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Balsam Mountain in Ulster County

Balsam Mountain

Overview of this Hike:

Distance: 5.51 miles round trip from the DEC Parking Lot on Rider Hollow Road.
Time: Average 3.25 hours round trip in the Summer - 5.00 hours round trip in the Winter
Elevation Gain: 1,629 feet from the DEC Parking Lot and the summit.
Best Time to Hike: Anytime.
Difficulty: Moderate
VO Map No: 66 & 67 & 66
Catskill Highest: #27
Peak Elevation: 3,602'
Digital Mapper: Topo Terrain Satellite
Attractions: Very nice view near the summit
Attractions: Lots of wildlife
Unattractions: Many stream crossings with risk of falling in
Dangers: Falling into stream during Winter - high risk during high water conditions.
Common Animals: Deer, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, bears, Great-Horned Owls, mice, voles, rabbits, etc.
Risky Animals: Rattlesnakes (none known), Bears (Moderate),
Access Methods: Foot and snowshoe



Maps, Profile, and GPS files

Balsam Mountain GPS map
Balsam Mountain elevation profile
Click here to download the GPS file in Garmin GDB format
Click here to download the GPS file in Garmin GPX format
Click here to download the GPS file in Garmin TEXT format




Directions to Trail Head from New York State Thruway (Easist, not the shortest):

  • GPS Coordinates to DEC Parking Lot: N42 06.123 W74 31.000 - Elevation is approximately 1,973 feet
  • Take New York State Thruway to Exit 19 (Kingston).
  • Take a right out of the NYS Thruway toll booths onto Rt 28.
  • Go approximately 33 miles west on Rt 28
  • Take a left onto Rt 49A at Highmount (Belleayre Ski Center)
  • Go 5.1 miles on Rt 49A.
  • Take a LEFT onto Rider Hollow Road Road
  • Go appoximately 2.2 miles to the VERY END of Rider Hollow Road.
  • Drive until you cannot drive any further - Will be blocked by Yellow DEC gate
  • Road will change from a 2-lane road to a 1-lane road that looks like a driveway - keep going to very end of road.
  • The DEC Parking lot is at the very end of Rider Hollow Road - GPS: N42 06.123 W74 31.000



  • Notes about this Hike

    The hike of Balsam Mountain in Ulster county is a loop hike. The hike can be done in clockwise or counter-clockwise direction. There are pros and cons to each direction depending upon the time of year. The nice part of this hike is the beautiful long summit walk with one great view point. The hike is moderate in ability. In the summer the numerous stream crossings are fun, but in the Winter they are a concern. This hike has one of the most plentiful wildlife sections of the Catskill Mountains. Many of the species of animals were killed off in the 1800's. Many have not recovered. But, this section has recovered fairly well.

    The first decision to be made is whether you will do the loop clockwise or counter-clockwise. Clockwise will help you avoid the stream crossing until the end of the hike. If you fall into the water at the beginning of the hike when it is cold, the hike is over. In the Summer it might be nice to get your feet wet at the beginning of the hike. Going clockwise will also put the sun in your eyes when walking across the summit. While not terrible, the summit walk is better when done counter-clockwise. Going clockwise breaks up the climb into sections with a couple flat sections.

    When you start out from the DEC parking lot at the very end of Rider Hollow Road, the walk is fairly flat. You will be walking next to the creek, and will cross it a number of times. In the beginning, it will be over bridges. Once you get to the first trial junction at 0.35 miles, you have to decide whether you are going to do the hike clockwise or counter-clockwise. On our hike was done clockwise.

    After going left, you will start to climb in elevation. The incline is moderate in rate. The trail does go up at an angle in some places. In the Winter this angle makes it more difficult to hike in snowshoes. The trail does zig-zag up the hillside. When you get close to the ridge, the incline will start to level off. This is a sign that you are coming up to the 2nd trail junction. Just before you reach the 2nd trail junction, you will come Rock Shelter. Rock Shelter is a couple of large rocks. Just after Rock Shelter, you will come to the second trail junction. This trail junction is on the ridge and is on flat land. If you go left, it will take you to Belleayre Mountain. But, you want to go Right to Balsam Mountain. In the beginning the trail is flat. This section is often windy, and there are snow drifts in the Winter. After a short period of time, the trail will actually head downhill. In the Winter you can see Balsam Mountain off in the near distance. Then, you will start to climb uphill at a moderate rate. Then you will come to the steepest part of the hike, which isn't that bad. It is only difficult in the winter when it is icy. The trail moves up the ledge at an angle. This makes it difficult on snowshoes. Once you get to the top, the trail levels off, but still continues to climb. You will also start to encounter conifer trees.

    Then you will arrive on the summit ridge. This ridge is long and very nice. In the Winter you can see off to the left thru the trees. When you first arrive, you will think that you have arrived at the summit. But, it is actually a false summit. It is actually 8 feet lower then the real summit. If you don't have a GPS, you wouldn't know this. Keep walking. After going down slightly, you will come to a small ledge with a great view. This is the best view of the hike. Enjoy it. Then you will continue again, but will start to go back up in elevation slightly. Just before you start to head down at a moderate rate, this is the summit of Balsam Mountain. The highest point is actually about 50 feet off to left.

    After the summit, you will descend down at a moderate pace. There will be times, where the trail will level off flat. Once at the bottom, you will come to a 4-way trail junction. Left will take you to McKinley Hollow Road. Straight will take you to Eagle Mountain. Right will take you back to Rider Hollow Mountain where your car is parked. So go RIGHT. The trail will descend down at a moderate rate, and the trail is poorly marked and difficult to follow at certain times of the year. You will have to do numerous stream crossings. The further down you go, the more difficult the crossings become.

    After the incline levels off, you will come to the Lean-To, and finally to the bridge. Once you cross the bridge, you want to go LEFT at the trail junction. Your car is just 0.35 miles away. After a few more stream crossings, you are done. Make sure you log out of the registration box.



    Mile Stone Chart

    Mile PointAltitudeNotes
    0.001,973 DEC Parking Lot & Registration Box - N41 56.139 W74 19.692 .
    0.352,058 Water Pipe next to stream - across stream on the bank.
    0.362,060' Trail Junction
    1.442,988' Trail Junction to Bellearye & Balsam Mtn
    2.443,655 False Summit
    2.613,621 Great Views from small ledge.
    2.823,661 Summit of Balsam Mountain.
    3.113,491 3,500 sign.
    3.633,055 4-way Trail Junction - McKinley Hollow Road - Eagle Mtn - Rider Hollow Road.
    5.012,104 Lean-To.
    5.142,058 Bridge over Creek.
    5.511,973 DEC Parking Lot.

    Hike of the Balsam Mountain Loop

    Balsam Mountain
    The picture on the left is the DEC parking lot at the very end of Rider Hollow Road. The yellow gate with the stop sign is the beginning of the trail.

    This picture is taken while looking from the gate looking back down Rider Hollow Road. You will notice that the road is very narrow (one lane road).
    Balsam Mountain
    Balsam Mountain
    If you look just left of the yellow gate you will see the DEC registration box. Make sure that you register so that this trial will get the necessary funds for maintenance.

    The picture on the right shows the sign by the beginning of the trail head. You will notice that the sign is very high up the tree.
    Balsam Mountain
    Balsam Mountain
    The picture on the left will show will show what the trail looks like at the beginning of the hike. Flat and easy.

    This hike involves crossing steams often, and this is one of the few areas that has a wooden bridge across it.
    Balsam Mountain
    Balsam Mountain
    At mile post 0.35 you may notice a water pipe across the creek. To get to the pipe you can walk across the bridge 50 feet up the trail. The water pipe is hard to see in the picture. It is in the middle of the picture.

    50 feet past the water pipe is one of the major trail junctions. At this point you have to decide if you want to go clock-wise or counter-clockwise on the Balsam Mountain Loop Trail. By going clockwise, you will have most of the difficult stream crossing at the end of the hike. Going counter-clockwise will allow you to enjoy the best part of the hike with the sun to your back. Since it was Winter when we did the hike we decided to not take the risk of a wet foot at the beginning of the hike, which would have ruined the hike. We headed LEFT and going clockwise.
    Balsam Mountain
    Balsam Mountain
    Shortly after leaving the trail junction, the trail will start to move uphill at a moderate incline. This climb can be a little difficult in the winter because the inclines are often at an angle, which makes it hard when snowshoeing. After a while the incline will level off. This means you are approaching the ridge line and trail junction.
    Balsam Mountain
    Just below the next trail junction is a couple large rocks. These rocks are called, "Rock Shelter". As soon as you get around Rock Shelter, you will approach the Trail Junction.
    Balsam Mountain
    The picture on the left is the next trail junction. Going left will take you to Bellearye Ski Resort. Going right will take you to Balsam Mountain. You want to go RIGHT.

    The picture on the right show what the trail looks like after the trail junction. In the Winter snow drifts pile up here. The wind blows quite well here. The ridge is fairly flat so it isn't that bad. After a while you will actually go downhill for a while before heading up Balsam Mountain.
    Balsam Mountain
    Balsam Mountain
    After going down hill the trail will then start to go uphill at an easy incline. You also need to pay attention to the trail. The trail is marked poorly, and you can walk off the trail.

    The picture of the right shows the most difficult ledge during the hike. It is not that it is steep and difficult, but the trail runs up the ledge at an angle. In the Winter this makes it difficult one snowshoes. When the snow is hard or icy, it can be difficult. Just before the top of the ledge is a step you have to climb up on. At the top of the ledge it is difficult to figure out which way the trail goes in the Winter. So examine the trail carefully. It is poorly marked.
    Balsam Mountain
    Balsam Mountain
    Above the ledge the trail continues to climb at an easy incline. You will also start to encounter conifer trees. Hence the name, Balsam Mountain. Unlike the Balsam Mountain in Greene Count which does not have a single conifer tree on top. The trail at this point becomes quite peaceful and tranquil. Enjoy!

    This picture shows the false summit of Balsam Mountain. It is actually 8 feet below the actual peak, and looks like a peak. Until you pass a ledge with great views, you have not reached the summit.
    Balsam Mountain
    This picture shows the false summit of Balsam Mountain. It is actually 8 feet below the actual peak, and looks like a peak. There is some nice areas around this point. A good place to camp in the Winter. But, you cannot camp here in the Spring, Summer, and Fall. The walk continues to be nice, with views off to the left in the Winter. Unfortunately, the sun will be in your eyes on this part of the hike. Until you pass a ledge with great views, you have not reached the summit.
    Balsam Mountain
    As you walk across the long summit area, you will be able to see a nice view off to the left when the leaves are not on the trees. On some parts of the summit walk, the elevation will drop about 30 feet. Enjoy the walk. This is one of the factors that makes this hike magical.
    Balsam Mountain
    At mile post 2.61, you will go downhill about 30 feet, and will see a small ledge on the left with a great view. This great view is shown on the left. This is the best view of the hike.
    Balsam Mountain
    The picture on the left shows the highest point on the long summit walk. It is at mile post 2.82. It is just before you start to descend downhill at an easy-to-moderate decline. This rock is about 50 feet off the trail. In the summer it might be a little difficult to see in the summer with the leaves are on the trees.
    Balsam Mountain
    The trail will continue to descend at an easy-to-moderate pace. There will be a few flat sections before descending again. This pictures shows the 3500 sign.

    The picture of the right shows a flat section of the trail. There are a couple good points to camp in non-Winter months. Some have limited views over the valley.
    Balsam Mountain
    Balsam Mountain
    This is another picture of the trail.

    At mile post 3.63 at elevation 3,055 feet you will encounter a 4-way Trail Junction. This trail junction can be a little confusing, so examine the signs carefully before proceeding. Left will take you to McKinley Hollow Road. Straight will take you to Eagle Mountain. Right will take you back to your car in Rider Hollow Road DEC parking lot. You want to go RIGHT. The trail is a little confusing and hard to see certain times of the year, so look carefully.
    Balsam Mountain
    Balsam Mountain
    Another Sign at the 4-way trail junction.

    Another Sign at the 4-way trail junction.
    Balsam Mountain
    Balsam Mountain
    Another Sign at the 4-way trail junction.

    This is the beginning of the trail back to Rider Hollow Road DEC Parking lot. The trail is hard to follow at certain times of the year, so proceed carefully. Further down the trail many of the trail markers are missing, so it is easy to fall off the trail.
    Balsam Mountain
    Balsam Mountain
    As you can see from the picture, it is hard to see where the trail is. But, if you are careful and pay attention you shouldn't have a problem.

    This downhill section is where you will cross the creeks multiple times. Most stream crossings do not have bridges, so you have to be careful in the Winter time. This particular crossings has rocks across the stream. But, as you can see the rocks are ice encrusted and are slippery. The water on each side of the rocks is about 1-1/2 feet deep. Without Microspikes, snowshoes, or cramp-ons, you should not attempt this stream crossing.
    Balsam Mountain
    Balsam Mountain
    At mile post 5.01 (elev 2,104') you will encounter the DEC Lean-To. It is about 1/2 mile from the parking lot and about 1,000 feet from the Trail Junction. The Lean-to is next to the stream. I would be concerned about camping here during high water times.
    Balsam Mountain
    At mile post 5.14, you will come to this bridge. Once you cross the bridge, you will be at the trail junction. You want to take a LEFT to go back to the parking lot.

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