Little Pond Backpacking Trip
Not being a poet by nature, I am ill equipped to adequately describe the feelings of joy and renewal that the spring season brings out in us all, as the days grow longer and the winter blues are stripped away and replaced by fresh weather and fresh life. This, of course, is when most of us simply can’t wait to get outdoors and play. For the more ambitious, a day hike simply won’t do – it is time to break out the backpacks and hit the trail for a whole weekend. If this describes you, then here is a suggestion for a great two or three-night Catskills backpacking trip.
This hike will take you past some of the loveliest ponds in the Catskills, along high scenic ridges looking over bucolic valleys, past natural beaver meadows, and to an historic fire tower that affords tremendous views of the Catskill high peaks. This hike can either be done in three days and two nights, with hike lengths of 8-9 miles each day, or in two days and one night with hike lengths of 13-14 miles each day – you choose what’s right for you. Public lean-to’s are available for camping on this route, so a tent is not required.
The hike begins at Little Pond State Campground, which is located on the south end of Barkaboom Road in the Town of Rockland (Sullivan County) (shown on NY/NJ Trail Conference Catskill Trails Map #144), and the final endpoint of the hike is the Village of Margaretville (Delaware County) (shown on NY/NJ Trail Conference Catskill Trails Map #142). This is a one-way hike, and will need to leave a car at the terminus in Margaretville (most convenient location is the A&P parking lot). The Little Pond Campground is open from May until October, and a small fee is charged for camping (call 845-439-5480 for reservations).
From the northwest end of Little Pond (elev. 2,000′), begin by following the yellow-blazed Little Pond Trail, leading north away from the pond. First leg is 1.5 miles, passing through a hemlock ravine, by a beaver meadow, past conifer plantations, through a wide meadow with scenic views, then through hardwood forest before coming to the col between Cabot and Touch-Me-Not Mountains (elev. 2,450′). Turn right (east) onto red-blazed Touch-Me-Not Trail, following for 1.6 miles skirting the summit of Touch-Me-Not Mountain (elev. 2,760′) and descending to Barkaboom Road at the south end of Big Pond (elev. 1,950′). Turn right onto the road for a very short distance, past a parking area, and then left into the woods again on the east side of Barkaboom Road (following red blazes). Continue east on the Touch-Me-Not Trail for another 3.4 miles to Alder Creek Road (dirt) and then Alder Lake (elev. 2,250′). Alder Lake, like Little Pond and Big Pond, is a great place to canoe, fish, and spend a lazy day in the Catskills. An easy 1.4-mile trail circles the lake. From the outlet dam, follow the trail either clockwise or counter-clockwise for 0.7-mile around to the far end of the lake, where you will find the junction of the yellow-blazed Mill Brook Ridge Trail. Turn onto this trail and follow east for 1.5 miles to a lean-to located next to a scenic beaver meadow (elev. 2,700′). If you are doing the 3-day/2-night option, camp here; if you are doing the 2-day/1-night option, continue on.
After leaving the beaver meadow lean-to, the trail will begin to climb more steeply up onto Mill Brook Ridge. There are a couple of scenic views near the high point of the ridge (which is elev. 3,400′), including views of Beecher and Balsam Lakes. The Mill Brook Ridge Trail ends near the summit of Balsam Lake Mountain (elev. 3,720′), 4.4 miles from the beaver meadow lean-to. If you are doing the 2-day/1-night option, turn right onto the red-blazed Balsam Lake Mountain Trail and follow 0.4-mile to a short side-trail leading to a lean-to where you can camp for the night; if you are doing the 3-day/2-night option, turn left on the Balsam Lake Mountain Trail and proceed 0.1-mile to the fire tower. The fire tower was restored by volunteers and re-opened to the public in 2000 – it is a great to place to eat lunch and enjoy tremendous views of the surrounding Catskill Mountains. From the fire tower, continue north and then northeast on the red-blazed Balsam Lake Mountain Trail for another 0.75-mile, then turn left, following the blue-blazed Dry Brook Ridge Trail north for 2.2 miles to Mill Brook Road (elev. 2,600′). Cross Mill Brook Road, and continue north on the Dry Brook Ridge Trail for another 1.4 miles, crossing over a high knob (elev. 3,000′), and descending again until you come to a lean-to next to the trail (elev. 2,750′). If you are doing the 3-day/2-night option, camp here; if you are doing the 2-day/1-night option, continue on.
Finish the hike by hiking north for another 8.4 miles on the Dry Brook Ridge Trail, passing some scenic view points and high mountain bogs on the way (reaching elev. 3,400′), and finally descending and ending on a small dead-end road just outside the Village of Margaretville (elev. 1,400′). Either follow this road down to the left, then back right along Rt. 28 to the bridge entering the village, or simply hike straight down the steep bank across from the trailhead and across Rt. 28 and over the bridge into the village. There are several places in Margaretville to get a hot meal after your long hike.