9 miles of hiking heaven from Woodland Valley to Oliverea Rd. 30 minute shuttle at the end.
Hiking Trail Description
This hike does not disappoint. It’s long and difficult, with some hairy sections, but the rewards are enormous and regular, pouring generously into your day, one after another. I’ve decided it’s the best hike in the Catskills.
This hike has a lot of elevation gain.
Our group of five assembled at the DEC lot in Woodland Valley. The parking area is on the opposite side of the road from where the hike begins, so exit the lot, cross the road, and head left toward the trailhead sign that says, “Wittenberg Mt 3.9”.
Hiking Up Wittenberg
The first mile or so of this trail is quite steep but the mix of forest and rocky outcroppings keeps it interesting. It had been a while since I’d hiked to Wittenberg, and I’d forgotten how lovely the first trail section of 2.6 miles is.
The mix of pine and hemlock all along the trail is so wonderful.
And there are several patches of dramatic boulders to work around or pass through.
Much of Wittenberg is just astonishingly beautiful.
After a final steep pitch through dense pine trees, the ledge opens onto one of the grandest views in the Catskill Park. From the Devil’s Path in the north, to Samuels Point and the Ashokan Reservoir, Ashokan High Point, Balsam Cap and Friday Mountain, and even a little of Cornell, the vista takes in at least 180° — a rare view in the Catskills.
We talked with Drew who we met at the ledge. He had camped out at Terrace Mountain — temps were the teens overnight (apx -10°C) — and he described strong winds that shook icicles and branches loose from the trees around him; he retreated from his tent to the lean-to for safety.
You could spend an hour here, easily, one reason this is the best hike in the Catskills. But the cold kept us moving.
The cold was starting to get to some of our hands, so we picked up and headed for Cornell.
Hike Wittenberg to Cornell
The passage from Wittenberg to Cornell is a ton of fun. At times, the trail is very narrow. The col between the two mountains is almost an arête. (Arêtes form when two glacial cirques erode towards one another. Usually, this results in a saddle-shaped pass, a col, which are common in the Catskills. But sometimes weathering sharpens the ridge even further into an arête…)
Eventually you come to Cornell Crack. I have no photos from the Crack from this hike. We were moving quickly and I was pretty tired and spent most of my time figuring out whether or not I wanted to climb the Crack. I had my ice axe but, even so, with the sides of the Crack completely iced up, and nothing to grip, I decided against it. An injury, here, is a long way from help.
“Hold my beer.”
Instead, I walked down to the flat part just below the split boulders. From here, looking back up at the Crack, there are bushwhack routes to the left and right. You can see from my track, I went to the left. My friends followed along in a minute but they went to the right. The route I took is long and fun. I was able to follow tracks in the snow for most of it. There’s one sketchy section where it’s possible to fall down a cliff-face to your left, but there are trees to hold onto as you climb. Eventually, the route circles back to the blazed trail. I turned right and in less than two minutes I was standing above Cornell Crack.
To the right is a small ledge from which you get an exceptional view of “The Wittenberg’s” amazing profile.
The view across the snow-blasted borea is so great.
Cornell’s summit is very close to Cornell Crack, down a short spur trail that leads to the left. Cornell used to be a canister mountain, and there’s a small opening at the end of the spur. The NYNJTC map shows a scenic view here, but there’s not much to see. There were some tracks that headed down around the other side of the summit, so maybe the scenic view is down there? Next time…
Hike Cornell to Slide: The Best Hike in the Catskills
On the west side of Cornell’s summit, there are two great views of Slide Mountain. I’d been to the first one before. The second one, a little lower down, at about 3760’, is even better. The is the best view of the tallest mountain in the Catskills on the best hike in the Catskills.
Also visible to the northwest/right are Giant Ledge, Panther and Balsam mountains.
The descent into the wilderness between Cornell and Slide is intense. The terrain is rugged and, on this day, it was coated with thick ice. But it’s all fun as hell, and so beautiful.
The seemingly limitless tract of dense boreal woods in the middle of this trail section might be my favorite part of the entire Catskill Park. I can’t wait to camp overnight in there this summer. It’s vast and beautiful, my favorite kind of terrain and woods. I was so glad to experience it.
The ascent to Slide is steep and dramatic. The best hike in the Catskills continues! There is one exceptionally difficult section called “Slide Crack”. It’s smaller than Cornell Crack but somehow more intimidating…
First, there are many wonderful trees and rock outcroppings to pass.
Slide Crack appears at 3640’.
This is the view from above. We climbed this.
Slide Crack is a sheer rock-face with a channel that’s barely wide enough for feet and fists. Descending with rope or webbing would be a relatively easy job. Heading up was quite the rollercoaster. We had no injuries. We took our time and helped one another. This would be a bad place to get injured. If it seems like Cornell Crack is designed to give you a concussion, Slide Crack might snap an arm or a leg. Yes, the best hike in the Catskills also includes two of the Park’s most dangerous puzzles.
Above Slide Crack, there are some outstanding rock outcroppings. The trail here is very steep and grown in.
Eventually, we made our way to the scenic view at 3850’.
But also, amazingly, to the north, the entire Devil’s Path range is laid out in a line, from Indian Head in the east all the way to to West Kill. And the line of mountains extends even further, to North Dome and Mt Sherrill.
To their left, much closer, is Giant Ledge and Panther Mountain.
There are more good views above this point. The climb is, again, steep and rugged. This is the side of Slide Mtn that most visitors to the summit never see.
Eventually, after much winding trail, you leave the woods and come out to the rock ledge and the Burroughs plaque. Head around the ledge to the left, and you’ll come out in the big open area where people often stop to picnic.
We hung out here a little too long. My hands really started to freeze up and turn bright red. By this point, my sandwich was all but frozen solid.
“I’m getting an ice-cream headache from my sandwich.”
Descent from Slide
From here, in comparison to what we’d conquered, everything was plain sailing and very easy.
The descent took us only about an hour. The straight run down Slide is not trail I hold dear to my heart — I prefer to descend by the Curtis Ormsbee Trail — but there are a few nice patches.
The open woods at the bottom of the trail are a welcome sign that the parking area is close by.
This really might be the best hike in the Catskills. It just has everything: intense beauty, ruggedness, dramatic rock puzzles, a little danger, boreal woods by the mile, and mind-altering views. I can’t wait to do it again.
If this level of intensity appeals to you, check out the growing list of multi-peak hikes.
The map below shows the exact topographic location of the trailhead.
Sizable lot. To begin your hike, leave the lot, head back up the road a little, and cross over to where you see the trail signs on the opposite side of the road.
Street Address: 1319 Woodland Valley Rd, Phoenicia, NY 12464
Due to the nature of rural addresses, this address may be 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.
Dodgy in the valleys and cols. Decent on the summits of Wittenberg and Slide. My network is Verizon. YMMV.