Hike Balsam From Rider Hollow

A truly delightful hike through Mine Hollow, up over Balsam Mountain, then down through Rider Hollow. This is one of the most picturesque hikes in the Catskills.

Hike Length: 5.3 miles (8.53 km)

Total Ascent: 1,601ft (488m)

Intensity: Moderate Catskills Hike

Route Type: Lollipop

Includes: Blazed Trail, Stream Crossing

Parent Balsam

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catskill mountain view from overlook

Balsam Overlook (just north of the summit)

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 A moderately challenging loop. Absolutely delightful the whole way.

Hiking Trail Description

This is now my preferred route up Balsam Mountain. It’s picturesque and a delight. In Mine Hollow, there’s a stand of wonderful, old hemlock trees. Climbing the north side of the mountain, you’ll see Catskills terrain at its finest.

The walk across the flat summit ridge — punctuated by one of the best overlooks in the Catskill Park — is effortless and serene.

Finally, on the way out through Rider Hollow, there are springs and streams galore; the crossings are all easy and there’s a seriously cute iron-and-wood footbridge.

Balsam Mountain Hiking Trail

Just past an iron gate, the trail register and information board mark the start of the hiking trail into Rider Hollow.

I love this hollow very much. It’s so beautiful, starting in late April, when the leaves are on the trees. It’s also where I completed my training to become a volunteer trail maintainer.

trailhead register and information board
Rider Hollow trailhead

The first footbridge is near the start of the trail, and is a substantial boy.


The stream here is the drainage for the entire west side of Balsam Mountain.

stream bank
Stream in spring

After not much more than ¼ mile you come to the first junction.

Ascend through Mine Hollow / Yellow Trail

Stay to the left and follow the yellow blazes uphill.

hiking trail junction, trees, blazes
Rider Hollow Yellow/Red Junction

The trail ascends gently along the north banks of the brook that flows down through Mine Hollow.

Just below 2500’, before the trail turns sharply left/north, pass through a stand of enormous hemlock trees.

hemlock trees
Beautiful old hemlock stand at 2450’

The trail crosses a bunch of contours diagonally before turning north east.

You’ll pass several large glacial erratics.

large boulder in open woods
Glacial erratic
rock face of glacial erratic
Glacial erratic (detail)

The terrain levels out for a bit before one last push uphill.

Go around the right side of these whale rocks and you’ll be just about at the second junction.

enormous boulders
Moby Dick in Mine Hollow

Second Junction / Blue Trail

The junction of Mine Hollow and Pine Hill West Branch always seems to be muddy. You’ll be grateful you wore good hiking shoes or boots.

Turn right. At first, trail dips down but then soon begins a climb of about 1 mile to the summit.

You may get cell coverage above 2800’.

Above 3000’ the terrain becomes definitive Catskills rock outcroppings and moss, and is quite rugged without being overly demanding.

rocky trail, ascending
Finally, some rugged ascent

You can also turn around and look backwards. The large mountain you see in the distance is Belleayre.

At 3150’ you’ll come to this small, beautiful ledge.

sedimentary rock and moss
Quintessential Catskills rock and moss outcropping

Just below the ledge, on the left side of the trail, is a kind of side channel that’s so beautiful it feels almost landscaped…?

catskills rock
Side show

Keep climbing…

hiking trail
Upper trail, Balsam, north slope

hiking trail
Upper trail, Balsam, north slope

hiking trail
Upper trail, Balsam, north slope

Just after this section, above 3550’, the trail levels out across the summit ridge, which runs about 2000’ in length from north to south. (The actual summit is on the southern end of the ridge, just before you start to descend.)

Balsam Mountain Overlook

About half way along the level ridge, however, is one of the great Catskills lookouts. This view is so great…

catskill mountain view from overlook
Balsam Overlook (just north of the summit)

There’s a large flat rock to sit on and a first rate view to enjoy. This is the perfect spot to snack and recharge.

A surprising number of Catskills 3500 peaks are visible through the opening.

mountain range in distance
Overlook with mountain labels

mountain ranges in distance
Visible: North Dome, Rusk, East Rusk, Black Dome, Blackhead.

mountain range in distance
Visible: Plateau, Sugarloaf, Twin (barely)

mountain range in distance
Overlook Mountain seen from Balsam Mountain overlook

Take a close look at this next photo, looking down into Lost Clove. As I was processing this image, I noticed something unusual about it…

house in valley/steep clove
Little House in Lost Clove

All along the clove wall behind the house: old logging trails, like faint veins on a leaf.

Balsam Mountain Summit

Another thousand feet or so long the ridge from the overlook, is the actual summit. Balsam has a summit marker that always reminds of the Stonehenge scene in Spinal Tap. From photos, you might expect it to be 15 feet tall — it’s closer to 15 inches tall.

Summit marker / stone
Balsa Mountain summit marker

The marker is just off trail. Look through the trees to your left. If you start to descend, you‘ve gone too far.

Descent to the Col

There are three easy ledge systems on the southwestern ridge of Balsam. The first is at 3500’. The other two are close together just above 3250’. None is tricky.

trees, sunset, moss
Rider Hollow sunset

It won’t take long to come down to the col between Balsam Mountain and Haynes Mountain. Notice the wonderfully weathered sign on this tree with its very cool root system.

hiking trail sign on tree
Timeworn sign, venerable tree, ancient rock

Turn right and begin descending into Rider Hollow.

Rider Hollow / Red Trail

Follow the red blazes. The trail is a little steep at times but not challenging. There is a lot of water here, pouring from dozens of spots along the hollow. I lost cell coverage below 2500’.

stream in spring time
There are many stream crossings in Rider Hollow, all of them easy to rock-hop across

There are several easy stream crossings as you descend and several more on the lower, flat part of the hollow.

The trail crosses this brook several times

It’s just very lovely in here. I feel like April was maybe a little early to visit. In May, once the trees are in full bloom, it must be so beautiful.

After the final rock-hops, you’ll pass the Rider Hollow lean-to and a camping site.

New York State lean-to
Rider Hollow Lean-To

And then you’ll cross this wonderful iron-and-wood footbridge.

iron and wood footbridge
Delightful iron and wood footbridge

The trail reconnects with the first junction. Turn left and head out, passing back over the first (large) footbridge, and soon you’ll be back in the parking area.

Similar Hikes

This is one of my favorite hikes. It’s one of the best hikes in the Catskills.

It’s also a great hike if you’re just getting into mountain hiking — after doing Balsam Lake and Slide Mountain, this would be a great next hike.

It’s a very beautiful hike. And it’s also a relatively short hike.

The parent mountain for this hike is Balsam.

If you do this hike, LMK how it went…

13 responses to “Hike Balsam From Rider Hollow

  1. We hiked this counterclockwise over the weekend and added a pleasant visit to the Belleayre ski area to relax and enjoy some spectacular views. Total hike was 9.2 mi. I was the second car in the parking lot on Saturday at 7:30 am (the other car was for campers who stayed Friday night) but by the time I returned 5 hours later, the lot was full. If hiking in the summer, be aware that stinging nettles line much of the trail.

  2. It’s on the southwest ridge, but it’s right after the viewpoint on the way to the rock arrow summit. Like if you were to start to head down on the route. Still on the blue trial part of the trail. Sorry my description isn’t the best haha

  3. Hiked this yesterday in snowshoes following your preferred route up. Snowshoes were definitely needed, large amounts of fresh snow as you get closer to the top. The steep sections were tricky, but overall a gorgeous day! Not a great view due to the snow coming in, but the rest of the hike made up for it. I noticed just before the summit as I was working on making the loop down, that there was a large orange posted sign stating private property. I don’t think I ever noticed this in the spring. I stayed on the trail/in the snow shoe tracks.

  4. Great hike! Challenging but awesome. We took it counterclockwise and accented the red trail and came down the yellow.

      1. Snow shoes are a necessity we came across more than a few deep postholes but the trails are tracked out and have been broken

Your comments are welcome here…

Trailhead Info for this Hike

Medium-sized lot at the end of Rider Hollow Road.

Google Maps Location: 42.102216, -74.518057

The map below shows the exact topographic location of the trailhead

Cell Service

On the northern slope: above 2800’. On the southern slope: above 2500’. My network is Verizon. YMMV.