Bluestone Wild Forest
Located at one of the most popular gateways to the Catskill Park, the 3,000-acre Bluestone Wild Forest, just 3 miles west of historic Kingston in Ulster County has something for everyone. Developed access is provided to Onteora Lake off State Route 28, one of the few publicly accessible lakes in the Catskills. Its lake, ponds, trails, old quarries, hemlock and oak forests on gently rolling hills - and an occasional cliff- are ideal for hiking, mountain biking, fishing, hunting and cross-country skiing. Bluestone WF is in the Towns of Hurley, Woodstock, Ulster and Kingston. This wild forest consists of numerous smaller parcels scattered throughout the region and a loosely connected mosaic of parcels making up the largest piece between Zena Road (Route 39) and Route 209, which is described below.
Visitors to the Bluestone Wild Forest should be properly prepared and equipped for a remote, wildlands experience. Visitors should expect to assume a high degree of responsibility for their own welfare and for environmentally sound use of the area. Know safe hiking practices, camping rules, how to avoid getting lost (PDF) (191 KB) and state land use regulations. Camping is not permitted within 150 feet of the trail, road or water, except for the sites designated by a round yellow DEC marker on the trail to the north of the Onteora Lake Parking lot. 16.5-acre (6.5 hectare) Onteora Lake is easily accessible by car from State Route 28, about 5 miles west of the traffic circle in Kingston. From the 16-car parking lot, the main trail and 3 loop trails provide access into the property. From the north, access to Bluestone Wild Forest is provided by a small 5-car parking lot at the gated end of Jockey Hill Road. From there a loop trail and connector trail exits on Meyers Road (near Sawkill Road).
Report back country emergencies, such as lost or injured hikers, and wildland fires to the DEC Emergency Dispatch at 1-877-457-5680 or call 911.
A picnic site at Onteora Lake
Onteora Lake provides opportunities for fishing and picnicking. An accessible trail starts at the parking lot next to an informational kiosk. The path first leads to an accessible picnic table and then an observation area. The path ends at the edge of the water, where there is an accessible fishing platform. Fish located at this site include Largemouth Bass, Chain Pickerel, Yellow Perch and Bluegill. There is accessible parking and a seasonal accessible port-a-john located in the parking lot.
Full listing of DEC's Accessible Recreation Destinations.
An accessible trail at Onteora Lake
Starting at the trailhead parking lot, off State Route 28 on the west shore of Onteora Lake, an old woods road connects to three trail loops (1.1 mile to the first yellow loop) through upland oaks, moist hemlock forests, and many abandoned bluestone quarries. The yellow trail loop passes near Pickerel Pond before returning to the place of beginning (about 2 miles), the red trail loop ascends a ridge with 2 large vernal pools and upland forest with scattered pitch pines (2.25 miles), and the blue trail loop traverses some relatively rough mixed topography (1.5 miles) before meeting up with the red trail on an old woods road. Please stay only on the marked trails. Some old roads and paths lead onward to private land, which should not be entered without the permission of the owner.
From a trailhead on the Old Dump Woods Road, take the old road 0.9 mile to its intersection with the Jockey Hill-Wintergreen Ridge Trail (4.5 miles total).
Back country camping is allowed in most areas of the Catskill Forest Preserve. Please see below for some of the rules for primitive camping. Information on DEC Campgrounds in the area is available on DEC's Camping page.
- To protect back country resources, state law requires all campsites to be at least 150 feet from any road, trail or water source, except at sites designated by DEC. A designated site is either a lean-to or a campsite marked with a yellow "camp here" disc.
Camping is also prohibited above 3,500 feet in elevation from March 22 until December 20 each year to protect the fragile summit environment.
- Camping permits are required when camping 4 or more nights or with group of 10 or more people. Contact the Forest Ranger for a permit at 845-663-6484 or, if unavailable, call 845-256-3026.
- Campfires-are permitted below 3,500 feet in elevation, but only dead and down wood may be used. In a designated campsite, use the existing fire ring and burn wood no larger than that which can be snapped in your hands-it's sure to be dead, dry and will burn down to ash.
- Never leave a fire unattended and make sure your fire is cold before breaking camp.
- Bear Precautions - Using nylon cord, hang all food, garbage and toilet articles a minimum of 15 feet above the ground and an additional 10 feet from any adjacent tree trunks or overhead limbs and a distance of 150 feet from camp.
- Keep a clean camp. Wastewater should be taken a minimum of 150 feet from any water source and gently sprayed into the underbrush as against pouring it into a sump hole. Cooking water should be strained of any food particles and treated in a similar fashion. This distributes rather than concentrates the dirty water, dispersing both the impact and related odors that attract wildlife. All food waste should be packed out.
- Human Waste - If available, use the privy. If not, dig a "cat-hole" 6-8 inches deep, a minimum of 150 feet from any water source. Cover waste with soil and leaf litter. Minimize the use of toilet paper and burn or pack it out. When appropriate, use leaves instead. Treat feminine products as you would all other garbage and pack out as well.
- Drinking Water - The department cannot ensure the purity of any water source. Giardia lamblia is a water borne parasite which can cause severe and prolonged intestinal disorder and has infected the water supply as a result of poor human sanitation habits. Boil all water for 2 minutes, filter or treat chemically.
- If you Bring Your Pet - Your pet must be under your control at all times. When others approach, particularly small children and other animals, leash your dog. Keep your pet quiet. Remove droppings from the trail and camping areas.
Observe all campfire safety practices. Use only dead and down wood. Don't leave garbage in the fire pit. Better yet, carry a portable stove. Stoves heat more quickly, are easier to clean and do not leave blackened rocks and partially burned firewood. They are useful in wet rainy weather.
Beware! You could be helping invasive pests, plants and diseases without knowing it.
Firewood Alert - Don't move firewood!
The importation of firewood into New York is prohibited unless it has been treated to kill pests. The regulation also limits the transportation of untreated firewood to less than 50 miles from its source. Read more about firewood and invasive insects.
Bringing your firewood with you? Most people don't realize they move bugs along with their firewood. You could be spreading diseases or insects that can quickly kill large numbers of trees. Our forests are at risk from the transport of firewood infested with tree killers.
Here's how you can help STOP THE SPREAD of these pests:
- Leave firewood at home-do not transport it to campgrounds or parks.
- Only purchase firewood that has been harvested in New York State or treated for pests.
- Burn all firewood brought to the campsite.
See Frequently Asked Questions for more information on the firewood regulation.
To help stop the introduction and spread of invasive plant species, always check clothing, shoes, tires (of bikes and other vehicles), and animal companions for burs seeds and insects before using and leaving the area. Remove hitchhikers if found.
Prevent the Introduction and Spread of Aquatic Invasive Species
INSPECT your fishing and boating equipment and remove all mud, plants and other organisms that might be clinging to it.
- DRY your fishing and boating equipment before using it on another body of water.
- CLEAN your fishing and boating equipment if it cannot be dried before its use in another body of water.
More information on how you can avoid spreading aquatic invasive species.
Boating and Fishing
Onteora Lake is a warm water lake with a maximum depth to the north of 20 feet. The lake is a popular ice fishing destination and is known for its panfish (white and yellow perch, largemouth bass, bluegill and pumpkinseed sunfish, golden shiner, brown bullhead, black crappie, chain pickerel, alewife). A large wetland to the south of Onteora Lake is drained by Prayermaher Brook, which flows to the Esopus Creek through several waterfalls on a 265-acre parcel of state land (with poorly defined access) south of Route 28. Non-motorized boats and cartop boats with electric motors may be used at Onteora Lake. Anglers should check the current fresh water fishing regulations for and know the statewide regulation and the regulations pertaining to specific waters. Read more about boating and fishing.
Hunting & Trapping
Mountain biking is permitted on the main trails, which consist of the main trail, starting at the trailhead parking to the west of Onteora Lake connecting to three trail loops (Yellow trail loop past Pickerel Pond ( 3 miles), red trail loop on the ridge with vernal pools (2.25 miles) and the blue trail loop ( 1.5 miles). Also on the Jockey Hill-Wintergreen Ridge Trail ( 4.5 miles). Pedestrian use of trails takes precedence over all other uses. However, these were the first trails clearly designated by DEC for mountain biking over a decade ago. Responsible use by everyone will ensure harmony among all visitors and protection of the natural resources. Your cooperation is appreciated.
Skiing & Snowshoeing
Skiing and snowshoeing are allowed on all trails.
By 1850. Bluestone was being quarried throughout the area, which was extremely disturbed. The stone was loaded into iron-rimmed wagons pulled by teams of horses, often in convoys, and sent to trading towns along the Hudson River. There the stone dealers cut and shaped them into steps, curbing and sidewalks for cities all over the country. By 1850, bluestone was being shipped by river sloop to Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Charleston, San Francisco, Milwaukee, St. Louis and even, Havana, Cuba. The stone was prized because it was hard, long lasting, dried quickly after a shower and didn't become slippery with wear. The industry collapsed in 1880 with the discovery of Portland Cement.
The 3000-acre Bluestone Wild Forest is comprised of some 17 parcels of land ranging in size from about 1 acre up to the Onteora Lake-Jockey Hill Parcel of 1700 acres. The lands were almost entirely mined over for bluestone in the mid to late 1800's. Quarry ponds, bluestone mounds and disturbed lands with shallow soils cover the area. Remnants of quarries and old wagon roads are scattered through oak, white pine and pitch pine forests. On some woods roads, the heavy iron-rimmed wagon wheels left grooves in the stones. Hemlock trees and small wetlands nestle in the cooler valleys. The Wild Forest provides an important link or travel corridor for wildlife, albeit not continuous, from the Catskill Highlands to the Esopus Creek flats.
Rules and Regulations
The public must abide by all state land use regulations when recreating on the forest preserve or conservation easement lands open to the public.
DEC Forest Rangers are primarily responsible for search and rescue, wild land fire suppression and enforcing state land use laws and regulations. DEC Environmental Conservation Officers are primarily responsible for enforcing hunting, fishing, trapping and pollution laws and regulation. Both are state law enforcement officers and, as such, can and do enforce all state laws.
To reach trails at Onteora Lake: Take New York State Thruway (I-87) to Exit 19 (Kingston), then State Route 28 west 3 miles to the Onteora Lake entrance sign on the right.
To reach the Jockey Hill-Wintergreen Ridge Trail: Take Route 209 to the Sawkill Road exit towards Woodstock. Take Sawkill Road past the Town of Kingston offices and a bridge continuing onward to a Jockey Hill Road. Make a left onto Jockey Hill and continue straight onto unpaved Old Dump Woods Road. Stay on the Woods Road to a small 5 car trailhead parking lot with a gate over the road.
Other Sources of Information
Ulster County Tourism (800-342-5826) and the Rondout Visitors center (800-331-1518) can provide information about recreating in this area and other amenities. Use the links provided near the bottom of the right column to access their websites. I Love New York Travel Guides are also available.
Maps are available for downloading from this web page. Use the links at the top of the page to view the map or download a map for printing. The DEC State Land Interactive Mapper can be used to print maps showing state lands, trails and facilities for this area or any location within New York State. In addition, Google Earth has DEC recreation lands information. DEC's Places to Go web page also provides the most comprehensive list of State-owned lands open for public recreation.
There are also excellent printed maps and computer map programs from the United States Geological Survey (USGS), National Geographic and other sources. These are sold in outdoor retail shops, bookstores and on the internet.
Important Phone Numbers
Forest Fire, Search and Rescue: 1-877-457-5680 (24 hours a day) or dial 911
State Land Regulation/Backcountry Law Enforcement: 1-877-457-5680 or 845-256-3026
Environmental Law Enforcement: 1-877-457-5680
Turn in Poachers and Polluters: 1-800-TIPP DEC (1-800-847-7332) - call the TIPPs hotline to report any environmental violations or report it online.