With a little logistical help, motivation, and endurance, in a single day you can achieve the awe inducing overlooks on the peaks of three mountains in the Indian Head Wilderness, found along the northeast edge of the Catskill Mountains of New York.
Mink Hollow Road resembles many of the other small town residential streets that intersect highway 212 as it runs west from Woodstock. This sleepy tree covered drive, however, leads to the Mink Hollow trailhead or trail 54. After a short jaunt along the pavement of the avenue it eventually transitions to gravel and opens up to a large parking loop. On the opposite end of the loop to the right of a metal gate is where this engaging trail begins.
After signing in and filling out the appropriate backcountry permit, at the sign-in box, which is free and positioned about ten feet after the inception of the trail, I set off. Mink Hollow trail begins its traverse through a shallow valley lush with diverse species of trees and vegetation. The trail skirts and crisscrosses a stone filled stream that babbles and chatters through various depths while reflecting scattered light that slips through the dense foliage overhead. It carries on peacefully for 2.6 miles until the real fun begins.
I had aims, after being dropped off at Mink Hollow, to summit Sugarloaf Mountain (3,800’), Twin Mountain (3,640’), and then Indian Head Mountain (3,573’) after which I would travel a good distance further to the Overlook Mountain Trailhead to be picked up. The route followed trail 54 (blue trail marker) then right onto trail 30 (red trail marker) then another right following trail 24, which turns into trail 55 (both blue trail markers) as it leads to the Overlook Mountain Trailhead. I figured with all my experiences in the much larger mountains and higher altitudes out west this feat would be a breeze.
Quickly I found that this tranquil Eden offers its fair share of challenges with its pleasures.
As the Mink Hollow Trail (trail 54) arrived at Indian Head to Plateau Trail (trail 30) it had already started a climb to a small saddle where the two trails meet. Once at the top of the saddle I turned right (east) onto trail 30 and began climbing over and around large rocks that encompassed and protruded from the trail. As I progressed higher and higher up Sugarloaf Mountain I realized there were no switchbacks and it looked to be a straight shot to the top. I trekked the steep path hoisting myself up using at times thin trees that lined the path, the many large rocks, and all four extremities on sections that require more scrambling than hiking.
After just over a mile I reached the summit, which provided an open overlook displaying the alluring Catskills and miles of distant wilderness. The vegetation had changed from leafy plants to more ferns and moss that resembled a rain forest more so than the deciduous forest below. I paused a moment taking in the views and allowing my body to recoup before I began the descent on the other side. The gradient down proved to be just as steep as the climb up and another straight shot.
I found that this hard-nosed muscle up and go would be a common theme on this trail. There was no wasted time or space with switchbacks it was straight through or head back. The only aid being your own motivation, rocks and trees to hold on to, and in some spots, ropes that some generous trail angel secured and left behind. I had also come to the conclusion that the reason this region is called Catskill is because you must have the skills of a cat to traverse and climb its highlands.
So, of course, I pressed on. I was having a blast.
The trek to the top of Twin Mountain was the same as Sugarloaf, a straight shot up over, between, around, and under rocks, with of course a short pause to benefit from the overlook at the top, and a straight descent back down the other side. Moving forward I began the steep climb up Indian Head Mountain. I found it to be no different in difficulty from the first two mountains. By this time, however, I began to gain a sense of having accomplished something. I hadn’t been sure of what to expect when I started, and was surprised by the trial these mountains provided. I spent time at the over look on the summit of Indian Head looking back over the peaks and valleys I had just traveled and inspected the region where I was headed. It was all a gratifying sight; I couldn’t imagine a better place to be at that moment.
After traveling 6.9 miles up and down and then back up and back down on trail 30 I had reached the intersection of Overlook Trail (trail 24). I turned right (south) onto trail 24 and began the long trek to the Overlook Trial trailhead.
There are numerous options when trekking these mountains. Camping is allowed as long as your site is 150’ off the trail and away from water or unless a site is marked otherwise. There are also numerous trailheads that surround these three mountains allowing several entrances and exits depending on which or how many of them you wish to explore. This adventure would make a great weekend journey or presents an amazing test if you choose to attempt the Blue Red Blue Challenge in one day as I’ve described here. However you choose your encounter this section of backcountry is a remarkable experience!
How to get to Mink Hollow Trailhead:
From Woodstock travel west on highway 212. Mink Hollow Road is on the right just after Cooper Lake(which is on the left), and is directly across from the entrance of Cooper Lake Road.
National Geographic Trails Illustrated
#755 Catskill Park