Best Half-Day Hikes in The Catskills and Shawangunks

Joseph Satto


Less than a two hours’ drive north from New York City, The Catskill and Shawangunk Mountains offer a premier escape for Big Apple residents.

Quaint little towns and villages, an abundance of excellent, locally-sourced restaurants, and an endless array of outdoor pursuits. While its popularity for extended stays and second home purchases is well-known, its proximity to New York City makes it a prime location for day trips.

For hiking enthusiasts especially, bypassing the towns and eateries of Ulster, Delaware, and Sullivan Counties leaves you with plenty of time to explore the area's wilder side. It's possible to traverse some of The Catskills and Shawangunk's best trails in a single day. Depending on your itinerary, you can even choose to fit more than one into a single day or linger a bit longer at a personal favorite. Those who live closer have even more options at their disposal.
So if you’re looking for a little respite from city life, or just want to get out amongst nature for a few hours, lace up your hiking boots. Let's explore the best half-day hikes in The Catskills and Shawangunks.

The Catskills

The heart of The Catskills stretches across Ulster and Sullivan Counties and really needs no introduction. Long celebrated as the perfect getaway for city dwellers, this region offers visitors and locals plenty to see and do. From artistic enclaves to high-end dining to a rich, deeply-rooted history, there's plenty here to satisfy every taste. Then there are the outdoor pursuits.

Although The Catskills are about a two and a half-hour drive from New York City, they carry plenty of potential for those hoping to spend the day outdoors. Leave the city early, arrive mid-morning, venture on a hike or two, grab a quick bite to eat on your way out, and head back to the city with time in the evening to spare.

The options are even better if you live in or around one of the area's numerous hamlets. Many trails are short enough that a morning trek will get you home by lunch and an afternoon hike home by dinner. Here are four to consider.

Alder Lake Loop Trail
: 1.5 miles (approximately 90 minutes)
Difficulty: Easy
Closest Town: Hardenburgh
What Makes it a Great Half-Day Hike: Sometimes, the best hikes are those that prove to be the easiest—a simple walk through the woods, up a small rise, and around a serene body of water. The short Alder Lake Loop Trail is one such trail. Laid out around the smallish Alder Lake and framed by gently sloping hillsides, this hike is the epitome of a perfect half-day hike. Easy access, gorgeous setting, abundant wildlife, and absolutely no stress while traversing the trail. The experience is so satisfying many visitors opt for a second trip around, filling their morning or afternoon with three hours of bliss.

Bramley Mountain Trail
: 4 miles (approximately 4 hours)
Difficulty: Moderate
Closest Town: Delhi
What Makes it a Great Half-Day Hike: Located in Delaware County, between Delhi and Bloomville, the Bramley Mountain Trail is a newer addition to The Catskills hiking landscape. Built by The Catskill Mountain Club, this 4-mile loop provides visitors with plenty of interesting sights during their journey. The trail ascends 756 feet through hardwoods leading to Bramley's 2,817-foot summit, where a fire tower once stood. Elsewhere on the hike, you'll experience an abandoned bluestone quarry, stone walls, rock outcroppings, and dramatic cliffs. The views of the valley below are quite impressive as well.

Frick Pond Loop
: 2.2 miles (approximately 2 hours)
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Closest Town: Livingston Manor
What Makes it a Great Half-Day Hike: If your day away also includes kids or grandparents or both, the Frick Pond Loop is tailored for family outings. This Sullivan County loop traverses three diverse landscapes—forest, meadow, and wetlands—and offers numerous opportunities to view wildlife in action. The trail is lightly traveled, which makes it a prime location for bird watchers. For those with a bit more time on their hands, the Frick Pond Loop feeds into a more extensive network of trails, including the Hodge Pond Loop, which can extend your hike to six and a half miles.

Overlook Mountain 
: 5 miles (approximately 4.5 hours)
Difficulty: Moderate
Closest Town: Woodstock
What Makes it a Great Half-Day Hike: This popular out-and-back trail near Woodstock offers one of the region's more unique payoffs upon reaching its midway point. You’ll barely notice the gradual, 1,400-foot ascent as you absorb scenic views and pass by the shell of the former Overlook Mountain House. Shortly after exploring the hotel ruins, you’ll reach Overlook Mountain and its fire tower. The tower remains intact and open to those who wish to take in even more commanding views of the surrounding Catskill Mountains as well as the Hudson River.

The Shawangunks

They may not garner the recognition of their more famous neighbor, but when it comes to outdoor pursuits, the Shawangunk Mountains are very much a star in their own right. Rock climbing and mountain biking are big draws, but few places in New York can match the abundance of pure hiking trails in the Shawangunks.

The area features six major parks and preserves and over 150 miles of trails, many of which center around the 50-mile long Shawangunk Ridge. Most are easy to find and navigate for a brisk morning or afternoon getaway. Roughly 95 miles from New York City, the Shawangunks are actually closer than The Catskills, making them the perfect destination for quick outings and a taste of the outdoors. 

Here are our picks of four of the best Shawangunk hikes if you only have half a day to spare.

Beacon Hill Trail at Minnewaska State Park Preserve
: 3 miles (approximately 2 hours)
Difficulty: Easy
Closest Town: Kerhonkson
What Makes it a Great Half-Day Hike: It's rare to find short, easy hikes that provide visitors with breathtaking views without literally taking their breath away. The Beacon Hill trail, located within the Minnewaska State Park Preserve, is actually a combination of two trails. Beacon Hill forms the main pathway which links up with the Beacon Hill Carriageway. The trail itself is often lightly trafficked, has several scenic outlooks with stunning panoramas, and ends at a fantastic picnic area.  

Bonticou Crag Route
: 2.5 miles (approximately 3 hours)
Difficulty: Difficult
Closest City: New Paltz
What Makes it a Great Half-Day Hike: Not all half-day escapes need to be relaxing affairs. For those who appreciate a challenge, look no further than the Bonticou Crag Route on the Mohonk Preserve. What begins as a rather pedestrian walk across a meadow quickly turns into a steep, 400-foot ascent—one of a handful of popular Mohonk Preserve scrambles. Make no mistake— the jaunt up to Bonticou Crag is more of a climb than it is a hike—but you'll be thankful you made the attempt. The payoff upon reaching the top is majestic views of The Catskills, Shawangunks, and the Wallkill Valley below. 

Gertrude's Nose Trail
: 6.5 miles (approximately 5 hours)
Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
Closest City: Kerhonkson
What Makes it a Great Half-Day Hike: If you have a little extra time to spare, The Gertrude's Nose Trail, also located in Minnewaska State Park Preserve, is well worth the half-day plus some you'll spend trekking it. Named after one of the most well-known rock formations in the region, it's also one of the most scenic trails in the Shawangunk trail system. The hike features a sublime, gravelly start around Lake Minnewaska, then quickly descends before starting an exhilarating ascent. The trail takes you from an elevation of 1,300 feet to nearly 1,800 feet over the course of the three-mile midsection, which is where the trail comes alive. Cliffs, rock and water features, diverse terrain, and infinite views—you'll want to spend the whole day here.

Ice Caves and Verkeerderkill Falls Trail
: 7 miles (approximately 5 hours)
Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
Closest City: Ellenville
What Makes it a Great Half-Day Hike: Unique among the trails in this area of New York, the Ice Caves and Verkeerderkill Falls are favorites among those who appreciate venturing off the beaten path. The Ice Caves portion of this self-contained network starts with a half-mile loop that takes you through extremely narrow crevices, under rock formations, and into some foreboding territory. From there, the Ice Caves Trails leads into Sam's Point Loop, which then feeds into the larger Verkeerderkill Falls Trails. Each segment is its own wonder, with cliffs, waterfalls, lakes, and views of the Shawangunks, Catskills, and Hudson Valley. Regardless of how much time you spend on the trails—from a few hours to a full day—you won’t be disappointed.  

Interested in taking a break from big city life and finding your perfect retreat in Upstate New York? Contact the Fresh Air Realty team today and allow us to be your Catskills and Hudson Valley real estate guide. 

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