Hike Balsam From Rider Hollow

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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 Hike

Route Type: Lollipop

Includes: Blazed Trail, Stream Crossing

Parent Balsam

Similar Entries In: Best Hikes, Catskills, Moderate Hikes, , , , , , .

catskill mountain view from overlook

Balsam Overlook (just north of the summit)

 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, in Rider Hollow, there are springs and streams galore with easy crossings, and a seriously cute iron-and-wood footbridge.

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 when the leaves are on the trees (starting in late April) and it’s where I completed my training to become a 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, is 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 if you wore good hiking shoes or boots.

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

You might get cell coverage up here, 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 Belle Ayre.

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 feels almost designed…

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, right before you start to descend.

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

Balsam Mountain Overlook

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

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

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. I noticed something unusual about it as I was processing the image…

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 the left. If you start to descend, you‘ve gone too far.

Descent to the Col

There are three easy ledge systems on this side 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 and Haynes Mountain. Notice the seriously weathered sign on a tree with seriously cool roots.

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 truly 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.

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.

If you do this hike, let me know how it goes in the comments below…

Trailhead Info for this Hike

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

Address: Rider Hollow Road, Arkville, New York
Due to the nature of rural addresses, this address is an approximation; it’s the “close enough address” I use to get driving directions from my phone. Click to launch Google Maps in a new window/tab.

Location: 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.)

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