Hike type: Backpacking overnight (can be lengthened, if desired)
Length: 16-ish mile loop
Trailhead: Woodland Valley Campground
Click here for directions
Map: NYNJTC Trail Map 143
Seasons: Spring, Summer, Fall
Description: Wonderful views, sweet scrambles, lengthy climbs, and steep decents
*This post has been updated from its previous version to be more thorough & informative - for your pleasure!
Intrigued by the Wittenberg-Cornell-Slide loop of New York's Catskills, hm? Eager to learn more about its butt-kicking ascents, eye-opening views, and triple crown of summits to bag? You've come to the right place!
I would HIGHLY recommend this trip for those looking for a captivating overnight backpacking trip, even wilderness noobiez! (just be sure to check out my guide on Backpacking 101 before hitting the trail 😉 ). While the hike is demanding, it keeps you on your toes with its varied terrain and sights, motivating you to see what's around every bend.
We began our overnight from Woodland Valley Campground in Phoenicia, NY (click for directions). This starting point is only 2 hours away from us in NJ and is a great way to immediately tackle the 3-peaks on day 1. (Keep in mind, this can be spread out over 2 nights, if desired - just plan accordingly!)
From the parking lot, we followed the red-blazed Long Path to begin our climb up to Wittenberg Mountain, the first of the 3-peaks and a satisfying initial ascent.
View from atop Wittenberg Mountain - looking down at Ashokan reservoir
At the top of Wittenberg, you will find the best viewpoint out of the three mountains. Be sure to take a moment to soak in the sites around you, including Ashoken Reservoir to the East and a panorama of the Catskill high peaks.
After a short break, we continued on to the 0.8 mile saddle to Cornell Mountain. This juncture was brief and moderate, save for CORNELL CRACK, which was tremendously fun to climb using all-fours. Check out that epic lighting!
Cornell CRACK on the way to Cornell Mountain's peak
Soon after this formidable formation, Cornell's peak is attained. From here you will have a chance to ogle Slide Mountain's peak, looming 300 feet higher than Cornell's peak, and realize that's what's next on your docket (yay!).
The view of Slide Mountain from a viewpoint along Cornell Mountain's ridge
Between Cornell and Slide, we spotted many primitive campsites which would have been lovely for the evening, but decided it was too early in the day to set up for the night. We inexplicably wanted all three peaks under our belts before the day was through...because reasons (as they say on the internet these days)!
Gracefully(?) climbing the ladders up to Slide Mountain
My favorite part of this 2.3 mile section was the ladders leading you up Slide's side, a fun alternative to the previous rock scrambling.
Looking back at Cornell and Wittenberg from Slide Mountain, the tallest of the three (and of all the Catskills!)
At the apex of these ladders, a fantastic view is to be had of Cornell and Wittenberg. Take this as an opportunity to look back at your mountainous accomplishments.
After this viewpoint, you'll reach Slide's pinnacle, where many people stop to break. Having climbed this mountain many times (watch our virtual hike of Slide here) as well as officially completed the 3 peaks, we decided to move past this section and start looking for a campsite.
This is where we added a couple extra miles to our journey. Instead of aiming for the primitive campground highlighted on the map along the red trail, we thought we'd find some place more desirable along the blue-blazed Curtis-Ormsbee trail. Much to our chagrin, no campsites were to be had along this route (darn you, Curtis-Ormsbee!), nor was water to be found (we had both nearly run out). Eventually we made our way to the yellow-blazed Phoenicia East Branch trail where we found a stream to fill our Camelbacks (with filtered water, of course).
After all that, we still had no place to pitch our tent, so we decided to head back up Slide on the red trail and shoot for the aforementioned primitive campsite. I wasn't the "happiest of campers" at that point (...ha ha) BUT once we did reach the site, it was not occupied so we were more than happy to call it home for the night. So far, we had hiked about 10.5 miles.
A luxurious fire at our backcountry campsite along the WIttenberg-Cornell-Slide trail
The next day, we filed out of our campsite and continued our descent to the Slide Mountain parking area along the yellow trail.
Registering as we passed by the Slide Mountain trailhead
After registering at the Register Box, we continued along the yellow trail to complete the final leg of this trip. At this point, we were eager to be done with the journey, so we swiftly made our way along the yellow-blazed roadway (my least favorite part of the hike) until the blazes went back into the forest.
Following the trail as it rests alongside Frost Valley Road for 1.9 miles
After some rocky ups and downs, including a stone stairway that I blatantly yelled "NOO!" at upon its siting, we were quickly making our way back to the Woodland Valley parking lot.
The daunting steps you'll need to climb in order to make your way back to the parking lot
About 6.5 miles from our overnight campsite, we MADE IT OUT ALIVE and signed the final Register Box before reaching our car (and IMMEDIATELY de-booting).
I hope my LONG-WINDED description encourages you to get out to this region of the Catskills yourself to climb its highest peaks! Minor complaints aside, this hike was TERRIBLY enjoyable and full of satisfying challenges. Can't wait to get out there again!
Questions, comments, or concerns about this trip? Get at me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Related UnbEx links:
Hiking Indian Head +Devil's Path in the Catskills
VIDEO: Day-hiking Slide Mountain