North-South Lake/Escarpment Trail Loop Hike
Directions to trailhead
NY State Thruway exit 20 (Saugerties); 32 North for 6 miles; left on 32A for 1.9 miles; left on 23A into Haines Falls, right on North Lake Road (Rt. 18) for 2 miles, just before the North-South Lake campground entrance, turn right on Scutt Road (sometimes shown as Schutt Road) to parking on right.
Give yourself plenty of time to complete this hike. There is so much to stop and see along the way that you won't want to be rushed. All of the trails are well defined and well marked, and signs posted at intersections clearly indicate which turn to take, as well as providing mileages to various points.
From the parking area, walk directly across Scutt Road, where you will find the blue-blazed Escarpment Trail. You will be following this trail for the next eight miles.
In about half a mile, you'll cross two bridges and then bear right at a trail junction to continue on the blue-blazed trail. A short distance beyond, at 0.65 mile, please sign the trail register on the left. You will encounter three more trail registers along this hike.
After a steep descent, the trail reaches the edge of the escarpment at 1.2 miles. Here there is a large stone monument in memory of Frank Layman, who lost his life fighting a forest fire on August 10, 1900. At this point, the blue-blazed trail makes a sharp left turn. Over the next three-quarters of a mile, you will pass several viewpoints, with each view better than the previous one. The first few are unnamed; the last two viewpoints are known as Sunset Rock and Inspiration Point.
At 2.7 miles, the blue-blazed trail turns sharply left and begins an uphill climb for the next half mile. Then, at the next intersection, a red-blazed trail begins on the left, but you should turn right to continue on the blue-blazed trail, which becomes a level, easy trail for the next half mile.
At 3.8 miles, keep right on the blue-blazed trail towards Split Rock. You will be walking along the edge of a large, deep crevasse. In 0.3 mile, a huge boulder straight ahead marks Boulder Rock. Views are somewhat obstructed in the immediate vicinity of Boulder Rock, and you would need to jump over a wide crevasse to reach a good overlook, which is not advisable. Instead, continue on an unmarked trail which runs parallel to and to the right of the blue-blazed trail, and it will bring to you to several panoramic overlooks without having to cross any dangerous crevasses. Note the engravings on the rocks, some of which date back to the mid-1800s.
Most likely, you will not have encountered very many people along the trail up to now. During the next two miles, though, you will be in relatively close proximity to the popular North/South Lake Campground, so you won't find much solitude.
After taking in the views, retrace your steps on the unmarked trail back to the blue-blazed trail, and continue on towards the Catskill Mountain House. The trail will now go downhill, sometimes steeply.
At 4.5 miles, you will arrive at a field, with an information board on the right. Make note of the trail to the left, as that is the continuation of the blue-blazed trail. The field is the site of the former Catskill Mountain House, now an area with picnic tables and dramatic Hudson Valley views. After exploring this area, return to the blue-blazed trail and follow it down to a parking area at North/South Lake.
The blue-blazed trail continues straight ahead, with the lake on your left (look for blue blazes painted on the surface of the rocks after you cross the parking lot). However, you may wish to take a brief side trip to the right, where you will find a railing. Just below the railing is the upper terminus of the former Otis Elevating Railway, which transported guests to and from the Catskill Mountain House from 1892 to 1918. Prior to its completion, the guests had to take a grueling stagecoach ride up the mountain to reach the hotel.
Returning to the blue-blazed trail, the lake will be on your left, with picnic areas and a chain-link fence on your right. You will pass an overlook deck on the right.
At 5.3 miles, you'll reach Artists Rock, where you should be able to see four other states. Massachusetts and Connecticut are straight ahead at the South Taconic mountain range (behind the Hudson River, which snakes through the valley), and Vermont and New Hampshire are to the left. Albany may be seen to your left, with the Adirondack Mountains in the distance.
A yellow-blazed side trail goes off to the right at 5.8 miles. You'll want to take this short trail (0.4 mile round-trip) out to Lookout Rock and Sunset Rock, both of which offer views of North/South Lake below.
Return to the blue-blazed trail and turn the right. From here on, you will notice far fewer people along the trail, as most go no further than Lookout Rock and then return to the campground. At 6.4 miles, you'll reach Newman's Ledge, with more views over the Hudson Valley.
A yellow-blazed trail begins to the left at 7.0 miles. Here, above the trail, is Badman Cave supposedly where outlaws hid during the eighteenth century after plundering the valley. Continue to the right of the cave on the blue-blazed trail.
At 7.7 miles, you'll come to an intersection with the red-blazed Mary's Glen Trail, which you will be taking to complete the hike. However, North Point, an open ledge which offers views even more spectacular than those you have already seen, is only 0.25 mile away along the blue-blazed trail. This short out-and-back side trip is definitely worth it. It does involve a steep climb, with some rock scrambles that will require use of your hands. (If you are hiking with a dog, there are a couple of short, challenging vertical climbs that your dog most likely will not be able to negotiate without assistance.)
After visiting North Point, return to the intersection (now having hiked a total of 8.2 miles). Here, you should leave the blue-blazed Escarpment Trail and continue on the red-blazed Mary's Glen Trail, which heads gently downhill.
At 9.0 miles, turn right onto the yellow-blazed Rock Shelter Trail. (The sign indicates that this trail goes to "Haines Falls Road," but that is another name for North Lake Road, so this is the correct trail.) Watch your footing along this trail -- although relatively level, it is strewn with rocks and boulders, and you will need to rock hop.
At 10.3 miles, you'll reach North Lake Road -- the road you drove in on. Turn left and walk a short distance to Scutt Road, which is on your right. Turn right on Scutt Road and continue for a few hundred feet to the parking area where the hike began.
Date of hike: 7/31/2010
From parking lot cross Scutt Road to blue-blazed Escarpment trailhead
0.5 mile keep right on blue, red goes left
0.65 mile trail register
1.2 Frank Layman monument; blue turns sharp left
1.6 stay right on blue, yellow goes left
1.8 Sunset Rock
1.9 Inspiration Point
2.7 keep left on blue, red goes right
3.2 keep right on blue, red goes left
3.8 keep right on blue, red goes left (Split Rock)
4.0 Boulder Rock - lookout over Palenville and Hudson Valley
4.1 keep right on blue, red goes left
4.5 Catskill Mountain House
4.75 keep right on blue, yellow goes left
5.3 Artist Rock
5.8 right on yellow to Sunset Rock, Lookout Rock; retrace steps back to blue
6.2 right on blue
6.4 Newmans Ledge
7.0 right on blue, yellow goes left (Badman Cave)
7.7 right on blue, red goes left
7.95 North Point (3,000 ft) retrace steps back to red
8.2 right on red, blue goes left
9.0 right on yellow, red goes left
10.3 arrive at North Lake Road (Rt 18), bear left, cross over, right on Scutt Road to parking lot