Background you can feel free to skip: The hike to Giant Ledge is so popular, you can go to Google Maps and start typing “Giant Led…” and it will complete your thought with “Giant Ledge trailhead, Phoenicia, NY, United States.” Most trailheads are tough to search for on Google Maps, if you can find them at all, but the Giant Ledge trailhead is easier to find online than your nearest IKEA.
On our first visit here many years ago, my wife Kara and I visited Giant Ledge on a Saturday evening. It was like Woodstock up there. Beatles songs were playing on someone’s boombox. Tents were pitched all over the place. Laughter and loud talking echoed through the woods. Awesome, this place is. A well-kept secret, it is not.
One step out onto that first ledge, though, and it’s easy to see why this place draws crowds.
On my most recent visit, I took a day off and came on a chilly late-October Friday. If you can visit on a weekday, or off-season, or both, you might just luck out and have the place to yourself.
This hike is called Giant Ledge, but there are actually five distinct ledges where you can walk out and have the whole world (or at least a really large, Catskilly slice of the world) open up before you.
It’ll be a 3.2-mile roundtrip if you just visit the first ledge and then return to your car. If you go all the way to the fifth ledge, it’ll be a 4.0-mile roundtrip. The view from each ledge is awesome, but they’re pretty similar. Good to know that you have other options, though, in case you’d like a ledge to yourself and some of them are occupied, as they likely will be. Just keep heading down the trail and there’ll be another ledge in a few minutes.
One more item of interest – there are two large campsites right near the ledges, clearly marked and tucked back into the woods. I’ll point them out in the trail guide below, in case you’d like to join the carnival up there one night.
If you’re interested in taking a more strenuous hike and bagging one of the Catskill 3500’ summits in the process, you can continue along the trail straight up Panther Mountain, about two miles (and 1,000 vertical feet) one-way from the first ledge. My guess is that for at least 80% of visitors, Giant Ledge will be the final destination, which is as it should be. For the casual dayhiker, climbing Panther will be overkill.
If you do climb Panther, though, you’ll be rewarded with some pretty awesome views – similar to Giant Ledge, but with a little more of that “I’m on top of the world” vibe.
I know – I just told you not to climb Panther, then I told you how nice the view is up there. Still, really, the view on Giant Ledge is pretty much equally awesome, and the hike to that point has some steep sections. If I was bringing friends on this hike who weren’t super-crazy hiking goons, I wouldn’t even consider dragging them up Panther, too.
However big a hike you decide to tackle at Giant Ledge, just be sure that you do come check it out. Besides taking in all the awesome views, maybe you’ll make some new friends up there. Then you can ask them to turn down their boomboxes.
1. From the parking area on County Road 47 (see “Directions to the trailhead” below), turn to face uphill. The trail starts just to the right of the guardrail directly uphill from the parking lot. Carefully cross the road, go around the guardrail, and hop across the little footbridge to begin your adventure.
2. Notice the sign telling you that you only have 1.5 miles left until Giant Ledge? Woo hoo! You’re already almost there! Kind of. Sign in at the register to make sure this trail gets credit for your visit. You’ll be following those yellow blazes for the next .8 miles or so.
3. In just a moment, cross a wooden footbridge that goes over a picturesque stream.
4. Has anyone ever told you that this hike is easy? They lied. It is Catskill Easy, but not regular-world easy. Over the next .7 miles, you’ll climb 725 feet over often-rocky terrain. Next stop: junction with the blue-blazed Giant Ledge-Panther Mountain-Fox Hollow Trail. It took me twenty minutes from the footbridge. See you there!
5. Did I mention this section is not easy? Just wanted to make sure we’re clear on that point.
6. At the top of a steep section, the trail makes a sharp left, and then, right in front of you, you’ll see the trail junction with the blue-blazed Giant Ledge-Panther Mountain-Fox Hollow Trail. Turn left here to follow those blue blazes all the way to Giant Ledge. Only .75 miles to go!
**UPDATE September 2018** Take a moment to pay special attention to this junction, locking it into your memory for your return trip to your car. Apparently, it’s a common mistake for hikers to accidentally take the Blue Trail from here when they’re coming back down the mountain, rather than retracing their steps on the Yellow Trail back to their car at Giant Ledge Parking Area. Don’t let that happen to you! (And thanks for the heads-up in the comments, Stav! Hope your experience can save others from making the same mistake.)
7. Over the next .75 miles, you’ll climb another 410 feet on the Blue Trail. Enjoy! You may also find some wet sections here, where you’ll have to hop around the puddles. Good thing you paid the extra twenty bucks for the Gore-tex shoes, right? Right?
About 15 minutes after the trail junction, you may notice a side trail to a spring splitting off to your left. Just ignore it and keep heading straight. Unless, you know, you need water and you brought a purifier. In that case, you’d probably want to check out the spring.
8. Immediately before the first ledge, you’ll see a yellow campsite marker pointing to the left. A short way down that trail, there’s a nice, spacious campsite. There’s a bigger campsite a few minutes down the trail, too. If you’re not planning on staying the night, my apologies for wasting your time with this paragraph.
9. Just past that campsite marker, keep an eye out on your right for the first ledge. Hell-ooo! What a view. If you can find a spot here to relax and soak in the view, you might very well want to make this your final destination.
Careful at the edge. One step too far, and this really will be your final destination. Like, ever.
10. After you’ve had time to enjoy the view, if you decide you’d like to head back now, by all means, do it. You’ve seen the view at Giant Ledge – it’s really only very slightly different from the next four ledges. They all look out in the same direction. From this first ledge, it’s .8 miles down the Blue Trail to the fifth ledge, with the others dotting the way in-between, if you want to add them all to your retinal collection.
If you head back now, hope you enjoyed the trip! Retrace your steps back to your car – the only junction you have to worry about is the right turn onto the Yellow Trail about halfway down. Be sure to eat some pizza tonight – you’ve earned it.
If you continue reading from here, I’ll assume you’re tackling Panther Mountain, too. If you’re doing that, see you at the next step, crazy person!
11. On to Panther Mountain! Did we finally ditch the Giant Ledge people? Man, were they slowing us down, or what? (Just kidding, Giant Ledge people. I’m just trying to make the Panther people feel cool, since they’re about to burn at least 1,000 calories to see basically the same view they’re already looking at. Just kidding, Panther people! You’re going to be so glad you did this.)
12. To climb Panther, keep heading straight along the Blue Trail, passing all five ledges at Giant Ledge, as well as the turnoff to the second DEC campsite. Immediately after you pass the final ledge, the Blue Trail drops 200 feet in the saddle between Giant Ledge and the Panther ascent. I hate losing altitude just to have to gain it again, too, but until someone installs a zipline here, this is what we’ve got.
13. From the bottom of the saddle to the summit of Panther, you’ll ascend 730 feet over 1 mile, following the blue blazes the whole way.
About halfway into that climb, you’ll notice the forest change. For the first time in my life, I marked a spot on my hiking GPS with the label “Smell.” Just as the trail reaches about 3,400 ft in altitude, you can smell the difference as you enter the alpine forest at the top of Panther. Everything just feels different – cooler, darker, more remote. That’s worth the price of admission right there, even without the very nice views you’re approaching.
14. About 15 minutes after entering the alpine forest, you’ll see a short little unmarked side trail to your right, heading toward some big rocks.
Carefully clamber on top of these rocks for your first Panther views. Not bad, right?
15. From that rock, it’s a flat .3 miles to the summit of Panther. You’ll pass some smaller views on the way there – don’t be fooled into turning around yet.
You’ll know you’re at the right spot when you reach a nice flat rock, right beside the trail, where you can sit and take in the wide-open view before you. There’s not a ton of room right here, so hopefully you left most of the crowds back at Giant Ledge. It took me less than ten minutes to get here from the rock that we clambered up for our first Panther view.
Here’s my best attempt at a panoramic stitch of the view:
Enjoy a granola bar or two, mentally (or actually) high-fiving yourself and anyone else in your crew for bagging one of the Catskill 3500’ summits. Nice work! Now let’s go home.
16. Retrace your steps back to your car. Take the Blue Trail back down Panther, back up the little saddle (dude, more uphill?) to Giant Ledge, then turn right on the Yellow Trail for the last .75 miles back to your car.
For the rest of the day, ask everyone you meet, “What size ledge did you climb today?” Then tell them how big yours was.
Directions to the trailhead:
From the New York Thruway (I-87) headed north from Poughkeepsie/New Paltz, take exit 19 for the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge, then head west (away from the bridge) on Route 28. Get comfortable – you’ll stay on Rt. 28 for another 30 miles. At Big Indian, turn left onto County Road 47 (Oliverea Road – sometimes also marked as Fire House Road). If you see the Peekamoose Restaurant and Tap Room on the left, that’s bad news – you just missed the turn.
After turning onto County Road 47, in 7.4 miles, you’ll come to a hairpin turn to the right, heading up a large hill. Parking for Giant Ledge is on the huge shoulder on the right side of the road, just before that hairpin turn. A wooden sign on the shoulder marks the parking lot.
Pull off onto the shoulder and get ready to begin your adventure! You know you’re at a classy hike when there’s a porto-potty in the parking lot. Feel free to hit that now, too.
You can also get directions by checking out the Giant Ledge and Panther Mountain entry on the HiketheHudsonValley.com Google map.
Sorta nearby address for your GPS: The Slide Mountain Forest House is 3.7 miles northwest of the trailhead, on the same road. Coming from Route 28, heading southeast, just keep heading past the Forest House to the hairpin-turn parking lot described in the “Directions to the trailhead” section above.
Here’s the address for the Slide Mountain Forest House:
805 Fire House Rd
Big Indian, NY 12410
GPS coordinates of parking area: 42.02662, -74.40383 (Clicking will open in Google Maps or the Apple Maps app, depending on your browser/device.)
Super-cool Google Earth flyover of hike route:
Google Terrain Map of hike route:
Related resources: If you’re looking for actual facts and/or useful information, visit these resources:
- The official DEC Slide Mountain Wilderness homepage
- A great write-up of the same hike from the venerable Catskillmountaineer.com
- The amazingly thorough Panther Mountain Wikipedia page
- Some cool information and pictures about a nearby meteorite hit from this bunch of big-brained Canadians
- The Catskill 3500 Club Panther Mountain page
- Some very nice winter pictures from the Peaks & Paths blog