New York’s Catskill Mountains are located between the mid-Hudson River and the upper Delaware River about 120 miles northwest of the Atlantic Ocean and 200 miles southeast of Lake Ontario. The climate is moderate with about 60 inches of precipitation annually. Check monthly averages here.
With few hot summer days and cool to mild spring and fall seasons, the Catskills are a great place to hike. Winters are cold and snowy, offering perfect snowshoeing conditions.
As with hiking anywhere, it’s important to know the kinds of weather conditions you may have to deal with and to have the proper gear to make your hike comfortable and safe. Because of their location, the Catskills get significant precipitation in every month. The many kills (streams), so picturesque most of the time, can become raging torrents with little warning immediately after a significant rainfall. Likewise, winter can bring blizzard conditions that can add feet of fresh snow over several hours, covering well broken trails and fresh tracks quickly. Temperatures on summits are usually around 10℉ cooler than at trailheads. As a result, you may encounter ice and deep snow at high elevations when the snow is gone in the valleys.
One of the most important things to bear in mind when hiking in the Catskills is that weather conditions can change a lot in a short period of time. A local saying is “if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.” Weather systems can move in quickly, turning sunny warm days into much colder and wetter afternoons before you know it.
The Catskill region is a dissected plateau, largely formed over millions of years by erosion caused by hundreds of streams. With all that water, you might expect that keeping well hydrated isn’t much of a concern. In fact, if you use the NYNJTC map set (essential equipment), you will see springs marked along many trails. There are a few things to bear in mind, however. First, drinking directly from streams rather than from springs can expose you to giardia, a waterborne organism that can cause severe intestinal distress. Second, as you climb, the number of springs decreases and their reliability diminishes, so you could find yourself without adequate water for many miles. It is especially important that you make sure that you have adequate water supplies and plans for a safe and reliable way to replenish them.
Bearing these essential bits of knowledge in mind, you should come prepared for just about anything, including heat in April and snow in July. Following are some lists of suggested equipment for your adventure.
Note: In case of emergencies, cell phones usually work from summits and higher elevations. However, don’t count on reliable service elsewhere. And because the Catskill Park is a combination of public and private lands, hiking downstream will almost certainly lead you to a road within several miles. It is essential that you have and know how to use a map and compass when hiking. GPS systems are a poor substitute.
What to wear & take along
What should I wear?
• clothing suitable for the season, but avoid cotton
• hiking boots
• two pairs of socks, woolen or synthetic
What will I need for a day hike?
• small day pack
• rain gear
• water bottles
• pocket knife
• matches in a waterproof container
• emergency trail food
• whistle for emergency signaling
• small trash bag
• trail map and/or guide books
• insect repellent
• sun block
• first aid kit
• headlamp/flashlight for emergencies
• carabiners, needle and thread, duct tape
What will I need for a backpacking trip?
• suitable frame pack
• backpacking tent & ground cloth
• toilet paper
• water purification filter or chemical tablets
• extra clothing
• sleeping bag & pad
• flashlight with extra batteries & bulb
• nested cooking set, cup & spoon
• small trowel
• food, approximately 2 pounds per day
• bear canister for food storage or 20’ of cord for hanging food
• backpacking stove & extra fuel
• personal hygiene items: toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, towel, deodorant, etc.
• sanitary products
• all items listed for day hike, except small daypack. First aid kit should include medications taken daily.
Should I bring a cell phone?
- A cell phone can be important in an emergency. However, many parts of the trail have poor or no cell phone reception. Don’t let the fact that you have a cell phone be a substitute for caution and good judgment while hiking.
- NOTE: Always inform someone of your route and schedule, including when to expect your return.
Do I need a GPS?
- If you know how to use it, a GPS can be fun and useful.
- NOTE: A GPS should not be used as a substitute for a map and a compass and the skills to use them. Software can be wrong, communication can be restricted by terrain and forest canopy and batteries can die!
Hiking in Winter
With the right equipment and a few tips, you can get out for some recreation in this time of year so unlike all others.
It is absolutely essential that you follow a few simple guidelines when preparing to spend a day on the trails. First rule of survival: don’t wear clothing that stays wet, such as the ever popular cotton. Hypothermia can kill quickly, inducing confusion and reduced coordination that will make it very hard for you to make good decisions and execute them. Instead, use synthetic fibers that wick moisture away from your body and wool which retains heat even when wet. Similarly, it’s always a good idea to hike in waterproof boots and very helpful to use gaiters in winter to keep the snow out. So what else do you need? A good base layer; several layers for your upper torso (including shirts and fleece) of varying weight that can be easily gotten out of and in to as your level of activity increases and decreases; good thick woolen socks; a warm, breathable hat; mittens with liners; and a windproof and water repellant outer layer.
In your pack, which needs to be larger than your summer daypack, should be a number of items to use in case of emergencies and/or for your comfort. These are in addition to items that should be in your pack at all times, no matter the time of year. Maps, a compass, knife, multi-tool, matches, fire-starter, twine, rope, needle and thread, duct tape, first aid kit and assorted straps and carabiners are all essential hiking equipment all of the time. In addition, in winter you’ll want extra socks, mittens, hat, a space blanket, winter sleeping bag, tarp and extra food that provides a quick and long lasting energy boost, such as energy bars, nuts and dried fruit.
Pick well made and user friendly crampons and snowshoes. A great traction item that you really want to have is a pair of Microspikes. Easy on and off plus light weight and sufficient traction for all but the steepest icy slopes, pack these and go just about anywhere. If you are well prepared, you will almost certainly have a safe and enjoyable experience.
Camping and other accomodations
Designated overnight camping locations on or near the trail are shown on NYNJTC Catskill trail maps. They may be lean-tos or other campsites along the trail or near the trail. Campsites are generally primitive with only a fire ring. Camping is permitted anywhere in the Catskill Forest Preserve as long as the site conforms with rule 2 as stated below. Water will be available if indicated on maps. In some cases, streams are nearby but not shown on the maps. Do not depend on streams that are not designated as “reliable”. Garbage must be carried out and human waste buried. Follow Leave No Trace principles.
Camping is permitted on NYS State Forest land for up to three days in the same location, subject to the following DEC regulations:
1. Areas used for temporary camping and adjacent lands under the jurisdiction of the department must be kept in a neat, clean and sanitary condition. Garbage and refuse must either be deposited in receptacles provided, or removed.
2. Camping is prohibited within 150 feet of any road, trail, spring, stream, pond or other body of water except at camping areas designated by the department.
3. No person may pollute in any manner nor deposit waste material of any kind in or on waters under the jurisdiction of the department.
4. Lean-tos (open camps) may not be occupied by the same person or persons for more than three successive nights or for more than 10 nights in any one calendar year, provided others wish to use such camps.
5. The enclosure of the fronts of lean-tos is prohibited, except by tying canvas or nylon tarpaulins in place or erecting snow walls. The use of wood, nails, screws or other fasteners is prohibited.
6. The erection of tents in lean-tos is prohibited.
Groups consisting of more than nine people must get a permit from the Department of Environmental Conservation. Contact the nearest Regional Office. Camping is not permitted in State Wildlife Management Areas, except with permission from the DEC. Camping is allowed in New York State Parks at designated sites only. Camping or campfires are not permitted on private land unless a campsite is indicated on an NYNJTC trail map. In addition, camping above the 3500′ elevation sign is prohibited from March 21st until December 21st in the Catskills, except in case of emergency. And no fires are permitted above 3500′ at anytime, except for emergencies.. Backpackers are expected to share facilities at any lean-to or campsite with others desiring to use the facility. Groups of more than four persons should provide their own tents when camping at lean-to sites in state forests.
Lean-tos and campsites are not intended for long-term occupancy; therefore, backpackers should limit overnight stays in accordance with regulations stated above. Developed camping locations (campgrounds) are indicated on the maps. Such facilities are usually open seasonally from late spring to early fall. Check ahead to find when they are open, what the camping fees are, and where campsites are located in State Parks.
Areas where vehicles can be parked are marked on NYNJTC maps, as are all trail heads. Some locations are along roads; in this case, be sure to park with all four wheels off of the driving surface. Please be sensitive to homeowner privacy when parking where the trailhead is near private property; park well away from driveways.
If you are going to leave a car for several days it is best to avoid road-side parking. Inquiring locally or through the local sheriff may provide a safe and legal parking location. In any event, do not leave any valuables visible in the vehicle.
Be aware that some of the designated parking areas may be inaccessible in winter. Similarly, “seasonal, limited-use roads” can be impassable in winter, so you may have to hike in to reach the trailhead. If your plans are flexible, these problems can often be solved by choosing a different trailhead to start (or finish) your hike.
There is a healthy population of black bears in the Catskills. It is rare to see one while hiking because they prefer not to be seen by humans. But there are two things that a hiker, and especially a camper, needs to be aware of.
First, do not get between a mother bear and her cubs. If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, back away slowly while talking to the bear until you are out of sight, and then abandon your route. You’ll find plenty of other options, often on the same mountain.
Second, bears are attracted to food near camps and homes. When camping you must take precautions to keep your food supplies out of their reach at night. You can rig a rope to hang it from so that your food is at least 10 feet above the ground and 10 feet away from the nearest tree that’s big enough to climb, or you can use a bear-proof canister. The latter is the most effective, but is harder to transport. Either way, you’ll have a better chance of eating breakfast in the morning.
NOTE: Never store food in your tent. Clean all cooking and eating equipment, including a grill, immediately after eating.
Hunting and Fishing
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation regulates and administers the programs in the state for these sports. To learn more about licensing requirements, regulations and seasons, visit the department’s website here.
Hunting in the Catskills presents hunters with a wide variety of game. From abundant deer to black bear, coyote, bobcat, fox and rabbit as well as many species of fowl, including turkey, ruffed grouse and duck, there are many choices for hunters to pursue. To learn about hunter education opportunities click here.
The art of fly-fishing in the Catskills has a long and storied history. American fly-fishing got its start and was refined on the waters of iconic Catskill streams. The Beaverkill and the Willowemoc are world famous fisheries, and many other Catskill streams like the Esopus, the Schoharie, the Neversink, the East and West Branches of the Delaware and their many, many tributaries draw thousands of fisherman from all over the world to the Catskills annually in search of native brook, brown and rainbow trout. For those who prefer quieter waters, the NYC reservoirs offer the opportunity to hook record sized brownies and rainbows. The famously pristine waters of the Catskills, source of water for over eight million people, are a fisherman’s dream.
To learn more about the history and art of flyfishing, visit the following websites and the collections that they represent.
Catskill Fly-Fishing Center & Museum in Livingston Manor
Follow Leave No Trace principles.
Notice: Hiking, paddling, bike riding and other outdoor recreational activities are potentially dangerous and could result in injury or even death. This website provides information about recreation in the Catskill Region, but persons using this resource are responsible for anticipating possible dangers and appraising their physical ability.