Balsam Mountain Catskill High Peak


This loop hike climbs to the summit of Balsam Mountain, one of the highest peaks in the Catskills.

4.5 hours
5.2 miles
Route Type:
Allowed off leash
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First Published:

Daniel Chazin



View Balsam Mtn parking on Rider Hollow Road in a larger map

Trail Conference volunteers maintain trails in this park.
Trailhead GPS Coordinates
Driving Directions

Take the New York State Thruway to Exit 19 (Kingston) and proceed west on Route 28 (following the signs to "Pine Hill"). Continue along Route 28 for about 35 miles. After passing through the Village of Pine Hill, you'll climb a rather steep hill and reach Highmount. At the top of the hill, follow signs for the Belleayre Ski Area and turn left onto Galli Curci Road, passing the entrances to the ski area on the left. Continue ahead for 4.9 miles from Route 28 (along the way, the name of the road changes to Todd Mountain Road). At the base of a long descent, turn left onto Rider Hollow Road, and proceed for about 2.5 miles to the parking area at the end of the road.


Balsam Mountain is one of the 35 peaks in the Catskill Mountains that is over 3,500 feet in elevation, and one of the few peaks that can be climbed in a loop hike. It is a great hike during all seasons and, during the winter, it makes an ideal snowshoe hike under appropriate conditions. 

A hiker crosses the first bridge over the stream near the start of the hike up Balsam Mountain. Photo by Daniel Chazin.From the parking area, proceed ahead on the red-blazed Oliverea-Mapledale Trail, which crosses a stream on a wooden footbridge. The trail parallels the stream for a short distance, then bears left, away from the stream, and climbs a little higher on the hillside. Soon, the Oliverea-Mapledale Trail reaches a junction with the yellow-blazed Mine Hollow Trail, which begins on the left. The Mine Hollow Trail will be your return route, but for now, proceed ahead on the Oliverea-Mapledale Trail, which bears right and recrosses the stream on a truss bridge. A short distance beyond, the trail passes the Rider Hollow Lean-to on the left (a nice place to stay overnight if you’d like to make this a two-day trip).

Beyond the lean-to, the trail begins a steady climb, recrossing the stream (and tributaries) four more times. After the fourth stream crossing, the trail begins to climb rather steeply, gaining about 750 feet in elevation over the next 0.8 mile. This is the most challenging portion of the hike. About 1.75 miles from the start, after a short level stretch, you’ll reach a junction with the blue-blazed Pine Hill-West Branch Trail. Turn left and follow this blue-blazed trail for another 0.8 mile. You’ll continue to climb, but on a more moderte grade, although there are several steep spots.

After a steep climb up a rocky slope, the trail becomes nearly level. Soon, you’ll reach the highest point on the hike – the summit of Balsam Mountain. The summit elevation is 3,600 feet above sea level, and you’ve climbed about 1,600 feet to reach this point. No sign identifies the summit, but you can tell when you reach it as the trail begins to descend a little.

Continue along the trail for another 1,000 feet to a panoramic east-facing viewpoint on the right which overlooks the hamlet of Big Indian below. This is the only viewpoint on the hike, and you’ll want to take a break here to rest from your arduous ascent of this mountain and enjoy the view.

A view to the northeast from the viewpoint just below the summit of Balsam Mountain. Photo by Daniel Chazin.The route up the southern side of the mountain, which you have followed to this point, is the more heavily used one, although the continuation of the trail to the north is well marked and easily followed. (If you are hiking in the winter, you may find that the section of the trail that heads north from the viewpoint is untracked. If so, you may wish to retrace your steps to return to your car.) To continue on your loop hike, proceed ahead on the Pine Hill-West Branch Trail, which soon begins to descend. On the way down (at about the 3,200-foot elevation), the descent becomes extremely steep, and special caution should be exercised in the winter.

Beyond the very steep section, the trail levels off and then climbs a little. Soon, you’ll come to a junction with the yellow-blazed Mine Hollow Trail, which begins on the left. Turn left and follow this trail, which continues downhill. In half a mile, it makes a sharp right turn in a hemlock grove and continues to descend along a stream.

A mile from its start, the Mine Hollow Trail ends at a junction with the red-blazed Oliverea-Mapledale Trail. Bear right and follow this red-blazed trail for a third of a mile back to the parking area where the hike began.

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Balsam and Bellayre

Lovely hike. We did the route counter clockwise as described, but added on Belleayre Mountain, making it a 7.2 mile hike. Not many people on the trail, especially for a weekend. The stream crossings were easy at this time of year, with the low water levels. Some photos:

Trail Conditions

I hiked this yesterday and as Jeff mentioned, trail crews have indeed been busy!  All of the trails described in this hike are clear, well-defined and well-marked even all the way out to Belleayre Mountain.  Thanks Jeff and trail crew for making this a very enjoyable hike!  Your hard work is very much appreciated.  Here are pictures of the hike:

Balsam Mountain Conditions 1/19/13

Please see my full trail report on the forum for the lowdown!

Balsam Mountain, Aug. 23, 2012

WHAT a gorgeous hike! My husband and i are so glad we did this, even though i lost my lovely NYNJTC topo map somewhere along the way (we had Daniel's great written description, so we were in no trouble.) But here's something everyone should know: The red trail at the beginning is badly and sparsely marked. Also, the stream is almost bone-dry so we weren't too sure when we had crossed it "four times." Also, the blue trail is VERY badly and sparsely marked; in a few places, we had to split up and walk in different directions till one of us found a blaze and called to the other. At one point you're supposed to turn right on the blue trail, but the two blue blazes on a tree clearly are oriented so that they "point" you to the left. A kind hiker had tried to help by folding the top blaze, which is to the LEFT of the lower one, over upon itself so you don't turn left there. It was pretty obvious that you couldn't walk more than a few feet to the left without running into a thick stand of brush, though, so that wasn't too, too, too, too scary. I recently took one of the Trail Conference's great seminars on trail-blazing and hereby volunteer to help reblaze this trail; however, i live in Newburgh and work fulltime, so i'm hoping someone else who's up in that area more and/or has more time, will step forward and do this.


Hi - thank you for the information on the condition of Trail Markers along the Mapledale-Oliverea Trail and the Pine Hill-West Branch Trail.  I will forward this information on to our Trails Chair and Trail Supervisor for this section and they will follow up with the Trail Maintainers to make sure that we check it out and get the trails properly marked. For some background, these trails were only recently adopted by the Trail Conference.  We spent all of last summer and a good part of this spring with trail maintenance crews clearing out the Pine Hill-West Branch Trail and the Mapledale-Oliverea Trail, as they had suffered from years of little or no maintenance.  In addition, the damage from Hurricane Irene to the Mapledale-Oliverea Trail was significant both at the Rider Hollow and the McKinley Hollow ends.  The NY State DEC has been working on several trail relocations in this area and that may be one cause of the lack of trail markers. Thank you for the info, if you have any other questions about Catskill Mountain trails, please feel free to contact me at [email protected]. Jeff Senterman - Catskill Mountain Region Program Coordinator for the Trail Conference

Beautiful hike

My husband, friend and I went to Balsam Mountain today to beat the heat in NYC, and this hike did not disappoint.  The trail was well-shaded, taking us through unusually lush forest, including a section along a pretty stream near the beginning of the hike.  Highlights included the nicely framed view just beyond the summit, and an absolutely gorgeous hemlock grove along the Mine Hollow Trail.  And one of the best parts was that it was a full 20-25 degrees cooler than in the City - no joking!