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Tuesday, April 16, 2019

North-South Lake Hike - Newman's Ledge and the Catskill Mountain House Site

It was the last day of the Catskills getaway and I had one more hike in mind before packing up the Tiny Home and the dogs to tour through a few Hudson Valley towns before heading home.  This particular hike was close to where we were staying, featured a pretty lake, scenic views of the Hudson Valley and history on one of the Northeast's many Mountain Houses.  

Saturday was an easy hike at Kaaterskill Falls and the plan for Sunday was to be up early, pack the car and head to North-South Lake campground (about 25-minutes away) in Haines Falls, New York.  While both of our dogs are up to date on all their shots, I had read that proof of rabies (written proof, like the actual form, the tag is not good enough) was required and I forgot to mention this important detail to Adam.  However, it was early March and the campground was closed so I was really banking on sneaking through, sans paperwork.  And yes, we did. 

Snow-covered North-South Lake 
It was the tail end of winter and just the night before, a few inches of snow fell in the Catskills.  Winter at North-South Lake means you will have to park at one of the parking lots at the beginning of the park and road walk to the trailhead.  You will walk a mile on the snow-covered road before hitting the trail that will take you to your first viewpoint, the Catskill Mountain House Site and then onto the Blue Trail to Newman's Ledge. 

Following the paved road to the yellow trail 

Catskill Mountain House Site 
The first vista, the site of the Historic Catskill Mountain House was an amazing way to start the hike.  Picture this, you are standing on this ledge with sweeping views of the Catskills below.  It's winter so everything still has a bit of snow cover and there is only one other person on the trail.   There are scattered picnic tables if you packed a lunch and there are wide open views and sunny skies.  You stop to take in the view, now open and cleared land, while you read about this historic Mountain House that once housed U.S. presidents and happy tourists alike. 

Catskill Mountain House Site Signage 

The Catskill Mountain House was built in 1823 and opened in 1824 in the Catskill Mountains overlooking the Hudson River Valley.  A horse-drawn coach line brought guests up to the hotel which was rebuilt and designed to be one of the grandest in the world.  During its prime (1850 to 1900) this famous hotel was visited by U.S. presidents Ulysses S. Grant,  Chester A. Arthur, and Theodore Roosevelt.  The hotel operated well into the 1900s when other grand hotels and the neighboring Adirondacks stole the spotlight.  In 1892, the owner George Beach commissioned the Otis Elevator Company to build a cog railroad from the valley floor to the top of the mountain top.  Like other famous mountain houses in the Northeast, the tracks were no longer needed at the turn of the century when Henry Ford created the automobile and the train and tracks were sold for scrap in 1918.

Painting of the Catskill Mountain House - More Photos from Catskill Mountaineer

The Mountain House continued to operate until the start of World War II into 1941, it's last season.  In 1962, the State of New York acquired the property and while preservationists tried to save the structure, it was burned by the state Conservation Department in 1963.  The building was destroyed in accordance with Forest Preserve management policies forbidding most structures on land retroactively decreed by the government to be "forever wild."  All that remains of the Catskill Mountain House is the land it was built on, pillars from the cog railroad, and the panoramic view of the Hudson Valley. 

Catskill Mountain House Site 
After leaving the Catskill Mountain House Site, we continued on the trail to the Escarpment Trail, a blue-blazed trail following the Long Path along a rocky ledge. The trail is well named (escarpment: a long, steep slope, especially one at the edge of a plateau or separating areas of land at different height) and the trail follows the Catskill Escarpment rising 3,000 feet from the Hudson Valley crossing over three of the Catskill High Peaks. You can expect the trail to weave in and out of the woods with glimpses of the Hudson Valley until you finally reach your destination and viewpoint, Newman's Ledge.

Trail Guide: Follow the entrance road into the campground and if you are visiting in wintertime, park at the first parking area by the dam and lake. In the summer, you can drive further into the park and park at a different parking lot closer to the trailhead.  Follow the road until you hit the start of the yellow trail.  From here, follow the yellow trail to the junction/offshoot to the Catskill Mountain House Site (quick detour - definitely worth the stop for the history and the view).  Follow the offshoot back to the main trail where you will pass the second parking lot and follow the blue "Escarpment Trail" also marked with an "LP" marking the long path.  Follow this path to the sign marked Newman's Ledge. You will see a yellow offshoot for Lookout Rock and Sunset Rock. The trail is well marked and there are signs posted at most intersections Trail Map.

Distance:  5.4 miles from the parking area at the dam, to Newman's Ledge and back. 

Elevation:  Start: 2,127'    Summit: 2,441'    Gained: 556' 

Difficulty/Kids: Easy to moderate. The trail is kid-friendly for older kids due to exposed ledges and a longer distance. The trail is relatively flat with some smaller pitches/rock areas. The first and last mile of the hike (in the winter) involves hiking the road. 

Dogs: Dogs are allowed at this trail under one (strict) condition. When the campground is open and the ranger station is manned you must have proof of rabies vaccination in paperwork (the tag itself is not enough). I read many complaints about hikers being turned around at the gate because they did not have the paperwork. 

Other: North-South Lake Campground is the largest state campground in the Catskills with over 200 campsites. On many weekends the campsites are likely full and you will need to make a reservation ahead of time. The Escarpment Trail which you will be following for a while covers 23.9 miles of trail to the 340-mile long path.

Trail Map 
Trail Register at the beginning of the Escarpment (blue) trail 

Following the blue trail along the ledge 

Rock formations along the trail 

Trail markers along the way 

Signage for Newman's Ledge 

Newman's Ledge 

We had lunch at Newman's Ledge after a 2.7-mile hike in and not seeing a single hiker on the trail from the Mountain House Site to this ledge.  We sat with our sandwiches, only having to share the viewpoint with our begging dogs and a screeching paragon falcon.  Blue skies, a packed lunch with a view, happy dogs, happy hikers.  After a quick break, we returned the way we came, eventually passing a few hikers on the trail, happily chatting about our luck with the weather and the beauty of the Catskills.  This weekend of hiking was our first real hikes of the year and proved to be the kind of weekend that gets you so excited for the start of spring, camping under the summer stars, and time spent outside in the sunshine. 

Happy Hiking, 

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