Difficulty: 9 out of 10 (long hike with a few very steep sections)
Highlights: Multiple insane overlooks from several ledges, small waterfalls, small cave
Distance: 7.0 miles, loop
Approximate roundtrip time: 4.5 hours
Total ascent: 1,144 ft
Max elevation: 2,989 ft above sea level
GPS Goodies: Google Terrain map of hike route
This hike is for you if: You’re a fan of incredible views, you appreciate a good ledge and you want to do some serious hiking.
Cheapskate alert! There’s a per-car day use fee to hike here ($10 per car as of 2014.) Money well spent.
Pooch proclivity: Leashed dogs are welcome here, but you MUST have proof of rabies vaccination. The tag on my dog’s neck would have been sufficient, but it was two years old (the shot she got is good for three years, but some are only good for one, so the tag did us no good). Bring the paperwork from your vet or they won’t let you in! I had to have my vet fax the paperwork to the ranger’s station while I was standing there (I’ve heard from friends who were turned away altogether). Not the most relaxing way to start a hike. But, you know, at least your chances of running into Cujo here are pretty low.
Background you can feel free to skip: My first attempt to reach the awesome overlook at North Point was unsuccessful, due to the stubborn Catskill snow that refused to melt, even though spring was well underway in the rest of the Hudson Valley. I documented the resulting (still awesome) hike in the Newman’s Ledge trail guide, but I vowed that someday, I’d make it back to North Point, even if it meant I had to hire a Sherpa to get there.
The trail from Newman’s Ledge to North Point does have several very steep sections, though, and I had to give my dog a boost on three separate occasions. It’s not quite enough to qualify as “rock scrambling,” but there are a few tricky spots that will require you to use your hands to pull yourself up. If you bring a dog to North Point, you should expect that Fido will need your assistance.
The trail guide below will be an updated near-duplicate of the Newman’s Ledge hike (sorry for the rerun!) until Step #18, where we’ll take a longer loop and head up to North Point, returning via the Mary’s Glen trail, past a couple of nice little waterfalls. We’ll also stop by Badman Cave on the way up to North Point, so-called because, according to local legend, the name “Batman’s Cave” was already trademarked.
Looking for a dramatic vista, ledge or other point of interest? Just keep walking. On this hike, it won’t be long before you hit one.
If you’re up for tackling a seven-mile beast to see them all, pack your backpack, head up to North-South Lake and let’s go to it! (Sherpa optional.)
1. From the parking area (See “Directions to the trailhead” below), walk to the back-right corner of the parking lot, away from the lake and the picnic pavilion, where there’s a gate with a stop sign. Walk past the gate to hop on the Yellow Trail as it heads toward the site of the old Catskill Mountain House, our first destination.
2. In a minute, arrive at a junction with the Blue Trail. You’ll be seeing this junction again (twice, actually) before the end of the day. For now, keep heading straight, joining the Blue Trail and walking toward the site of the old Catskill Mountain House, which is just a hop-and-a-skip further.
3. Blammo! Your first view, and you didn’t even have to earn it. Walk across the open field to a huge ledge with wide views of Hudson Valley below. Take your time (and plenty of pictures) here. Read the sign on the right side of the field to find out some historical information about the Catskill Mountain House, if you can tear your eyeballs off the view for long enough.
4. When you’re done checking it out, head back across the field to the junction you just came from. Take a right at the junction to follow the Blue Trail towards, well, towards something. The day we were here, the sign was missing. But it’s a short trail that heads downhill to another parking lot, where you’ll pick up the scent of some more signposts with actual signs on them.
5. After wandering downhill for a short stretch, the Blue Trail opens out onto another road that leads to a parking lot, with a sign pointing towards the Blue Trail with mileage estimates for Artist’s Rock (.4 miles), Newman’s Ledge (1.0 miles) and North Point (2.3 miles). Hey, we’re going to all those places! We’ll also be visiting Sunset Rock via a short spur trail. Busy day ahead!
6. The Blue (Escarpment) Trail re-enters the woods on the far side of the parking lot. It can be a little tough to spot it from far away, but just walk straight across the clearing and you’ll see the Blue Trail continuing, just to the right of a decent-sized birch tree.
**UPDATE August 2015** The signage here (pictured in Step 5 above) is apparently missing altogether now, and the trail can be very tough to pick up on the far side of the road. At least two hikers have reported getting lost for a time here, with one suffering near-fatal damage to her marriage. Here’s a helpful image from Gabrielle’s comment below that shows what a successful traverse across the road should look like – hope this helps others avoid running into the same issue! (And thanks for sounding the alarm, Gabrielle and Erin.)
7. Follow the Blue Trail as it winds past some picnic areas, with a decidedly non-picturesque chain link fence to your right. Just past the fence, you’ll find a nice little porch with a view.
8. A couple minutes past the porch, take a moment to register.
9. From the registration box, it took us nine minutes to reach Artist’s Rock. This hike will never leave you wanting for views for very long.
If the awesome views at Artist’s Rock inspire you to whip out an easel, nobody would blame you.
10. After you’ve soaked in the view, keep going on the Blue Trail. Our next destination is Sunset Rock. In about ten minutes, you’ll find yourself walking beneath some interesting cliffs on your right. Sunset Rock is up on top of those cliffs, and the trail will swing up there in just a few moments.
11. Just beyond the cliffs, the trail dips into a grove of pines. When we were here in early April, the snow was about a foot deep here, with a thick crust on top, and we’d fall through about every fifth step. Hopefully, the weather will be better on your visit.
In any event, keep an eye out for the Yellow Trail to Sunset Rock (with a sign indicating that Sunset Rock is .3 miles away), departing to your right. When you see it, turn right to hop on the Yellow Trail.
12. On your left, as you pick your way through the pines, a view opens up in just a moment. If you hadn’t already been spoiled by the other views so far, you’d be pretty impressed by this one.
13. Keep walking down the Yellow Trail to find Sunset Rock on your right, just a few minutes from where the Yellow Trail began. Sunset Rock is not marked, but you’ll know it when you see it – a huge ol’ rock just plunked down there, waiting for you to come sit on it.
After all the awesome views across the Hudson Valley, it’s a nice change of pace to enjoy completely new views overlooking North-South Lake and more of the Catskills beyond.
14. When you’re finished enjoying the scene at Sunset Rock, retrace your steps along the Yellow Trail to rejoin the Blue Trail.
15. Back at the Blue/Yellow Junction, turn right to hop on the Blue Trail. The sign tells you that Newman’s Ledge is a mere .2 miles away, and North Point is a steep 1.6 miles from here. We’re getting there!
16. The trail gets steeper as you near Newman’s Ledge. Newman!
17. In just a few more minutes, another awesome view spreads before you at Newman’s Ledge. Careful here – it’s not called Newman’s Plains. This place is a cliff with a huge, sheer drop.
If you’re an idiot (and so is the friend you’re hiking with) use a small tripod and a remote control to take a picture that could either be used in an old Toyota commercial, or alongside your names in the next iteration of the Darwin Awards.
18. After you’re done not falling off Newman’s Ledge (and also enjoying the views), continue along the Blue Trail. The next point of interest is Badman Cave, which we’ll reach in .6 miles and 173 vertical feet. You’ll know you’re just about there when you arrive at a junction with the Yellow Trail splitting off to your left, heading towards Mary’s Glen. From that junction, you can see the roof of Badman Cave jutting out above you. Keep following the Blue Trail up into the cave.
19. Once you’re inside, you’ll see that it’s really more of an open-air shelter than a cave. According to Catskillmountaineer.com, the cave got its name “from outlaws who would commit crimes in the valley, and then hide out here.” On maps and signage, the cave is variously referred to as Badman’s Cave, Badman Cave, Bad Man’s Cave and Bad Man Cave. But let’s not get hung up on grammar – clearly, we’re not talking about a good man here. In any event, it seems like the bad person or people were also not that good at picking hideouts – I’d have kept looking until I found a cave with walls.
Once you’re done exploring the cave, continue uphill on the Blue Trail.
20. The Blue Trail heads steeply uphill for a few more minutes, then levels out and wanders through some nice, open areas with limited views.
Plunge back into the woods and continue along this easy stretch of trail, steeling yourself for the climb to come.
.6 miles after Badman Cave, arrive at the junction with the red-blazed Mary’s Glen Trail. We’ll come back to this spot and take the Red Trail down later, after we visit North Point. For now, continue straight/right on the Blue Trail, and let’s gain some elevation.
21. The sign at the junction told you that it’s only .3 miles to North Point, during which we’ll ascend 270 feet. You ate 270 vertical feet for breakfast this morning, right? This is the section where any hiking pooches will likely need a boost or three. It took us about ten minutes to get to North Point from the junction.
22. When you get to North Point, you’ll know you’re in the right spot, partly because of the gorgeous views that make it feel like you’re on top of the Catskills, if not on top of the world, and partly because there’s a big fat sign that says “North Point.”
23. What a cool place. The wide-open, flat slab at North Point is just about big enough to host your next flag football game. Take your time and enjoy the scenery.
Or, if you happen to notice the sun going down rather quickly, as we did, take it in for about five seconds, then start retracing your steps back down the Blue Trail. It’s all downhill from here! Dude, seriously, hurry up. It’s really getting dark.
UPDATE: A fellow hiker (Steve Duskin) made this recommendation on the Hike the Hudson Valley Facebook page: “Actually, if you keep going past North Point for a good half mile or so, you get to an unlabeled vista with a much better view of North and South Lake and the Hudson Valley beyond. It happens to be near the point where the trail up from Winter Clove intersects the blue trail, as it continues west from North Point. Nothing is marked up there, though.” I’ve never visited this spot, so I can’t make a recommendation one way or the other, but Steve seems like a stand-up commenter (he included a picture of the view), so if you’d like to make this hike even longer and hit one more nice viewpoint, fire it up! Then come back to North Point to continue following this guide back to your car, wild person.
24. Carefully pick your way back down to the junction with the red-blazed Mary’s Glen Trail. Turn right to start following the Red Trail, which we’ll take all the way down to the paved loop road that runs around the lakes.
25. About ten minutes down the hill, you’ll see a (probably seasonal) little water feature running down a rock face on your left. Shortly afterwards, a sign informs you that you have .6 miles to go until you hit the paved road at the North Lake Campsite.
26. Another minute down the trail, another small waterfall. You’ll then come to the intersection with the Yellow Trail, where you’ll keep happily strolling downhill on the Red Trail toward Mary’s Glen and N. Lake Campsite, which is now .59 miles away. We’ve descended 290 feet on Mary’s Glen Trail over .7 miles so far, in case you’re keeping score. (The Red and Yellow Trails converge briefly, so don’t be surprised to see trees marked with both blazes in this area. Just be sure to stick with the Red Trail when they split.)
27. Continue descending through the forest on the Red Trail – in about ten minutes from the previous (Red/Yellow) junction, you’ll cross over a stream on a nice wooden footbridge. (Note: the pictures from here on out get rather, well, dark. We were here about thirty minutes after all the intelligent hikers had already gone home.)
About a minute after that bridge, you’ll see a nice little waterfall on your left.
Continue down the trail to find the (very short) yellow-blazed spur trail that takes you to the bottom of Ashley Falls. Take a left here to visit the falls, which I imagine are very pretty in the daylight. I’ll have to confirm that some other day.
28. Return to the Red Trail and turn left to continue towards the N. Lake Campsite, which is now a relatively flat .26 miles away.
29. In just a few more minutes, pass the trail register box, then a minute after that, boom! Civilization. Well, pavement, anyway. That counts, right? Turn left here to carefully follow the road, watching out for traffic.
30. You’ll walk along the road for almost a mile. Kind of a drag, I know, but it’s not like you’re walking on the Jersey Turnpike. Stroll past campsites and woods as you follow the road until it dead-ends into a parking lot. (Sorry I don’t have any pictures from here on out, but, you know, it was dark. You are now following a trail guide written by a guy who couldn’t see anything that wasn’t illuminated by his single-AA-battery-powered flashlight. That probably doesn’t do a lot for your confidence in these instructions, but hey, they were free, right?
No, really, we’re almost back to your car. Have no fear.
31. When you reach the parking lot at North Lake, with the beach and lake on your right, continue to the far end of the parking lot and walk past the beach, to the gravel parking area at the corner of the lake. This is the same gravel parking area you crossed over all the way back in Step #6 above. Recognize it? You have two options here:
Option 1: Turn left onto the gravel parking lot and walk a short distance away from the lake until you see the blue-blazed, well-marked Escarpment Trail on your right. Take this trail back about one minute to the junction with the Yellow Trail, where you’ll turn right for the short stroll back to your car.
Option 2: Stumble around in the darkness, heading to your right and hopping on the Yellow Trail that hugs the shore of North Lake. Miss the cutoff trail (on your left) to your parking lot. Visit the beach at South Lake in near-total darkness. Wish your car was like KIT from Knight Rider, and it could just come find you. Get your bearings, take a picture (why not?), then locate the road directly behind you. Turn left on that road to return to your car. Act like you knew what you were doing the whole time.
We chose Option 2, and though I’ve never personally tried Option 1, that’s the one I’d strongly recommend.
Whatever you decide, I hope you had a great day out here. If so, don’t forget to tip your Sherpa!
Directions to the trailhead: From Palenville, take Route 23A west as it climbs into the Catskills beside Kaaterskill Creek. In about 3.5 miles, you’ll come around a hairpin turn with Bastion Falls and the Kaaterskill Falls trailhead to your right. Continue up the hill another 1.5 miles to a right turn onto County Route 18 (North Lake Road). Follow this road all the way into the park. After you pass Scutt Road on your right and go past the guardhouse, turn right at the first fork inside the park to head south around the lakes. Follow this road past a large parking area on your left and keep following until it dead-ends in another large lot, just past a big picnic pavilion on your left. Park here, and see the trailhead in the back-right corner of the lot.
You can also get directions by checking out the North-South Lake: North Point entry on the HiketheHudsonValley.com Google map.
Sorta nearby address for your GPS: The Brookside Bed & Breakfast is on County Route 18 (North Lake Road), about a mile from the park entrance. Its address is:
93 North Lake Road
Haines Falls, NY 12436
Just keep heading straight after you pass the B&B, and you’re good to go.
GPS coordinates of parking area: 42.19612, -74.03906 (Clicking will open in Google Maps or the Apple Maps app, depending on your browser/device.)
Related resources: If you’re looking for actual facts and/or useful information, visit these resources:
- The official NYS DEC North-South Lake page
- The very informative Catskill Escarpment Wikipedia page
- The DEC’s PDF map of the North-South Lake campgrounds
- A longer but similar circuit from the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference (bonus of trying their way – and the next two links as well – no parking fee)
- A nice alternate route to North Point (and beyond) from catskillmountaineer.com
- Another alternate route from catskillmountaineer.com that hits many of the same highlights
- For curiosity’s sake, check out the insane people who run the entire 18.6-mile Escarpment Trail
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