The Slide Mountain Wilderness encompasses more than 47,500-acres and is one of the most popular adventure destinations in the Catskill Forest Preserve. It was established in the early 1900s and today has over 35-miles of trails for hiking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. At 4,180-feet, Slide Mountain is the highest peak in New York outside of the Adirondacks. It has eastern and western approaches that can be conducted as individual there-and-back trails or a longer one-way route. This adventure follows the red-blazed Burroughs Range Trail from the Woodland Valley Campground (where there is a parking fee during summer season), across Wittenberg and Cornell Mountains (3,780-feet and 3,860-feet, respectively), to the peak of Slide Mountain. The round-trip distance is 14-miles and ascends approximately 4,500-feet. If you make arrangements for a car shuttle, you can complete the 10-mile trek across this ridge and down the western face of Slide Mountain to the parking area at the on Olivera Road. Be prepared for some rock climbing and very steep ascents along your way! Dogs are allowed, but many sections would prove difficult for those on four legs. This trail has spectacular views across many of the surrounding Catskill peaks and over the Ashokan Reservoir out into the Hudson Valley. The region is very popular with adventurers throughout the year, so visit during the week if you are concerned about encountering too many people. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation has produced a map of this wilderness area to help you navigate your route. Please respect the State Land Use Regulations and follow all Outdoor Safety Practices.
While it is possible to complete this trek in one day, some people choose to bring a backpack and spend the night between Slide and Cornell. There are several excellent backcountry places to camp within the Woodland Valley and below 3,500-feet in elevation. Camping is prohibited above 3,500 feet March 21 to December 21, and open fires are not allowed above 3,500 feet year round. While a winter ascent is possible, it is not recommended due to the sharp rock faces, icy conditions, and steep climbs.
From the Woodland Valley Campground, look for a trail sign leading to a bridge over the Woodland Creek. Cross over the water and into the woods where you will see a large sign with information about the various trails and distances to each of the peaks. The path proceeds to the left, up a hill, and immediately embarks on a steep climb for about a half-mile to the southeast. You will pass a box on a tree with a trail registration book that you can use to log your journey. After reaching about 1,700-feet, it turns to the southwest and ascends another 600-feet before turning back to the southwest and up another 500-feet.
Finally, the path begins to level off, slightly, at about 2,700-feet, and follows a gradual ascent with some minor dips for the next half-mile. At the intersection of the yellow-blazed Terrace Mountain Trail, stay to the right and continue to follow the red blazes. Within a short climb, you will come to another intersection indicated by an arrow that points to the blue-blazed Phoenicia East Branch Trail, another approach that cuts across the ridges of Cross Mountain, Mount Pleasant, and Romer Mountain. Remain on the Burroughs Range Trail and continue to follow the red blazes to the right.
The smell of fir trees begins to pervade the area as you gain elevation. Now the trail becomes even steeper as you climb up the northern face of Wittenberg. Turn around to catch a glimpse of the Hunter West Kill Wilderness behind you. There is some rock scrambling that becomes more intense as you get closer to the summit. Almost all of the surrounding trees are firs now with some white paper birch adding some variety. After another strenuous mile, the path finally begins to level off at 3,700 feet and suddenly comes to a wide clearing with an open vista. Samuels Point and the Ashokan Reservoir, one of New York City’s sources of drinking water, are immediately before you. You can see Balsam Cap (3,623 feet) to the south as well as Hanover Mountain. This is perhaps the best view along the trek. Visitors flow to this region in the fall to see waves of colored foliage painted across the land.
The Burroughs Range Trail continues to the west. The traverse from here to Cornell Mountain, the next peak, is less than a mile and rather moderate. You will continue along the mountain ridge and dip into a small valley. There are some interesting walls of rock that need to be navigated on your route. Upon reaching the western tip of the summit, there is a view over the trees to the west. Slide Mountain is the main peak in site across the valley. The path descends over rock slabs and through balsam firs until they begin to dissipate again at lower elevations.
This mountain is named after Senator Thomas Cornell, who also served as president of the Cornell Steamship Company and the Ulster and Delaware Railroad. He began his enterprise with cargo, but he expanded the fleet to include the passenger steamboat Mary Powell, a luxurious ship often pictured moving up and down the Hudson River Valley that carried the likes of Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman, and European royalty. Cornell also established four small railroads, including the Kaatskill Railroad, which served the Catskill Mountain House in northern Greene County. These track expansions opened the Catskills to tourists and gave him the opportunity to open massive hotels such as the Grand Hotel above Pine Hill and the Laurel House near the Catskill Mountain House.
The trail falls below 3,500-feet in elevation into the Woodland Valley, where there are wooden planks to help you through some wet and boggy areas. This moderate stretch of land continues for about a half-mile through northeastern hardwoods and fallen trees. Upon reaching the eastern base of Slide Mountain, you will begin a relentless climb to the top. As you reach the 3,500-foot Catskill peak threshold, you will be reintroduced to more fir trees and again the prevailing aroma of pine. There are more difficult rock slabs to navigate here as you find cracks in the mountain for your feet and protruding roots for your hands. Ascend another 700-feet to two notorious wooden staircases, essentially ladders, facilitate the trek up the last few hundred feet in elevation. This mountain and Hunter Mountain (4,040-feet) are the only two peaks in the Catskills above 4,000-feet.
You will climb the final bit of trail to the summit where there is a plaque on a rock outcropping commemorating poet and naturalist John Burroughs. He was a regular visitor to this wilderness and spent many nights camping out upon this peak. Burroughs helped get the Catskills added to New York's Forest Preserve, and in one of his best works, "The Heart of the Southern Catskills," he wrote of the view from Slide: "Here the works of man dwindle, in the heart of the southern Catskills."
While maps and resource materials claim that this summit is 4,180-feet, the exact elevation has never officially been determined by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. Its peak is a rounded profile that gently rises from the west and forms a steep and smooth slope to the east. The name “Slide” refers to a landslide that occurred on its northern face near the summit in 1819. The evidence of this original break is still apparent despite a second landslide that occurred in 1982.
At the top you will notice a shaved section of conglomerate quartz gravel that almost appears to have been purposefully landscaped. Slide Mountain's peak is the only one in the Catskills with this characteristic, leading to the speculation that it was not covered in the last ice age during the Wisconsin Period. While there are striation marks present, the consensus is that these were formed from a previous ice age many millennia ago during the Illinoian Period.
Continue another quarter of a mile on the path to a large concrete block that is the former foundation of a fire tower. New York State wanted to utilize this high peak for fire monitoring in 1911, so a lookout and observer's cabin were built here. However, it was only occupied for about a year and then abandoned. A steel replacement was constructed during the late 1930s, but this was dismantled around 1965. From this point, return to the Woodland Valley parking area back over the same route; Cornell and Wittenberg. Be very careful on your descent of the steep rock faces.
If you have arranged for a car shuttle, continue over the summit and down the mountain’s western face, which is a much more gradual descent and does not include any difficult rock climbs. This path is the most direct route to the summit via the trailhead on Oliverea Road, so you may find more people ascending Slide Mountain from this direction. This trail drops approximately 1,800-feet over the next 2.7-miles along the remainder of the red-blazed Burroughs Range Trail and the yellow-blazed Phoenicia East Branch Trail.
Another slightly more ambitious option is to complete a loop about 16-miles in length that continues from the western Slide Mountain trailhead north along Oliverea Road and to the yellow-blazed Phoenicia East Branch Trail before circling back to the campground through the Woodland Valley.
The Slide Mountain Wilderness is roughly 90 miles north-northwest of Manhattan. It is home to many other prominent peaks including members of the Catskill 3,500-foot Club. Panther Mountain (3,720-feet), Table Mountain (3,847-feet), and Peekamoose Mountain (3,843-feet) are some of the more popular trailed mountains. Meanwhile, Friday Mountain (3,694-feet), Balsam Cap (3,623-feet), Rocky Mountain (3,508-feet), and Lone Mountain (3,721-feet) also meet this threshold, but they require extensive bushwhacking. While some of these routes include spectacular views and features like Giant Ledge on the Fox Hollow Trail, others are covered with deciduous forest and fir trees and therefore only offer a feeling of accomplishment upon reaching their respective summits.
Streams throughout this wilderness boast a presence of brown trout, rainbow trout, and sculpin. Fishing is permitted in accordance with public fishing rights: Please refer to the rules and regulations as well as map pamphlets, and adhere to the inclusive safety tips and seasons. Hunting and trapping are also permitted and encouraged within the Forest Preserve. There is a thriving black bear population and stable white-tail deer population, both of which are hunted in the fall. The eastern wild turkey is also prevalent and hunted in both spring and fall. In addition, fur-bearers, including beaver, fisher and coyote, are harvested annually. The DEC continues to monitor and regulate these lands in accordance with the Slide Mountain Wilderness Unit Management Plan (UMP).
The aqua-blazed Long Path is an approximately 350-mile trail that begins at the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, New Jersey and ends in the Albany area of New York. It crosses the Slide Mountain Wilderness over the Peekamoose-Table Trail, the Phoenicia East Branch, the Curtis Ormsbee Trail, and then on this Burroughs Range Trail over Slide, Cornell, and Wittenberg. Some of the markers are initialed with “LP.” This trail continues through the Catskill Mountains into the Sundown Wild Forest, Phoenicia Wild Forest, Indian Head Wilderness, Kaaterskill Wild Forest, Windham Blackhead Range Wilderness, and Elm Ridge Wild Forest.