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Balsam Mountain Catskill High Peak
This loop hike climbs to the summit of Balsam Mountain, one of the highest peaks in the Catskills.
Allowed off leash
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Trail Conference volunteers maintain trails in this park.
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.
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.
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.