The Ultimate 64-Hour Weekend: Trek The Catskills Most Punishing Trail

Shake off the New York hustle and bustle for this soul-cleansing weekend out-and-back.
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Shake off the New York hustle and bustle for this soul-cleansing weekend out-and-back.
Catskills

Photo by: Kevin Kenny/Flickr

Published in partnership with Arc'teryx.

Catskill Park might just have been America’s first real vacation spot. As early as the 1820s, tourists flocked from emerging urban centers to drink in the area’s natural beauty, its rugged traverses inspiring the nation’s first generation of homegrown artists, writers, and naturalists. While the days of top-hats and petticoats have long since faded, the Catskills’ natural appeal hasn’t dissipated at all. The very relics of its history now comprise a playground for a weekend adventure both weird and wild.

Friday: Ditch the city and camp at North-South Lake in the Catskill Forest Preserve. ($22 per night for New York residents, $27 for out-of-staters).

Saturday: Rise early (try 6 a.m.) for a short hike to catch the sunrise over the Hudson Valley on the former site of the Catskill Mountain House, a popular 19th-century hotel perched on the edge of the escarpment. As the antique rock graffiti will attest, the hotel was among the most popular tourist destinations in the U.S. for much of the 19th century. And for good reason: views from the top the extend as far as Massachusetts’ Berkshire foothills some 50 miles to the east.

But don’t linger long. An early start means you’re primed to tackle the Devil’s Path, a short 9-mile drive away. Considered by many to be the toughest trail in the east. Its 14,000 feet of elevation change, rock chutes, and ledge scrambles will try your hands and feet, but the views atop five 3,500-foot peaks come close to heaven itself. The 28-mile out-and-back is best completed over two days.

The main trailhead is just off Prediger Road near Elka Park in the Town of Hunter, but an alternate trailhead (Pecoy Notch) lies just to the west. The latter (reachable via Dale Lane, off Platte Kill Road) takes hikers past an old stone quarry where anonymous locals have constructed thrones overlooking the valley. Stop for a fortifying early lunch and sit high before the rest of the trail lays you low. Camp at Devil’s Tombstone State Camp site where the trail crosses Highway 214, or at one of the lean-tos along the way.

Sunday: Wrap up the trail, leaving enough time to hike back out. Once you’re done, grab a well-earned bite and a beer in nearby Tannersville. If enough light remains on the drive down the mountain, pull into the lot alongside Route 23A just outside of town and make the short walk to Kaaterskill Falls—one of the tallest in the Eastern U.S. Just out of sight from the road, there’s a pool deep enough for full-body submersion. Completing the Devil’s Path deserves a baptism of sorts.

Be Aware: You’ll want to fill up on water before getting on the trail.

What to Pack: Bathing suit, moleskin