Hike Windham High Peak from Cross Road / Route 23

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Hike Windham High Peak from Cross Road / Route 23

WHP is one of my favorite Catskills to hike from any direction but this route is my new favorite — it’s just so lovely.

Hike Length: 7.5 miles (12.07 km)

Total Ascent: 1,800ft (549m)

Intensity: Easy Hike

Route Type: Out-and-Back

Includes: Blazed Trail

Parent Windham High Peak

Similar Entries In: Best Hikes, Catskills, Easy Hikes, Popular Catskills Hikes, , , , , , , .

boulders and trees on summit

Summit guardians

 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.

mountain and road
Windham High Peak seen from the parking area on Cross Rd

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.

stream and flora, clouds above
Footbridge view

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.

trail register
Trail info board and register

There are also a number of sweet boardwalks.

boardwalk in woods
One of several 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.

hemlocks on hiking trail
Escarpment trail

The forest has a lot of old tall hemlocks, my favorite.

hemlock trunks
Escarpment trail hemlocks

Junction

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.

trail sign posts
Junction sign posts

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.

woods entrance
Start of spruce forest

This is one of my favorite places in the Catskills, and few people would argue with that assessment.

trail through forest
Spruce forest trail

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.

spruce tree roots
Roots and moss

After about ¼ mile, at 2730’, you’ll come to the edge of the spruce woods. This view is looking back…

forest
Spruce forest

Upper Terrain

After the spruce forest, the second, upper half of the hike is through mostly deciduous woods, over rocky trail

rugged, rocky trail
Upper trailSecon
trees on trail edge
Upper trail

There are some wonderful, gnarly old maples…

maple tree
Maple tree trunk

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…

maple trees fighting
3500 Elevation Warning

You’re almost there…

Windham High Peak’s Summit

The summit begins at this small ledge with twisted criss-crossing guardians…

boulders and trees on summit
Summit guardians

A narrow trail channel crosses the entire summit…

grown-in hiking trail
Summit trail

WHP Lookouts

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…

 

lookout rock
Blackhead Range Lookout
the blacks
Blackhead range
two mountain summits
Blackhead & Black Dome

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…

scenic view of flatlands around albany
Escarpment view

Not bad — but a better view north can be found after the summit.

Summit Markers

On the way, keep an eye out for the summit survey marker which is embedded directly on the rock bed…

survey marker
Geodetic survey marker

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.

spur trail
Windham High Peak, eastern lookout

This is a great place to rest and eat. The view looks north to Albany and the southern Adirondacks.

long view of albany
In the distance: Albany and the Southern ADKs

You can also see, to the northeast, the Green Mountains of Vermont.

Descent

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.

hiker descending
Descent through the spruce woods
boulder beside the trail
Erratic boulder

Below the junction, the late afternoon light filters through the trees…

dappled woods light
Late afternoon light

And these boardwalks are a pretty nice way to end this 7½ mile hike.

boardwalk in woods
Boardwalk to the trail register

Similar Hikes

This is such a great hike, with its combination of easebeauty and scenery. It’s a kid-friendly mountain hike. It is absolutely one of the best Catskills hikes.

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.

Cell Service

Sketchy in the lot and patchy throughout. Higher is better. I was able to get some texts out. (My network is Verizon. YMMV.)

Your comments are welcome here…

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