Catskills camping tips

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of May 29-June 5, 1996
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Catskills camping tips
Question: I live in New York City and my brothers live in Albany. We'd like to get together for weekend excursions (camping, hiking) but we don't want to drive too far. We have thought of the Catskills but so far we haven't found any great areas. Any suggestions?

Dawn Winchester
New York City
[email protected]

The Catskills can't be beat for convenience.
Adventure Adviser: Pulling off a hiking/camping weekend within a reasonable drive of New York--but away from the hordes of fleeing urbanites--is, admittedly, quite a feat.

The Catskills, a mere two and a half hours north of the Big Apple, are hard to beat for convenience's sake--especially if you're trying to rendezvous with Albany types--but can be a huge headache unless you pay close attention to where you go. Sandwiched between the bustling ski areas to the north and the old-time Borscht Belt resorts in the south that made the Catskills famous for stand-up comedy, the central Catskills are a much recommended, less-trammeled, laid-back answer to the need for weekend wilderness.

The wildest part of the area is the 33,500-acre Big Indian-Beaverkill unit, traversed by the 15-mile Pine Hill-West Branch Trail. Take a weekend and hike the route end-to-end and back again--from the Belleayre ski area off New York 28, 37 miles west of Kingston, and across the summits of five mountains--or leave a shuttle car at the southern end at County Road 47 and the west branch of the Neversink River.

The 13.6-mile Dry Brook Ridge Trail, eight miles west of Belleayre on New York 28, climbs a steep ridge to the summit of Balsam Lake Mountain--with great views of the Delaware River Valley from New York's oldest fire tower on top.

For a particularly impressive peak to bag, try your hand at the 2.7-mile slog to the top of 4,204-foot Slide Mountain, the Catskills' highest peak. Pick up the trailhead ten miles south of Big Indian on County Road 47.

Mountain bikes are allowed on trails, even in wilderness areas, but the general unbikability of ridge-running trails keeps bikes where they belong--on old carriage roads and doubletracks. Test your lung capacity by climbing a staggering 1,400 feet of doubletrack in 2.5 miles to the 3,140-foot summit of Overlook Mountain. Overlook Mountain Bikes in Woodstock (914-679-2122) rents fat-tire units for $35 a day and offers photocopied directions for area rides.

As for camping, it's allowed anywhere below 3,500 feet and 150 feet from trails, streams, ponds, or lakes. And, best of all, you're spared the extra legwork required to round up backcountry permits: This is a no-reservation, no-fee area. If you plan to stay four or more nights in one spot, however, you will need to pick up a free camping permit from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (914-255-5433). If you're partial to drive-in tent sites, take your pick of either $9-per-night Woodland Valley Campground or the slightly more pricey, $11-per-night Kenneth L. Wilson Campground on County Road 40, off New York 28, about three miles east of Mount Tremper.

For more info, call the Ulster County Public Information Office (914-340-3566), pick up the excellent Hiking the Catskills ($16.40), or check out "4.5 Hours to Freedom" in our June 1993 issue.

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