Fir & Big Indian

This long hike mixes beautiful Catskills trails and fun water crossings with a long bushwhack section over two substantial mountain peaks.

Hike Length: 10.0 miles (16.09 km)

Total Ascent: 2,250ft (686m)

Intensity: Moderate Catskills Hike

Route Type: Lollipop

Includes: Blazed Trail, Easy Bushwhack, True Bushwhack, Stream Crossing, River Crossing

Parent Fir

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

orange canister affixed to tree trunk

3500 Canister on Big Indian’s summit

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 A long lollipop route with a great mix of trail and bushwhack.

Hiking Trail Description

This long hike is notable for its beautiful stream settings and the fun bushwhack across the col between Fir and Big Indian.

I’ve done this hike twice in the snow and found it tiring both times. I’m looking forward to trying in the summer or fall some time, to see if the issue is the terrain or my legs…

Biscuit Brook Trailhead & Parking

This season has been crazy. Even in the middle of winter, driving up Route 47 I passed the Giant Ledge and Slide Mountain parking areas before 9:00am — and both were full. I got the last open spot at Biscuit Brook.

This small-ish Biscuit Brook parking area is on the opposite side of the road from the trailhead. After climbing into your gear, leave the lot, turn right and road walk for about 200 ft until you see the trailhead signs on the other side. Cross carefully.

Fir & Big Indian Hiking Route

The first mile of this hike is a mix of easy walking and a sketchy bit in the middle. Follow the blue blazes of the Pine Hill West Branch trail.

The trail winds uphill, away from Route 47, and then turns left to head northwest over and around a ridge. On your map, you’ll see the contours get tight and this section requires a little care with footing as the trail traverses the steep hillside.

But soon the trail winds around the side of the ridge. You’ll pass a hump on your left. Make sure to stay on trail here, as this is the very edge of public land; the hump is private property.

After this, the trail is very easy, heading straight down toward the Biscuit Brook lean-to.

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Footbridges

There are two fun footbridges to cross. This is the first…

footbridge across gully covered in snow
One of two easy, fun brook crossings

And this is the second…

Shortly after the second footbridge, you’ll pass a sign for the spur trail that leads down to the lean-to.

Biscuit Brook Lean-To

Continue along the trail. If you look back, you can see the lean-to through the trees…

lean-to in woods
Biscuit Brook lean-to

I have passed this lean-to several times but never been down to it. I always think I’ll catch it in the way out, but I’m usually so beat after this hike that I don’t make it down there.

However, this is a very popular lean-to because it’s so beautifully situated. Biscuit Brook is super lovely.

Hemlock Stand

Keep heading north on the trail. You’ll pass through a very beautiful hemlock stand, in a slightly cliffy setting.

The trail then turns right and heads down to the main brook crossing. You’ll have to rock-hop your way across; there is no footbridge here.

brook in snow
Brook crossing

Most hikers who hike Fir first, use this spot as the main jumping off point for their ascent.

On this day, I had other plans…

Navigating Fir & Big Indian by Compass

This was my first time navigating by compass. It was so much fun — and it went great!

The feeling you get from finding your way, without GPS or phone nav, is so wonderful. It feels real. It’s very freeing. Best of all, it’s super easy! I swear, once you try it, you’ll never go back. (Blog post on this topic on the way…)

Most people start the bushwhack section of this hike right after the third brook crossing. For my bushwhack, I didn’t want to follow any tracks left in the snow, so I hiked 1000 ft further along the trail before jumping off.

I set my bearing for the summit and didn’t have to change it…

hand holding clear plastic compass over snow
My Suunto compass

…although I learned a thing along the way.

The first few times you do a thing, you learn so much. After I set my bearing and started hiking uphill, I was able to. ditch my phone more or less completely. But I soon found that I had not read my map carefully enough. The straight line from my jump-off point to the summit crossed a section of tight contours around 3000’.

It didn’t look too bad on the map, but when I saw the giant wall looming ahead of me, I learned a thing about contours. I had to tack a little east to work around it. But I still didn’t have to adjust my bearing on the compass. I just used it in conjunction with the rule of up to stay on track.

Ledges & Trees

The hike up Fir’s southwestern ridge was tiring but pretty straightforward. There were no technical issues. Just lots of woods to hike through, and only a few ledge systems…

snow-covered rocky outcropping on mountainside
Ledge on Fir
young birch trees blasted with snow
Birch stand

Lower down on Fir, it’s mostly young deciduous trees. The higher you get, the more fir tree stands you’ll come across. Fir Mountain is aptly named.

Around 3400’ I found a trench I was able to follow the rest of the way to the summit. I passed these lovely black cherry trees…

cherry trees on either side of a snowy trail
Black cherry trees

Fir Mountain’s Summit

A large group was already at the summit. Some were wearing masks, several were not. I signed the canister and moved on quickly, forgetting to take a photo.

Bushwhack Fir to Big Indian

From the summit of Fir to Big Indian, I followed the trench. I did set a new general bearing but the trench was what I used for navigation. At times, the trail took such weird turns, the direction of travel on the compass was behind me. This is an issue with winter hikes, when you’re following someone else’s tracks.

At one point, the track split in two, giving me a choice of left and right. I chose the right trail, but this turned out to be a track from people who had navigated badly. You can see on my GPS track how the route turns sharply northeast before having to correct itself by turning sharply west. Had I chosen the left trail I would have continued more directly down the ridge.

Nonetheless, I did get to walk through some beautiful fir stands…

snow covered fir trees
Fir trees on Fir Mountain

…and the trail eventually reconnected with a more sensible route. I remembered these rocks from my previous hike up Big Indian and Fir which I did in the opposite direction.

rocky outcropping on Fir Mountain
Old friends on Fir

I also saw these woodpecker holes very low down on a tree…

woodpecker holes on tree
Woodpecker work

More firs on Fir Mountain…

Approaching Big Indian, the trench I followed took some weird turns, but the terrain here is pretty rugged, steep and ledgy.

Big Indian’s Summit

After a short, steep climb, the orange canister became visible through the trees.

orange canister affixed to tree trunk
3500 Canister on Big Indian’s summit

From here there are several ways down to the Pine Hill West Branch trail. In the winter, there are several trenches to follow and it’s not clear which lead down the the trail and which terminate in a spot where someone has peed. You just do your best.

Descent from Big Indian

Once back on the main trail, turn left and follow the blue blazes again, heading south.

I met some hikers who had just come off South Doubletop

hikers on the trail in snow
Hikers on the Pine Hill West Branch trail

The hike down is easy but long. Eventually, you get to this fantastic spot on Biscuit Brook which is always fun to cross.

biscuit brook, near and far banks
Biscuit Brook crossing
biscuit brook water and rocks
Biscuit Brook

From here, it’s just over two miles back to the parking area on Route 47.

Similar Hikes

At 10 miles, although moderate, this hike is a little on the long side. You might enjoy a shorter hike from this list of moderate hikes.

But maybe you would like a long hike.

After you’ve bushwhacked Halcott and Rusk, which are short bushwhack hikes, this is a good long hike for practicing your bushwhack skills.

The parent mountain for this hike is Fir.

Hey! If you do this hike, let me know how it went in the comments below.

Your feedback makes this site better!

Trailhead Info for this Hike

Medium-sized lot on the opposite side of the road from the trailhead.

GPS Location: 41.991444, -74.485034

The map below shows the exact topographic location of the trailhead

Cell Service

Patchy LTE above 3250’. My network is Verizon. YMMV.

Your comments are welcome here…

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