Peakbagging the Catskill 3500 High Peaks (Ultimate Guide)

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twin mountain scenic view labelled

Twin Mountain View With Labels

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Working on your Catskill 3500 peaks? It’s a fantastic, life-changing endeavor. This page shows you the best high peaks to do together. Here’s the best way to hike the Catskill 3500’s.

To summarize: there are 33 publicly-accessible Catskills high peaks with summits above 3,500 ft. People who summit all thirty-three peaks — plus re-climbing four specially designated peaks in winter — may apply to become a member of the Catskill 3500 Club.

There is no time limit. Any previous Catskill High Peaks in your peakbagging travels totally count.

You can get the full membership info on the Catskill 3500 Club’s website.

Plan Your Strategy

When I first started mountain hiking, I’d never hiked at all before. Hiking my first Catskill mountain to the summit was a major achievement. At that time, I definitely wasn’t strong enough to peak-bag two mountains on the same day.

Even after I got my mountain legs, however, I still had noob-level knowledge. I hadn’t figured out which mountains grouped well together in sensible ways. I made multiple trips to trailheads I could have visited just once.

Especially if you have to travel to the Catskills, it makes sense to plan things more strategically.

By buddying-up mountains, you’ll minimize your travel time while maximizing your peak-bagging.

The Lists

The most efficient way to bag the Catskill 3500 Peaks is to bang out as many of them as you can in pairs and triplets. 

The lists below combine mountains in common pairs and groups.

Okay, first, let’s look at the orphans…

Catskill 3500 Peaks: Panther Mountain
Panther Mtn from Balsam Lake Fire Tower

Catskill 3500 Peak Orphans

These peaks tend to be done as singles because they’re not readily connected to any other peak. I’ve listed them below in their (roughly) increasing level of difficulty. 

Each of these hikes can be done with one car, as an out-and-back.

  • Windham High Peak — one of the easiest mountain hikes in the Catskills, this six mile total out-and-back from Peck Rd is the perfect introduction to mountain hiking. This alternate route from Cross Road is even more beautiful. On either route, there’s nothing technical to deal with — just stunning forests and great scenic views.
  • Slide Mountain — you wouldn’t think the tallest Catskill Mountain would be so easy to climb, but it is. It’s a relatively easy 90 mins to the summit. Here is the best route up and down Slide Mountain — with notes on where to find the best views.
  • Panther — a massive mountain with several routes to the summit. The route from the south via Giant Ledge is very popular. There’s also a much quieter 10 mile out-and-back via Fox Hollow.
  • West Kill — another huge mountain with relentless, steep hiking and one of the best scenic views in the Catskills. I hiked it most recently as a loop via St. Anne’s.
  • Balsam Lake — A short easy hike that ends with a jaw-dropping 360° panoramic view from the Balsam Lake Fire Tower.
  • Halcott — a short but very steep hike. This is another of the untrailed “bushwhack” mountains, so you’ll need to crack out your navigation skills. It’s also a great mountain to practice your non-digital map-and-compass skills.
  • Rusk — yet another steep and untrailed/bushwhack peak. Some people combine a hike up Rusk with Hunter and Southwest Hunter (see below) but that’s a big day. I usually just combine it with East Rusk, which is a much nicer mountain.
  • Kaaterskill High Peak — several trailed routes lead you to the base of the summit, on either the south or north side, and from there you can follow herd paths to the top. A long, steep, but exceptionally rich Catskills hike.

catskills sunrise/sunset view
DPS1: Dawn light on Hunter Mountain

Catskill 3500 Pairs

Each of these hikes can be done with one car, as an out-and-back.

  • Vly & Bearpen — Two of the easiest mountains to climb in the Catskills. Vly is technically a bushwhack but clear DEC property boundary markers lead the way to the summit. Here’s the classic route.
  • Table & Peekamoose — hike in from Denning for a beautiful moderate hike, or hike it from from the south for way more elevation gain.
  • Balsam & Eagle — Doing Balsam from Rider Hollow brings you through some of the most picturesque terrain in the Catskills. Add Eagle on the way out.
  • Big Indian & Fir — Beautiful terrain with lots of pretty stream crossings.
  • Hunter & Southwest Hunter — Pack lots of water and a big lunch. Hunter Mountain is so big there’s no way to bag both peaks without a ton of legwork. I did it from the very steep Stony Clove Notch side.
  • Indian Head & Twin — My absolute favorite two-peak hike. You’ll see! Follow the Devil’s Path up the east side of Indian Head, then cross over to Twin, and come back down to Prediger Rd via Jimmy Dolan Notch.
  • Sugarloaf & Plateau — from Mink Hollow you get to decide which to do first: the relentlessly steep ascent up Plateau, or the long, sketchy ascent to Sugarloaf. LOL @ your legs.
  • North Dome & Mt Sherrill — Two bushwhack mountains with multiple routes from north, east and west. You’ll have to re-do one on the way back out or add some road walk to form a loop.
  • Wittenberg & Cornell — A wonderful out-and-back that includes the best view in the Catskills, plus Cornell Crack!
  • Friday & Balsam Cap — A tough bushwhack combo. My advice: the first time you do it, do it with someone who’s done it before.
  • Rocky & Lone — Many people feel this hike to the most remote, isolated and densely forested 3500 mountains is the most treacherous hike on the list. Leave it until you gain some experience, and go with someone who can guide you. I did it most recently via the Fisherman’s Path. I’ve also done it with a group on a long hike over six mountains (see below).

Blackhead Range seen from Acra Point
Blackhead, Black Dome, Thomas Cole, seen from Acra Point

Catskill 3500 Triplets

Each of these hikes can be done with one car, as an out-and-back.

  • Blackhead › Black Dome › Thomas Cole — the Blackhead range can be hiked via two routes from the north via Big Hollow, or from the west as an out-and-back from Barnum Road.
  • Rusk › Hunter › Southwest Hunter — Add East Rusk to add some excellent pine-and-moss terrain after the relatively boring Rusk, and then loop around Hunter’s massive flanks to finish up on a rugged section of the Devil’s Path with an excellent scenic view. Best of all, at the very end, you get to dip your feet in Diamond Notch Falls.

view of wittenberg
The best view of Wittenberg in The Catskills

Big Catskills Days

After some time in the hills, maybe you’ll feel like tackling a big multi-peak hike like this six-Catskills-peaks-in-a-single-day-hike which is a great way to power-jump through the list.

For these routes, you’ll definitely need two cars. You’ll probably also need a second pair of legs.

  • Rusk › Hunter › Southwest Hunter › West Kill
  • Eastern Devil’s Path: Indian Head › Twin › Sugarloaf › Plateau
  • Thomas Cole › Black Dome › Blackhead › Escarpment Route over Acra Point and Burnt Knob › Windham High Peak
  • Slide › Cornell › Wittenberg (which is the easier direction / reverse it if you want more elevation gain)
  • The Six: Friday › Balsam Cap › Rocky › Lone › Table › Peekamoose — in terms of endurance, this hike is second only to “The Nine”. I was very glad to do it as part of a group hike led by 3500 Club hike leaders.

Next Steps

BTW, the DEC’s website has great information on how to hike safely.

Remember, on every hike, always leave no trace.

More Catskill 3500 Peaks Challenges

Completed the Catskill High Peaks? Good for you. You’re just getting started!

Many people who become Catskill High Peakers immediately set a new objective to become Winter High Peakers by climbing the remaining 29 peaks in winter.

After that, some of us work on the warm seasons to earn a High Peaks 4-Season Patch by climbing the 3500 peaks in all four seasons, for a total of 140 climbs. Again, there’s no time limit. Most people spread this endeavor over a number of years.

Finally, a handful of hardy souls will go on to become a Catskill 420 Gridder — aka ”a gridiot” — by climbing each peak in each month of the year, for a total of 420 climbs. As of this writing, fewer than 50 people have completed this challenge.

Catskill 3500 Peaks: Scenic view from Wittenberg Mountain
View from Wittenberg’s summit, one of many spectacular views on this winter hike

Do, Re-Do, Do Again

Re-doing the Catskill 3500 peaks in the four seasons is so rewarding. The terrain and vegetation in the hills and valleys changes dramatically. From the rich, dappled forest canopy of the summer to the wide open valley views of the snowy months, these mountains are ever changing and ever new.

Winter mountain hiking is especially rewarding. You see so many tracks in the snow: fisher tracks, coyote and bobcat tracks, and bear prints.

There’s really never a bad time to start peakbagging the Catskills.

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