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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.
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.
Right after this footbridge, the trail heading up toward Wittenberg is immediately steep and rugged.
The first ¾ mile is quite hard work. After that, the going is much easier.
There’s a lot of life in the woods after dark. I wasn’t quick enough to capture some of the very cool and strange 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: liquid 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…
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.
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.
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. The spot is a series of three or four active gullies but, on this day, none showed a drop of moisture.
However, I did notice a very wet section earlier in the trail — just below the 2500’ contour — that had several spots where water ran noisily.
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…
At the second junction, which is just 0.2 miles after the first junction, turn left. Begin following the blue blazes toward Cross Mountain.
Cross is a long low flat ridge of a mountain, and seemingly entirely deciduous. The hike out is very woodsy. At sunrise or sunset, when leaves are on the trees, it’s absolutely beautiful.
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.
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 spectacular panoramic view. There are not many such views in the Catskills, so this is a real treat for our hikers.
Straight ahead, you’re looking down through Cross Mountain Hollow to the Western Devil’s Path mountains…
To your left, towering over the ledge, Wittenberg is seen in profile…
To your right, you can look over Mount Pleasant’s southeastern ridge to the Eastern Devil’s Path mountains…
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…
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 little lower still, you‘ll pass through the Grand Staircase (best viewed from below). I did not fully capture the beauty of the formation, or the amazing work that must have been done to lay this trail — but it’s definitely something to behold in person…
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The parent mountain for this hike is Cross.
If you do this hike, LMK how it went…
Trailhead Info for this Hike
Large but busy lot. On a Friday morning, it was almost full by 10:30 am.
Google Maps Location: 42.036110, -74.358149
The map below shows the exact topographic location of the trailhead
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.