Thru-Hike Doubletop, Graham & Balsam Lake

A long and difficult hike with new friends who made it so much fun. Contains everything you want in a hike. Plus one very steep descent. Plus a ton of elevation gain.

Hike Length: 10.1 miles (16.25 km)

Total Ascent: 3,378ft (1,030m)

Intensity: Hardest Hike

Route Type: Shuttle

Includes: Blazed Trail, Unmarked Trail, Herd Path, Easy Bushwhack, True Bushwhack, Stream Crossing

Parent: Doubletop 

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

rock outcop

Rock outcrop in Seager, NY

 A direct route from Seager to Balsam Lake, requires a short car shuttle.

Hiking Trail Description

This hike really has it all: stream crossings, herd paths, bear prints, a canister, a memorably steep descent, a true bushwhack, a rugged ascent, an ice grotto, some old ruins and, to top it all off, a fire tower with amazing sunset views.

Our group of four met at the DEC lot on Mill Brook Road and quickly shuttled down to the Seager/Dry Brook lot. It’s a ten minute drive.

That short shuttle is really the cherry on top that makes this hike so great. The track is ten miles over tough and steep terrain, but then, at the end of it all, the car shuttle is super short. Absolutely ace.

Seager

We spent nine hours hiking from Seager back to Mill Brook Road. For the most part, we followed the classic route up Doubletop from Seager. The trail along Dry Brook is one of my favorite trail sections in the Catskills. It feels absolutely archetypal and idyllic.

Dry Brook looked extra beautiful in the morning light. Both stream crossings were made extra fun by hardened ice.

stream in winter
Dry Brook looking not very dry
swimming hole in winter
Dry Brook

Doubletop

Not long after we left the trail to head up Doubletop, we came across a set of fresh bear prints…

snow prints
Fresh bear prints, big ones, in the snow

Doubletop is a pleasant climb. There are lots of flat sections where you can catch your breath — if you need to do that. My friends did not need to do that. I did need to do that.

Around 3700’ we diverged slightly from the direct route — we were navigating by map/compass — and veered a little to the east. This led us to the summit (3871’) by a slightly different track, so that we came around to the canister from the opposite side.

After signing-in, we headed north for a bit before tracking down the west side of Doubletop.

Doubletop Descent

Uneventful and pleasant for the most part. Graham loomed ahead, growing bigger and bigger as we descended.

But really all I can remember from this part of the hike is the very steep section at 3000’ that really slowed us down. Very steep. And a lot of steep. Painstaking buttslide territory. Nobody took a tumble, but there was definitely some bruising.

Our lead for the day has done this hike several times. He says this track avoids even steeper descents, as well as some rough talus fields.

The walk across the col was easy and short.

Graham

Once you start climbing the east side of Graham, the terrain is so great. Lots of enormous rock outcroppings, including this one — at around 3300’ — which has a fantastic grotto-like cave festooned with 12 ft icicles.

rock outcrop
Heading up the east side of Graham

The east side of Graham has some steep pitches but the extensive woods behind the ruins are my favorite part of the mountain. The twisted, gnarly, Krummholz-y trees are so great, especially in winter. It’s such an odd and wonderful landscape to walk through.

winter forest
Summit forest on Graham

The old ruins on top of Graham are the least Catskills Mountains thing in the Catskills Mountains. I find the whole of Graham Mountain slightly weird. In a good way. I think…

This was a good spot to have a quick bite before switching from snowshoes into spikes. The rest of the hike is very easy, but I was already tired.

The hike down from Graham to the Dry Brook Ridge Trail only took 45 mins but it felt like twice that. When I’m tired, deciduous woods are my kryptonite.

Balsam Lake

For me, the hike up to Balsam Lake, one of the easiest hikes in the Catskill Park, was laughably tough. I don’t know how many times I had to rest — it was an embarrassing number of times — but the boreal woods up there are so great and I was so happy I stuck it out.

summit woods
Balsam Lake summit woods

The fire tower on Balsam Lake is such a gem and a treat. However hard or easy you find it getting up here, whatever kind of week you had, that tower will recharge your soul in two minutes. We got there at just the right moment. Golden hour was just starting.

The shot below of Doubletop was taken from the fire tower. Doubletop is about 4 miles away.

To its left you can see Slide Mountain. To the right is Lone. Both are about 12 miles away.

doubletop
Doubletop seen from the Balsam Lake Fire Tower

The large mountain visible to the east is Graham. With binoculars, or a long lens, you can see the ruins on the summit.

Graham Mountain
Graham mountain from Balsam Lake. Zoom in to see the ruins on the summit.

To the left of Graham is Panther Mountain. From 10 miles away, you get a very clear view of its size and shape. To its right, you can see Giant Ledge just poking up from behind a ridge.

To the left of Panther, 24 miles distant, you can also just make out a few Devil’s Path mountains.

Panther Mountain
Panther Mtn from Balsam Lake Fire Tower

We walked out in the setting sun. An hour later, we were back at the DEC lot on Mill Brook Road.

###

I would absolutely recommend this hike to anyone who’s already very comfortable hiking and bushwhacking in the Catskills. Multi-peak hikes are the best, especially in winter when the days are so short and the conditions so harsh. Other great multi-peak hikes are Sugarloaf & Twin and Blackhead & Black Dome.

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

Trailhead Location

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

Trailhead Info

Two trail head addresses. Seager/Dry Brook is smaller of the two and where you start the hike. The hike ends at Millbrook Road. It’s a 10 minute ride between the two.

Street Address: 7300 Millbrook Rd Arkville, NY, United States

Due to the nature of rural addresses, this address may be 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.

Cell Service

Patchy on Doubletop. Service is okay from high on Graham. Pretty regular connection from Balsam Lake and the Dry Brook Trail. My network is Verizon. YMMV.

Leave a Reply

WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

an inspiring mix of Catskills routes, insights, news and reviews
just in time for the weekend

› See Examples ‹

Powered by TinyLetter