Here’s a look back on a great hiking weekend in spring (May)…
We were extra anxious to get the Friday workday over with and head to the Catskill Mountains, but the weather report called for rain all weekend. Didn’t matter, we were determined, even if that meant getting drenched and having to haul a wet tent and wet gear back home. Pruney fingers are a small price to pay for some time in the mountains. On Saturday morning, we woke up excited like kids on Christmas at hit the road (I even skipped my coffee ritual).
A couple hours later we made a left on Prediger Road and parked at the trailhead. It was around 10am, but the parking lot was already at maximum capacity. We registered by signing the book and began marching through the woods via the following loop hike: Devil’s Path (red blazes) to Jimmy Dolan Notch (blue blazes) and back to the parking lot via Devil’s Path. The loop is about 7 miles, but we decided to extend the hike a bit by climbing up to one of the overlooks on the way to Twin Mountain to have our PB&Js. There are about 5 scenic overlooks on this hike including Indian Head Mountain, which has earned our vote as favorite scenic point in the Catskills (so far).
We made sure our rain jackets were easily accessible, but luckily there was no need – the day was cool and overcast and we were fortunate enough to have good visibility at the top – The Hudson River cut through the landscape below, like a long winding mirror, and up above, other peaks purpled out in the distance, rise up into the gray sky. Spruce forests occupy the first few hundred feet at the top of the peaks. It is noticeably cooler in these mountain top spruce forests and the cool moist ground is covered with a diverse array of moss. This is my favorite setting, but likely the most sensitive to recreational use.
On our descent, we were dazzled by two gorgeous types of trillium scattered along the trail sides – Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum) and Wake-robin (Trillium erectum). Aside from differences in size and leaves, the Painted Trillium has white petals with crimson veins extending from the base of each petal, whereas, the Wake-robin’s entire flower is maroon or dark-purple. We also found Dutchman’s Breeches (not actual pants, but an herb with flowers that kind of look like dangling teeth), Trout lilies, different species of Violets, and other forest herbs. Lastly, a shrub that we’ve often seen in the mountains – Hobble Bush (Viburnumlantanoids) – was really bursting with color in these last weeks of May. Hobble Bush is a native perennial shrub with two types of flowers – large showy flowers with no stamens or pistils on the outside and little egg shaped flowers toward the center of the flower cluster.
As the hike came to an end we reveled in the fresh spring greenery, which in a few weeks will darken into that deep summer green. It was time to camp – or as some may put it – glamp! After a short drive down a very steep Platte Clove road we arrived at Rip Van Winkle campground – a family style private campground with a heated pool, children’s playgrounds, fishing pond, and many other festivities. Luckily, our campsite was tucked away in a quiet place on the edge of Plattekill Creek in the middle of an Eastern Hemlock stand. I think that Rip himself would have personally selected this site if he were to stay at his campground. There’s something for everyone here and it is the perfect base camp location for day hikers looking to explore the park’s Northeastern peaks and waterfalls.
We relaxed on the creek, read our books, identified some plants, boiled up some ramen noodles, burned a few pieces of birch wood, and then of course the rain finally came. This forced us to brush, put stuff away and retire into the tent for the night. I tried to read a few more pages, but before we knew it we dozed off to the sounds of water falling softly onto our shelter. The worst thing about camping is having to get up out of the tent to pee (especially in the rain). One sleeps remarkably better after overcoming that challenge.
The next morning, another 7 mile loop hike would have been nice, but in reality we needed to head home and get ready for work. But, first we treated ourselves to breakfast at Bread Alone, a bakery in Woodstock, NY. Our local supermarket carries Bread Alone bread, but we soon discovered that they don’t just make bread (alone); they have a delicious breakfast menu, amazing dark coffee, and more. Bellies full and slightly caffeinated, we left the quirky hippie town en route to Jersey with a smile on our faces that read – what a weekend!