Background you can feel free to skip: Since my second son was born, most of my outdoor experiences have taken place in the Babies R’ Us parking lot. So when the universe aligned so that I could take a day all to myself, free to hike wherever I wanted without any children in tow or on my back, I immediately looked to the Catskills to see if I could find a challenging hike with a big payoff.
The hike up Indian Head Mountain and Twin Mountain gives you everything you could want in a Catskill hike – sweeping views, nice rocks to lounge upon, challenging climbs, the feeling that you’re visiting someplace wild and remote, an excuse to eat half a large pizza by yourself when you get home, etc.
But this is not a casual little romp in the woods. You need to be prepared for a serious day out there. My feet would have been killing me if I’d worn regular sneakers, rather than some stiff-soled hiking shoes. And if the weather’s iffy, don’t chance it. The steep, rocky terrain would be extremely treacherous in the rain.
Oh, and you might get eaten by a bear. Well, probably not, but this is bear country, so read up on how to be as safe as possible around black bears.
In the very nice Catskillmountaineer.org write-up for Indian Head, the author says, “I do not recommend this trail for children or animals.”
I absolutely agree about the kids – don’t even try it, unless your kids are actual, literal mountain goats. I left my dog at home, too. Perhaps she could have done it, but there were several spots where I would have had to hoist her over some steep rocks. It would definitely have been a challenge, and probably not so smart. Without having verified whether she could do it, I’m leaving this hike in the “Not recommended for doggies” category, too, even though I hate to go hiking without her. Better to be safe.
But for all the difficulty of climbing Indian Head and Twin Mountains, the payoff makes it all worthwhile. When you’re walking along the mountaintops with the wind whispering through the pines, you’ll feel like you’re visiting a very special and wild place.
Because you are.
1. From the DEC parking lot at the end of Prediger Road (see Directions to the trailhead below), take a moment to check out the kiosk and mileages to various destinations. Sign the register, then hop on the Red Trail to begin your trek. And this will be a trek indeed.
2. In seven minutes or so, you’ll come to your first trail junction. This is where your loop begins. When you visit this spot again later in the day, you’ll have a few new muscles and several great new memories. Or a few great memories and several new muscles.
Take a left here to stay on the Red Trail and begin wrapping around the base of Indian Head Mountain.
3. Enjoy the relatively flat terrain until the next trail junction, which is coming up in 1.3 miles. You’ll ascend 263 feet in this stretch, with some small descents. About halfway through, you’ll cross a cool little stone bridge over a creek, and you’ll see some other nice trailwork, too. With some stops for pictures, it took me 34 minutes to reach the next junction.
4. The Red Trail takes a hard right turn when the Blue Trail joins from the left. Turn right to keep heading uphill on the Blue-and-Red Trail (they’ll separate again in just a moment). You might also notice some green Long Path markers, but you can ignore them.
5. Two or three minutes after the Blue Trail and Red Trail join forces, they’re already done with each other. Turn right to stay on the Red Trail. Remember how we’re climbing some mountains today? In case you’d forgotten, your reminder is right here.
6. From that junction, you’ll climb 921 feet to your first inkling of a view, a narrow look through the trees down upon the Platte Clove Community. It took me about 40 minutes to trudge up this stretch, following the Red Trail.
You’re probably looking for a break, but don’t stop too long at this view! There’s a certified overlook just around the corner. Continue another .1 miles to the expansive Hudson Valley view at Sherman’s Overlook, through the break in the trees on your left in just a few more minutes.
7. Sherman’s Overlook, also known as The Sherminator (in my head), is a very nice overlook, surveying the Hudson River, Huckleberry Point (to your left), and the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge way off in the distance (to your right).
Stop here and soak it in for a bit. This isn’t the best view you’ll see today (that’s on Twin Mountain), but it is a nice warm-up for your eyeballs. There’s another (much better, I think) view in ten minutes, so whenever you’re ready, start trekkin’ again.
8. In another .2 miles and 125 feet elevation gain up the trail, you’ll come to a view on your left that I labeled in my GPS as “Sweetness.” This is what it’s all about right here – the best view on Indian Head Mountain. Here’s a three-shot panorama:
There aren’t wide open rock ledges here, but there are enough places to perch that you can hang out and enjoy a nice long gaze. This is exactly the kind of view I’d been hoping to find on this hike, just endless rolling mountains, and as soon as I saw it, all the work to climb up here was immediately worth it. I couldn’t tear myself away.
“Time to go!” my brain said.
“Stuff it, Brain!” my eyeballs replied.
Enjoy the view for a while. When your brain wins out over your eyeballs, just keep heading along the Red Trail.
9. From the Sweetness view, you will soon approach the steepest section of trail for the day. There’s one spot in particular where you’ll have to use roots to help you clamber up a very steep rock face.
Directly after that rock face, you can relax for a moment upon another nice ledge. The view here is decent, but there’s a mountain blocking the views straight ahead. Hey, down in front! (Update 9/19/2014: Check out this very cool photo sphere of the view at this spot, taken by Dan Novin and submitted on the site’s Facebook page.)
10. From the ledge, it’s less than ten minutes to your next trail feature: a little mini-chimney that you have to shimmy your way up. It’s really only chest-high on a tall person – I could have easily picked my dog up and placed her on top of it. Still, you’ll probably need to stare at it for a minute before figuring out the best way up. Have fun going up the chimney, Santa!
11. A few minutes after the mini-chimney, you’ll see a small ledge on your left, the last view from Indian Head Mountain. Not much to write home about, but worth a stop for a moment.
12. Shortly after the small ledge, the trail begins its precipitous drop toward Jimmy Dolan Notch. On the way, you might catch a glimpse of Twin Mountain through the trees. Over the next .4 miles, you’ll descend 400 feet.
Don’t worry – you’ll get all that altitude back when you climb Twin Mountain in a few minutes! Hooray! Try not to think about that right now.
13. From the small ledge, it took me twenty minutes to reach the well-marked trail junction at Jimmy Dolan Notch, where the Blue Trail departs to your right.
From here, you can see that’s it’s another 1.1 miles to the summit of Twin Mountain. If you absolutely don’t have any gas left in the tank, you can skip the climb to Twin Mountain – you’ll be missing out on the best views of the day, but also (and I hate to say this to you right now) some of the most strenuous climbs.
The best overlook of the day is .4 miles up that trail – during which you’ll ascend 400 feet over very rocky terrain. Past that overlook, it’s another fairly easy .7 miles to the summit of Twin Mountain, which has a very nice (but smaller) view that some would probably classify as optional.
My strong recommendation is to at least go to the first overlook, especially since you’ve already come this far. But if you’re too tired, it could be dangerous to attempt it. You can bail out and head down the blue-blazed Jimmy Dolan Notch Trail back towards the car – it’s the same way we’ll be going after we check out Twin Mountain. If you need to bail, you can skip ahead to step 20 to complete the loop, and start descending now.
14. Still here? Excellent! Let’s climb this sucker. Keep heading straight on the red-blazed Devil’s Path to ascend Twin Mountain. Enjoy all the rocks! Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
As you’re clambering your way up here, just remember: it’s only .4 miles to the awesome overlook. A really, really long .4 miles. You’ll know you’re getting fairly close when you pass the signs marking 3,500’ in altitude. The view is at 3,540’.
15. And then, biggity bam! Here it is. Here’s a five-picture panoramic stitch of the view.
This has to be one of the nicest views in the Catskills. How could it not be?
16. From here, once you’ve lazed about on the rocks and enjoyed a granola bar or two, you have a decision to make: bag the summit of Twin Mountain, or head for home? It seemed silly to me to be so close to the summit and not go for it. If you decide to do it, be forewarned that you’re already standing at the nicest view you’ll see today. The summit of Twin is a nice spot, too, but not as nice as this.
It’s .7 miles to the summit, and it goes pretty fast — it’s a veritable walk in the (Catskill) park compared to what you’ve just done. But this hike is getting pretty long, so if you want to chop off 1.4 miles, now’s your chance.
If you’re heading for home, you can climb back down to Jimmy Dolan Notch, then skip ahead to step 20 to complete the loop.
17. Still up for more, crazy person? Okay, let’s bag one more summit today. Top of Twin Mountain, here we come! Keep heading along the Red Trail to get there.
Over the next .7 miles, you’ll ascend (approximately) 211 feet and descend 119 feet to reach the summit at an elevation of 3,651 ft.
I was hustling (worried about getting home late) for this stretch and did it in about 15 minutes.
The trail pops you out onto another ledge that is not immediately recognizable as a summit, but it is the summit indeed.
If you hadn’t just been spoiled by the previous overlook, this place would look even more awesome. But it is still an excellent place to sit back, gaze over the horizon and ponder just how much pizza you’re going to eat tonight.
18. Once you’re done at the summit, turn around and face the Red Trail(s). Was that fork there before? If you know which way to go, you’re a better hiker than me. Two trails enter the ledge seemingly side-by-side, and I’d been sitting there for so long that I had no idea which trail I’d come in on. (I chose incorrectly at first and had to backtrack.)
You want the trail on the left. The trail on the right continues across Twin Mountain to Sugarloaf. Not to your car, sweet car.
So pick the left fork and retrace your steps along the Red Trail back to the previous overlook, then all the way back to Jimmy Dolan Notch.
Over the next mile, you’ll descend 638 feet to the Red/Blue Junction at Jimmy Dolan Notch. It took me about 30 minutes.
19. On the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference map for this hike, there’s a view shortly off of Jimmy Dolan Notch, to your right. If you’re looking for extra hiking, you could turn right here, just past the signpost, and check out the view about two minutes down the trail. If you’re spent, I wouldn’t bother – it’s a nice little overlook, but you’ve already seen several better views today.
20. Time to lose some altitude! Turn left onto the blue-blazed Jimmy Dolan Notch Trail, which will descend steeply to bring you back towards civilization. It’s 1.7 miles from here to the next trail junction, and you’ll lose 1,031 feet between here and there. (The sign says 2.5 miles to Platte Clove Road, but you parked on Prediger Road, so it’s not a full 2.5 miles back to your car, if that’s any consolation.)
Just watch your step and carefully pick your way down the rocky trail, following the blue blazes the whole way. It took me about 50 minutes to reach the next junction. Dude, 50 minutes? Yeah, sorry, 50 minutes. I stopped to take some pictures, though! Maybe you’ll be faster. (The second picture here is looking back up the trail.)
21. Just as the Blue Trail starts to flatten out a bit, you’ll hop across a burbling stream, then you’ll arrive back where this loop began so many miles ago. Recognize this spot, or are you too delirious?
Turn left at the sign post to rejoin the red-blazed Devil’s Path.
22. Just a quarter-mile hop-and-a-skip to your car from here. Hello, trail register! Hello, kiosk with various warnings, maps and regulations! Hello, sweet, sweet gravel parking lot! Oh, and my car – my poor car, left all alone in the woods! Hello! I’ve missed you all so much.
That was quite a day, wasn’t it? Congratulations on conquering a very tough hike. You’ve earned a good 2,000-calorie meal somewhere. If you happen across half a large pizza anytime soon, be sure to devour it before it gets away.
Directions to the trailhead:
From the NY Thruway (I-87) headed north, take exit 20 for NY-32 toward Saugerties. From the off ramp, take a left onto NY-212 (Saugerties-Woodstock Road) and stay on it for 2.3 miles, where you’ll then take the right fork onto County Route 35 (Blue Mountain Road). After 1.5 miles, turn left to stay on County Route 35, which becomes W Saugerties Road, and then becomes County Route 33 as you keep heading straight. This road departs civilization and becomes Platte Clove Road, which climbs steeply and is unmaintained in the winter, closed from Nov 1 – April 15. I was once here on November 12, before there had been any snow, and everyone seemed to be cheerfully ignoring the “No Vehicle Traffic Beyond This Point” sign. I imagine in the spring, this road must take a while to thaw out. I wouldn’t press my luck with this road, and I’d advise you not to, either. Best to try it after April 15 or before Nov 1.
Shortly after the well-marked Platte Clove Community on your right, turn left onto Prediger Road. Hello, mountains in our face – we’re coming to climb you!
Follow Prediger Road all the way to the end and park in the gravel DEC lot. Let the adventure begin!
You can also get directions by checking out the Indian Head Mt and Twin Mt entry on the HiketheHudsonValley.com Google map.
Sorta nearby address for your GPS: This address will get you very close to the trailhead:
1 Prediger Road
Elka Park, NY 12427
Once on Prediger Road, just follow it for a couple of minutes until it dead ends in the DEC lot.
Note: If you’re coming from the south or east, make sure that your GPS route knows Platte Clove Road is accessible. I noticed Google Maps likes to avoid that road, perhaps because it’s closed in the winter. Going the long way (through Tannersville) will cost you 25 minutes.
GPS coordinates of parking area: 42.13405, -74.10433 (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:
- A great write-up from Catskillmountaineer.org of a shorter hike that just tackles Twin Mountain
- A great write-up from Catskillmountaineer.org of a shorter hike that just tackles Indian Head Mountain (if you’re just climbing one mountain today, though, pick Twin)
- If you’re into the whole brevity thing, here’s a much shorter description of the same hike documented above from Localhikes.org, along with plenty of nice user reviews
- Some decent background info on the Indian Head Mountain Wikipedia page
- A nice pic of Indian Head and Twin from Kaaterskill High Peak
More Indian Head and Twin pictures from the hike’s Picasa album:
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