Bearpen Mountain in Bearpen State Forest is the 29th-highest peak in the Catskills at 3,600 feet in elevation. It marks the highest point in Greene County, New York, as well as the highest point in Delaware County at its sub-peak to the northwest. At the summit, there are incredible views to north that gaze across former cut trails of the Princeton Ski Bowl. The trails here are unmarked and often used by ATV riders, which are illegal here, and snowmobilers. The climb from County Route 3 in Fleischmanns, New York, is a steep 1,300-foot, 2.5-mile ascent to the top that is enjoyed by adventurers throughout the year.
There is parking along the side of the road near the trailhead at the end of County Route 3. You will see a sign with an “S 70” snowmobile trail marker and a map at the beginning of a wide dirt path where a rock road leads uphill to the north. Proceed up the trail for about 1 mile over a 500-foot ascent. Here you will see a small hunters’ building with “POSTED” signs around it. This is the S-72 trail junction. Turn left here off of the main road and go past the building. The trail continues into the woods and may be covered with high grass. Within a short distance, the path will again become a wide dirt and rock road and officially enter state land.
Continue up the trail for three quarters of a mile and a 400-foot ascent as the road maintains a steep climb. You will come to a very noticeable sharp turn in the path that does a switchback to the left, which is marked by yellow cautionary signs. At the top of this section, the road will level off at approximately 3,200 feet. Here, the hiking trail diverges from the road. Look for a trail leading up the hill on your right. A yellow sign posted to a tree reads “DANGER.” The sign is intended for snowmobilers due to the rough path, but it is perfectly suitable for hikers. If you miss this path, the wide road will begin to descend over the mountain. Though the main road will eventually lead to the summit, the “DANGER” path is a very reasonable shortcut.
The remainder of the trail will continue to ascend the mountain in a northwest direction. Some red snowmobile trail markers will help keep you on track until you reconnect with the wide road (S-72) that takes you to the summit. Upon reaching the top, the trees open up to a cleared field and an incredible view to the north. Camping and fires are not permitted above 3,500 feet. Take some time to explore the top of the mountain, because there are several scenic viewpoints that may not be obvious upon first sight. Many adventurers prefer this trek in winter for the additional visibility with the leaves off of the trees.
Bearpen Mountain was once home to the Princeton Ski Bowl. It was conceived and designed by Princeton student Ben Lane, who had taken an interest in skiing and was searching for a mountain with a smooth northeastern face to develop. The ski area opened in January of 1955 and had a very successful first season with large crowds and lots of snow that permitted skiing until mid-May.
As advertised, there were 13-miles of touring trails, 64% above 3,300 feet in elevation, making “Bearpen a Nordic paradise for cross-country, snowshoeing.” Skiing was $3.00 per day, or you could take a scenic ride to the top for $1.50. The mountain hosted a 17,000-square-foot skating pond (the highest in the eastern U.S.), five easy-riding tows, and eight trails for all skier levels. Ski runs offered a 600-foot vertical drop, and at the end of the day skiers were allowed to enjoy a final 1,900-foot descent into the valley.
This wild forest gets more snow than the rest of the Catskills and many times more snow than any part of New York, so much that it forced the ski center to close mid-season one year due to an inability to run the tows. The center closed only a few years after opening in 1959 due to complications with New York State Forever Wild Land permitting and Ben's busy medical practice. Some remains of the lift and machinery can still be found near the summit.
Bearpen Mountain is popular among those aspiring to become members of the Catskill Mountain 3500 Club. This adventure is often combined with a trek to Vly Mountain, a 3,529-foot mountain directly to the east that also resides in Bearpen State Forest. There is a second route to Bearpen summit that begins on Heisinger Road on the north side of the mountain. This trail lies completely in state land and follows former ski trails to the top. Black bears are moderately common in this region. If you come across one, do not panic; shout and slowly back away.