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The Catskills Forest Preserve

I’ve been hiking in the Catskills Region of New York for the past 5 years and it is by far my favorite backpacking destination. The entire area is very rural with scattered village hamlets and winding mountain roads that are get closed in winter due to heavy snow. The terrain is mountainous but most of the peaks are between 3500-4000 ft. in height and covered by forest. There is an extensive, well maintained trail system with leans-tos and well marked springs. And unlike New Hampshire, the Catskills are not mobbed with people in the summer when you want to get away from it all.

There are some great multi-day backpacking routes in the Catskills and peakbagging is also popular. There’s also a very active local hiking club called the 3500 club that is worth checking out. To join you need to summit all 35 Catskill Peaks that are 3500 ft or higher, and you need to climb Slide, Blackhead, Balsam, and Pather mountains again during the winter.

This is extremely challenging in the Catskills because half of the high peaks are trailess and you need to bushwack to a cannister placed somewhere on the summit and sign-in to a logbook. These hikes are intensive and demanding and should only be undertaken by individuals with comprehensive backcountry navigation skills. They are not hikes for novices.

Hikers who have not finished the prescribed 39 climbs are called aspirants. Aspirants can take part in scheduled outings to the trailess summits if they subscribe to the Cannister, the 3500 club’s quarterly newsletter. Click here for details. The cost is only $10/year (or annum, as they say in the 3500 club).

Here are some great pictures I took last summer during a very strenuous ascent of Wittenberg (3780 ft) and Cornell Mountains (3860 ft). The big body of water you see in some of these pictures is the Ashokan reservoir. The bald headed guy in the red shirt is me. 

Bagging the peaks with trails is easy if you can stand a strenuous 10 mile day hike. My Catskill peak list is located on peakbagger.com, which is a great site for tracking your summits. So far, I’ve completed all of the peaks with trails and just one of the trailess summits. Unfortunately, some people become completely obsessed with peakbagging. I see this a lot in the White Mountains in New Hampshire. To each their own. Personally,  I prefer multi-day backpacking trips, but if I can only get away for a day hike, summiting a peak is a still a joyful endeavor.

To get to the Catskills and to the trail heads, you need a car, a New York Gazetteer, and good maps. The best Catskill maps can be are from the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference. You’ll need them to get around. Driving distance from New York is about 2 hours and from Boston it is about 3.5 hours. However, once you get to the Catskills region your rate of speed will slow down due to speed traps and twisting mountainous roads.

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