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Tanbark Loop: a Short, Difficult, Beautiful Hike

A very short, very steep, intense, rocky hike right in the heart of Phoenicia. Lots of dramatic Catskills geology. Two excellent views.

Hike Length: 2.2 miles (3.54 km)

Total Ascent: 613ft (187m)

Intensity: Difficult Hike

Route Type: Loop

Includes: Blazed Trail, Stream Crossing

Parent Tremper

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

catskills rock band, underside

Under the rock band

 Lots of intersecting old woods roads on this western flank of Tremper Mountain.

Hiking Trail Description

Even if you’re short on time, turns out you can always squeeze a little Catskills goodness into your day. This short loop in the heart of Phoenicia packs a lot into a very short trail. 

If you’re a trail runner, the trail brings the intensity you crave. If you like great views, the two ledges have you covered. If you just want to earn a great slice of pizza, the Tanbark trail is for you.

It starts with a blast of dramatic geology, proceeds with a steep climb, then ends with an amazing view and a rugged descent.

But first, you have to park…

Directions to Tanbark Trail

This trail is right in Phoenicia. From Rte 28, cross the bridge and drive straight down Main Street. You’ll pass Sweet Sue’s on the left and Brio’s on the right. (Both are great places to eat.) At the crossroads, turn left down Mt Ave Maria Rd. Then turn right on Saint Ursula Place, which is a short cul de sac.

Park on the street. There is no lot. Park away from the house at the end of the street. Walk to the end of the cul de sac and look across the Parish Field, past the playground on the left side. You’ll see the yellow trailhead sign in front of two giant boulders…

Playground in Phoenicia
Playground. Notice the yellow sign on the right. That’s the trailhead.

Signage, History, Rattlesnakes

The trail introduction here is pretty good but not as good as an excellent sign a little farther into the trail. This one, however, does alert you to the presence of timber rattlesnakes on Tremper Mountain. If you’re anxious about running into rattlers, you may prefer to hike this trail in winter, in early spring, and in the fall when the lower temperatures keep reptiles subdued and secluded. This is not an area I would feel comfortable bushwhacking. Best to stay on the trail.

tanbark trailhead sign
Trailhead sign

Cross the small footbridge and climb past the boulders. This view is looking back…

two boulders beside parish field
Looking back toward the Parish Field

The trail goes to the left, passing below this dramatic ledge system before the switchback brings you right back along its base for a super close-up view…

rock band
Dramatic rock band
rock band, underside
Under the rock band
sandstone rock band
Tafoni

These exposed holes are called “tafoni”. The singular is “tafone”. They are little understood formations. According to Catskill Geologist Robert Titus, “How they form in Catskill sandstone is most puzzling.”

rock, water and moss
Lots of water coming off Tremper Mtn

BTW this is all in the first ¼ mile of the Tanbark Trail!

rockface
Sedimentary rock face
trees, ice, moss, rocks
Spring thaw in winter

Intersection

Past the ledge system, you’ll come to the intersection with the main loop. It‘s right beside a small creek (which is not always flowing).

The sign here advises you to turn left. Though you can do the loop in either direction, the best effect comes from a clockwise loop as directed.

tanbark trail sign, loop junction
Loop junction trail sign

Hemlock Grove

After a short walk to a hemlock grove, you’ll come to this excellent sign. This is the best historical sign I’ve come across in the Catskills. It very quickly explains the history of the tanning industry from its origins in Europe, to the discovery of hemlock tannins which put the Catskills on the map of the world economy — leading to hides being imported from South America via Kingston’s Rondout area to be transported to Phoenicia for processing into leather.

Although extremely short-lived, the tanning era was enough to establish Phoenicia until the communities stabilized and other industries became viable.

I’ve often wondered how the first towns were established across America. This is how it was done.

Sign explaining the Phoenicia Tanbark Business
Excellent sign

Above this sign, the trail steepens again…

woods, snow
Trail heading uphill

…and passes through this fun outcrop…

rock scramble, catskills
Lots of small fun rock scrambles

…before arriving at the first view: Phoenicia Overlook. The tallest peak along the ridge line to your right is Panther Mountain.

scenic view over phoenicia
First scenic view over Phoenicia toward Panther Mountain

The trail is pretty well-blazed with blue reflective patches. But there was one spot where I couldn’t see any blazes and I went the wrong way. You can see on my embedded Gaia track above where I followed the wrong trail for a bit. There are loads of old woods roads in this area, criss-crossing and intersecting with each other. After a few hundred yards I reconnected with the blue trail and headed uphill.

The remainder of the walk is a straightforward woods walk. The upper section is mostly very flat and easy to cross. The landscape is pretty dramatic, with the steep sides of Tremper Mountain above you and the valley down below.

Descent

There are some steep sections coming down. If there’s ice or snow on the trail, you’ll need quality traction on your feet — microspikes at least. But it’s a pleasant, winding walk.

Eventually, you come down to a very obvious cliff called Grandview Ledge. Like all open ledges it’s a little dangerous, so be careful. But the views are really great.

Looking west, you’re once again looking over Phoenicia to Panther Mountain.

scenic view
View over Phoenicia to Panther Mountain from the rock ledge

To the east, looking down Route 28, you can see Romer Mountain and Mount Pleasant.

scenic view
Looking toward Mount Pleasant from the rock ledge

Good drama in both directions, and well worth this steep, sketchy hike.

Descend to the intersection, head back along the base of the ledge system, and out through the Parish Field to your car.

If you enjoy shorter hikes, or are on limited time, this is a great way to shim some quality Catskills ruggedness into your day. Here’s a growing of short hikes. If you enjoy this challenge but want something longer check out the difficult hikes tag. And if you just love hemlock trees — they’re the best! — here’s a list of hikes with hemlock groves and stands.

Trailhead Info for this Hike

Description: Street parking. (No dedicated lot.) Park well away from the house at the end of the cul de sac. Don’t block any gates or doors.

Address: Saint Ursula Place, Phoenicia, New York
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.

Cell Service

Pretty good throughout, especially once you get a little elevation. Reception on Phoenicia itself is not good. My network is Verizon. YMMV.

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