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Hike Cross Mountain from Woodland Valley

This moderate hike along quiet trail packs a punch: stunning forest, dramatic rock formations, and a spectacular panoramic scenic lookout.

Hike Length: 10.0 miles (16.09 km)

Total Ascent: 2,750ft (838m)

Intensity: Moderate Hike

Route Type: Out-and-Back

Includes: Blazed Trail

Parent Cross

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

view of mountains with cloud inversion

Part of the amazing panoramic view on Cross Mtn

 A steep start but the rest is extremely pleasant moderate-to-easy hiking.

Hiking Trail Description

The more I hike around the Catskills, the clearer it becomes that many of the Lower Catskills Peaks are sorely overlooked by people focussing soley on the Classic 3500 Peaks. Some of the most jaw-dropping scenery in the Catskills is within your grasp — if only you’d lower the bar!

The ridges and peaks around Cross Mountain Hollow and along Woodland Valley — Romer, Mount Pleasant and Cross itself — are a great example. They have some of the most beautiful trails and some of the best scenic views in the Park.

People may look at you quizzically if you mention Cross Mountain; few people seem to know it exists. But this long, quiet, moderate hike along its ridge is one I can’t wait to repeat in every season.

Steep At First

I arrived at the Woodland Valley lot at 4:10 am. At this hour, it was cool and misty and very quiet. A few overnight campers had left their cars in the lot, but there was still plenty of free space.

I crossed the road and began following the red blazes of the Wittenberg/Slide trail, heading south.

footbridge at night
Woodland Creek Footbridge 4:18 am

Right after this footbridge, the trail heads up toward Wittenberg. It’s immediately steep and rugged. The first ¾ mile is quite hard work. After that, the going is much easier.

Nightlife

There’s a lot of life in the woods after dark. I wasn’t quick enough to capture some of the very cool nocturnal critters I came across.

Half-a-dozen of these… small black salamander things?… retreated into tiny lairs whenever I shone my headlamp near them. They are dazzling in their alien-ness: shards of wet black glass, flecked with white.

I wish I’d nailed a good shot of one of them. This is the best I could do…

nocturnal salamander
Black salamander

Sunrise on Wittenberg

After the first steep section, the trail levels out a little and for the rest of this hike, overall, the hiking is moderate-to-easy going.

hemlocks in morning light
Hemlock stand in Woodland Valley, 5:30am.

It takes a while for golden hour to really kick in but by 5:30am deep red shafts of morning light where streaking through the canopy. All around, the birdsong was varied and shockingly loud.

woodsy sunrise
Morning woods light, Woodland Valley.
sunrise woods
Sunrise in Woodland Valley

Water Resupply

If you’re a backpacker and need water in June, you may be out of luck. The water supply marked on maps for this trail was bone dry. It’s a series of three or four active gullies but none showed a drop of moisture.

However, on this day, a very wet section earlier in the trail — just below the 2500’ contour — had several spots where water ran noisily.

Two Junctions

The last time I was on this trail was January 1 on a spectacular through-hike over Wittenberg, Cornell & Slide — aka the Best Hike in the Catskills. A very different scene at that time of year.

Anyway, at the first junction, turn right…

junction signs
First junction (turn right)

At the second junction, just 0.2 miles along, turn left. Begin following the blue blazes toward Cross Mountain.

forest trail signs
Second junction (turn left)

Cross Mountain

Cross is a long low flat ridge of a mountain, and seemingly entirely deciduous, so the hike out is very woodsy. At sunrise or sunset, when leaves are on the trees, it’s absolutely beautiful.

forest trail
Cross mountain trail

Very Quiet Trail

All along the Wittenberg trail, you might notice many parallel scratches on the rock bed. These are left by winter hikers’ whose crampons mark the stones. As you hike around the Catskills, you can get a feel for which trails get the most foot traffic in winter.

On Cross Mountain, I didn’t notice any such scratches. This is a very quiet mountain.

fern glade
Cross Mountain is… woodsy and ferny.

Panoramic Scenic Lookout

Suddenly, around 2600’, the flora changes dramatically and you enter a unique and exceptional part of the ridge.

A broad, open rock ledge appears below, and you’re soon standing in the middle of a truly spectacular panoramic view. There are not many such views in the Catskills, so this is a real treat for Catskill hikers.

Straight ahead, you’re looking down through Cross Mountain Hollow to the Western Devil’s Path mountains…

view of mountains with cloud inversion
Part of the amazing panoramic view on Cross Mtn
panoramic scenic view
Western Devil’s Path mountains from Cross Mtn: Mt Sherril, North Dome, St Anne’s, and massive West Kill.
mountain tops
Mt Sherrill & North Dome

To your left, towering over the ledge, Wittenberg is seen in profile…

Wittenberg side profile
Wittenberg & Me

To your right, you can look over Mount Pleasant’s southeastern ridge to the Eastern Devil’s Path mountains…

mountain summits
Eastern Devil’s Path

This is such a great vantage point and view, wildly beautiful in its configuration. For this alone, I was glad to have chosen this hike.

But there were plenty more great discoveries…

Below the Lookout

Below the panoramic ledge is a magical Eden-like area that’s all ferns and moss and dappled light…

woods trail
Dappled light on Cross Mtn

Below this, the forest reverts to a mix of deciduous trees, dotted with several wonderful rock formations.

This boulder reminded me of Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors

a very anthropomorphic boulder
Audrey II

Grand Staircase

A little lower still, you‘ll pass through the Grand Staircase (best viewed from below). I did not capture the beauty of the formation, or the amazing work that must have been done to lay this trail…

rock ledge
Grand Staircase

A set of wonderful stone steps winds through the massive rock outcropping. There’s nothing tricky at all to contend with. I can’t imagine the work that went into this section.

rock staircase
Grand Staircase, section

From here, it’s an easy walk of a mile or so to the summit, along mostly level trail…

morning woods
Morning light on Cross Mountain

From the second junction to the lowest point on Cross’ long ridge, you lose about 400’ of elevation. From there, the ascent to the summit is an easy 120’ or so.

Ashokan Lookout

Just before the summit, a small but very sweet lookout on the right side of the trail gives a nice view of the Ashokan Reservoir.

scenic lookout
Ashokan lookout on Cross Mtn
scenic view of reservoir
Ashokan Reservoir, Western Lobe

The large mountain to the right (out of frame, here, but unmissable in situ) is Samuels Point.

Cross Mountain Summit

From the lookout, it’s just a few minutes to the Cross’ highest point.

First, pass through this sweet fern glade. I bumped into Tinman, here. He‘d camped out overnight and was heading to Phoenicia for a zero day on his travels along the Long Path.

ferns
Fern glade

Cross Mountain’s actual summit is a woodsy delight.

A modest but obvious rock crown is guarded by a small witch hazel tree.

treed-in summit
Summit

At 7:30am, the birdsong was still deafening.

I went back to the lookout, and had breakfast there, looking down over the water.

Return to Woodland Valley

Having hiked up in the dark, it was great to see the Wittenberg/Slide trail in daylight. It’s such a beautiful trail.

hemlock stand
Wittenberg Trail

This trail segment is very popular. By 10:30am, after seeing hardly anybody all morning, I passed maybe two dozen people on their way up to Wittenberg and beyond. (Most of us were wearing COVID masks.)

I stepped off the trail to let some people pass, and bumped into this fine bloke…

large American toad
American toad, very mellow

By the time I arrived back at the parking area, not long before 11 am, it was almost completely full — on a Friday morning.

Woodland Valley is a very popular lot. It serves some of the most beloved Catskills peaks: Wittenberg and Cornell, but also Panther (via a particularly steep route). Weekend hikers should plan to arrive early.

Similar Hikes…

This is a beautiful hike. While it’s a bit long-ish, overall it’s a moderate hike. Great for solitude. Great for scenery.

Trailhead Info for this Hike

Description: Large but busy lot. On a Friday morning, it was almost full by 10:30 am.

GPS Location: 42.036110, -74.358149

Location: The map below shows the exact topographic location of the trailhead.

Cell Service

Sketchy throughout. I was able to get a text out from just below Cross Mountain’s summit but the signal was weak. Typical of the entire area around Cross Mountain Hollow. My network is Verizon. YMMV.

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