Devil’s Path is a hiking trail that is located in the Catskill Mountains of New York State. The trail allows hikers to summit five peaks and is approximately 25 miles in length. Most hikers break the trail up and do one or 2 summits as a day hike. It is also popular with backpackers as there are state owned campgrounds and this allows the entire trail to be hiked over a couple of days. If you are looking for a challenge and are responsible in your approach, this trail can be hiked in one day. It is considered one of the toughest day hikes in the Northeast. October 11, 2014 was the second time I hiked it in a day and we have affectionately nicknamed it “Devil in a Day.” I figured I would write about my experiences and try to give you some insight into the experience. Possibly motivate some of you to set it as a goal for next year. I was introduced to Devil’s Path by my buddy Gene. We have done it together both years with three others in 2013 and five different people this year. During my hike this year I tried to take some voice memos for each peak so I could recall some key points. There is one consistency throughout the hike and that is your going to have to work to get through it. Here’s my breakdown followed by some recommendations.
Devil’s Path is a point to point hike so this is going to require some pre-planning. You are going to have to leave a car at the finish so you have a way to get home. Both times we dropped a car off at the finish and left it overnight. In addition your not going to go much faster than 2 miles an hour so it would be prudent to get an early start. The trail begins off Country Road at the corner of Prediger Road. There is limited parking available. You can be dropped off or simply leave your car and retrieve it the following day. The trail is very well marked with red reflective DEC discs. Both times we hiked it we did it in early October. The temperature reduces the stress on the body and the reduced foliage helps in picking up the trail markers.
In addition to the red discs there are trail signs placed strategically throughout the trail. They give distance and direction for upcoming summits and attractions. These signs are helpful and can aid in motivation. I didn’t find the ascent of Indian Head to be challenging. Your going to hit a point that offers a small area to get a pretty nice view of the valley. This is not the summit. After this point you are going to hit some short sections of challenging terrain. More notable a collapsed tree that is in your path and rotted away. Use caution and avoid walking on top of it as it seems close to breaking in half. In addition roots from other trees will provide some good handholds as you make your way up the remaining rocky terrain as you approach the summit. Indian Head will give you some limited views but not anything to write home about. It’s a nice way to ease into the trail and get warmed up. The summit for Indian Head is 3,573 feet.
The 3,500 foot elevation marker is a welcomed site throughout the hike. It’s there to point out DEC regulations on fires and camping above this point between March 21 and December 21. It also is a good sign that you are very close to the summit you are approaching. As you tire it provides a mental re-charge at times when it is definitely needed.
Twin is a quick ascent and very steep. It did provide some technical sections but overall I didn’t feel it was that bad. As it’s name implies there are two summits on Twin. The first offers a real nice panoramic view of the Catskills and on a clear day is one of the better views. This year we had some rain when we hit this summit. It was nice but not nearly as nice as it was the year prior. The second peak is the true summit and is about 3,600 feet. I felt that the decent down Twin was very challenging. A lot of loose rock to be aware of with your footing. This is the first time you get to appreciate your trekking poles as they saved me from taking a spill more than once.
This accent of Sugarloaf offered more rock outcrops and chutes than Twin. This was a challenging ascent and did not reward you with any nice views once the summit of 3,800 feet was reached. The descent was equally as challenging.
This is a bitch of an ascent and I think the toughest one on Devil’s Path. It is rocky and steep. You are going to work the entire way up and this is one of those moments when the 3,500 foot elevation sign is a relief as it reinforces that you are almost there. Plateau tops out at 3,855 feet. One of my favorite parts of the trail is the hike across the actual Plateau. It is about a two mile nearly level, soft footed walk before you begin your next decent. It’s a relief from the constant, rocky up and down. My feet appreciated it and the terrain was nice enough to allow for a refreshing trail run if you where so inclined. Before the descent you get two views. One from Danny’s lookout which gives you a nice northeast view and the second from Orchid point which allows you to view both Hunter and West Kill Mountain. The decent down is long and rocky with a lot of loose rock.
Route 214 is the only road crossing on Devil’s Path and it is roughly the half way point. We took an extended stop here and addressed any issues that were arising with our body. I took the opportunity to change into a pair of dry socks and address areas on my feet that were heating up in an effort to ward off blisters. The mental game also begins here as you can’t escape how you feel and realize you are only half way done.
Once you cross Route 214 you begin your ascent of Hunter. It was tough initially to get the body going after the long stop but once we warmed back up we found this section to not be terribly challenging. The trail seemed to contain a lot of switchbacks and the ascent was comfortable. Depending on how you feel there is a point here that you can switch trails and you can take the yellow trail to Hunter’s summit and fire tower. We elected to skip this and proceed on the red trail. Shortly after this is the Devil’s Acre Lean to where we ran into a couple of hikers who looked like they were settling in for the night. The trail begins to descend after this as you make your way towards the waterfall at West Kill. All of the descents on Devil’s Path seem to be long. Your feet get pushed up to the front of your shoes and your thighs take a beating from the extended eccentric load. It was on this descent that I really started to feel the fatigue of the downhill.
This is the last section of the Devil’s Path. Once reaching West Kill Falls you are able to cross the water via a bridge that has been built within this past year. We had to wait here for about a half hour as two members of our group fell behind. It was here also that two members of our group opted to hike out to Spruceton Road on the blue trail and take that route back to the car. West Kill is the highest summit on the hike at 3,880 feet and is the sixth highest summit in the Catskills. Buck Ridge Lookout is on the way up West Kill and gives probably the best view of the entire hike. Unfortunately we were not able to appreciate it as we reached it in darkness. This ascent is not difficult but I felt it was the longest so you just have to keep grinding away at it. By this time your tired and your feet and thighs are aching. My motivation was simply to finish so I could get off my feet. It feels like it’s never going to end but when you reach your car and realize it’s over it’s a rewarding experience.
To take on “Devil in a Day” I would make the following recommendations. Be responsible in your decision to do it and be realistic with your expectations. You must be physically fit. This is not a hike to take on with a casual attitude as you are going to be in remote areas without any easy access in the event someone gets hurt or lost. Use your trekking poles early and do not wait until you feel tired. This is going to save your legs for the second half. I would also recommend doing it with a small group rather than a large one. Less chances of things going wrong and affecting hike. Someone in the group should have experience with this hike and the trails. Make no doubt about it this is an endurance event. You do not have the ability to stop and wait for someone to pick you up. Once you start it’s on you to finish. Stay hydrated and fueled. Take a few minutes at every summit to enjoy the view and to eat and drink. It will pay off later in the hike. I think it’s important to test your will and take on challenges. It raises the bar on what you define as being hard or difficult. Hiking Devil’s Path in a day provides you with just such a challenge. It’s good to test your will once in a while and see what you find!
- Backback with a frame. Will allow you to carry everything you need and rest comfortably on your back.
- Two Trekking poles. These will not only save your legs but you from falling on this terrain.
- Headlamp with extra batteries, I take two headlamps with me.
- At least 3-4 liters of water and at least 3,000 calories. Have some real food and not all gels and bars. I take some comfort food with me to lift my spirits.
- Wet weather gear in case it rains.
- Extra socks. Pack them in zip lock bags so they stay dry.
- First aid kit with blister care.
- Camera for the awesome views.
- Compass, Map, GPS
- Survival gear: knife, waterproof matches etc.
- Adequate clothing for change in weather and temperature
- Body Glide or whatever you prefer to ward off chaffing!!!