Sunday, November 4, 2012

Balsam Lake Mountain

Two reasons why Balsam Lake Mountain is one of the most popular hikes in the Western Catskills are that it’s the farthest west of the Catskills’ 35 high peaks and it has a fire tower on its summit. And of course there are many other reasons drawing hikers to this 3723’ summit. There are three approaches to choose from when hiking the mountain, each of varying distances and each involving a different scenic drive to reach the trailhead. Two of the trails have lean-tos, two of them follow an abandoned road that was once a thoroughfare over the mountains, and one circles the shore of a lake. And no matter which route is chosen, the mountaintop, with its dense and pungent balsam thicket, creates a special environment that is encountered only in certain locations.

The fire tower at the summit of Balsam Lake Mountain.
A common route to the trailhead begins at Route 28 and Dry Brook Road in Arkville. Take Dry Brook Road six miles (enjoying the drive up this scenic valley), then turn right onto Millbrook Road; after a two-mile uphill drive, turn right at the crest of the hill into the adjacent Dry Brook Ridge Trail Parking Area. The trail to the fire tower is on the opposite side of the road from the parking area. Following the old roadbed, the trail’s gradient is reasonable by Catskill standards, and the width makes it easier to converse with companions. At 2.2 miles the marked junction points hikers up the red trail to the right, which climbs a steeper old road and reaches the fire tower in another three-fourths of a mile. Although the tower was last used for fire surveillance in the late 1980s it has been restored, and the cabin can often be accessed on weekends from Memorial Day through Labor Day due to the efforts of volunteers. But even without access to the cabin, the 360-degree view that unfolds while climbing the tower is amazing.

A shorter route to the summit begins at the Quaker Clearing Trailhead, which is reached after an 8.5 mile drive up the Beaverkill Road from its junction with the Barkaboom Road (just south of Big Pond). This junction is reached from the bridge at NYS Route 30 and the Pepacton Reservoir by travelling east along the NYC BWS Road 1.9 miles, then continuing along Barkaboom Road another 6.2 miles. The first two miles of the hike are gradual (along the southern portion of the blue-marked Dry Brook Ridge Trail) until the junction with the red-marked trail to the tower is reached. Turning left, the ascent is abrupt but the summit is reached in under a mile. Just below the 3500’ mark, a spur trail leads to a lean-to that is tucked in a thickly wooded area. With 1200’ in elevation gain and less than six miles round trip, this hike is done by families and hikers of all ages who are prepared and in good shape.

The third approach to Balsam Lake Mountain is from Alder Lake (reached by turning from the Beaverkill Road onto Alder Lake Road and going 2.25 miles to the base of Cross Mountain Road [a rugged seasonal road connecting to Mill Brook Road], then making a right into the entrance to Alder Lake). From the parking area, the summit of Balsam Lake Mountain is about 7 miles. This distance -- along with the primitive campsites around Alder Lake and the Beaver Meadow Lean-to (1.5 miles east of Alder Lake) -- present some fine backpacking opportunities along the secluded Mill Brook Ridge Trail. As always, hikers and backpackers should be properly prepared with a map, water, food, and all other necessary equipment and provisions.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Lennox Memorial Forest

Back in the 1927 John Lennox became the first director of Camp Shankitunk, which is now the oldest continuously operating 4-H camp in New York State. Sixty years later, upon his passing, Lennox’ intention to preserve his adjacent 144-acre estate as an outdoor classroom for future generations began to take shape. 

Opened in 1998, the Lennox Memorial Forest became the first operational model forest in the New York City Watershed Model Forest Program and continues to serve a range of educational purposes. Located directly across from Camp Shankitunk on Arbor Hill Road in Delhi, the Forest property encompasses much of the adjacent mountainside and reaches above 2000’ in elevation, some 700’ above the nearby West Branch of the Delaware River. (PLEASE NOTE: Visitors may access the property’s entry area where there is an information kiosk; however, those wishing to access the interior of Lenox Memorial Forest must contact Cornell Cooperative Extension of Delaware County at (607) 865-6531.)

A prominent sign for the Forest is found 2.65 miles from Route 28 on Arbor Hill Road. The kiosk’s panels set the Forest in the larger context of the NYC Watershed and provide specifics on the sustainable forestry practices used on the property. Beyond the gate, the main path climbs steadily, passing Turtle Rock and Monkey Face Rock. Keeping to the left at the first junction will bring the hiker sharply uphill through a tall stand of hemlocks and impressive rock outcroppings. This section exhibits much of the essence of a Catskill Mountain hike, and it helps one appreciate the public access afforded by Lennox Forest. 

Once above the hemlocks, the trail curls to the south and eventually levels. A short foot trail leads to the west and quickly reaches a lean-to and a grand overlook. This area is used by 4-H campers, who learn outdoor skills on overnight trips during the six weeks of summer when the camp is in operation. (When the camp is not in session, permission to hike on Camp Shankitunk property -- between Arbor Hill Road and the Delaware River -- may also be granted.)

The major trails in the Forest are actually roads that are used primarily for forestry management purposes, and several of these are connecting loops. An alternate ascent to the top of the property is found by staying to the right at the first junction beyond the entry gate and climbing the long switchback road. These roads are illustrated on the both the Forest Management Plan and Map, found at: development/JohnLennoxMemorialForest.aspx
The plan shows the many types of management blocks and their related practices that the roads pass through. With this plan in hand, the walker will get a sense of the sustainable forestry techniques along the way, some of which are explained in more detail at the kiosk. 

To learn even more about the Forest, visitors can participate in the periodic workshops and tours that are offered. Event schedules and additional information can be obtained when contacting Cornell Cooperative Extension

Friday, July 20, 2012

Headwaters Trails in Stamford

One of the great things about the Headwaters Trails system in Stamford is that it’s connected directly with the village. From Main Street in downtown, you can walk onto Academy Street, go one block north, and enter this 26-mile network of multi-use trails. There are quiet wooded paths, challenging uphills, and open views from the many fields and from the summit of Bald Mountain (2720’). Other access points include Archibald Field (on Route 10 North across from the NYSDEC offices) and from the Catskill Scenic Trail, on the eastern edge of the village at Crestline Drive. Although a trail map is still in the works, the trails can be easily be explored by those with a good sense of direction and a few hikes in their legs.

To get more information, you can access the Headwaters Trails website (, where a Google map is included; log onto Headwaters Trails Facebook page; or visit the Headwaters Trails office, which is located in the historic Stamford railroad station at the junction of Railroad Avenue and the Catskill Scenic Trail. Office hours are not given on the website, but you can contact the trail master through the website or call (607) 287-7169. Headwaters Trails is made possible by the generosity of 18 landowners and is a project of the Greater Stamford Area Trust. Headwaters’ goal is to encourage education and recreational use of the Catskills that is ecologically sensitive while promoting the natural beauty of the region. In doing so, Headwaters’ hopes to develop a trail system for mountain biking, roughly modeled after Kingdom Trails in East Burke, VT, where more than 40 private property owners and community stakeholders joined efforts to revitalize their rural community. Now, Kingdom Trails and East Burke are major economic drivers in the region.

The trails at Headwaters are used by primarily by hikers, mountain bikers, and hunters (during hunting season). The views from the many open meadows are excellent, looking for many miles in three directions. To the south, Mount Utsayantha and Churchill Mountains are prominent, and the look down the valley of the West Branch of the Delaware is striking. To the east, several higher summits in Greene County dot the horizon, while the westerly views take in the softer hills in Harpersfield and beyond. From downtown, the hike to the summit of Bald Mountain is just over two miles one way and about 900’ in elevation gain, with the steepest sections near the top. There are great lookouts all around the mountain, especially near the old ski lift of the former Scotch Valley Ski Area.  

Remember, a visit to Headwaters is also a visit to historic Stamford. Hikers will likely want to stop for a meal in one of the many eateries or visit some of the shops and cultural attractions. And both the village and Headwaters have a lot to offer, so you may very well want to return for some more exploring.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Catskill Scenic Trail - One of Delaware County's Greatest Treasures

The Catskill Scenic Trail (CST) is one of Delaware County’s greatest treasures. This 25-mile linear park follows the old Ulster and Delaware Railroad bed and stretches from Bloomville to Roxbury through some of the most beautiful country in all of New York State. The near-level gradient and unpaved surface make it ideal for hikers, walkers and families, as well as runners, cyclists, cross country skiers and horseback riders. There are numerous places to access the trail which passes through South Kortright, Hobart, Stamford and Grand Gorge. Maps and information are available at
The Catskill Scenic Trail is 25 miles of old Ulster and Delaware Railroad bed that stretches from Bloomville to Roxbury through some of the most beautiful country in all of New York State.

In Bloomville (eight miles north of Delhi on Route 10) the trail begins about a quarter mile east of the intersection of River Street and NYS Route 10 on the south side of Route 10. There is a pedestrian crossing sign in the eastbound lane, a Catskill Scenic Trail mile marker, and a small parking lot. Before getting started, one can glance across Route 10 and see how this is the point where the railroad diverged from the valley of the Delaware River’s West Branch on its way to Oneonta; however, this Bloomville-Oneonta section of the abandoned railroad is not open to the public.

The first section of the trail is a shady and subtle descent that passes the old Sheffield Farms operation, site of the country’s first milk pasteurization. The traveler will also notice the first in a series of trailside benches installed by the Catskill Revitalization Corporation, who oversees the trail and keeps it in good repair. Occasionally, old stone pillar mile-markers appear, displaying the distance to Kingston. Soon the trail separates from Route 10 and enters the pastoral scenery of the Delaware River’s West Branch Valley. The trail then runs alongside the river and crosses it three times in the next mile. In the spring the wildflowers in these floodplains are brilliant, and wildlife abounds. This section also offers superb mountain vistas as it traverses a series of active farm fields, before reaching South Kortright and the first road junction at 4.5 miles.

The trail skirts behind the hamlet offering an assortment of glimpses into yesteryear, including an old rail depot. It then crosses County Route 18 a second time and bends north with fine views down the valley. At 8.5 miles the trail pulls into Hobart – the Book Village of the Catskills, then it’s a straight shot through mostly farmland to the village of Stamford. Both Stamford and Hobart offer places for the traveler to get refreshments. Stamford marks the halfway point of the trail, which crosses Route 23 on the eastern edge of the downtown area (small octagonal yellow, blue, and white markers are located at all intersections).

Leaving Stamford, the trail also leaves the West Branch Valley and parallels the Mooresville Mountain Range on the eight-mile stretch to Grand Gorge. (Early on there are connecting trails on the left that lead to the Headwaters Trails system.) Along this stretch, the traveler will pass lakes, wetlands, farms, historic barns, and the old South Gilboa Depot. Numerous road crossings serve as convenient access points. A mile or so west of Grand Gorge the trail is bisected by NYS Route 23. On the opposite side of the road the trail continues bends south of the hamlet, and there are some unfinished but easily passable wooded sections. There’s also a unique section that’s cut through a mountain with slopes on both sides. The trail crosses NYS Route 30 just south of the hamlet. At this point (behind Becker’s Tire), the trail can be wet and the traveler may consider the access point just to the south off Route 30.

Now paralleling the headwaters of the East Branch of the Delaware, the scenic trail runs alongside several cliffs and gradually descends as the river widens. The surrounding mountains are generally higher than those along the West Branch, although the valley is narrower and the road is closer at hand. Before culminating just north of the hamlet of Roxbury at Hubbells Corner, the trail ascends a grassy slope next to Route 30. Across the road, the railroad tracks are still in place, and the Delaware and Ulster Railroad is in operation from Roxbury to Arkville, May – October. Summing up, the Catskill Scenic Trail runs 25 miles through two spectacular river valleys, has minimal elevation change throughout its entire course, offers numerous access points, and therefore is a convenient attraction for casual recreationists to enjoy the beauty of Delaware County.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Views and Wild Azalea on Dry Brook Ridge

At 3460’ in elevation and lying west of the Catskills’ high peaks (summits above 3500’), Dry Brook Ridge is a less frequented and rewarding mountain to visit. There are several approaches to this long ridge, including the Dry Brook Ridge Trail which runs 9.6 miles from the village of Margaretville to the Millbrook Road Parking Area (and another 4 miles to Quaker Clearing in the Beaverkill Valley). Along the way, there are intersections with the German Hollow Trail (a 1.65-mile trail climbing from the east); the Huckleberry Loop Trail, which reaches Hill Road to the west in 2.3 miles; and again the Huckleberry Loop Trail Valley which connects with Ploutz Road in 1.5 miles. All of these trails are shown on the Central Catskills Trails Map (# 142) which is published by the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference. It is recommended that hikers obtain this map, which shows the many ‘point-to-point’ and advanced hiking possibilities found in this area.

Near the center of the ridge and near its highest point are a series of ledges that offer westerly views. A good way to reach these ledges (also known as Penguin Rocks) is from the Ploutz Road Parking Area. Ploutz Road is reached by taking the Millbrook Road 6.7 miles from the Pepacton Reservoir. After turning left, proceed just over a mile, passing the farmhouse, until the parking area on the right. At first, the trail ascends through a mature spruce forest, then it passes through some rocky sections before coming to the DBR Trail after a climb of about 1000’. Turning left, the trail moves through an open swampy area and semi-stunted ridgetop forests until the first overlook is reached in about a mile. This is a good place for a break while you take in the view and decide if you would like to continue about three-quarters of a mile to the next major overlook. Each of these overlooks is denoted by a star symbol on the trail map. If you turn around at this second viewpoint the hike is about six miles roundtrip.

There have been two lean-tos adjacent to this 9.6 miles section of the DBR until a few years ago when the German Hollow Lean-to was crushed by trees during a storm. It is still slated for reconstruction, although it may be relocated. The second lean-to is located 1.35 miles from Mill Brook Road, which makes for a convenient “out-and-back” overnight trip or a welcomed shelter if you’re on a longer journey. (Note his lean-to is located near private land and access to the spring shown on the map is limited.) 

The large tracts of wild forest along the ridge make for excellent wildlife habitat, and the ridge is known for its bear and bobcat. In the spring, the ‘Pinkster’ bush, a type of wild azalea, blooms in abundance along the higher, central part of the trail. Although many hikers opt for the 9.6-mile through hike, each of the trailheads offer secluded climbs to the ridge. To reach the trail from Margaretville, turn onto Southside Road from Route 28 (across from Fair Street), go to the top of the hill and turn left; the trailhead will be on your right in a short distance.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Scenic Kelly Hollow Hike on the Border of Delaware and Ulster Counties

One of the great things about hiking in the Catskills is that the drives to get to the trailheads are scenic and relaxing. To reach the Kelly Hollow Trail, you could go to Arkille, turn at Dry Brook Road, and enjoy the Dry Brook Valley; or you could travel along the south side of the Pepacton Reservoir and take Millbrook Road to the trailhead. Better yet, you could make a loop out of it.

The Kelly Hollow Trail itself is a loop, which makes for some good options. In fact, there’s a short loop that’s less than three miles and a longer one that’s four miles. Along the way you’ll encounter a range of interesting places for such a short hike. From the parking area, the trail crosses the small stream, then goes along an old road through a Norway spruce forest. These trees were planted back in the 1930s when the Civilian Conservation Corp was active, and today they make for a unique hiking experience. (You’ll see the sign for the “cut-off” for the shorter loop on your right, which dips down into the shady and rocky ravine before rejoining the big loop again.) Steadily but gradually climbing, the road emerges from the evergreens and eventually hooks westward at a stream crossing. After a slight incline, the trail levels, rounds a ridge, and arrives at the Kelly Hollow Lean-to. The lean-to not only offers overnight accommodations, Catskills style, but it’s next to Beaver Pond, which often lives up to its name due to the presence of tree-gnawing residents. And there are frogs, newts and good bird watching. This spot, some two miles from the parking area, makes for a good family overnight.

The trail then rounds the upslope side of the pond, giving a good feeling of being at the head of the hollow. The trail also happens to be one of few marked cross country ski trails in the Catskills. Up until this point, the trail has been relatively easy for the back country skier, but between the pond and the road this second half of the loop requires more advanced skiing skills. Descending, steeply in places, the trail makes a couple of switchbacks before coming to the junction with the shorter loop. If you take this loop (by turning right) it will rejoin the outer loop and return to the parking area. If you stay left, you will complete the larger loop; however, you will come out at the road about a quarter-mile west of the main parking area (the one with the brown and yellow sign). Not far before the road you will also see an old cemetery just off the trail to your left.

As far as Catskill hiking goes, Kelly Hollow is relatively easy; yet whichever loop you choose, there’s enough elevation gain to break a good sweat and there’s plenty to discover along the way.

[The Kelly Hollow Trailhead is located on the right side of Millbrook Road, just over five miles from the intersection of Millbrook Road and the NYC Board of Water Supply Road along the south side of the Pepacton Reservoir. If you’re coming from Arkville, take Dry Brook Road six miles to Millbrook Road, turn right, and go 6.6 miles; the trailhead will be on your left. Although not required, it’s a good idea to have the set of Catskill Trails hiking maps, available at:]

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A “Maple Weekend” Driving Tour Through Delaware County

Sap collection at Brookside Maple in Delancey.
Photo courtesy of Dan Meyers.
As you drive along the winding mountain roads of Delaware County this time of year, intricate blue lines carrying sap from tree-to-collection grab your eye. Galvanized buckets hang from towering maples and lead to thoughts of what’s inside. If you’re wondering how all that sap becomes syrup, we have some farmers you need to meet!

Maple being molded at Kenneth Burger Farm in Margaretville.
Photo courtesy of Dan Meyers.

During New York State’s Maple Weekend, producers across the state welcome guests to their farms to experience first-hand how real maple syrup and related products are made. The events take place over two weekends, March 17-18, and March 24-25, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. each day.

Eight producers throughout Delaware County will open their doors for a sneak peak at boiling sap into syrup! Here a guide to visiting all of them in two days and where to stay while you’re here!

Starting at Vly Creek Maple Farm off Route 28 in Fleishmann’s, enjoy a self-guided walk in the woods, refreshments and demonstrations. Just up the road in Margaretville, you’ll get the inside scoop on making syrup and maple sugar patties at Kenneth Burger Farm. Enjoy a scenic drive around the Pepacton Reservoir to Delancey where Brookside Maple, Dar-View Maple and Catskill Mountain Maple will each be demonstrating the process of making syrup from sap. If you get to Catskill Mountain Maple before 2:00, you’ll enjoy a complimentary pancake, eggs and sausage breakfast!

Make a stay of it with a variety of lodging options, and start in Hobart on Sunday morning with Roxbury Mountain Maple where 150 miles of pipeline and 8000 taps are making numerous maple products with fun for everyone in the family. Next hit Shaver-Hill Maple Farm in Harpersfield for a late breakfast and horse and wagon rides! Wrap up your Maple Weekend at the North Franklin Maple Syrup Co. before heading home with maple syrup for friends, family and, of course, yourself!

Visit for each farm’s detailed Maple Weekend activities and contact information. Learn more about the Great Western Catskills at, and enjoy meeting our farmers and experiencing maple production at its best!
Inside Catskill Mountain Maple’s sugar house! All photography courtesy of Dan Meyers.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Climate Changes Makes for an Interesting Winter

It's half over and nothing is normal.  Warm and sunny. Really cold and windy. No snow accumulations that have lasted. What do we offer the intrepid winter traveler if we don't really have snow??  It's a question all our local businesses have been asking.  But one man's trial is another man's treasure - or so the sentiment goes. 

For hikers this winter has been blissful. No deep snow to trek through or snowshoes to hike with. No frostbitten noses and fingers. Wonderful weather that keeps repeating itself.  We've been staying tuned to the Catskill Mountain Club's website for notes on last minute hikes that folks may be organizing.

The cultural organizations that provide programming throughout the winter and shops that stay open during the "shorter" days have been the beneficiaries of easy driving conditions and folks looking for things to do.  Workshops, writing classes, open jams, movies and music - all have an easier time persuading folks to come on out and engage in their activities - as you can see them on our website's events page.

Tubing at Plattekill has been fun too! The mountain can make the snow on the bunny hill and it doesn't need alot for tubing. Saturday night tubing followed by the great bar scene and now elegant dinners with a locavore bent. 

As with everything, winter is what you make of it. We're happy to ski fewer trails and focus on the pure pleasure of skiing.  We're happy to get out and about a little more than usual and a little farther than usual.  Stay tuned to our Facebook page as we all share our favorite things this winter.