Balsam Mountain is one of the 35 peaks in the Catskill Mountains that is over 3,500 feet in elevation. During the winter, it makes an ideal snowshoe hike under appropriate conditions. Trail conditions in the Catskills constantly change - especially in the winter - so make sure to check the weather report and the condition of the trails before you embark on the hike. Recent trip reports of...
Balsam Mountain is one of the 35 peaks in the Catskill Mountains that is over 3,500 feet in elevation. During the winter, it makes an ideal snowshoe hike under appropriate conditions. Trail conditions in the Catskills constantly change - especially in the winter - so make sure to check the weather report and the condition of the trails before you embark on the hike. Recent trip reports of hikes in the Catskills are posted on our hike and trail forums as well as at www.viewsfromthetop.com.
From the parking area, proceed ahead on the red-blazed Oliverea-Mapledale Trail, soon crossing a stream on a wood-and-steel bridge. A short distance beyond, the trail bears left and climbs higher on the hillside to avoid a trail section destroyed during Hurricane Irene in August 2011.
In a third of a mile, the yellow-blazed Mine Hollow Trail begins on the left. The Mine Hollow Trail will be your return route, but for now, proceed ahead on the Oliverea-Mapledale Trail, which descends to recross 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 recrosses 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. Although you'll continue to climb, the grade is more moderate.
After a steep climb up a rock face, 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 viewpoint to the right which overlooks the hamlet of Big Indian below. You'll want to take a break here to rest from your arduous ascent of this mountain.
The route up the southern side of the mountain, which you have followed to this point, is the more heavily used one, and you may find that the continuation of the trail to the north is untracked. If so, you may wish to retrace your steps to return to your car. But if you wish to complete a loop hike, continue 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.
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.Publication: Submitted by Daniel Chazin on 01/12/2011 updated/verified on 02/22/2017
This loop hike climbs to the summit of Balsam Mountain, one of the highest peaks in the Catskills.
Whether you are going for a day hike or backpacking overnight, it is good practice to carry what we call The Hiking Essentials. These essentials will help you enjoy your outing more and will provide basic safety gear if needed. There may also be more essentials, depending on the season and your needs.
Hiking Shoes or Boots
Water - Two quarts per person is recommended in every season. Keep in mind that fluid loss is heightened in winter as well as summer. Don't put yourself in the position of having to end your hike early because you have run out of water.
Map - Know where you are and where you are going. Many of our hiking areas feature interconnecting network of trails. Use a waterproof/tear-resistant Tyvek Trail Conference map if available or enclose your map in a Ziplock plastic bag. If you have a mobile device, download Avenza’s free PDF Maps app and grab some GPS-enhanced Trail Conference maps (a backup Tyvek or paper version of the map is good to have just in case your batteries die or you don't have service). Check out some map-reading basics here.
Food - Snacks/lunch will keep you going as you burn energy walking or climbing. Nuts, seeds, and chocolate are favorites on the trail.
Sunscreen and insect repellent
Rain Gear and Extra Clothing - Rain happens. So does cold. Be prepared for changing weather. Avoid cotton--it traps water against your skin and is slow to dry. If you are wearing wet cotton and must return to your starting point, you risk getting chills that may lead to a dangerous hypothermia. Choose synthetic shirts, sweaters and/or vests and dress in layers for easy on and off.
Compass - A simple compass is all you need to orient you and your map to magnetic north.
Light - A flashlight or small, lightweight headlamp will be welcome gear if you find yourself still on the trail when darkness falls. Check the batteries before you start out and have extras in your pack.
First Aid Kit - Keep it simple, compact, and weatherproof. Know how to use the basic components.
Firestarter and Matches - In an emergency, you may need to keep yourself or someone else warm until help arrives. A firestarter (this could be as simple as leftover birthday candles that are kept inside a waterproof container) and matches (again, make sure to keep them in a waterproof container) could save a life.
Knife or Multi-tool - You may need to cut a piece of moleskin to put over a blister, repair a piece of broken equipment, or solve some other unexpected problem.
Emergency Numbers - Know the emergency numbers for the area you're going to and realize that in many locations--especially mountainous ones, your phone will not get reception.
Common Sense - Pay attention to your environment, your energy, and the condition of your companions. Has the weather turned rainy? Is daylight fading? Did you drink all your water? Did your companion fail to bring rain gear? Are you getting tired? Keep in mind that until you turn around you are (typically) only half-way to completing your hike--you must still get back to where you started from! (Exceptions are loop hikes.)
Check the weather forecast before you head out. Know the rules and regulations of the area.
The Leave No Trace Seven Principles
- Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you'll visit.
- Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
- Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
- Visit in small groups when possible. Consider splitting larger groups into smaller groups.
- Repackage food to minimize waste.
- Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.
- Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.
- Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
- Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary.
- In popular areas:
- Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
- Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
- Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.
- In pristine areas:
- Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
- Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.
- Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter.
- Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
- Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
- To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.
- Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
- Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
- Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
- Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.
- Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
- Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
- Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
- Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.
- Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
- Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
- Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
- Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
- Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.
- Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
- Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
- Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
- Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
- Let nature's sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.
The Trail Conference is a 2015 Leave No Trace partner.
(c) Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org.