Hiking: Giant Ledge and Panther Mountain via the Giant Ledge-Panther-Fox Hollow Trail | Catskill Mountains, NY | 7/25/2014
|One of the views from Giant Ledge|
Giant Ledge, by itself is one of the most popular hiking destinations in the Catskill Mountains. The various viewpoints at Giant Ledge offer a comprehensive vista of most of the major Catskills peaks and makes a great destination for hikers who do not want to go through with the entire trip over Giant Ledge and Panther Mountain.
For those looking for some more adventure, continuing along the Giant Ledge-Panther-Fox Hollow Trail gives you the opportunity to climb Panther Mountain, enjoy several views along the ridge and then travel down through Fox Hollow for a total hike of just under eight and a half miles.
Like many hikes and trails in the Catskills, this trip does not lend itself to hiking in a loop. For those who want to complete the entire hike, two cars are needed at either end of the trail. Our preference is to hike the trail from south to north - starting at the Giant Ledge Trailhead and ending at the Fox Hollow Trailhead. This gets the majority of the climbing out the way in the first three or so miles and allows for a pleasant ridge walk across Panther and then a long descent into Fox Hollow. It also reduces the vertical climb required (the Giant Ledge Trailhead is located at a higher elevation) and leaves the steepest sections of trail for the descent.
|Looking east from Giant Ledge|
The trailheads and trails are shown on Trail Map #142 in the Trail Conference's Catskill Trails Map Set. The map is also available for purchase on smartphones and tablets through the PDFMaps app.
While there are a few springs along this trail, hikers should pack plenty of water as most are unreliable, especially in the summer months. There is a spring just before you reach Giant Ledge and another spring just before the summit of Panther Mountain. The only other spring is the one located at the Fox Hollow Lean-to.
Distance and Elevation
From the Giant Ledge Trailhead to the Fox Hollow Trailhead, the total hiking distance is 8.2 miles. The elevation difference between the Giant Ledge Trailhead at the summit of Panther is about 1400 feet and the descent from the summit of Panther Mountain to the Fox Hollow Trailhead is about 2200 feet for a total gain and loss of 3600 vertical feet in this hike. The average hiker can complete the roughly 8.2 miles in about five hours accounting for a lunch break and some time at the various vistas.
Due to the steep climbs to Giant Ledge, to the summit of Panther and the descent into Fox Hollow, we consider this a strenuous hike, especially when considering the distance covered. While the Giant Ledge hike is popular with families, the trail can be difficult for young children and the who traverse of Giant Ledge, Panther and Fox Hollow would be a very difficult hike for young children.
The Giant Ledge Trailhead is located on County Route 47 (Oliverea Road) and the Fox Hollow Trailhead is located on Fox Hollow Road. Both are accessible from Route 28 and on Route 28 are marked with trailhead way finding signage. The Giant Ledge Parking area is located on the hairpin turn of County Route 47 as it begins to climb to Winnisook Lake. For the Fox Hollow parking area, it is located on Fox Hollow Road, but after a series of intersections that can be confusing without a map, though directional signage has recently been installed on the road to make the trip easier.
|Junction of Phoenicia-East Branch &|
the Giant Ledge-Panther-Fox Hollow Trails
One note on the Giant Ledge Trailhead, this is one of the most popular trailheads in the Catskills and fills up very quickly, especially on weekends. We were there during the week and the lot was already almost full. On weekends cars park along the road outside the parking area, but overall it is best to get there early to ensure that you can find a parking spot.
Our hike began at the Giant Ledge Trailhead. Here the yellow blazed Phoenicia - East Branch Trail, descending down County Route 47 leaves the road turning east and beginning to climb to the notch between Slide Mountain to the south and Giant Ledge to the north. After crossing a small bridge near the road, the trail ascends slightly, passing a kiosk and a trail register (be sure to sign in - this information is used in case of emergencies to help locate you). Past the kiosk the trail becomes steeper and begins to climb to the notch.
For the next 0.6 miles the trail ascends steadily in moderate to strenuous grade. The trail then begins to level off before reaching the trail junction with the blue blazed Giant Ledge-Panther-Fox Hollow Trail. For the Giant Ledge and Panther Hike, turn left here. Ahead the Phoenicia East - Branch Trail begins descending and about 2.7 miles reaches the Woodland Valley State Campground.
After turning on to the Giant Ledge-Panther-Fox Hollow Trail, the trail, gently at first, begins climbing to Giant Ledge. The trail quickly becomes steeper and the climb more strenuous. After about three quarters of a mile, the first view of Giant Ledge is reached (about 1.45 miles from the trailhead). Giant Ledge is not a single "giant" ledge, but a series of openings on a long escarpment that offers views to the southeast, east and northeast. There are at least three outstanding viewpoints in short order, along with several designated campsites for those who would want to spend the night here.
Passing the views of Giant Ledge, the descends slightly to the col between Giant Ledge and Panther Mountain in just less than a mile. From the col, the trail climbs steeply once again, passing another view on the shoulder of Panther before reaching the summit at 1.85 miles from Giant Ledge (and 3.3 miles from the trailhead). Just past the forested summit is a large boulder and view that makes for a great lunch spot (at least it did for us!).
|View from near the summit of Panther|
Fox Hollow & Fox Hollow Lean-to
After steeply descending from the shoulder of Panther Mountain, at 7.9 miles the trail passes the side trail to the Fox Hollow Lean-to. This makes a great stop to rest your legs a bit after all of the descending. There's also a fairly reliable spring at the lean-to if you have run out of water on this mostly dry trail. On our visit the lean-to was empty and it was a pleasant spot to spend a few minutes resting our knees and snacking a bit before the last descent to the trailhead.
|Fox Hollow Lean-to|
There's a trail register just before you reach the trailhead and parking area - be sure to sign yourself out.
Once you've reached your car it's a quickly shuttle back over to the Giant Ledge Trailhead.
For those looking for in and out hikes, we would suggest a trip to the summit of Panther via the Giant Ledge Trailhead. It gives you the views of Giant Ledge and Panther in a 3.3 mile hike in (6.6 roundtrip). However if you have the option of having two cars or are able to set up a shuttle ahead of time, we think the preferred way to hike this section is a thru-hike.
Need more information on hiking and planning your
trips to the Catskills and the Catskill Park?
Read up on the Catskill Park at our Catskill Mountains Information Page for hikes, advice, travel and planning information. We have a Guide to Hiking in the Catskills available and on our sister site, ReviewThis is a Guide to visiting 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 the Adventures 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.