This hike climbs Giant Ledge, one of the most popular destinations in the Catskills, which features spectacular views from a series of ledges. The hike continues to Panther Mountain, one of the 35 high peaks in the Catskills over 3,500 feet in elevation. Although Panther also offers panoramic views from its summit, they are quite similar to those from Giant Ledge. If you’re interested only in...
This hike climbs Giant Ledge, one of the most popular destinations in the Catskills, which features spectacular views from a series of ledges. The hike continues to Panther Mountain, one of the 35 high peaks in the Catskills over 3,500 feet in elevation. Although Panther also offers panoramic views from its summit, they are quite similar to those from Giant Ledge. If you’re interested only in the views, you might want to turn back after climbing Giant Ledge. Many of those who continue ahead to Panther are “peakbaggers,” whose goal is to climb all of the Catskill high peaks. Either way, this is not a loop hike, and you’ll have to return the way you came. The elevation gain from the trailhead to the top of Giant Ledge is about 1,000 feet, and if you continue to Panther, you will have climbed nearly 2,000 feet (including the climb back up Giant Ledge on the return trip).
The trailhead is at the hairpin turn in the road, just above the parking area. For the first part of the hike, you’ll be following the yellow blazes of the Phoenicia-East Branch Trail. After crossing a short bridge, you’ll come to the register box (please sign), with a kiosk across the trail. A short distance beyond, you’ll cross a longer wooden bridge over the Esopus Creek. The trail now begins to climb on a rocky woods road, steeply in places.
In about three-quarters of a mile, after climbing a vertical distance of about 500 feet, you’ll come to a junction, marked by a sign. Turn left at the junction, now following the blue blazes of the Giant Ledge-Panther-Fox Hollow Trail. You’ll be following this trail all the way up Giant Ledge (and, for those continuing to Panther, all the way there, too).
At first, the trail follows a relatively level woods road, with a few minor climbs. This section of the trail is often wet, and large rocks have been placed in the middle of the trail to help keep your feet dry. After about half a mile, the trail begins a steady climb, soon passing a side trail on the left that leads to a spring.
After climbing about another 350 feet in elevation, you’ll reach the top of Giant Ledge. The trail goes by a series of east-facing ledges, which offer spectacular views. To the east (straight ahead), you can see the ridge of Romer Mountain, Mt. Pleasant and Cross Mountain, traversed by the Long Path (officially designated as part of the Phoenicia-East Branch Trail). Behind this mountain range, the peaks of the Devil’s Path are visible. To the right (southeast) are Wittenberg, Cornell and Slide Mountains (the view of Slide is partially obscured by foliage). You’ll want to take a break on one of these ledges to rest from your climb and enjoy the views.
Giant Ledge is a very popular destination, and you will likely find other hikers along the ledges. If you continue beyond the first ledge, though, you might be able to find a ledge to yourself.
If you decide to end your hike at Giant Ledge, just retrace your steps to return to the trailhead (be sure to turn right onto the yellow-blazed Phoenicia-East Branch Trail when you reach the junction). But if you want to continue to Panther, proceed ahead on the blue trail, which descends about 200 vertical feet to a col, where it levels off for a short distance. It then begins a steady ascent of Panther, rather steeply in places.
After climbing about 200 vertical feet, look for an unmarked side trail on the right, which leads to a rock ledge with a view to the southeast. This ledge offers an unobstructed view over Slide Mountain, the highest peak in the Catskills.
After taking in the view, return to the trail, turn right, and continue your climb of Panther. You’ll soon come a flat area, with an unreliable spring. Just beyond, the trail climbs rather steeply over rock ledges. It continues to climb a little less steeply, and enters a balsam fir forest – characteristic of the high elevations in the Catskills – about 3,400 feet in elevation.
Beyond this point, the grade moderates. When you reach a large rock outcrop to the right of the trail, with an expansive east-facing view, you’ll know that you’ve reached the summit of Panther Mountain (elevation 3,724 feet). You’ll want to stop here to rest from the climb and admire the view. Although this is the highest point on the mountain, there are several other viewpoints in the next quarter mile along the summit ridge, and you might want to continue north for a short distance to take in these additional viewpoints.
Retrace your steps to return to the trailhead, making sure to turn right when you reach the junction with the yellow-blazed Phoenicia-East Branch Trail.Publication: Submitted by Daniel Chazin on 05/15/2019
This out-and-back hike climbs to Giant Ledge and Panther Mountain, with many spectacular views
Whether you are going for a day hike or backpacking overnight, it is good practice to carry what we call The Hiking Essentials. These essentials will help you enjoy your outing more and will provide basic safety gear if needed. There may also be more essentials, depending on the season and your needs.
Hiking Shoes or Boots
Water - Two quarts per person is recommended in every season. Keep in mind that fluid loss is heightened in winter as well as summer. Don't put yourself in the position of having to end your hike early because you have run out of water.
Map - Know where you are and where you are going. Many of our hiking areas feature interconnecting network of trails. Use a waterproof/tear-resistant Tyvek Trail Conference map if available or enclose your map in a Ziplock plastic bag. If you have a mobile device, download Avenza’s free PDF Maps app and grab some GPS-enhanced Trail Conference maps (a backup Tyvek or paper version of the map is good to have just in case your batteries die or you don't have service). Check out some map-reading basics here.
Food - Snacks/lunch will keep you going as you burn energy walking or climbing. Nuts, seeds, and chocolate are favorites on the trail.
Sunscreen and insect repellent
Rain Gear and Extra Clothing - Rain happens. So does cold. Be prepared for changing weather. Avoid cotton--it traps water against your skin and is slow to dry. If you are wearing wet cotton and must return to your starting point, you risk getting chills that may lead to a dangerous hypothermia. Choose synthetic shirts, sweaters and/or vests and dress in layers for easy on and off.
Compass - A simple compass is all you need to orient you and your map to magnetic north.
Light - A flashlight or small, lightweight headlamp will be welcome gear if you find yourself still on the trail when darkness falls. Check the batteries before you start out and have extras in your pack.
First Aid Kit - Keep it simple, compact, and weatherproof. Know how to use the basic components.
Firestarter and Matches - In an emergency, you may need to keep yourself or someone else warm until help arrives. A firestarter (this could be as simple as leftover birthday candles that are kept inside a waterproof container) and matches (again, make sure to keep them in a waterproof container) could save a life.
Knife or Multi-tool - You may need to cut a piece of moleskin to put over a blister, repair a piece of broken equipment, or solve some other unexpected problem.
Emergency Numbers - Know the emergency numbers for the area you're going to and realize that in many locations--especially mountainous ones, your phone will not get reception.
Common Sense - Pay attention to your environment, your energy, and the condition of your companions. Has the weather turned rainy? Is daylight fading? Did you drink all your water? Did your companion fail to bring rain gear? Are you getting tired? Keep in mind that until you turn around you are (typically) only half-way to completing your hike--you must still get back to where you started from! (Exceptions are loop hikes.)
Check the weather forecast before you head out. Know the rules and regulations of the area.
The Leave No Trace Seven Principles
Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you'll visit.
- Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
- Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
- Visit in small groups when possible. Consider splitting larger groups into smaller groups.
- Repackage food to minimize waste.
- Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.
- Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
- Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary.
- In popular areas:
- Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
- Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
- Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.
- In pristine areas:
- Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
- Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.
- Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter.
- Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
- Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
- To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.
- Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
- Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
- Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
- Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.
- Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
- Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
- Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
- Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.
- Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
- Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
- Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
- Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
- Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.
Be Considerate of Other Visitors
- Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
- Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
- Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
- Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
- Let nature's sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.
The Trail Conference is a 2015 Leave No Trace partner.
(c) Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org.