Slide Mountain Wilderness
The Slide Mountain Wilderness, encompassing over 47,500 acres, is the largest and most popular wilderness area in the Catskills. Extensive foot trails provide access to the remote interior, often climbing over lofty peaks with spectacular views. Slide Mountain, the tallest peak in all of the Catskills, inspired poet and naturalist John Burroughs to write: "Here the works of man dwindle, in the heart of the southern Catskills." A plaque commemorating both the man and the mountain graces the face of the summit rock, in tribute to Burroughs and his vision.
Aside from the trail system the Slide Mountain Wilderness offers an expansive trailless area providing visitors with the solitude, challenge and independence commonly associated with wilderness.
Wilderness is an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man - where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. Unlike other public lands that are managed for a higher degree of public use, wilderness is managed to offer "outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation."
In keeping with this definition, your wilderness experience may include day hiking, backpacking, camping, hunting and trapping, fishing, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, observing and photographing nature and enjoying solitude.
Because wilderness challenges you to be self-sufficient, no motorized equipment or vehicles (such as all-terrain vehicles or snowmobiles) are allowed.
The Slide Mountain Wilderness is located in the northwestern corner of Ulster County. It encompasses Forest Preserve lands in the towns of Shandaken, Denning and Olive. Crescent shaped north to south, this area straddles the Esopus, Neversink and Rondout watersheds.
This is a rugged, mountainous wilderness that includes Wittenberg, Cornell, Panther, Lone, Rocky, Balsam Cap, Friday, Peekamoose and Table as well as Slide Mountain, from which the area takes its name. Elevations range from 1,100 feet - 4,180 feet.
This area is easily reached from the northeast by State Route 28, from the south by Ulster County Route 42 and the west by Ulster County Route 47. Several established trailheads and parking areas provide developed access.
From the North
Big Indian Forest Preserve Access-Town of Shandaken, .25 miles east of Big Indian on Route 28 Fox Hollow Trailhead-Town of Shandaken, Fox Hollow Road, 1.6 miles south of Route 28 Woodland Valley State Campground and Trailhead-Town of Shandaken, Woodland Valley Road, 5 miles south of Route 28.
From the East
Mount Pleasant Forest Preserve Access-Town of Shandaken, on south side of Route 28.
From the South
Peekamoose Trailhead-Town of Denning, 10 miles southwest of West Shokan on County Route 42 Denning Trailhead-Town of Denning, end of Claryville Road, 8 miles northeast of Claryville.
From the West
Biscuit Brook Trailhead-Town of Denning, 13 miles south of Big Indian on County Route 47 Slide Mountain Trailhead - Town of Shandaken, 10 miles south of Route 28 on County Route 47 Giant Ledge Trailhead - Town of Shandaken, 8 miles south of Route 28 on County Route 47.
A variety of wilderness recreational opportunities ranging from hiking, snow-shoeing and primitive camping to hunting, fishing and trapping await the visitor.
All 35 miles of trail in this area are open exclusively to foot travel, affording the visitor an uninterrupted back country experience. Harboring the tallest of the Catskill Peaks and offering numerous trailside vistas, the Slide Mountain trail network is quite attractive and, as a result, is the most heavily visited wilderness trail system in the Catskills. Visitors seeking solitude are less likely to encounter others during mid-week.
Woodland Valley-Denning Trail
(9.8 miles, yellow markers, moderate-2,300 feet elevation gain.)
For all but the northernmost mile, the Woodland Valley - Denning Trail follows an old carriage road, making this an easy to moderate hike with steady, moderate ascents. Other than its historical significance as the sole thoroughfare from Phoenicia to Claryville in the days of horse and carriage, its greatest attribute is that it offers the public access to other trails.
The Burroughs Range Trail
(9.75 miles, red markers, challenging-3,620 feet elevation gain.)
Accessed either from the Woodland Valley Campground on the east or the Woodland Valley-Denning Trail on the west, this trail provides a challenging route through the heart of the Slide Mountain Wilderness, ascending Wittenberg, Cornell and Slide Mountain. The eastern approach is notably more difficult, often requiring the use of one's hands to negotiate several rock ledges. At higher elevations, thick stands of balsam fir channel the hiker upwards, adding an element of surprise to the beautiful panorama that unfolds on the various summits.
The shortest, most direct route up Slide Mountain is from the Slide Mountain Trailhead parking area. Follow the yellow marked Woodland Valley-Denning Trail southwest .70 miles to its juncture with the red-marked Burroughs Range Trail. Turn left, heading east 2.0 miles to the summit rock and Burroughs's Plaque. Total distance: 2.7 miles (5.4 miles round-trip). Elevation gain: 1,780 ft.
(1.6 miles, blue markers, moderate-900 feet elevation gain.)
Often referred to as the scenic route up Slide Mountain, the Curtis-Ormsbee trail provides the hiker with three panoramic vistas to the south and west and a moderate "terraced" ridge hike through stunted northern hardwoods. It is named in memory of William Curtis and Allen Ormsbee who originally blazed this route and later lost their lives during a mountaineering expedition in the White Mountains in 1900.
Giant Ledge-Panther Mountain-Fox Hollow Trail
(7.45 miles, blue markers, challenging-2,620 feet elevation gain from Fox Hollow.)
This trail follows along a north-south ridge that offers spectacular views to the north (the Devil's Path) and to the east (Woodland Valley) from both Giant Ledge and the summit of Panther. The ascent from either direction is interspersed with level stretches suggesting a "terracing" effect through mixed hardwoods at lower elevations and ultimately through the scent-laden balsam fir. Popular in part but noticeably less traveled north of Panther Mountain, this section of trail provides the hiker with a sense of solitude.
(1.6 miles, 3.2 miles round trip, elevation gain: 1,100 feet.)
The shortest and easiest route up Giant Ledge is from the Giant Ledge Trailhead. Begin by crossing the road and following the yellow marked Woodland Valley-Denning Trail east .75 miles until its juncture with the blue marked Giant Ledge-Panther Trail. Turn left, heading north .85 miles to the summit and excellent views to both the east and west.
Terrace Mountain Trail
(0.9 miles, yellow markers, easy-300 feet descent.)
Accessed from the Burroughs Range Trail, the Terrace Mountain Trail is a short and easy hike with a very gradual descent, ending at the Terrace Mountain Lean-to. Bare rock outcroppings and low blueberry bushes best characterize the open "meadows" interspersed along the trail. NOTE: there is no water source at the Terrace Mountain Lean-to.
Peekamoose-Table Mountain Trail
(7.15 miles, blue markers, challenging-2,820 feet elevation gain from Peekamoose Road.)
This is a less traveled area that presents a sense of remoteness, complemented by beautiful views at timely intervals. A distinct sense of history is evidenced by the red pine plantation, pioneer species indicating former pasture and stone walls on the southern end, contrasting sharply with the old growth forest in the interior.
Before you set off, be sure to:
- Get a detailed map and compass and acquaint yourself with the area.
- Draft and review an emergency plan should someone in your group becomes ill or injured. Be specific. Indicate at various points along your intended route which way is the quickest route out to a phone. Carry emergency phone numbers with you.
- Check the weather forecast and local conditions.
- Get an update on back country information and State land regulations.
- Leave written word at home or with a friend of your specific plans.
- Dress for the weather.
- Water is relatively scarce in the Catskills so plan your trip accordingly.
- Expect ice and snow from November through April.
- Please sign in and out at trail registers. In case of an emergency it could help us to locate you more easily.
Winter wilderness travel requires added skills and precautions. Weather can vary greatly both from year to year and from valley to mountaintop. Be prepared to encounter snow, freezing rain and ice. Carry snowshoes and crampons.
Cotton is a poor choice for the back country. Wear wool or a synthetic material such as polypropylene, pile or thermax, which dries quickly and insulates even when wet.
Dress in layers and carry extra clothing, food and water and don't forget a hat! When planning a winter trip, stow a metal-edged shovel in your vehicle and allow for additional time should you need to either shovel in or out of a parking area. Not all DEC parking lots are maintained in the winter and drifts or plows can leave you stranded.
Back country camping is allowed in most areas of the Catskill 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.
Groups-of 10 or more must obtain a camping permit from the area Forest Ranger before entering state land. In a wilderness area, group size is limited to a maximum of 12 individuals to protect the wilderness character of the area, especially the opportunity for other visitors seeking solitude. Larger groups can be accommodated in Wild Forest areas such as the nearby Balsam Lake Mountain or Sundown Wild Forests. Whenever possible use an existing designated campsite to lessen your impact.
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.
Hunting, fishing and trapping are traditional uses that are encouraged within the Forest Preserve. This area supports a thriving black bear population and stable white-tail deer herd, both of which are hunted in the fall. The eastern wild turkey is hunted in both spring and fall. Furbearers, including beaver, fisher and coyote, are harvested annually. Hunting is prohibited in posted areas, including the Woodland Valley Campground.
The Slide Mountain Wilderness also harbors the headwaters of some of the finest fisheries in the Catskills, including the Esopus Creek and the east and west branches of the Neversink River. Visit DEC's Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources on the web for more information.
The Catskill Forest Preserve was created in 1885 to protect the area's water resources, as well as to provide public outdoor recreational opportunities. New York City alone relies on the Catskills to provide nearly 90 percent of its drinking water supply.
A land of legendary wilderness, Slide and the surrounding mountains formed the core of the original Catskill Forest Preserve. Prior to its creation, most of the primeval forests were devastated in the mid-1800's by the leather tanning industry, which required an exhaustive supply of hemlock bark, and then by the successive harvesting of the area's hardwood forests for a growing demand for furniture and other wood products. A few stands of old growth forest escaped the lumberman's axe. For example, virgin mountain spruce-fir forests, generally above 3,500 feet in elevation, can be found on some of the area's highest peaks.
Management of the Forest Preserve stems from the "forever wild" provision of the state's Constitution, which states:
"The lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve as now fixed by law, shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be leased, sold or exchanged, or be taken by any corporation, public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed or destroyed ..."
Recreational use of this area began in the nineteenth century when summer resorts and boarding houses first opened, and flourished with the development of the Ulster and Delaware Railroad. A number of guides sprang up during this period, many of whom were excellent woodsmen who laid out and maintained the trails they used.
James Dutcher was among the best of all mountain guides and the guardian spirit of Slide Mountain. In the 1870's he blazed a trail up the mountain from Winisook Lake, building stone steps where needed. While the "Dutcher" or "Step" Trail as it came to be known is no longer used today (it crosses private land), a trail nearly as old is still in use.
In 1891 the first public funds to be allocated by the New York State Legislature for Forest Preserve trail development were used to construct a "public path" to the summit of Slide Mountain. The present Burroughs Range Trail follows this route as it ascends Slide, and vestiges of the original stone work which built up low portions of the path can still be seen.
DEC recognizes and appreciates the tremendous contribution volunteers have made in the Slide Mountain Wilderness. Members of the NY-NJ Trail Conference, the Adirondack Mountain Club, the Catskill 3500 Club and the Paul A. Nickle Memorial Trail Crew assist the department in the maintenance of foot trails and lean-tos throughout the year. Thanks for your support!
For further assistance:
NYS DEC Region 3, 21 South Putt Corners Road, New Paltz, NY 12561
Telephone: (845) 256-3000
Prerecorded Trail Conditions Report: (845) 256-3188, ext. 4182
Forest Preserve Management: (845) 256-3083
Fishing: (845) 256-3161
Law Enforcement: (845) 256-3013
Forest Rangers: (845) 256-3026
Hunting: (845) 256-3098
Woodland Valley Campground: (845) 688-7647 (mid-May thru mid-October)