2017-06-28 / Take a Hike

Phoenicia East Branch Trail

By Will Soter

The Phoenicia East Branch trail is also known as the Denning - Woodland Valley Road. In days gone by this old carriage road was the route that connected Phoenicia to Claryville. Now it is mostly known as a trail that connects hikers to other trails. From this single trail you can connect to the Finger Lakes Trail, the Long Path, Peekamoose-Table, Curtis-Ormsbee, Wittenberg Cornell-Slide, and the Giants Ledge-Panther trail. Many of us have probably heard of these amazing trails that are tied together by the Phoenicia East Branch trail, and most of us have probably hiked a portion of the trail on our way to one of those classic Catskill hikes. However, if you make the old carriage road itself your adventure, it will shine a whole new light on this beautiful section of the Catskills.

I generally prefer to approach this hike form Denning. There are two advantages for me in this approach. The first, is that I can stage a car at Woodland Valley Campground and get dropped off in Denning, allowing me to finish the hike with a shorter drive home to Kingston. The second advantage is something anyone can enjoy, regardless of which direction they have to travel to get home. This is the variety of options you have to grab a cold one and a bite to eat when you finish. The Woodland Valley Campground is located just minutes from Phoenicia, and this can be used as a carrot on the end on the stick as you work your way along the trail.

From the Trailhead at the end of Denning Road you will start out on the yellow-blazed Phoenicia East Branch trail, following the old carriage road with its nice easy grade. At the start of the trail you can make out signs of the agriculture that had once occupied that end of the valley. After one and two-tenths miles you will reach the eastern terminus of the Finger Lakes Trail, and a junction where the Long Path comes from the blueblazed Peekamoose-Table Trail to join the Phoenicia East Branch. This is the section of the trail that receives less use and it is a wonderful trail. The grade will increase slightly and remain steady, it will then level out after about a mile when it crosses a tributary of the Deer Shanty Brook. The trail will turn east revealing nice views of Slide, Friday, and Balsam Cap. These views are even better when the leaves have fallen. Shortly after the trail turns north again you will come across the junction for the blue-blazed Curtis-Ormsbee Trail, and the monument to the two men that designed that route up Slide Mountain. From this junction it is .85 miles to the Wittenberg- Cornell-Slide Trail. Before reaching that next junction you will reach a spring and you will cross a tributary of the West Branch of the Neversink. At the junction for the red-blazed Wittenberg- Cornell-Slide Trail the path will begin to descend to the road bellow. Within seven-tenths of a mile you will reach the parking area on county Route 47, however the trail continues.

Some may wish to stop here and it is a perfectly wonderful place to do so. Up to this point you would have hiked four and a half miles walking beneath the Wildcat Ridge that divides the east and west branches of the Neversink.

For those who choose to hike the length of the trail the next leg may not sound as appealing as it bring you along the road for one and nine-tenths miles. However, the scenery of this road walk makes up for the passing cars. About halfway through the road walk Winnisook Mountain will be on your left and Lake Winnisook will be on your right. Lake Winnisook is an impounded tributary of the Esopus Creek. Winnisook is the legendary Native American from which the Town of Big Indian derived its name. According to the stories I have heard, Winnisook was at least seven-feet tall.

At the hairpin turn in the road the trail re-enters the forest. From this point you will cross a bridge spanning another section of the Esopus Creek, and begin to climb steadily for .7 miles. Here the trail will level out and reach a junction with the blue blazed Giant Ledge-Panther Trail. Over the next one and a half miles the trail will begin to descend gradually, and then more steadily after crossing the Woodland Valley Creek. From this point the trail will cross another tributary and then make a short steady climb before descending gradually to the parking lot in Woodland Valley. Note that if you plan to leave a car in this parking area between Memorial Day and Columbus Day, you will either need an Empire Passport or $6. The entire span will traverse 9.8 miles and will take you through diverse and changes forests. I personally like to do this hike once a season as it is a great way to observe changes in the forest, as the seasons progress. Directions to: Slide Mountain Parking area on Rte. 47

From Route 28 in Big Indian, turn onto Ulster County Route 47, the Big Indian-Oliverea Road. One and nine-tenths miles past the parking area at the hairpin turn you will see a sign for the Slide Mountain parking area on your left.

Denning: From the Rte. 28 you will follow the direction for Slide Mountain parking area as listed above, and continue on Route 47 for 19.8 miles, at which point the road becomes Frost Valley Road. Continue nine-tenths of a mile before making a left onto Claryville Road, which is Rout 19. Follow Route 19 for seven and–a-half miles where it will become Denning Road. Drive to the end and park at the trailhead.

Woodland Valley: From Route 28 in Phoenicia turn onto Woodland Valley Road. There will be signs for the campground. After crossing the bridge turn right and follow the road five miles to the parking area.

Editor’s note: Will Soter is the co-founder and lead guide of Upstate Adventure Guides, LLC. Learn more about hiking the Catskills at his website: upstateadventureguides.com. Previously published Take A Hike columns are available at catskillmountainnews.com under the Sports Menu.

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