Just 115 miles from Manhattan, the Catskills are a perfect way for NYC-area residents to explore the great outdoors. Here are three of the best Catskills hikes and climbs for those new to the game.
Wildly out of shape.
Entirely too busy.
Lacking essential gear.
NYC-ers regularly use these excuses to avoid a Catskills hiking trip, but they’re all incredibly easy to overcome — just watch:
Wildly out of shape? Hit the streets instead of subways — the city is massive, and therefore perfect for endurance training.
Entirely too busy? Just 115 miles from Manhattan, the Catskills are an easy day or weekend trip. (Don’t have a car? Zipcar, rental cars, Meetup groups, etc., etc. — no excuses!)
Lacking essential gear? I’ve climbed five of the Catskills’ high peaks in running shoes or duck boots. No need for the fancies here.
127 Hours? Fortunately, I have yet to see James Franco stuck in between boulders on my Catskills hikes. (Which means, sadly, I have yet to see James Franco.)
OK, OK. So we got the excuses out of the way.
Now that you’ve realized the Catskills are attainable, let’s talk logistics:
Where should beginners hike in the Catskills?
I’m glad you asked. The Catskills have 35 high peaks (mountains above 3,500 feet), but they’re not all overly challenging. Start on easy, non-peak trails, and once you’re comfortable, head on up to the easier high peaks for a taste of true Catskills mountaineering.
Here are three doable Catskills hikes and climbs for beginners, listed in order of easy to more challenging, to help you get started on your Catskills adventures.
Level I Beginner: Kaaterskill Falls
Kaaterskill Falls was my first hike in the Catskills, and it was the perfect introduction to hiking. It’s one of the Catskills’ most populated trails, but honestly, crowds aren’t a bad thing on your first trip. They’re a safety net in case anything goes terribly wrong (which it won’t!).
The hike out to Kaaterskill Falls is about 30 – 45 minutes of short inclines, marked paths and a few sporadic muddy patches, depending on recent rainfall. The trail dead ends at the falls, but the exploring doesn’t stop there:
- If you still have energy, take some of the off-shoot trails to get closer to the waterfall (just read the signs, because some of the trails can be dangerous).
- If you’re winded, take a seat on one of the boulders at the base of the falls to have a snack, grab some photos and relax.
- If you realize you absolutely hate the outdoors and need the concrete jungle ASAP, I guess you should just … leave? But that hurts my heart to think about. So let’s not …
You’ll head back out the way you came, and voila! Within a couple of hours, you’ll have Catskills hike numero uno under your belt!
Note: If you can walk without stopping for a half hour, you should be able to complete this hike.
Level II Beginner: Balsam Lake Mountain
Did the Kaaterskill Falls hike whet your Catskills appetite? Let’s move on to Balsam Lake Mountain, a great intermediate hike to see if tougher climbs are for you.
I say tougher climbs only because Balsam Lake Mountain is more challenging than the Kaaterskill Falls. It’s part of the Catskills High Peaks, with a height of 3,720 feet. The entire hike is about six miles round trip, and will take beginner hikers about four to five hours.
While definitely longer and higher than the Kaaterskill Falls hike, the terrain is relatively similar. The path up has a gradual but doable incline, and it’s well-trod and marked the entire way.
If you’re having doubts along the trail, know this — your hard work is instantly rewarded at the top with a fire tower that provides sweeping Catskills panoramas.
I climbed Balsam Lake Mountain in the winter, so snow was covering a good portion of the trail. It was again, entirely doable, but if you’re new to the hiking game, climb Balsam Lake in the late spring, summer or fall.
Want more inspiration? Check out my Balsam Lake Mountain vlog here!
Note: If you’re able to jog four miles without stopping, I can confidently say you’ll be able to complete the Balsam Lake Mountain hike.
Level III Beginner: Hunter Mountain
At 4,040 feet, Hunter Mountain is the second tallest mountain in the Catskills.
Say what? Second highest mountain for beginners? Fear not, I anticipated this question.
While Hunter Mountain is technically the second highest peak, if climbed during the right months, it’s one of the easiest High Peak hikes in the Catskills.
The trail itself is well marked and maintained. It took us about four or five hours to hike up, but we also hiked it in the middle of winter, meaning the path was snowy and icy for about 70 percent of the time (that’s how we perfected the “scoot down on butt” descent tactic…).
The trail leads up to another fire tower, which I’d assume gives you gorgeous views of the Catskills, but I couldn’t see more than 10 feet into the distance given the day’s pounding of snow.
Hike in the late spring, summer or fall months for a straighter, less treacherous path up and down, and hey — you may even be able to get those fire tower views I missed!
If you can jog five miles without breaks, you should be able to climb Hunter Mountain.
Are excuses holding you back from the Catskills? Let them go.
You don’t need crazy high-tech gear and you don’t need to be a hiking guru to enjoy the absolute beauty this region has to offer. Make the time, take the trip and explore the Catskills The Wanderlost Way for hilarious stories, unforgettable memories, and of course, some sweet photos for the Insta.
Oh, and side note — if you do happen to stumble upon James Franco on your first Catskills trip, tell him to keep his arm in tact — I’m coming to the rescue!
For detailed Catskills hiking guides, check out The Catskill Mountaineer. This site has been our go-to resource for all things Catskills since day one, and we still print out and take their guides on every climb.