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Balsam Lake Mountain Wild Forest

image showing location of Balsam Lake Mountain Wild Forest

View Balsam Lake Mountain Wild Forest Map - PDF (3.15 mb) || Google Earth || State Lands Interactive Mapper

" Alder Lake ... is 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." - Joshua R. Gerow, 1953

Located in the southwest corner of the Catskill Park, Balsam Lake Mountain Wild Forest contains more than 13,500 acres of "forever wild" Forest Preserve. With an extensive trail network to several ponds, this wild forest is ideal for hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, backpacking, canoeing and cross-country skiing.


The Balsam Lake Mountain Wild Forest is located 8 miles south of Margaretville (Route 28) and 18 miles north of Livingston Manor (Route 17). It lies mainly within the western Ulster County town of Hardenburgh, with small appendages in the towns of Middletown and Andes in Delaware County.


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.

A view of Alder Lake

Alder Lake Accessible Picnic Area

accessible recreation logo

Alder Lake provides opportunities for picnicking. There are accessible picnic tables, accessible parking, an informational kiosk and a seasonal accessible port-a-john

Full listing of DEC's Accessible Recreation Destinations.

Directions to Alder Lake

Alder Lake is located in Ulster County. Take exit 96 off of 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.


Balsam Lake Mountain Wild Forest is at the head of the Beaverkill Valley, an area famous as the cradle of fly fishing in America. The most significant fishery within this wild forest, Alder Lake, is rich in history. Originally a natural pond, it was drained to create a hay field for farmers who settled the area. In 1889 the farm was flooded to create a lake and developed for a fishing resort to attract tourists. Originally stocked with native brook trout from the Beaverkill, a hatchery was built below the dam in 1890 to enhance the fishery. It was the first trout hatchery in the Beaverkill region.

Photograph of Balsam Lake

In 1899 Samuel Coykendall, a millionaire railroad and steamboat company owner, acquired the property to create a stylish estate and fishing preserve. He constructed a grand mansion overlooking the lake and entertained national and international celebrities. The Coykendall family sold their Alder Lake property to a trout fishing club from Liberty in 1945; in 1960 the Boy Scouts of America acquired the property for a summer camp. The State of New York acquired the property in 1980 for inclusion in the Forever Wild Catskill Forest Preserve. The Coykendall Lodge and fish hatchery remain on the property as a reminder of the area's rich history. However, due to the advanced state of decay neither building is open to the public and their fate is uncertain.

As early as 1887 when a modest wooden tower was erected on its summit, Balsam Lake Mountain has been used for fire detection, making it the oldest fire tower site in New York State. The present steel tower was erected in 1919 and was staffed until 1988. This tower has been renovated and is open to the public from Memorial Day through Columbus Day. A group of DEC volunteers now operates the tower.


Several trailheads and parking areas provide developed access to the area.

Dry Brook Ridge Trailhead is on Mill Brook Road in the Town of Hardenburgh, Ulster County, 8 miles south of Arkville.

Kelly Hollow Trailhead is on Mill Brook Road in the Town of Middletown, Delaware County, 13 miles southeast of Margaretville.

Alder Lake Trailhead 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).

Hardenburgh Trailhead is on the Beaverkill Road in the Town of Hardenburgh, 6 miles east of Turnwood.

Balsam Lake Mountain Trailhead is at the eastern end of the Beaverkill Road in the Town of Hardenburgh, 8 miles east of Turnwood.


Balsam Lake Sign

More than 22 miles of trails traverse the area.

Alder Lake Loop Trail (1.5 miles, red markers) - an easy hike around the lake.

Mill Brook Ridge Trail (5.9 miles, yellow markers, 1520-feet 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 - 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: 1520 feet.

Fire Tower

Balsam Lake Mountain

Hardenburgh-Elevation 3,723 feet
The first forest fire tower in New York State was erected on Balsam Lake Mountain 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.

Cross-Country Skiing

The Kelly Hollow Loop (4 miles) and Alder Lake Loop (1.5 miles) are well suited to cross-country skiing.

Mountain Bicycling

While there are no trails designated for bicycles, some of the area's trails are suitable for bicycles. Please use caution and yield the right-of-way to pedestrians, regardless of where you bicycle.


Only 200 yards from the parking lot and nearly one-half mile long, Alder Lake offers an enjoyable opportunity for hand-launched boating. Electric motors are allowed, but gasoline motors are prohibited.


Primitive camping is allowed at sites marked with round, yellow, DEC markers or throughout wild forest lands at least 150 feet from any trail, road, spring, stream, pond, lake, or other water source. Camping is prohibited above 3500 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 3500 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. For information on DEC Campgrounds in the area, visit the DEC Camping page.

Hunting & Trapping

Specific information on seasons, licenses required and other statewide fishing, hunting and trapping information, visit DEC's Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources page. Hunting, fishing and trapping are traditional uses which are encouraged within the Forest Preserve. Black bear and white-tailed deer are hunted in the fall. The eastern wild turkey is hunted in spring and fall. Furbearers, including beaver, fisher, bobcat and coyotes are harvested annually.


Fishing opportunities exist throughout the wild forest, including:

Alder Lake, a 45-acre impoundment with a maximum depth of 22 feet, supports a high quality wild brook trout fishery and is one of only a few ponds to provide such a fishing experience in the Catskills. A minimum size limit of 10 inches and a possession limit of 3 fish per day are currently employed to maintain this quality fishing experience. In addition, the use of any fish as bait is prohibited to prevent the establishment of species that would compete with native brook trout.

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 Beaverkill.

For further assistance:
NYSDEC Region 3
21 South Putt Corners Road
New Paltz, NY 12561
Phone: 845-256-3000

Forest Preserve Management: 845-256-3083
Forest Rangers: 845-256-3026
Fishing: 845-256-3161
Hunting: 845-256-3098
Law Enforcement: 845-256-3013
Mongaup Pond Campground: 845-439-4233