Hiking: The Blackhead Range (Thomas Cole, Black Dome & Blackhead) via the Blackhead Range and Escarpment Trails | Catskill Mountains, NY | August 2009

The Blackhead Range is located in the northeastern Catskills, just to the east of the Windham area.  There are three major mountains in the range, Thomas Cold, Black Dome and Blackhead Mountains.

There are a couple of different ways to approach and traverse the Blackhead Range in the northern Catskills, but I decided to go from Barnum Road in the west, across the range to the Escarpment Trail and then down the Batavia Kill Trail to where I had left my truck. Turns out I was on my own for this hike, which covered about seven miles, three different peaks and a bunch of elevation changes.

Blackhead Range Hike - 8/14/09

I was a bit disappointed in a lot of the viewpoints along these trails. They have either grown all the way in or are in their last stages of being views. It doesn't seem that they are being maintained, which in the Catskills for the majority of vistas is required. So a lot of the hike was in the trees with the occasional view, making so you almost didn't realize you were making a high-elevation traverse along the Blackhead Range.

Turned out to be a really hot day to tackle the Blackheads. I was kind of surprised, even at the tops of the mountains, there was little if any breeze, lots of humidity and some pretty good heat. Got so hot and humid my camera had a perennial haze across the lens, which resulted in my pictures getting progressively “foggier” throughout the trip. So it's partly haze and it's partly moisture on the lens.

I started at the Barnum Road Trailhead where I was dropped off after we had shuttled my vehicle over to the Big Hollow Road Trailhead.

Blackhead Range Hike - 8/14/09
Blackhead Range Hike - 8/14/09

At the end of Barnum Road, the trail continues along on what I imagine used to be the continuation of Barnum Road. It follows this right of way for almost a quarter of a mile before turning off the road and entering the Forest Preserve. There's also a trail register at this point.

Blackhead Range Hike - 8/14/09

From here, the trail starts climbing in earnest through several different lines of ledges interspersed with fairly flat lengths. Nothing is overly difficult, but it's pretty steady climbing.

Blackhead Range Hike - 8/14/09

As you start to get higher onto Thomas Cole, a few views do start to open up, especially when you reach the first “peak” on Thomas Cole, called Caudal after almost three quarters of a mile from the trail register.

Blackhead Range Hike - 8/14/09

You then drop down a bit and climb up onto the top of the next “peak,” which is called Camel's Hump, which is about six tenths of a mile beyond Caudal and just above the 3500' elevation.

Blackhead Range Hike - 8/14/09
Blackhead Range Panorama 2

From here it's a pretty easy walk across what is an almost flat expanse towards the summit of Thomas Cole. I was pretty surprised at just how level it was.

Blackhead Range Hike - 8/14/09

You'll climb up Thomas Cole, reaching it's summit about two and a quarter miles from the trail register. There's a bit of view on the way up.

Blackhead Range Panorama 1
Blackhead Range Hike - 8/14/09

The trail then drops down to the cole between Thomas Cole and Black Dome. It's not a huge drop and you'll quickly start climbing up Black Dome after a short descent. As you make your way over Black Dome you will see Blackhead Mountain up ahead and the dip between those two mountains seems a lot more imposing than the notch between Black Dome and Thomas Cole.

Blackhead Range Hike - 8/14/09
Blackhead Range Hike - 8/14/09
Blackhead Range Panorama 4

When you descend down to Lockwood Gap between Black Dome and Blackhead, you'll come up to the trail junction between the Black Dome Trail you've been on and the Blackhead Trail, which continues on up to the top of Blackhead and intersects with the Escarpment Trail.

Blackhead Range Hike - 8/14/09
Blackhead Range Hike - 8/14/09

At this point, if you don't feel like tackling Blackhead, you can drop down to the Big Hollow Trailhead via the Black Dome Trail. It's just about two miles to the trailhead from trail junction between Black Dome and Blackhead.

Since there was a bit of drop between the two mountains, the ascent up Blackhead from the trail junction is somewhat steeper than the climb between Thomas Cole and Blackhead. It's only about six tenths of a mile though, so it goes by pretty quickly. You'll also come across some nice views looking back across Black Dome.

Blackhead Range Hike - 8/14/09
Blackhead Range Hike - 8/14/09

Soon after that viewpoint, you'll come to the summit of Blackhead where there trail junction with the Escarpment Trail is. There isn't really a view from the top at the Trail Junction, but there is a pretty open rock that was nice to stretch out on and relax for a while.

Blackhead Range Hike - 8/14/09
Blackhead Range Hike - 8/14/09

From there, I took the Escarpment Trail down to its intersection with the Batavia Kill Trail. This was actually the only part of the hike I had done before and I had forgotten just how steep the trail from Batavia Kill trail junction up to the summit of Blackhead is. I mean, I had carried up an indian tank full of water when I was an Assistant Ranger there, so I should have, but this is one steep trail.

Blackhead Range Hike - 8/14/09

Thankfully the steeps don't last too long and after about about a mile you come to the trail junction with the Batavia Kill Trail.

Blackhead Range Hike - 8/14/09
Blackhead Range Hike - 8/14/09

As you drop down into Big Hollow along the Batavia Kill Trail, the Batavia Kill Leanto is only a few tenths of a mile down the trail. The leanto was empty when I came across it, which surprised me a bit since it was a Friday afternoon and it's a leanto that's relatively close to the trailhead, so I figured people would be camping there.

Blackhead Range Hike - 8/14/09
Blackhead Range Hike - 8/14/09

The rest of the trail is pretty uneventful as you generally follow an old roadway down the valley to Big Hollow Road. About a half a mile before the trailhead, you come to the trail junction with the Black Dome Trail, which descended from the notch between Thomas Cole and Black Dome.

Blackhead Range Hike - 8/14/09
Blackhead Range Hike - 8/14/09

From there, you go across a couple of bridges while following the old road before finally coming out at the parking lot for the trailhead.

Blackhead Range Hike - 8/14/09
Blackhead Range Hike - 8/14/09
Blackhead Range Hike - 8/14/09

A good hike overall, even if it was really hot. I'm glad I did it as this was the first time I had managed to get over Thomas Cole and Black Dome since I had only been up Blackhead before this trip. I wish the State would work on clearing some of the vistas, they really have grown in or are just about to grow in and some maintenance would make the hike even more worthwhile.

Trail maintenance over the range was pretty good. There's been quite a lot of work put into the ascent and descent portions of the trail with water bars and rock steps. It also appears the Batavia Kill Trail has been somewhat recently rerouted to break up any steep and washed out sections. The only problem I ran into were some pretty thick brambles and blackberries, which are a result of the monsoon summer we've been having. I can imagine you could cut them today and next week they'd be back, so I can't complain too much, especially since the trails are maintained by volunteers.

I had considered continuing on to Acra Point and then dropping down the trail back to the Big Hollow Trailhead, but considering the heat and the later time in the afternoon, I decided to just be happy with the Blackheads. If I had continued on I would have added another three miles or so.

The complete set of the hike photos on Flickr...


Hike Details – Mileage
Barnum Road to Lockwood Gap (Black Dome Range Trail) – 4 miles
Lockwood Gap to Blackhead Summit (Blackhead Trail) – 0.6 miles
Blackhead Summit to Batavia Kill trail junction (Escarpment Trail ) - 1 mile
Batavia Kill trail junction to Big Hollow (Batavia Kill Trail) – 1.45
Total Mileage – 7.05 miles


Hike Details – Elevation
Barnum Road to Thomas Cole – 1700 vertical feet
Thomas Cole – 3940 feet
Black Dome – 3980 feet
Blackhead – 3940 feet
Blackhead to Big Hollow – 1750 feet




Need more information on hiking and planning your 
trips to the Catskills and the Catskill Park?




Need a hiking map for your hikes in the Catskills? We recommend the Trail Conference's Catskills Trails 6-Map Set. These maps are the best available for hiking and outdoor adventures in the Catskills and the Catskill Park. The Catskill Center offers a regional map of the Catskills that provides an excellent overview of the region, it's roadways, attractions and trails. National Geographic Trails Illustrated also produces a map for the region. 

How about a guidebook? Both AMC and ADK publish trail guides to the Catskill Region and thAdventures in the Outdoors Bookstore carries many more books and maps that will help you as you hike and explore the Catskill Mountains region. 

If you are looking for more information about the extensive history of the Catskill Mountains and the Catskill Park, we would suggest reading The Catskills, From Wilderness to Woodstock and The Catskill Park, Inside the Blue Line. For the most comprehensive natural history of the Catskill Park and the Forests of the Catskill region, we recommend reading The Catskill Forest, a History by Michael Kudish.

   

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