’s rhythms and ancient human traditions, combined with the feeling of rebirth and renewal as the sun rises over the mountains, creates a life-affirming adventure of intense connection with our planet’s fundamental daily spectacle.

While hiking in the dark may seem daunting, with the right preparation, it is a doable and rewarding experience. The Hudson Valley offers a variety of hiking trails, each promising a distinct sunrise experience and moments of tranquility and natural beauty that make the early start well worth it. For those interested in planning their first sunrise hike, there are resources available to help ensure a safe and successful trek.

Hudson Highlands: Storm King Mountain

Storm King Mountain, located in Cornwall, offers hikers a moderately challenging 2.5-mile hike with a total ascent of 650 feet. The trail takes hikers through dense forests and offers some of the best vantage points to watch the world below awaken. The summit of Storm King Mountain boasts three excellent viewing spots with the largest and best being an open rock ledge on the southeast side of the summit ridge, just 250 feet east of a trail junction. This spot also happens to be one of the finest views in the Hudson Highlands.

Hikers should expect a few rock scrambles along the way, but the quick route to the summit is well worth the effort. The dramatic sunrise experience from Storm King Mountain is like no other, as the first rays of dawn break over Bull Hill, the valley terrain below bursts with color, creating a breathtaking panorama.

The western bank of the Hudson River sharply abuts Storm King Mountain, offering hikers a stunning view of the river and surrounding landscape. The moderately challenging hike takes approximately two hours to complete and is a must-do for any avid hiker visiting the Hudson Highlands.

Thacher State Park

Thacher State Park is located in Albany County, New York, and is known for its stunning natural beauty. The park is home to the Indian Ladder Trail, which is a moderately challenging hike that offers breathtaking views of the Hudson Valley. The trail is only one mile long, making it perfect for those who have a longer drive to the trailhead.

The Indian Ladder Trail is renowned for its scenic beauty and is an optimal location for sunrise enthusiasts. The east-facing escarpment provides an extraordinary vantage point from which to witness the daybreak. As hikers make their way along the trail, they will pass alongside stunning waterfalls. At the trail’s zenith, a wooden walkway provides a perfect vantage point for admiring the falls from above.

In addition to the natural beauty of the falls and the sunrise, hikers can enjoy sweeping vistas of the limestone cliffs that tower above, adding an extra layer of majesty to their sunrise hike. The park also offers other trails, such as the Escarpment Trail, which is notable for its open vistas and fine views of the Hudson River Valley.

Thacher State Park is also home to several other attractions, including North Point, Elka Park, Kaaterskill Falls, North-South Lake, Beech, Newman’s Ledge, Sunset Rock, and Stoppel Point. Visitors can enjoy a variety of outdoor activities, such as hiking, picnicking, camping, fishing, and more.

Overall, Thacher State Park is a must-visit destination for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.

Huckleberry Point

Huckleberry Point is a moderately challenging hike located in Elka Park, offering a serene and secluded yet stunning sunrise experience. The 4.8-mile long hike is accessible to hikers of various skill levels, making it a great hike for families. However, hikers are advised to wear waterproof boots and bring trekking poles if going on or after a rainy day, as one stream crossing may be difficult to pass.

At the end of the hike, hikers are rewarded with a spectacular view of the Hudson Valley bathed in the soft light of dawn, backed by the rolling Devil’s Path mountains. The overlook is located on a rocky outcrop of Platte Clove, offering one of the nicest viewpoints in the area without having to climb a big fat mountain.

Trail Information

Trailhead LocationElka Park
Hike Length4.8 miles
Total Ascent975 feet
Time3-4 hours
IntensityModerately challenging hike

Tips for Hiking Huckleberry Point

  • Wear waterproof boots and bring trekking poles if going on or after a rainy day.
  • Keep an eye out for markers to avoid getting lost.
  • Be prepared to scramble over rocks and ledges.
  • Take plenty of water and snacks for the hike.
  • Take your litter with you and leave no trace behind.

Huckleberry Point is a popular area for hiking, so hikers are likely to encounter other people while exploring. Overall, the hike is a great way to enjoy spectacular views of the Hudson Valley while getting some exercise in the great outdoors.

Tremper Mountain Fire Tower

Tremper Mountain Fire Tower is a challenging 6-mile hike located in Phoenicia, with a total ascent of 1,900 feet and an estimated time of 3-4 hours. The trailhead is located in the heart of Phoenicia and the hike rises steeply through dense woods past an abandoned quarry and two public lean-tos where wilderness campers sometimes sleep overnight. Once at the top, hikers can climb the Tremper Mountain Fire Tower and enjoy a panoramic view of the Catskills. The tower offers incredible 360° views of dozens of classic Catskill mountains, including Hunter Mountain Fire Tower. From inside the fire tower’s cabin, hikers can watch the morning mist burn away in the valleys below, revealing layers of rolling peaks in all directions. Tremper Mountain Fire Tower is one of six fire towers that hikers can climb as part of the Catskills Fire Tower Challenge.

Giant Ledge

Giant Ledge is a moderately challenging hike, with a total ascent of 990 feet and a length of 2.9 miles. The trailhead is located in Phoenicia, and the hike takes around 3 hours to complete. The trail up from Route 47 is short and rugged, and the long ledge rewards hikers with multiple viewing spots that provide unobstructed panoramas of the broad mountains-and-valleys landscape below. This makes Giant Ledge one of the top destinations for hikers looking to experience the Catskills Park at its finest. The spot is also perhaps the absolute best in the Park for a truly unbeatable Hudson Valley sunrise experience. With the sun rising directly above a sweeping line of peaks, witnessing sunrise from here is nothing short of an extraordinary, wondrous, even primeval experience.

Some other notable landmarks on this hike include Twin Mountain, Sugarloaf Mountain, Descent Col, Devil’s Path, Windham High Peak, Plateau Mountain, Dry Brook Ridge, Remote, Round Top, and Downhill.

Rise & Shine

Starting your day with a sunrise hike is a great way to experience the tranquility, challenge, and awe that the mountains have to offer. With the unmatched purity of early morning air and the clear light of sunrise, you can feel the solitude of the trail and revel in the beauty of nature. To make the most of your sunrise hike, set your alarm clock and plan ahead. Consider factors like parking, camping rules, and trailhead locations. Be sure to review trail maps and weather forecasts before setting out. Dress in warm layers, bring gloves and a hat, and pack a snack. For overnight camping, select a safe and appropriate campsite and follow Leave No Trace principles. Always prioritize safety, and be prepared with a GPS, trail maps, and bear canister. With proper planning and preparation, a sunrise hike can be a truly unforgettable experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the top recommended trails for backpacking in the Catskills?

The Catskill Mountains offer several excellent trails for backpackers. Some of the top recommended trails include Devil’s Path, Escarpment Trail, and Burroughs Range Trail. These trails offer stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys, and they are also challenging, making them ideal for experienced backpackers.

What is the difficulty level of the Escarpment Trail for backpackers?

The Escarpment Trail is a challenging trail that requires a high level of fitness and experience. The trail is approximately 23 miles long and includes steep ascents and descents, rocky terrain, and exposed ridges. Backpackers should be prepared for a physically demanding hike and should have experience with long-distance hiking and backpacking.

Are there designated areas for overnight backpacking in the Catskills?

Yes, there are designated areas for overnight backpacking in the Catskills. The Catskill Forest Preserve offers several options for backcountry camping, including primitive campsites, lean-tos, and shelters. Backpackers should obtain a permit before camping in the backcountry and should follow all regulations and guidelines to minimize their impact on the environment.

What are the regulations for backcountry camping in the Catskills?

Backpackers in the Catskills are required to obtain a permit before camping in the backcountry. They must also follow all regulations and guidelines to minimize their impact on the environment. Backpackers should camp in designated areas, pack out all trash, and use a camp stove instead of building a fire. They should also avoid disturbing wildlife and vegetation.

How should one prepare for a multi-day backpacking trip in the Catskills?

To prepare for a multi-day backpacking trip in the Catskills, backpackers should ensure they have the necessary gear and equipment, including a backpack, tent, sleeping bag, and stove. They should also bring a sufficient amount of food and water and be prepared to filter or treat water from natural sources. Backpackers should be in good physical condition and should have experience with long-distance hiking and backpacking.

What is the best time of year to go backpacking in the Catskills?

The best time of year to go backpacking in the Catskills is during the spring and fall. These seasons offer cooler temperatures, fewer bugs, and beautiful foliage. However, backpackers should be prepared for changing weather conditions and should check weather forecasts before heading out. Summer can be hot and humid, and winter can be cold and snowy, making these seasons less ideal for backpacking.


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