A straightforward out-and-back with only one junction turn.
Hiking Trail Description
Hiking Windham High Peak from Route 23 is my new favorite way to hike this wonderful mountain. The large parking area, and the easy first mile of boardwalks and hemlock-rich woods, make for such a pleasant beginning and end to this beautiful day hike.
On the drive up, Route 23 itself is beautiful. It winds along the Catskill escarpment, from Cairo through Acra and South Durham to East Windham (passing between Mt Zoar and Kate Hill). On a sunny day, it’s just a lovely route with great views of the escarpment peaks.
The Elm Ridge Parking Area is only 45 minutes from Kingston which, for me, means 15 minutes less travel time than heading to the Peck Road trailhead. The 30 minutes I gain is spent in the woods.
From the parking lot, Windham High Peak is visible on the opposite side of Route 23.
Cross Route 23 carefully — it’s a very busy stretch of road — and look for the trailhead sign.
The trail dips down and crosses a footbridge with this view, looking east.
The first part of the trail is multi-use, so you’ll see hikers and bikers sharing the 1.4 miles to the junction: lots of fun trails for the bikes, and lots of easy trail for the feet.
There are also a number of sweet boardwalks.
The first 1.0 mile is very easy and mostly pretty level.
The next 0.4 mile heads up to the col between Elm Ridge and Windham High Peak via a series of switchbacks.
The forest has a lot of old tall hemlocks, my favorite.
From here, the route is the same as if you were hiking Windham High Peak from Peck Road. The trail is easy, with a few short sections of moderate elevation. There are no rock scrambles, or anything tricky to contend with, though the trail is uneven in spots. Overall, it’s just an absolutely lovely mountain hike.
This was one of the first hikes I did and, in those early days, I did find it tiring. Now it feels very easy but, on this day, I saw several hikers having a variety of speed and effort experiences — a reminder to never worry about how you’re doing: hike your own hike.
Turn east/left, and head up the 2.25 miles to the summit.
Norway Spruce Forest
At 2600’ you’ll come to a low stone fence with an opening. This is the start of the Norway spruce forest, which is man-made but entirely magical.
This is one of my favorite places in the Catskills, and few people would argue with that assessment.
These trees were planted about 100 years ago by the Civilian Conservation Corps, an FDR/New Deal initiative that was a precursor to the WPA. The “Norway” in “Norway Spruce” denotes Norway, New York — these trees are native to America (i.e. they’re not a Norwegian species).
The forest floor is a mix of tangled roots, moss, and boardwalks. All around you, the light filters through the woods in such a special way.
After about ¼ mile, at 2730’, you’ll come to the edge of the spruce woods. This view is looking back…
After the spruce forest, the second, upper half of the hike is through mostly deciduous woods, over rocky trail…
There are some wonderful, gnarly old maples…
Around 3000’, the trail takes a sharp left as you begin the final climb.
Windham High Peak Above 3500’
Right below 3500’ you’ll come to the 3500 FOOT ELEVATION sign, under this trifecta of kick-ass trees…
You’re almost there…
Windham High Peak’s Summit
The summit begins at this small ledge with twisted criss-crossing guardians…
A narrow trail channel crosses the entire summit…
Keep an eye out for three short spur trails, each of which leads to an excellent lookout. Two are before the summit: the first on the right, the second on the left. The third lookout is after the summit, also on the left.
Blackhead Range Views
First, on your right, at a large flat diamond-shaped rock, you’ll come to this view through a “window” in the trees…
Before you leave, have a look around and make sure you haven’t left any trash, leftovers or peelings behind. Please practice Leave No Trace.
Escarpment View 1
Return to the trail, turn right, and very quickly come to the second lookout on the left side of the summit channel. The view looks north and little west…
Not bad — but a better view north can be found after the summit.
On the way, keep an eye out for the summit survey marker which is embedded directly on the rock bed…
The main station has a triangle imprinted in its center. If you find one of the other markers (usually there are three more — though, up here, I’ve only found one) just follow its arrow to the main station.
Escarpment View 2
After the summit, look for the third spur trail on your left, very short, which leads to a large flat ledge.
This is a great place to rest and eat. The view looks north to Albany and the southern Adirondacks.
You can also see, to the northeast, the Green Mountains of Vermont.
An early morning or late-afternoon walk through the woods is so special. If you’re fully prepared to mountain hike you can enjoy some of the best light of the day.
A second chance to hike through the spruce forest is such a great reward after a climb. This is my wife, having just completed her first Catskill 3500 Peak. I’m carrying all our stuff, which is a great way to trick people into going on hikes with you — for the first time, anyway.
Below the junction, the late afternoon light filters through the trees…
And these boardwalks are a pretty nice way to end this 7½ mile hike.
For an alternate route to the junction, try hiking Windham High Peak from Peck Road — it’s slightly shorter but also really lovely!
A comparable hike that’s also easy and suitable for kids is the Balsam Lake Fire Tower hike.
These hikes are the first hikes I recommend to anyone who wants to try a Catskills mountain hike for the first time.
If you’d like something equally beautiful, but without the elevation gain, visit Kelly Hollow Loop at any time of year.
If you do this hike, let me know how it goes in the comments below…
Trailhead Info for this Hike
Description: Large, popular lot.
GPS Location: 42.313082, -74.190348
Location: The map below shows the exact topographic location of the trailhead.
Sketchy in the lot and patchy throughout. Higher is better. I was able to get some texts out. (My network is Verizon. YMMV.)