Highest Mountain in the Catskills of New York State
The Curtis-Ormsbee Trail up Slide Mountain (4,203 feet) offers the most sweeping views to the hiker including the summits of Cornell, Wildcat, Table and Lone Mountains.
The four-mile Curtis-Ormsbee Trail to the summit of Slide Mountain (4,203 feet) begins at Big Indian, two miles southwest of Shandaken, New York. There is no other way to get here other than by private car where there is enough parking for twenty-five cars or so. The starting point of this trail is 2,400 feet above sea level. Hikers should sign the register just beyond the parking area. The best times to climb Slide Mountain are mid-April through mid-October.
Be Aware of Possible Summer Thunderstorms
Be aware that afternoon thunderstorms may develop making the trail quite muddy. The worst times to climb this mountain would be from late October through early April. There are no man-made hazards on the trail but the hiker should take care while walking after the first mile or so when the trail becomes quite rocky.
Once the hiker is under way, she will enter a lush mixed hardwood forest of maples, birch, oaks, aspen and hemlocks, and one may be treated to a summer forest floor of wildflowers and ferns.
A Very Rocky Trail Cuts Through the Woods
After the first mile or so of a woodland trail that is soft underfoot, the trail bounds upward over a very rocky/lumpy terrain through beautiful hardwood forests. Though one may be anxious to gain the summit, one should stop and enjoy the many flowers that seem to set the forest aglow. One such flower is the white beam (sorbus aria) that grows at the foot of maples and oaks in a bright circle of white blossoms. The lower forests are full of chirping thrushes, vireos and sparrows. This rocky portion levels a bit at a 3,500 foot marker over two and a half miles from the trail head.
A Solid Evergreen Forest Begins Above 3,500 feet
Above 3,500 feet, the Catskill Mountains are capped with an evergreen forest of aromatic spruce and pines. This zone is marked at trail side as being more fragile and hikers should not camp above this elevation. The climber will notice here a distinct chill in the air, even in summer time. The lush ferns of the lower woodland are mere unfurling fiddle-heads up here. Even the white beam flowers are much smaller with barely blooming rings of blossoms. Yellow birch up here appear gaunt and struggling; some of the dead or dying ones may serve as perches for woodpeckers in search of insects within the tree bark.
A Laurentian Forest Takes Over at 3,900 feet
As the trail winds back and forth steadily gaining elevation, one is treated to sweeping views, three miles from the trail head, of the entire Catskill Mountains including Wildcat and Table mountains and distant Shokan Reservoir. It is easy to see why the author John Burroughs loved to climb this mountain over a hundred years ago. At 3,900 feet the hiker enters a distinctly Laurentian zone of northern balsam firs housing, in the springtime, arctic longspurs. A few hundred feet higher as one approaches the summit above 4,000 feet, one gains views of Wittenberg, Panther and Peekamoose mountains as well as all of Shokan Reservoir in the misty distance. If one were to climb to the summit of Slide Mountain at night, he would see to the south a brilliant array of the city lights of New York. The hike takes up to a half day with a vertical gain of 1,800 feet. Bring sufficient water as there are no water sources on the trail nor are there any restrooms. You can download a trail map from the Catskill 3500 Club web page.