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Palenville Overlook & Indian Head - North/South Lake Region

North and South Lake

Overview of this Hike:

Distance: 8.12 round trip from parking lot by South Lake overflow. Add 2 miles if hiking from Scutt Road DEC Parking lot.
Time: 6 hours round trip (hiking time)
Elevation Loss: 571' loss from parking lot
Side Trips: Kaaterskill Hotel Site & Rip Van Winkle House
Best Time to Hike: Anytime
VO Map No: #122 - #17 - #93 - #94 - #12 - umarked - #12
Catskill Highest: 100+
Elevation:2321-to-1750-to-2321'
Digital Mapper: Topo Terrain Satellite
Difficulty: Easy-to-moderate
Attractions: Good views from Palvenville Overlook and Indian Head.
Attractions: Nice walk around North/South lake
Dangers: None known
Common Animals: Coyotes, bears, and snakes down by Palenville Overlook and the ledge above it.
Risky Animals: Rattlesnakes (none), Bears (Moderate)
Access Methods: Foot, snowmobile, snowshoeing. Skiing on some trails.



Maps, Profile, and GPS files

Catskill Mountains Escarpment Trail
Catskill Mountains Escarpment Trail
Click here to download the GPS file in gdb format (Garmin Version 3)
Click here to download the GPS file in text format




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

  • Take New York State Thruway to Exit 21 (Catskill).
  • Take a left out of the NYS Thruway entrance road.
  • Go approximately 1/4 mile
  • Take a right onto Route 23 West
  • Go approximately 6.6 miles to Cairo, NY
  • Take a LEFT onto Rt 32. McDonalds Rest. on corner.
  • Go approximately 7.7 miles on Rt 32
  • Take a RIGHT onto Rt 23A
  • Go appoximately 7-8 miles to the intersection of Rt 23a and North-South Lake Road.
  • Climb up the windy mountain road (Rt 23A). When you reach the top, you will then be in Haines Falls.
  • Take a RIGHT onto North Lake Road (DEC sign on corner of road).
  • Follow North Lake Road until you almost reach the DEC booths.
  • In the summer you must pay to enter into North/South Lake
  • After going thru the DEC booths - Go right down the hill - Park by the lake in the parking lot
  • Alternate Parking: Take a RIGHT onto Scutt Road.
  • Take a RIGHT into the DEC parking lot. The parking lot fills up quickly. If the parking lot is full, you can park on the side of the road. Do NOT park down by the two houses.


  • Mile Post Chart

    Mile PostAltitudeNotes
    0.002,130Parking lot by South Lake Overflow. You can also park at the Scutt Road DEC Parking Lot.
    2,130''Follow the old railroad tracks on the NORTH side of the lake. The railroad tracks no longer have railroad ties, but the trail is very flat. It will have Yellow trail markers. Follow the trail markers and stay close the to lakes. It should be noted that the trail is very poorly marked with markers. Keep following the lake shore until you get to the East most point of North Lake. .
    2,150'The next trail junction LEFT of the old cog railroad, but RIGHT of the chain link fence for the Escarpment Trail. Look for a wide trail the slopes down the hill. This trail will take you to the old Rip Van Winkle House site. N42 11.836 W74 02.072
    2,058'Trail Junction. Going straight will take you to the Rip Van Winkle Home Site. Right will take you to Palenville Overlook and Indian Head. Take RIGHT down the hill to Palenville Overlook. N42 11.919 W74 01.790
    1,935'Part way down you will cross the old Otis Cog Railway.
    1,789'Then you will come to the Snowmobile Loop Trail. You can take either path. The east path is wetter then the west trail, but has a better view. N42 11.334 W74 02.025
    4.331,767Palenville Overlook N42 10.884 W74 02.186 - You will see three stone chairs in front of the ledge.
    4.391,804Walk up the steep bank by the old stone foundation and continue around the loop trail another 300 feet. You will see a stone fire place. Next to the fireplace is a faint unmarked trail. This is the trail to Indian Head Ledge. There are trees across the trail.
    4.601,742Indian Head Ledge. N42 10.873 W74 02.441
    You can return two ways. You can walk up the slope from Indian Head and find the opening in the ledge (small 3-4' climp up the ledge). There is a small rock cairns on top of the ledge N42 10.945 W74 02.378. This will save you 1.25 miles and is about the same amount of effort. This is the old trail before the Snowmobile trail was put in. Or, you can take the west side of the snowmobile trail back. This way will add another 1.25 miles to the hike. Our chart will explain the way back thru the Snowmobile trail. The maps shows both ways.
    4.811,804'Return back to the fireplace. Then take the West side of the snowmobile trail
    5.291,802Trail Junction - N42 11.294 W74 02.061 - Go up the very steep hill
    5.351,976Top of very steep hill
    6.521,986Trail Junction - Left will take you down to Palenvile VIA the old Hotel Road. Go Straight up the hill.
    6.692,245Trail Junction - Take a RIGHT up the hill.
    7.122,445Trail Junction - Take a RIGHT towards Boulder Rock
    7.402,462Trail Junction - Take a LEFT onto the unmarked trail - This will take you down to North/South Lake.
    2,160North/South Lake Road - Take a LEFT back to the parking lot
    8.122,130Parking Lot.

    Hike to the Southwestern part of the Escarpment Trail in the North/South Lake Region

    North and South Lake
    The picture on the left is from the parking lot inside the North/South Lake campground. This parking lot is by the outlet of South Lake.

    This hike starts on the left of this picture. This is part of the old rail road system. It is poorly marked with yellow trail markers. It basically follows the lake shores.

    To find the entrance to the trail, walk towards the easterly Escarpment Trail. The trail is just south of chain linked fence and north of the old cog rail way up the mountain. It is marked with snowmobile markers. This is called the Rip Van Winkle Trail. The trail will take you to the old Rip Van Winkle House/Farm site (House burned down many years ago). We are going down the trail part of the way.

    Part way down the Rip Van Winkle Trail, you will come to a Trail Junction at GPS: N42 11.919 W74 01.790 . You want to take a RIGHT at the trail junction at start heading south towards Palenville Overlook. If you are traveling in the afternoon in the early spring, you can sometimes hear Barred Owls that nest just east of the trail. If you want carefully, you can see them flying around.
    North and South Lake
    Part way down the trail, you will come upon the old Cog Railway System. On the left is what it looks like today. On the right is what it looked like 100 years ago.

    After passing the Cog Railway, you will come to another Trail Junction. This is the snowmobile loop. You can take either path. The lower path tends to have more water on the trail.
    North and South Lake
    North and South Lake
    At mile post 4.33, you will come to Palenville Overlook. In the background you can see the Hudson River. This picture is looking southeast.
    North and South Lake
    The "Chairs" at Palenville Overlook. Behind the chairs is the foundation of a house.
    North and South Lake
    While standing at Palenville Overlook, look westward. You will see the same image that is in the picture on the left. This is Indian Head. The rocks look like an Indian head, hence the name Indian Head.

    If you walk from Palenville Overlook up the upper loop trail, you will see a fireplace about 300 feet from Palenville Overlook. On the left side of the fireplace is a faint trail (pictured on RIGHT). This non-DEC trail will take you to Indian Head. This trail is 0.21 miles long. The trail can be difficult to follow sometimes. There are some smaller trees across the trail.
    North and South Lake
    North and South Lake
    This is the view from Indian Head looking westward. Below is the lower section of Rt 23A. Obviously, the view from Indian Head is better then the view from Rt 23A.
    North and South Lake
    This is the view from Indian Head looking south. There is a boulder on top of Indian Head, just like Boulder Rock 700 feet higher above.
    North and South Lake
    Once you are done enjoying the views from Indian Head, you can return two ways. (1) You can reverse your path and take the upper snowmobile loop. Once you get across the loop, you will come to a trail Junction. Left will take you up a very steep hill. (2) You can walk up the steep "pile of rocks" and find the notch in the ledge and climb up the ledge. This way will save you about 2 miles of hiking. The picture on the LEFT is the notch. There is a small rock cairn on the right side (you can see in the picture).
    North and South Lake
    At mile post 4.56 (elevation 2,050'), you might see see an unofficial trail on the left. It has a large rock blocking the path. It is much easier to see in the Winter. You want to continue going down South Lake Road.

    At mile post 4.86 (elevation 2,004') you will come to a trail junction on the left side of the road. You can see it on the picture on the left. This is the Cross-Country Ski Trail. You want to leave South Lake Road for the Ski Trail. Take a LEFT, and walk around the barrier. At mile post 4.86 (elevation 2,004'), you will encounter a Major Trail Junction. This is where you entered the Escarpment Trail. Left will take you to the Old Kaaterskill Hotel Site. Straight will make you repeat this hike again - Yikes!. Right will take you back to the Scutt Road Parking Lot. You want to go RIGHT over the wooden bridge.


    North and South Lake
    North and South Lake
    At mile post 4.86 (elevation 2,004'), you will encounter another Trail Junction. Approximately 150' after going over the bridge you will come to the trail junction in the picture. Most people continue straight, which gets them very lost. The trail used to go straight, and the trail was diverted by the DEC a number of years ago. If you go Straight, you come to the old Mill House (Thankfully, the old stone walled Mill House is still standing because the DEC could not burn it down - side building is now gone). The DEC refuses to maintain this trail. The building is historic, and should be maintained. Going Left will take you back to the Scutt Road Parking Lot. You want to go LEFT, and should encounter the second wooden bridge 150' later.

    At Mile post 4.35 (elevation 2,168') you will encounter another Trail Junction. Going Left will take you to Scutt Road. Going Straight will take you back to the Scutt Road Parking Lot. You can go either direction. Going Left is 0.33 miles back to your car, and is an easier hike. Going Straight is 0.44 miles back to your car, and more difficult. If you go left, you want to go Right after reaching the Road 200' later.
    Links and References:
    CatskillMountain.com Forum - Ask questions or tell us about your experience with this hike
    New York State DEC North/South Lake

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