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Thru-Hiking the Catskills Escarpment Trail

If you’re looking for a longer, challenging hike, try thru-hiking the Catskills Escarpment Trail! The Escarpment Trail, is a 23.9 mile hike that includes spectacular views and rewarding climbs.

Hiking boots on a summit of a Catskills mountain

What to Know:

  • Difficulty: Moderate to challenging.
  • Length: Typically takes three days to hike the full trail.
  • Typical conditions: Dirt trails with some rocky terrain.
  • Water availability: May be a problem depending on the season – please plan accordingly.
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs must be kept on a leash. Also, due to the trail’s difficulty and some steep cliffs, carefully consider if your dog should make the journey with you as it may be dangerous.
  • Photo credit: @Jessolm via Instagram.
Person on the summit of the Escarpment Trail enjoying the view of the Catskill Mountains

What to Expect

Escarpment, which means there is an abrupt change in elevation—most commonly a slope or cliff—that is caused by erosion, gives an indication of the landscape of the trail. As part of the Windham-Blackhead Mountain Range Wilderness, the Escarpment Trail features multiple Catskill peaks, such as Blackhead, Windham High Peak, Thomas Cole, Black Dome, Acra Point, and Burnt Knob. Blackhead Mountain, Thomas Cole Mountain, and Black Dome Mountain are all above 3,000 feet in elevation.

On your journey through the Escarpment Trail, hike to North-South Lake Campground, the largest state campground in the Catskills Forest Preserve. From there, your thru-hike will take you to the site of the Catskill Mountain House offering incredible scenic views. Although the Catskill Mountain House, which was a frequently visited hotel in the mid-1800s to the early 1900s, is no longer there, the site offers history aficionados a glimpse into the past. As you continue your hike of the Escarpment Trail, you will pass through Colgate Lake Wild Forest in East Jewett. The wild forest features Colgate Lake, a popular destination for paddling and fishing. 

DEC Escarpment Trail Head Sign

Where to Find the Trailheads

When thru-hiking the Catskills Escarpment Trail, there are two main trailheads. The trail can be accessed at the North-South Lake Trailhead, which is on Schutt Road in Haines Falls — parking is available in the trailhead lot. The trail can also be accessed at the Windham Trailhead, which is on Route 23 in East Windham — parking is available in the trailhead lot. Since it’s a thru-hike, it’s important to leave a car in the opposite location of where you start.

tent and campers at a picnic table on the shore of a lake at North-South Lake Campground

Where to Camp Along the Trail

Camping Regulations

  • Camping above an elevation of 3,500 feet is prohibited (between late March to late December).
  • Camping within 150 feet of a water source, trail, or road is prohibited.
  • Follow the Leave No Trace Principles.

Lean-to Locations

Note that lean-tos are available on a first-come-first-serve basis and cannot be reserved. You must share lean-tos with others as needed.

  • Batavia Kill Lean-to – Located 0.2 miles west of the Escarpment Trail, south of Acra Point.
  • Elm Ridge Lean-to – Located 0.2 miles down the Elm Ridge Trail, this stop is 5.42 miles from the next camping location.

Places to Camp

Escarpment Trail Run

If you’re an avid runner who would like to put your skills to the ultimate test, consider the Escarpment Trail Run. The run, which is typically held each July, features tough trail conditions, significant changes in elevation, and steep sections. To ensure the safety of participants, there are qualification standards that must be met prior to registering for the race. This race is meant to be a challenge and should only be considered by qualified runners.