Balsam Lake Mountain Wild Forest
- Open for Recreation: Year-round
- Fee: Free
- Contact Information:
- DEC Region 3 Office: 845-256-3000
- Forest Rangers (845) 256-3026
- Law Enforcement 1-844-DEC-ECOS (1-844-332-3267)
- Location: Ulster and Delaware Counties
- Wildlife Management Unit: 3A
- Maps: View Balsam Lake Mountain Wild Forest Map - PDF (3.15 mb) || Google Earth || State Lands Interactive Mapper
Balsam Lake Mountain Wild Forest contains more than 13,500 acres of "forever wild" Forest Preserve located at the head of the Beaverkill Valley, an area famous as the cradle of fly fishing in America. Alder Lake is one of the few Catskill lakes with excellent trout fishing and has been referred to as "the manifestation of something better than the common things of every-day life - it is a sanctum for the spiritual renaissance of mind and the rejuvenation of the body." With an extensive trail network to several ponds, this area is ideal for hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, backpacking, canoeing and cross-country skiing.
The terrain is a combination of high mountain ridges, steep sided valleys, numerous brooks and ponds, with elevations ranging from a low of 1,740 feet along Mill Brook to a high of 3,723 feet at the summit of Balsam Lake Mountain.
General information on hiking includes how-to and safety tips and links to rules & regulations.
More than 22 miles of trails traverse the area, including a portion of the 575-mile Finger Lakes Trail.
Alder Lake Loop Trail (1.5 miles, red markers) - an easy hike around the lake.
Mill Brook Ridge Trail (5.9 miles, yellow markers, 1,520-foot elevation gain) - Accessed either from the Alder Lake Loop on the west or the Balsam Lake Mountain Trail on the east, this trail is a challenging route through the heart of the wild forest, providing access to the Beaver Meadow Lean-to (2.25 miles from the Alder Lake Trailhead).
Balsam Lake Mountain summit
- The most direct route is from the Balsam Lake Mountain Trailhead on Beaverkill Road. Follow the blue-marked Dry Brook Ridge Trail north 0.9 miles to its junction with the red-marked Balsam Lake Mountain Trail, turn left and follow it northwest .85 miles, passing a lean-to before reaching the summit. Total distance: 1.75 miles (3.5 miles round-trip). Elevation gain: 1,200 feet.
- The most popular route begins at the Dry Brook Ridge Trailhead on Mill Brook Road. Follow the blue-marked Dry Brook Ridge Trail south 2.25 miles to its junction with the Balsam Lake Mountain Trail, turn right and follow this red-marked trail southwest 0.75 miles to the summit. Total distance: 3.0 miles (6.0 miles round trip). Elevation gain: 1120 feet.
- The most ambitious route begins at the Alder Lake Trailhead and follows the Alder Lake Loop and Mill Brook Ridge Trails eastward to the summit. Total distance: 6.7 miles (13.4 miles round trip). Elevation gain: 1,520 feet.
General information on fishing includes how-to and safety tips and links to seasons, rules & regulations.
Alder Lake, a 45-acre impoundment with a maximum depth of 22 feet, is one of the few ponds in the Catskills that supports a high quality wild brook trout fishery.
Many perennial streams provide excellent brook trout fishing as well, including Alder Creek, Black Brook, Balsam Lake Brook, Mill Brook, Gulf of Mexico Brook and the headwaters of the Beaverkill. Please note, however, that the lower part of the Beaverkill is in private ownership. There is no roadside public access to the Beaverkill along Beaverkill Road. To access the Beaverkill one must begin at the end of Beaverkill Road at the Balsam Lake Mountain Trailhead and hike east, following the Neversink-Hardenburgh Trail for 2.1 miles to reach the publicly-owned section of the Beaverkill.
Please check the special fishing regulations for Ulster County and Alder Lake to learn about seasons, sizes and daily limits.
Alder Lake is only 200 yards from the parking lot and nearly one-half mile long and offers an enjoyable opportunity for hand-launched boating. Electric motors are allowed, but gasoline motors are prohibited.
General information on backcountry camping includes how-to and safety tips and links to rules & regulations.
There are five lean-tos and primitive camping is allowed at sites marked with round, yellow, DEC markers. In addition, at large primitive camping is allowed throughout wild forest lands at least 150 feet from any trail, road, spring, stream, pond, lake, or other water source. Camping is prohibited above 3,500 feet in elevation from March 22 until December 20 each year to protect the fragile summit environment. A camping permit is required for groups of ten or more people. A permit is also required to camp at the same site for more than three consecutive nights.
Campfires are permitted below 3,500 feet in elevation, but only dead and down fuel may be used. In an established campsite, use the existing fire ring. Before you leave, completely extinguish the fire. Never leave a fire unattended. The use of camp stoves is encouraged.
General information on fire towers includes historic and current uses of fire towers and links to other locations with fire towers.
Balsam Lake Mountain fire tower (open Memorial Day through Columbus Day). The first forest fire tower in New York State was erected on Balsam Lake Mountain (elevation 3,723 ft.) in 1887. Built of wood by the Balsam Lake Club, it survived until 1901 and was replaced with another wooden tower in 1905. Telephone lines, a small observer's cabin and a road to the summit were added in 1909 when the state took it over. The first steel tower was erected in 1919, and the present steel tower (47 feet tall) was built in 1930.
Directions: Follow the blue-marked Dry Brook Ridge Trail located on Mill Brook Road outside the hamlet of Arkville-a moderate, six-mile, round-trip hike.
General information on cross-country skiing and snowshoeing includes how-to and safety tips and links to rules & regulations.
The Alder Lake Loop (1.5 miles) is well suited to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
The Kelly Hollow Loop Trails (yellow markers) includes a 1.9 mile short loop known as the "Short Loop" and a 3.8 mile long loop known as the "Beaver Pond Loop". The trail includes many interesting features including a scenic waterfall, beautiful streams, ponds, and a lean to for camping. The Kelly Hollow Trail is a "designated" cross country ski trail and is marked with yellow ski-trail markers. Although the trail is designated as a cross country ski trail, hiking and biking are allowed. Proper etiquette for designated cross-country ski trails advises that only snowshoes and skis are used on these trails when covered with snow.
Hunting and Trapping
General Information on hunting and general information on trapping includes how-to and safety tips with links to seasons, rules & regulations. Hunting and trapping are allowed on Balsam Lake Mounin Wild Forest in accordance with all New York State regulations.
General information on biking includes how-to and safety tips and links to rules & regulations.
Mountain biking is allowed on all trails in the Balsam Lake Mountain Wild Forest.
Alder Lake Accessible Picnic Area
General information on accessible recreation includes links to other locations with accessible recreation opportunities and information on permits for motorized access.
Alder Lake provides opportunities for picnicking. There are accessible picnic tables, accessible parking, an informational kiosk and a seasonal accessible port-a-john.
Dry Brook Ridge Trail parking area is on Mill Brook Road in the Town of Hardenburgh, Ulster County, 8 miles south of Arkville. 42.071502°N, 74.573876°W Google Maps (Leaves DEC website)
Kelly Hollow Trail parking area is on Mill Brook Road in the Town of Middletown, Delaware County, 13 miles southeast of Margaretville.
- West: 42.079585°N, 74.654504°W Google Maps (leaves DEC website)
- East: 42.078800°N, 74.649756°W Google Maps (leaves DEC website)
Hardenburgh Trail parking area is on the Beaverkill Road in the Town of Hardenburgh, 6 miles east of Turnwood. 42.011717 °N, 74.622377°W Google Maps (leaves DEC website)
Balsam Lake Mountain Trail parking area is at the eastern end of the Beaverkill Road in the Town of Hardenburgh, 8 miles east of Turnwood. 42.023329°N, 74.599531°W Google Maps (leaves DEC website)
Alder Lake parking area is at the end of Alder Creek Road (County Route 54) in the Town of Hardenburgh, Ulster County, 18 miles north of Livingston Manor (2.6 miles north of Turnwood). Take exit 96 off State Route 17 and go to the "T" intersection near Livingston Manor. Turn right, go approximately 1 mile and make a right onto Johnson Hill Road (Sullivan County Route 151/Beaverkill Road). At the steel bridge in Turnwood, turn left onto Alder Creek Road (Ulster County Route 54). Go past the Beaverkill Fish Hatchery and continue until the road changes to dirt. Make a right onto Access Road to Alder Lake. About 3 miles north of Turnwood. 42.049795°N, 74.682757 °W Google Maps (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.
How We Manage Balsam Lake Wild Forest
DEC manages these lands in accordance with the management activities described in the Balsam Lake Wild Forest Unit Management Plan (UMP). In addition to management objectives, the UMP contains detailed information on natural features, recreational infrastructure, geology, natural and human history, habitats, wildlife, fisheries and much more.
The Department completed the UMP for the Balsam Lake Mountain Wild Forest in 1996. If you would like to obtain a copy of the UMP, please email Region 3 UMP.
Nearby Amenities and Attractions
- The Big Indian Wilderness abuts Balsam Lake Mountain Wild Forest to the south and wraps around to the east.
- The Delaware Wild Forest is to the west.
- DEC's Little Pond Campground is located nearby to the west in Hardenburgh.
- The Mongaup Pond Campground and Willowemoc Wild Forest are a short distance to the south in Sullivan County.
- The towns of Arkville and Margaretville are to the north along Route 28 and have food and gas.
Numerous guide books and maps are available with information on the lands, waters, trails and other recreational facilities in this area. These can be purchased at most outdoor equipment retailers, bookstores, and on-line booksellers.
Additional information, outdoor equipment, trip suggestions and guided or self-guided tours may be obtained from outdoor guide and outfitting businesses. Check area chambers of commerce, telephone directories or search the internet for listings.
Consider hiring an outdoor guide if you have little experience or woodland skills. See the NYS Outdoor Guides Association (leaves DEC website) for information on outdoor guides.