My attention the last two summers has been on the Adirondacks, but this spring I have shifted my focus to the beautiful mountain range that’s right in my backyard – The Catskills. While not as tall as their extended family in the North, these guys offer their own challenges and rewards.
Peekamoose Mountain sits in the southern part of the Catskill Mountains, part of the Slide Mountain Wilderness. It sits right next to its buddy, Table Mountain, and both peaks are easily tackled in one hike. It’s a relatively quick drive from the Thruway, and offers a good introduction to the high peaks in the area. It also has a super cool name, which is actually what motivated me to put it on the agenda for a few weekends ago. At 3,842′ of elevation, this is no small hill, but the hike is pretty steady and most of the trail takes you through the forest, meandering through trees and around enough rock scrambles to keep it interesting.
There are a couple different ways to approach this hike. It has two trail heads – one in Denning, and another on Peekamoose Road (County Rt 42). Those looking for a two car hike can park at one end and start from the other for a ten mile hike. For others, it’s possible to simply start at Peekamoose road and hit both peaks before turning back and heading down to the car. I chose to approach from the Peekamoose trail head.
The hike starts with a quick incline for the first tenth of a mile, before leveling out at the trail register. After registering, I kept going up the trail as it climbed parallel to the road below it. After a long winter with a heavy snow pack, the trail was covered in a layer of loose leaves. That made for slippery stepping occasionally, and presented a challenge for my bare feet. I had no idea what I stepping down on, which made for a more tenuous pace at times than I have later in the season when the leaf matter is gone.
The nice thing about this hike is that it isn’t a treacherous incline with a lot of quick elevation gain. After the original incline, most of the trail meanders slowly up the mountain, allowing for a really enjoyable hike. There are definitely mountains in both the Catskills, and the surrounding area that offer more vistas and outlooks, but Peekamoose is beautiful in its own right.
One of the cool things to see on this trek are some of the rock formations. Besides huge boulders covered in striations and moss, there is an awesome rock covered in Cairns. Really, this trail is awesome if you want to enjoy everything that the forest has to offer. Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in chasing the summit, but this is a trail that is worth enjoying.
One of the coolest features of the trail is Reconnoiter rock. After the first rock scramble, I remember coming across this place and stopping for a minute to actually consider the physics behind it all (and I remember nothing of that class). The rock seems so precariously balanced on top of the others. For those of you who haven’t already opened Google to look up “reconnoiter” – it means to explore and observe a region in a military context.
As you gain elevation in your journey, the trees around you slowly shift from beech and maple to birch and then, nearest the summit, conifers. One of my favorite parts of hiking high peaks is the switch in vegetation, and the sound of the wind as you close in on the sub-alpine level.
The summit of Peekamoose is monopolized by a giant boulder, and not much else. Just before the summit, there are two chances for a great view of the Catskills. The first outlook requires stepping off to a smaller path that leads to a rock nestled in the pine trees that gives the first glimpse of the height you’ve gained. The view is narrow, and you may have to take turns with your hiking friends to get the best photo.
Just above that spot is the real look out – a wide flat stone space that gives a nearly unobstructed view of the range as it unfolds around you. When I went up Peekamoose, the trees were just beginning to bud, so the landscape still looked barren, save for the patches of dark green pine. The weather on the way up the mountain was sunny and beauitiful, but by the time I was at the top, I could see rain coming in across the mountains.
After a few photos and a granola bar, it was time to keep moving. The summit isn’t much beyond the outlooks, through a path that once again weaves in and out of pine trees. From the summit of Peekamoose, it’s less than a mile to reach the summit of Table, before turning around and heading back the way you came.
Heading down Peekamoose was as enjoyable as the trek up, though there are the incline is steep and trekking poles will help you descend without slipping. Or you can slip and slide, which if nothing else, is faster. I like to mix it up and do a little of both. I mean, what’s a hike without a bruise or two?
By the time the path winds back down to the forest and its beautiful trees, you’ve hiked nearly five miles. The trail register appears just as you begin to wonder how much farther you have left, and shortly after you can hear the traffic down below.
Once you’ve made it back to the parking lot, don’t forget to check out the cool flowing creek across the road. It’s the perfect place to chill your feet before getting in the car and heading home.