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.
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.
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…
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. 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.
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, just 0.2 miles along, turn left. Begin following the blue blazes toward 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.
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 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…
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 capture the beauty of the formation, or the amazing work that must have been done to lay this trail…
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.
From here, it’s an easy walk of a mile or so to the summit, along mostly level trail…
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.
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.
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.
Cross Mountain’s actual summit is a woodsy delight.
A modest but obvious rock crown is guarded by a small witch hazel tree.
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.
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…
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.
If you do this hike, let me know how it goes in the comments below…
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.
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.)