Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Willowemoc Wild Forest | Catskill Park, New York

If you are looking for an area in the Catskill Park where the mountains are not quite so high, there’s small ponds nestled away in the backcountry and the trails are not quite as difficult in other areas of the Park, the Willowemoc Wild Forest might be just what you are looking for.  This Wild Forest unit in the southwestern Catskills has a big trail network that brings you around smaller peaks and to plenty of  wild ponds.  The trails for the most part are family friendly and with some planning, you can even make a couple of different overnight trips.

Finding the Willowemoc Wild Forest 

The Willowemoc Wild Forest is located in the southwestern Catskills to the north and east of Route 17.  The forest unit is both in Sullivan and Ulster County, though the majority of it is in Sullivan County.  There’s easy access to the majority of the trails from the Livingston Manor area.  There are several different trailheads that provide access to different parts of the forest including two trailheads near Livingston Manor, one for Waneta Lake, one for Long Pond and one in the town of Denning.

The best access to the Willowemoc Wild Forest is from the Livingston Manor exit on Route 17.  The village includes a number of hotels, restaurants and retailers, including a great outdoor retailer, Morgan Outdoors, who can help you get ready with your trip into the Park.

Being Forest Preserve as part of the Catskill Park, access to the Willowemoc Wild Forest is free and open to the public.  Hiking, fishing, skiing and hunting are all allowed, as is mountain biking on marked trails.  Parking at the trailheads and access points is also free

What’s there to do in the Willowemoc Wild Forest? 

There are about 40 miles of trails throughout the Wild Forest with some being marked as hiking trails only, but others being marked as snowmobile trails, which are also open to hikers, bikers and skiers (in the winter).  The trails work there way around several smaller mountains and visit a number of different lakes and ponds.  The most extensive trail network is the one adjacent to the Monguap Pond State Campground.  These trails provide several different hikes up to about 14 miles in length around three different ponds (Frick Pond, Hodge Pond and Quick Lake).  There is also a lean-to at Quick Lake where you can camp overnight without needing a tent.

If you are a mountain biker, mountain bikes are allowed on all trails within the Wild Forest, though the snowmobile trails tend to make better routes than the hiking trails.  That said, a number of both snowmobile and hiking trails follow old roads, which makes for a great ride.

Snowmobiling is allowed during the winter season on marked snowmobile trails.

Also in the winter, all trails are open to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

During the summer and the fall, you can use the snowmobile trails for horseback riding.

During the proper hunting and fishing seasons, all of the Wild Forest is open to hunters and fishermen.  Some of the ponds and lakes in the forest unit are stocked and managed by the State for fishermen.   In addition, there is a handicapped accessible fishing pear on Waneta Lake.

Camping is allowed within the Willowemoc Wild Forest at designated camping sites, or anywhere at least 150 feet away from road, water or trail.  There is a single rustic, Adirondack-style lean-to in the unit, located on the shore of Frick Pond.  This lean-to is a seven mile hike from the trailhead (in one direction) and is one of the most remote lean-tos in the Catskill Park.

Monguap Pond State Campground is not part of the Willowemoc Wild Forest, but is adjacent to it.  This campground is also a day-use area that features a beach and several hiking trails.  It also have improved campsites for those who are looking for a less rustic way to camp.


I had to admit that growing up in the Catskills, I tended to ignore this area.  It does not have any high mountain peaks or sweeping vistas.  There really are no challenging trails and for those of us in the northeastern Catskills, this area tends to be kind of difficult to reach.  However in the last couple of years, I have discovered that this area is a real gem in the park.  Sometimes I do not need to climb a mountain and just want a great hike that takes me to a pond or to a remote lean-to.  I get that in the Willowemoc Wild Forest.  The trails are not all that rough and the walking is easy.  I can do longer mileage trips and I can really enjoy the forests and the ponds that I am going through.  Plus I have a place to take friends that want to hike but who do not want to hike difficult trails.

I really like exploring this Wild Forest.  I have found some great spots around Frick and Hodge Ponds, I have rediscovered snowshoeing, renting a pair for a local outdoor retailer in nearby Livingston Manor and then hitting the trails.

These are also great trails for families to get out on.  There are trips of all different lengths, many of which you can do as loops, that let you get your children out into the woods, but on trips that will not tax them (or you) too much.

Final Thoughts 

If you are visiting the Catskills and want to hike and explore a region with plenty of small lakes and ponds but without too many difficult trails, the Willowemoc Wild Forest is probably a great choice.  The area can be easily accessed from Route 17 and has miles of hiking, biking and snowmobile trails, along with lots of ponds where you can sit down with your fishing pole and enjoy the day fishing.

I have really come to love this area.  I think of it as the quiet Catskills.  You will not find large crowds or overused trails, but what you will find is quiet solitude, interesting hiking opportunities and thousands of acres of forest for you to explore.

So for anyone looking for that kind of trip in the Catskill Park, or if you are traveling with children and looking for great kid friendly hiking, the Willowemoc Wild Forest is a great choice.  I doubt you will be disappointed if you take the time to visit.

ReviewThis' Guide to the Catskill Park
Adventures In The Outdoors Guide Hiking Advice in the Catskill Park

Need More Information on Hiking and  Planning your 
Adventures in the Catskill Mountains and the Catskill Park?

Catskill TrailsRead up on the Catskill Park at Adventures in the outdoors Catskill Mountains Information Page for hikes, advice, travel and planning information.  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.  How about a guidebook?  Both AMC and ADK publish trail guides to the Catskill Region and thAdventures in the Outdoors Bookstore carries many more books and maps for hiking and exploring the Catskill Mountain region.

AMC Catskill Mountain Guide, 2nd: AMC's Comprehensive Guide to Hiking Trails in the Catskills (Appalachian Mountain Club)   

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