By Matthew Young
Platte Clove, NY
4.5 Miles Out and Back
The budding green leaves move like a rising tide up the mountainside. Opposite of the autumn colors that slowly burn their way from top to bottom, the springtime pushes new life from the base of the mountains towards the summit. It’s a season of rebirth, which grows fuller everyday, as the buds turn to leaves and the fresh green stems break through the dry leafy carpet covering the forest floor.
The parking area is able to hold approximately twenty cars, yet it fills pretty quickly. As with many hikes it is always better to arrive early before the trail gets too crowded, or a bit later in the afternoon when the morning hikers are finishing up, clearing some spots. Arriving midday might require some waiting around.
The drive to the trailhead however, is steep, narrow, curvy, and slightly nerve wracking as you make your way up and around the mountainside. The views of the V-shaped valleys are impressive, but keeping your eyes on the road during the ascent is probably a good idea. The Platte Clove Road is only open from April-November each year, and is unmaintained during the winter months.
From the parking area, the trail beings its initial ascent up a wide but rocky path. The tire indents on either side of the trail can fill with mud in the spring or after a rainstorm, so your best bet is to stay towards the middle, or on the slightly raised banks to the sides of the trail.
Through the breaks in the branches you can see the white water of the Plattekill Creek rapids. The rushing water serves as the soundtrack for the first portion of the hike. Follow the Blue trail markers (paired with the red snowmobile markers) as you continue up the steep section, before leveling off briefly.
At the first fork in the road follow the wooded trail sign to the right, staying with the Blue/Red trail blazes. The trail remains wide so it is easy to follow as you get deeper into the forest. Stay to the right and continue following the Blue trail marker at the next intersections as well.
When you reach the trail intersection with the Yellow trail markers, follow them to the right down a smaller foot path. The Yellow blazes will lead you to Huckleberry Point, though there will be a few more ups and downs along the way.
As you to descend down into a valley, you’ll reach a shallow flowing stream, a tributary to the Plattekill Creek. There is a noticeable drop in temperature, and depending on the time of day, the mosaic sun beams often speckle the surface of the slow moving water. This change in scenery is a perfect place for a break, a spot to meditate and take in your surroundings while listening to a solitary bird song, with nothing but the trickle of water in the background.
To continue on the Yellow marked trail you will need to cross the stream. There are a few sections that have stepping stones across the water, and other sections with fallen tree trunks stretching from bank to bank. Choose whichever way works best for you. I used a large branch to balance myself as I made my way across the slick stones. Fortunately a slip will only get your feet wet, as the water is usually no more than ankle deep.
After the stream crossing you will once again begin climbing, scrambling over some large mossy boulders, and weaving between dense sections of Mountain Laurel as the trail continues to narrow. Before the leaves have completely bloomed and obstructed the view from the trail, the distant silhouettes of the eastern Catskills are visible in the blank space between tree trunks.
Before reaching the main view point, the trail will once again slope down the side of the mountain, which may seem counterintuitive, but don’t worry the end point is not far ahead. A few lone white birches stand out among the brownish hues of early spring in the Catskills. As you get further along on the trail, the rich scent of pine blows in from all directions. A deeply comforting scent that no candle can match.
Eventually the trail will open up to a wide rocky ledge, with outstanding views of the very edge of the Catskill range. The gentle, yet abrupt slopes of the mountains gradually flatten, stretching outwards into the Hudson River Valley. The view is surprisingly unique, unlike many of the other view points of Upstate New York. Being on the edge of mountain and valley sets up a striking contrast, which quickly became one of my all-time favorite views.
The rocky ledge extends for quite a ways, giving you alternate vantage points as you roam around. The Hudson River cuts through the canopy to your left, and the Shawangunk Ridge rises in the distance like broken glass in a blue haze. Turkey Vultures and hawks ride the thermals, navigating gracefully in the air overhead without a sound.
Though early spring hikes can have their disadvantages (muddy, leafless), they are also usually less crowded. Admiring a view like the one from Huckleberry Point is breathtaking whether you are sharing it with a hundred people or with no one at all. But in my opinion there is something special about having a mountaintop to yourself. Looking around and seeing no one, hearing no voices, and having nothing to distract you from the vastness that sits in front of your eyes. I sat up straight with my legs dangling freely off the jutting rock, closed my eyes, inhaled deeply, and lost track of time (something that’s easy to do in the wilderness). So before the Summer crowds begin to take over the trails, try to experience that fleeting moment of solitude only the far off mountains can provide.
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!