A long hike in and out, but the summit has so much.
Hiking Trail Description
This hike starts from Platte Clove in the south then winds around the east side of the mountain to tackle the final ascent via the easier northern route. You’ll hit all the major points of interest on Kaaterskill High Peak. The route is a nocturne — a calm beginning, a burst of high drama, and a return to calm.
Kaaterskill High Peak is said to be neglected but, on this day, there were 20 people ahead of me in the register. Some hikers may have been going to Huckleberry Point, a popular short hike, but I met plenty of people on the mountain itself.
Every week, online, I see new photos from Kaaterskill High Peak. With hiking numbers up across the country, it seems to be back on the hiking radar.
During the warmer months, when the eastern side of Platte Clove Rd is open, the dramatic drive up the winding cliff road is always 90% fun and 10% nerve-wracking; they close this route in winter for a reason.
The parking lot for this hike is the same one you use for hiking to Huckleberry Point, to visit Plattekill Falls, or even to hike into Echo Lake. The lot is large enough but it fills up quickly on busy weekends.
The register is on the west side of the lot, and marks the entrance to the trail.
Sign in and begin your hike on the blue trail, heading north.
Cairns & Blazes
I was surprised to see so many cairns on the lower portion of this hike. They keep you company for quite a while, marking entry points into the woods heading west.
On my way in and out, I heard a lot of animal activity to the west. I suspect the cairns may be personal markers placed by hunters.
This trail is also a snowmobile trail so the trail blazes are doubled up: blue and red together.
After you pass the junction with the yellow trail, the woods switch abruptly to a hardwood stand. For the next while, the flora switches back and forth between hardwood and deciduous forest, over very wet and swampy terrain.
This hike is known for its long stretches of deep, thick mud — a pair of gaiters is a solid choice for this trek.
There are several footbridges to cross, and the brooks and creeks and streams are very lively.
After about 2¼ miles, I came to the junction with a herd path that leads off the main trail. It appears on your left, and heads east, just before main trail bends northeast. Two young birch trees mark the start of the herd path. You can see them on the left side of the photo below.
Once you enter the woods, the camp is not far. Turn left at the first big tree. In no time, you’ll find yourself standing in the camp, which is an obvious flat, round area.
From here, the herd path continues up the right side of the camp, winding mostly to the east. It’s not steep but it’s a bit of work, and the track through the dense growth is easy to lose.
Just keep heading east. You can’t go wrong.
Soon enough, you will arrive up on the flat, wide snowmobile trail.
1987 Plane Wreck
From where I came out of the woods, the 1987 plane wreck was about 500’ to my left. However, the trail was wet and thick with mud, and there were a lot of nettles, so it took a minute.
The wreck is a small single-engine plane, scattered on both sides of the trail. The site is not dramatic.
Junctions 1 & 2
Turn around and head back along the trail, passing wherever you came out of the woods, and staying on it for quite a while. This section of trail is flat and not too interesting. It’s a bit of a tramp. If you hit a dry spot and think, “Oh, great, the muddy part is over…” just wait. On this hill, the muddy part is never over.
The trail descends until you reach the first junction that heads down to the right, back to the blue trail. You’ll return to this spot later.
Pass this first junction, hop across the pools of mud, and look for the second junction, which is the herd path that heads up to the summit. It’s marked by two blue painted blazes on trees, like a gateway. (A small ad hoc footbridge made of short rough planks to the right is a signal you’ve gone too far.)
The route to the summit is not long or hard, and is only steep in a few sections. On the way up, there are two dramatic-looking ledges. But both are easy to navigate.
You come upon the summit suddenly, after a steep climb. Winter changes the character of this summit considerably. You may need full crampons to ascend. In the warmer seasons it’s a small open grassy area. In late 2019, the Catskill 3500 Club added a canister, so it’s obvious now. Pop off the top and sign in.
On the ground nearby are two geodetic survey markers. One is right on the trail. The other is just inside the woods. Both are only a short distance from each other.
The summit of Kaaterskill High Peak has no view, but it’s a good spot to collect yourself for a minute, ingest a reward or two, and regroup.
Follow the herd path southwest. You’ll loose about 150’ of elevation heading down to the ledge. The trail winds this way, then that, but you can’t miss the ledge.
To the east you can see the Hudson River snaking through the flatlands. But it’s the view across the valley that’s so great. Laid out right before you are Plattekill, Indian Head, Twin, and Sugarloaf.
Through the notch between Indian Head and Twin, depending on exactly where you stand, you may be able to see Ticetonyk and Mombaccus Mountains.
The following key was made with PeakFinder…
The ledge has plenty of space to hang out. There’s also a lower section with a better view of the Devil’s Path mountains. It’s work poking around. At this time of year, you may be mobbed by swallowtail butterflies.
The herd path continues south from the ledge, but is rocky, almost vertically steep, and extremely dangerous to descend. (It’s on my list to do, as a climb coming up.)
When you’re ready, head back up to the summit.
1983 Plane Wreck
When you get back to the summit, the main trail, for when you want to leave the mountain, heads down to your left. But notice there’s also an opening to your right. This opening leads to the herd path that will bring you down the east side of the mountain.
Although it’s not quite as worn-in as the herd paths you’ve been on since you left the blue trail, this trail is pretty easy to follow. If you come, seemingly, to the end of the trail, at a sharp drop-off with no way forward, you’ve gone too far — but only slightly.
Retrace your steps and look for the tree below. It was on your left as you came down but, if you’re heading back from the ledge, it will be on your right. It has a near horizontal trunk.
Duck under this tree and keep going.
Follow the bottom of the cliff face to your left.
You’ll come to a mossy corner and, in the corner on the ground, you may spy some small pieces of wreckage.
There’s also what looks like a flat stone panel embedded in the mossy rock, in the corner. You’ll know what I mean when you see it.
Climb up that corner and, suddenly, you’re there, right on top of the crash site.
From below, you can’t see anything; the wreck is hidden above eye-line. Once you climb up, you see the fuselage; still shockingly intact after 36 years.
The terrain above the wreckage is very steep. If you want to explore, be super careful.
After the wreck, head back to the summit, enter the clearing, and turn right down the main herd path that leads back to the trails.
On the way down, a small view at 3500’ looks through the trees to the Blackhead range.
When you get to the junction with the snowmobile trail, turn right, skip back over the mud, and then turn left down the short connector trail to arrive down at the blue trail.
On the way out, this trail passes through an area called the Pine Plains which I wanted to visit, if only to avoid going back the same way I’d come in. The trail is a little less muddy but, after a long day’s climbing, it’s lumpy and tiring on your feet. But it has its charms, too.
This is a long hike and you really feel it on the way out. I’m not one for signs but, at the very end of this hike, which was my final 3500’ hike, just before the register a Scarlet Tanager flew down in front of me, and started taking his afternoon bath in a dirty puddle, right in the middle of the trail.
He let me get quite close. I was too tired to pull out my good camera. I also didn’t want to scare him away. After five hours immersed in deep summer green, that little bobbing red dude was the reddest thing I’ve ever seen.
This was my final 3500 hike, and it was such a great mountain to finish on. From Hurricane Ledge, I was able to look directly across at Indian Head where my mountain hiking journey began. That was a very special feeling. If you’re working on your 3500 list, keep a few special ones for the end: Sugarloaf, Black Dome, Twin, Hunter and Balsam Lake all offer wonderful views of multiple Catskill peaks. It’s such a nice way to bring the quest to a close.
If you do this hike, let me know how it goes in the comments below…
Trailhead Info for this Hike
Description: Medium-sized lot. Fills up early on busy weekends and holidays.
Address: 2515 Platte Clove Rd, Elka Park, NY 12427
Due to the nature of rural addresses, this address is 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.
Location: The map below shows the exact topographic location of the trailhead.