This is an old trail, no longer officially maintained or blazed, that shows up on the USGS map and on old NYNJ Trail Conference maps. It starts at the end of Moonhaw Road and leads to the col between Wittenberg and Cornell Mountains known as Bruins Causeway. Total length of this approach is approximately three miles by old logging roads and footpath to the col. It can still be followed, but with difficulty. Initially you will need to skirt around the private inholding at the terminus of Moonhaw Road on its right hand side, cross Wittenberg Brook and follow an old logging road. This road devolves into a footpath as it nears the top of the Wittenberg drainage. At that point you must keep a sharp lookout for the odd blaze or cairn as you follow the now thready path as it bends north and climbs up a wooded boulder field to the col. It helps to go at a slow pace and to bring a good map and compass, as you may need both to find Bruin’s Causeway. I would also recommend work gloves to protect your hands.
So why go through all the trouble when there is a very good trail that leads to Wittenberg summit? Wittenberg is one of the most popular mountains to hike in the Catskills, with the best views to be gotten in the region. On any given day there will be hoards of other hikers going up or down the trail. If you should find yourself alone on its summit, count yourself lucky, indeed. Going up this abandoned trail offers not only the challenge of climbing up Wittenberg, but a chance to do so with some guarantee of solitude. You will also pass, near the top, through an old growth forest. Once in Bruins Causeway you turn right to hike to Wittenbergs summit less then ½ a mile away and with only about another 275 vertical feet to climb. A short hike to the left and 350 vertical feet of climb will lead to Cornells more challenging summit. Also, instead of returning the way that you came, set up a car shuttle to create a through hike.
Here follows details of the Wittenberg Brook trail as I found it on this visit.
Start at the end of Moonhaw Road, where the State Lands come down to the road, just near the end and right before a small inholding of private land. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO DRIVE ONTO THE PRIVATE LAND* FOR ANY PURPOSE* UNLESS PERMISSION IS GIVEN BY THE LANDOWNER. I do not even suggest that you should ask for that permission. The private property is well posted and there is a gate across MoonHaw Road, supported by two stone pillars, at it's entrance.
Near the end of Moonhaw Road (the last ¼ mile or so of driving is done on a good dirt road) you will drive over Wittenberg Brook on a small bridge, and on the right side of the road and next to the brook is room to park 2-3 cars. When I was there I saw that the State was replacing the bridge and improving the banks of the brook so I do not know what the parking situation may be when you arrive, but I saw that there was still a small parking area 100 feet past the construction. You will be on the State land and just before the private property that you need to skirt around.
Park your car and then cross the brook on smooth river boulders, as there is no formal crossing. Be aware that in the spring time surge or after a heavy rain even small streams in the Catskills can be dangerous to cross, so plan accordingly. On the far side pick up a much-eroded logging road, or just make your way up-stream a short distance on a flood ravaged bench between the brook on your left and the wooded slope on your right, until you see a stone chimney. The logging road is obvious now, and you should be able to pick up the old red paint blazes and some surveyors tape tied on to some trees. These blazes will lead you up hill a short distance on the logging road, with the posted signs for the private property on your left. The road soon splits, keep to the left (do not follow the right branch of the split uphill), with the posted signs still on your left and a few red blazes to guide you. If the leaves are down you should be able to see the buildings on the private land to your left and below you through the trees. Follow this road only a very short distance until you see a proliferation of red blazes on your left that lead sharply down the steep slope and then across the brook. You have now skirted the private property. Once across the brook, now on its left bank, look for the red blazes to lead up hill to a better logging road, but not to worry if you can’t find theses blazes. Just head uphill about 100 vertical feet or so until you hit the logging road that parallels the brook. The trail will now continue along this logging road for about 1.5 miles, until it peters out, up in the top of the brooks drainage. Initially, your bearing along the road will be (average magnetic) 350 degrees, and you will be travelling parallel and above the brook through a lovely deciduous forest where Beech and Oak predominate. On the right side of the road the red blazes will be evident on trees as well as old vertical hatchet strikes as you gently gain elevation. There will appear a split in this road, but follow the treadway to the left and over a large tree trunk fallen across the road. The road is not as good now as you climb somewhat more steeply and your bearing bends to a 280 degrees. On your right and across the brook you should be able to see a long ridge of Wittenberg Mountain and in front of you is the mountain itself. The road is very narrow at this point and appears as more of a single track. You should be able to see some tree graffiti- names carves into the thin bark of beech trees. The footpath continues to contours up and along a steep sided slope (but still paralleling the brook), crossing an old talus slide with a couple of large blowdowns across the footpath. Soon after, it will cross a seep, overgrown with stinging nettles, and then the footpath seems to disappear. You are now deep up into the top of Wittenberg Brooks drainage and the trail will start to bend to 350 degrees. So far, you have been above and on the left bank of the brook, and now you will contour towards the much-diminished stream. Once past the nettles I actually lost the trail and made the mistake of climbing up, keeping to my west bearing, before I realized my mistake (I was now heading away from the stream, instead of paralleling it as the map shows). I just contoured level until I hit the head of the drainage. Here I crossed several dry intermittent branches of Wittenberg Brook before coming across a line of cairns that led me up the main tributary. If you want to avoid my mistake, continue to travel parallel to the left side of the brook- this should be on a north bearing. Also, if you do have either the USGS or the old TC map, these will show that you cross the main tributary of the brook, but in fact you do not- you always stay to the left side of the brook until you hit the headwaters.
Anyway, I stopped for an hour for lunch at a small pool of water that was about four feet across and at least a foot deep. The water was surprisingly clear and from my position I was able to enjoy a view out over the lower ridges around me. Not long past this point and the water does run out, so I would make sure that you fill up.
Above this point you are searching for every blaze or cairn or sign of a passing footstep to show you where the trail goes. A few times I “lost” the trail, only to pick it up again. But, if you are heading into the slope at an angle of about 45-50 degrees on bearing, then you can’t go wrong. I passed a large outcropping of reddish sandstone that had an orange blaze leading around to the left and up. Above this you pass through an overgrown boulder field with beeches, yellow birch and the very occasional fir. The path will zig-zag slightly west before bending back to north. As you climb, you will notice that the red spruce trees become more numerous and that the path will be more evident to you as it zigzags up. You should be able to get partial views of the Ashokon Reservoir. You are now very close now to Bruins Causeway.
The path will now easily lead you up to the col and the Burroughs Range Trail, which will take you to Wittenbergs summit. Once there relax on the stone ledge and enjoy first class views. These views will include (on a clear day, of course); The Hudson Valley and the Hudson River, the City of Kingston (first capitol of NYS before the British burned it during the Revolutionary war and the Capitol was removed to Albany), the Ashokon Reservoir, Ashokon High Point and beyond this to the southeast and the ‘Gunks and Mohonk Tower. To the North you will be able to see Overlook with it’s summit array of Antennae, Kaaterskill High Peak and Round Top, and the entire Devil’s Path, including Hunter Mountain with it’s old fire tower just peeking above the treeline. Through the Devils Path deep cloves you can see the Black Dome Range. Views to the west are hard to find and one must bushwhack around the summit to discover them. If you decide to make the one mile trip to Cornell your view from its smaller lookout will show much of the trailless peaks to the south of Cornell and Peekamoose and Table mountains.
You can make your return by retracing your steps, or by setting up a car shuttle beforehand, you can hike over Slide Mountain (highest peak in the Catskills, and a county highpoint for all you peak baggers out there) to the Slide Mountain trail head on Route 47, or hike down into Woodland Valley and the trail head in the campground (day use fee). There are countless combinations that you can make up. In fact, once you start to bushwhack, you will see that the problem of the lack of loop hikes in the Catskills disappears.
In any case, there is no reliable water sources once you leave Wittenberg Brook- not until you near either Woodland Valley or the West Branch of the Neversink that runs along Route 47, so bring plenty of water for the day. There are several seasonal water sources to be found along the trail but do not count on them in the summer or in drought years.
Moonhaw Road can also be the jumping off point for many other interesting bushwhacks as ridges from Friday, Cornell and Wittenberg Mountains all converge at its end. There are many old and fading logging roads to be "discovered" in this area, but they all seem to fade out to nothing eventually. A bushwhack along any of these ridges will combine an easy ridge walk with the challenge of climbing up a series of ledges and cliffs that lie near the summits of all of these peaks. But you will be rewarded with the experience of traveling through an original growth forest of Red Spruce, with hemlocks, yellow birch and many other trees and flowers.
Good luck to all of you who attempt this trail- I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did.
And a few friends of mine and myself would like to do a little winter camping, in a place with access to water (running stream) and nice campsite or 2 - Can you tell me if you passed any nice camping areas near the Wittenberg Brook? Was the brook dry or can I expect there to be water? Thanks! :)