Big Indian Wilderness
- Open for recreation: year-round
- Fee: free
- Contact information:
- DEC Region 3 Office - (845) 256-3000
- Regional Forest Rangers - (845) 256-3026
- Law Enforcement: (845) 256-3013; After hours and weekends: 1-844-DEC-ECOS (1-844-332-3267)
- Location: Ulster County
- Wildlife Management Area: 3A
- Maps: View Big Indian Wilderness Map - PDF (4.88 mb) || Google Earth || State Lands Interactive Mapper
View of Eagle Mt. from Big Indian
The 33,500-acre Big Indian Wilderness Area contains the longest stretch of trail through uninterrupted virgin forest in the Catskills. The 30 miles of trail traverse a rugged, mountainous landscape offering numerous opportunities for solitude. The wilderness is host to eight prominent peaks including Balsam, Fir, Haynes and Eagle, as well as several unnamed mountaintops. Elevations range from 1,500-3,860 feet.
General information on hiking includes how-to and safety tips and links to rules & regulations.
All 30 miles of trail in this area are open exclusively to foot travel. Some suggested hikes include:
McKinley Hollow Trail (1.9 miles, red markers) This trail, which provides access from the east to the Pine Hill-West Branch Trail, is at first deceptively easy but becomes a progressively strenuous climb. Park at the McKinley Hollow Trailhead, Town of Shandaken, 4 miles south of Big Indian, at the end of McKinley Hollow Road.
Rider Hollow-Mine Hollow Loop (4.8 miles) Beginning at the Rider Hollow Trailhead, (town of Hardenburgh, end of Rider Hollow Rd.)follow red trail markers .4 mile to the Mine Hollow junction. Turn NE on yellow markers for a 1-mile ascent to the Pine Hill-West Branch Trail. Turn south. Follow blue markers 2 miles up and over the summit of Balsam Mountain which provides a window view of the Hamlet of Big Indian. Proceed to the junction of the McKinley Hollow-Rider Hollow Trail. Turn NW on red markers, 1.4 miles back to the Parking Area.
Winter view of the hamlet of Big Indian
Pine Hill-West Branch Trail (14.1 miles, blue markers) This trail offers a moderate ridge hike spanning five peaks that is long and somewhat strenuous. The easiest approach is from the south on Frost Valley Road. Spur trails provide access to lean-tos and water, allowing for excellent backpacking opportunities. The northern trailhead is in the Town of Shandaken 1 mile south of Pine Hill, take Bonnie View Ave. to Station Road to Woodchuck Hollow Road.
Mongaup-Hardenburg Trail (6.4 miles, blue markers) With less dramatic ascents, the views from this trail are obstructed until after leaf drop. However, this moderate, mid-elevation hike usually provides a greater chance to observe a variety of bird and animal life. This trail is best used in conjunction with the neighboring trail network to the south in order to loop back to the point of origin for either a one- or two-day venture. To access from the north, use the Hardenburgh Trailhead on Beaverkill Road, 6 miles east of Turnwood. From the south, use the trailhead at the Mongaup Pond State Campground.
General information on fishing includes how-to and safety tips and links to seasons, rules & regulations.
The Big Indian Wilderness harbors the headwaters of some of the finest trout fisheries in the Catskills: the Esopus Creek, the Beaverkill, the Neversink and the Willowemoc. See the special fishing regulations for Ulster County.
Biscuit Brook lean-to.
General information on backcountry camping includes how-to and safety tips and links to rules & regulations.
There are five lean-tos located trailside throughout the area, each supported by a seasonal water source and pit privy. Other designated campsites are marked with a yellow "Camp Here" disc. State law also prohibits camping above 3500 ft. in elevation from March 22nd to December 21st each year. In a Wilderness Area, group size is limited to a maximum of 12. Larger groups may be accommodated in any of the Forest Preserve's Wild Forest areas such as nearby Balsam Lake Mountain or Willowemoc Wild Forests. Water is relatively scarce in the Catskills. It is not unusual for the springs and streams in this area to run dry during the summer months. The department cannot ensure the purity of any water source. Boil all water for 2 minutes, filter or treat chemically.
General information on snowshoeing includes how-to and safety tips and links to rules & regulations.
Snowshoeing is permitted on all hiking trails.
- Beaverkill Road Parking Area (west) Provides access to the Mongaup Hardenburgh Trail. (42.011716°N, 74.622376°W) Google Map (leaves DEC website)
- Beaverkill Road Parking Area (east) Provides access to the Neversink Hardenburgh Tail. (42.023329°N, 74.599531°W) Google Map (leaves DEC website)
- Biscuit Brook Parking Area is located on Frost Valley Road, 2.7 miles west of its intersection with Oilverea Road. Provides southern access to the Pine Hill West Branch Trail. (41.990833°N, 74.484557°W) Google Map (leaves DEC website)
- McKinley Hollow Parking Area is located on McKinley Hollow Road, 0.9 miles northwest of its intersection with Oilverea Road. Provides eastern access to the Oliverea Mapledale Trail. (42.070413°N, 74.474029°W) Google Map (leaves DEC website)
- Lost Clove Parking Area is located on Lost Clove Road, 1.3 miles northwest of its intersection with Oilverea Road. Provides access to the Lost Clove Trail. (42.105437°N, 74.470084°W) Google Map (leaves DEC website)
- Rider Hollow Parking Area is located on Rider Hollow Road, 2.1 miles east of its intersection with Dry Brook Road. Provides western access to the Oliverea Mapledale Trail. (42.101836°N,74.517033°W) Google Map (leaves DEC website)
- Seager Parking Area is located on Dry Brook Road, 8.8 miles south of its intersection with NYS Route 28. Provides access to the Seager Big Indian Trail. (42.057883°N, 74.539699°W) Google Map (leaves DEC website)
Rules, Regulations and Outdoor Safety
Practice Leave No Trace (leaves DEC website) principles when recreating in the Catskills to enjoy the outdoors responsibly; minimize impact on the natural resources and avoid conflicts with other backcountry users.
Don't move firewood - protect our forests from invasive insects
Observe all campfire safety practices. Use only dead and down wood. Don't leave garbage in the fire pit.
Nearby Areas and Attractions
The Big Indian Wilderness is surrounded by state-owned recreation lands. To the north is the Belleayer Mountain Ski Center (see Links leaving DEC's website at right). The Slide Mountain Wilderness and Woodland Valley Campground lie to the east. To the west is the Balsam Lake Mountain Wild Forest. The Willowemoc and Sundown Wild Forests are to the south as is the Mongaup Pond campground and the west branch of the Neversink. The Neversink and Willowemoc rivers are excellent trout streams.