By Matthew Young
6.5 miles Roundtrip Loop
“Here the work of Man dwindles in the hearts of the southern Catskills”.
Of course New York is beautiful in the fall. You can wander along a wooded path in Central Park with a hot coffee, or lay out on the Great Lawn enjoying the warm midday sun. However, if you are looking for a true outdoor autumn experience, nothing beats a hike in the Catskills. While the City is still holding on to the final fleeting days of summer, autumn has already made a home in the mountains and valleys of upstate.
About 10 miles northeast of Claryville and 10 miles south of Big Indian, Slide mountain rises 4,190 feet above sea level. Its summit is the tallest in the Catskills, and ranks as the 30th highest peak in New York State. For those who reach the roof of the Catskill Range, the feat brings with it a lasting sense of accomplishment.
The trail begins at a parking area off West Branch Road. The road leading to the trailhead winds around the base of the hills, as it follows the path of rivers and creeks flowing towards the Neversink Reservoir.
Being the tallest mountain in the Catskills, Slide mountain is a popular hike, though unlike some other popular hikes there is no parking fee. Register at the trail head and then follow the path and find yourself immediately immersed into the woods. Since the trail starts far from any nearby town, you will rarely hear any traffic sounds or noise pollution.
The trail begins on level ground, passing over some streams, which depending on the time of year can be rushing with water or nothing more than dry riverbeds. Late-summer and early fall are prime times to hike Slide Mountain. The maple and beach trees begin to flaunt their colors, and the bugs which populate the trail in the earlier months have started to disappear for the season. You can hear woodpeckers hammering away for their next meal, and leaves crunching under the weight of chipmunks storing their summer bounty.
Obviously the trail does not remain level for long as you move towards the summit. As with many Catskill trails, it can be somewhat rocky and uneven at times. The incline steepens as broken slabs of rock jut out from the trail in all directions. Follow the yellow trail markers.
When you reach the first intersection, follow the arrow to the right. The trail levels out for a short period allowing you to pause and catch your breath. Small trickles of water flow down the side of the mountain, curving around moss covered boulders.
The sight and smell of the falling leaves is nostalgic. It is the smell of jumping into leaf-piles as a child. It’s the smell of warm days fading into chilled nights filled with the smell of woodsmoke. It is a premonition of fall slowly making her way towards the city, though New York won’t experience it for a few more weeks, and not with the same grandeur as the mountains.
At the second trail junction you have the option of following the red trail to the left, or continuing straight and meeting up with the blue Curtis-Ormsbee trail. I decided to head left. The red trail reaches the summit in a shorter distance, and therefore is steeper and more strenuous. The Curtis-Ormsbee trail is approximately a mile longer though it climbs the mountain more gradually, while working its way through distinct sections of forests. Both trails offer a different experience, so I highly recommend performing a loop in order to see everything this hike has to offer. If you decide to take the more challenging red trail on the trek up, drink some water and prepare for more uphill.
As you make your way up the steepest portions of the trail you’ll see a sign informing you that you have reached an elevation of 3,500 feet. The trees get noticeably shorter in stature and evergreens become more abundant.
Once you reach the crest of the mountain top, about three-quarters of a mile from the summit, the ascent becomes slightly less daunting. Looking out over the crest, the weathered trunks of old pines sticking out amongst the tops of smaller trees, is reminiscent of hiking in the Cascade Range of Oregon and Washington. Just before the true summit you’ll notice a couple ledges over looking the other Catskills peaks. Stop and enjoy the incredible sweeping vistas from these points. Even though the summit is just up ahead, these ledges provide the best views of the hike.
It quickly becomes apparent just how high you have climbed as you stare down at the surrounding mountain tops. The final push to the summit opens up to a small alpine meadow. There you’ll find another rocky outcropping with some minimal but impressive views of distant peaks and the Ashokan reservoir. The summit has become slightly overgrown, but simply reaching the highest point is a worthy achievement. Spend some time enjoying the pristine feeling of Slide Mountain. Being surrounded by nature and breathing in the fresh mountain air is a gift.
The true summit is marked by a concrete block, the last remnants of an old fire tower. If you explore the summit you’ll find a plaque honoring John Burroughs, a Catskill Native and Naturalist who often wrote about Slide Mountain. As the plaque states he “Slept several nights beneath this rock”.
As You make your way off the summit you can always stop and admire the view points from the previous ledges one last time. Each ledge offers a different perspective. Some showcase autumns colors better than others.
If you took the red trail up, follow the Blue (Curtis-Ormsbee Trail) back towards the parking area. You’ll link up with this trail before making the main descent. A narrow trail, marked by a wooden, sign veers off to the left and follows the blue markers through the pines. This trail is softer on the feet and less rocky than the red trail. It is also less than half the width as it leads into dense forest. Soft green moss sprawls out across the forest floor. As mentioned earlier, you’ll walk through distinct portions of this trail. Hosting a forest of ferns and firs, the Curtis-Ormsbee trail feels more personal and closer to the surrounding nature.
The majority of the Curtis-Ormsbee trail is relatively less steep than the other, though be warned that there are a few very short but steep sections that may require the use of hands to boost yourself up. As an added bonus, the trail also provides you with another view point. Slightly overgrown, the rocky outcropping still has decent views of the landscape. A perfect place for a rest.
This diverse trail passes by some fascinating rock gaps and overhangs that seems somewhat out of place in the middle of the quaint forest. When you reach the next intersection you will want to turn right and follow the yellow trail markers back towards the Slide Mountain parking area. There is a stone monument at these crossroads commemorating the Curtis-Ormsbee trail (in honor of William Curtis & Allan Ormsbee).Once back on the yellow-marked trail you will retrace your steps to the trailhead.
Even as the Catskills are slowly being weathered down, Slide Mountain stands as a guardian watching over the others. Though autumn may be a unique and beautiful time to visit, every season on Slide Mountain has its own draw. So whenever you’re ready for your next adventure, remember that Slide Mountain is there waiting to be explored.
Stop by Hatchet Outdoor Supply Co. for detailed trail maps of the Catskills and beyond.
Also be sure to check out the Catskill Interpretive Center for brochures, guides, park information, and updated trail conditions!