The Black Dome Range: Bushwhack from the South
September 14, 1997
February 14, 1998
This route was the result of looking at maps and saying “why not?”. I was looking for a way to make visiting this range interesting again, after using the excellent but crowded trails to the top one too many times.
So, with a plan in mind to climb up to the Black Dome Range from the south, myself and two companions met on September 13, 1997 and camped out on the State Land north of Rte 78. In the morning we bushwhacked up to Black Dome via a long, south running, ridge. It was a pretty straightforward bushwhack with little route-finding. All one has to do is to do is go uphill on a north bearing. Any ridge that one follows in this manner will lead you up to the Black Dome Range, but we aimed for the one coming down off of Black Dome. For a Catskill bushwhack it was easier then many others that I'd done. Once one starts to gain some elevation the views are interesting and sweeping, though they must be gotten through the trees of a maturing second or third growth forest, so it is best to do this bushwhack when the leaves are down. I returned with the 3500'Club twice in the winter to show others this route in the winter and we did enjoy very nice views and an easy snowshoe outing.
So why bushwhack up if there are perfectly good trails that go up to and along the Black Dome Range’s ridgeline? Well, if you have to ask….
To get there from The NYS Thruway (I-87):
Take exit 20 off the NYS Thruway and turn onto to 212 for a short distance to cross over the Thruway. Then turn onto 32 going North for approximately 6 miles. Route 32N will bring you to Rt. 32A and this you take for approximately 2 miles until the intersection with 23A in the town of Palenville. Take 23A for about 8 miles, now winding your way west and up through a gorge in the Catskills Escarpment. This is a winding and scenic road with sharp turns and an elevation gain of almost 1,500 feet (Palenville to Haines Falls). Be mindful of the ever changing speed limits along 23A for you will be passing through several small towns and the State Police are not shy about handing out speeding tickets, especially on the weekends.
Once in the town of Tannersville you will take a right hand turn (north) onto Rt. 23C for some 4 miles until you come to the intersection with Rt. 78. Take a sharp right hand (east) turn down a small hill and drive for another 1.5 miles. You will be passing several homes and private land before coming to State Preserve Land. You should be able to see yellow surveyor blazes and a DEC sign that will designate the boundary between public and private lands. Almost right away, once on State Land, you will see a parking area on your left. Park here, there is room for about 10 cars or so. You are on State Preserve lands and camping is permitted as long as you follow the regulations, such as camping at least 200 feet from all roads and trails and water sources. No camping is permitted above 3500’ except during the winter months and on deep snow cover.
To start your bushwhack, first climb up a steep 8’ high bank that backs the parking lot and walk past a few scattered and messy campsites and across the open field towards the forest. You should be able to pick up a single track through the tall grasses and this will take you to a fading logging road just under the fringe of the forest. Turn left (west) and walk until you cross over a small stream (that may even be dry depending on the time of year). You will have come about .5 a mile from your car so far. Once across that stream, leave the road and turn right and north through the forest. At first you will be hiking gently uphill through a mixed forest of Hemlocks and oaks, beeches, and maples. On the larger Beech Trees look for the claw marks of Black Bear. I like to seek out the very top of the ridge as soon as possible where the traveling is easier and the views are better. I avoid the drainages where the footing is less certain and where there is sure to be stinging nettles growing in the warm months. All too soon you will start to climb up the first of many benches that will take you, in step-like progress, up to the summit.
For most of your bushwhack you will find that you are climbing through a maturing deciduous forest, second or third growth, which is predominately Oak, Beech, Birch and Maple. You will not notice the change over to boreal forest (where you encounter Balsam Fir and Red Spruce trees) until you are very close to the summit. Balsam Fir and Red Spruce are the dominant species of tree on the summits of many of the Catskills High Peaks.
Running along the top of the ridge is a trail and once you have reached this you can easily walk along it until you find the level summit of Black Dome. Look for a very short spur trail that leads south off the main trail to a small scenic lookout. You will enjoy wonderful, south facing views, to the Mountains of the Devils Path and Kaaterskill High Peak and it’s close neighbor Round Top, as well as views of the Hudson Valley. Return the way that you came or hike along the ridge, on trail now, to visit the two other major peaks in this range; hike west to Thomas Cole (named for the famous American painter of the Hudson School of the 1800’s) and hike east to get to Black Head. On this trip we elected to aim towards the col between T. Cole and Black Dome so we left the ridge at about 3400' and contourerd along the west flank of the ridge until we hit this, pretty much dead on. In this way we could hike the other two peaks without going over Black Dome twice.
An alternative route for your return is via trail- you will go over Black Dome and hike some 6.5 miles (as figured from Black Dome’s summit)to return to a different parking area from the one that you started out from, about .5 miles further east on Route 78. Planning ahead and leaving a car at this parking area will save you that .5 mile road walk. But if you do walk the road it is not an unpleasant road walk.
To hike back on trail once on Black Dome’s summit, go east on the red blazed trail .6 mile to a yellow blazed trail (picked up in the col between Blk Dome and Blk Head Mountains) and continue east another .6 miles to Blk Heads summit. There you will pick up the blue blazed Escarpment Trail and descend south/east* 2.65 miles to Dutcher Notch and the start of the yellow blazed Colgate Lake Trail. Follow this trail down hill 2.4 miles to the trailhead on Route 78. As mentioned, you will have to road walk back west along Rte 78 approximately .5 mile to the parking lot from which you started.
This is a great area in which to hike and backpack but it is also very popular. The two lean-tos in the area are close to trailheads and usually fill up quickly with groups of campers. The ridges are very dry, and water is usually found only if one drops some distance down off of them.
With a little creative planning you can devise interesting day hikes or backpacks, either as end-to-end or loop hikes. Bushwhacking can both facilitate your trip and also allow you to visit a popular area of the Catskills while still experiencing a bit of solitude.
* Be careful of dropping off of Black Heads summit, for the Escarpment Trail also drops down to the north/east.