The dictionary definition of bushwhack is “to travel in wild or uncultivated country”. For hikers, this means heading off-trail — leaving the markers behind and relying on your senses and skill to travel terrain few people would dare to cross.
If you crave solitude, or just want to steer clear of crowded hiking trails, bushwhacking gives you the best shot at long stretches of uninterrupted deep nature-time.
Bushwhacking in the Catskills
In the Catskills, bushwhacking often means hiking through open woods, forging your own route toward a summit. It’s a great way to get away from crowded trails and see a few things few people get to see.
Sometimes, it means pushing through dense hobblebush or mountain laurel, or through thick conifer woods where the visibility is reduced, essentially, to zero. It’s a great way to get scratched up and bleed a little.
Bushwhacks vs True Bushwhacks
Many of the Catskills bushwhacks are now bushwhacks in name only. For example, Doubletop has a clear herd path that leads directly from the Seager trail to the canister. Halcott has heard paths that are easier to pick up in certain seasons. Friday’s herd paths are tricker to pick up, but it’s hard to think of even Friday as a real bushwhack these days.
These are all fun hikes. But the further you hike from trails and herd paths, the quieter the mountains become, and the more likely you are to encounter wildlife.
Any bushwhack hike includes a greatly heightened risk of becoming lost. You must know how to navigate without GPS.
I’ve included all bushwhacks below, but you can also focus on only the true bushwhacks.
Warning! On any bushwhack hike, no matter how short, it’s absolutely critical to bring three things with you: a paper map, a physical compass, and the skills to use both. Do not rely on your phone’s GPS.