The Catskills: From the Outside Looking In

My home ski mountain, Hunter, has views of 10 or 11 of the 35 Catskill High Peaks from various locations around the ski area. The summit of Hunter Mountain proper (4,040’) is believed to be the Catskill location with views of more Catskill High Peaks than any other location. Needless to say, Hunter skiers enjoy great views of the Catskills from the inside, looking out. With this off-season photo essay, I’m trying to turn that perspective around, and show views of the Catskills from the outside, looking in.

Ellenville Vallye
Ellenville and the distant Catskills from the Shawangunk Mountains Scenic Byway (NY Rt 52)

Looking northwest from the overlook on Route 52 provides a great view of Ellenville and the valley separating the Shawangunks from the Catskills.

Beyond the valley lie the foothills and the Catskills proper. Catskill views in this image include the high peaks near Slide Mountain (center rear) and the Devil’s Path (far right, rear).

Litchfield Ledge view
Catskill view from Litchfield Ledge in Minnewaska State Park

Minnewaska State Park is one of the crown jewels of the NY State Park system, providing outstanding scenery and recreational opportunities for thousands of visitors. This image was chosen to show the beauty of Minnewaska’s landscape, and also to highlight some of the differences between these two mountain groups. Separated by just a few miles, the Shawangunks are older than the Catskills, and owe their origin to true mountain building forces. The younger Catskills are essentially an uplifted and eroded plateau.

Mohonk Sunset view
Mohonk Preserve at Golden Hour

I visited the North Lookout at Mohonk Preserve a few days before the summer solstice a few years ago, and was taken by the view as sunset approached. This image perfectly depicts a summer evening in the region. As you can see, those peaks are getting closer as we head north along the eastern escarpment of the Catskills.

Ferncliff Tower view
Catskill Autumn from Ferncliff Tower

The Ferncliff Tower is in Rhinebeck NY across the Hudson from the Catskills. The tower offers a great view of the river backed by the Catskills. This shot shows the northeastern escarpment of the Catskills, plus the Hudson and the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge. The eastern escarpment here forms The Great Wall of Manitou, which stretches from Overlook Mountain (directly above the western end of the bridge), to North Point, which is around the bend, out of view.

Overlook Tower view
The Eastern Catskills from Overlook Fire Tower

This shot is not exactly from the outside looking in, as Overlook Mountain is clearly part of the Catskills. Overlook forms the southeast corner of the northern Catskills, providing a great view of the Hudson Valley and the southern portion of the Catskills. This image includes the Ashokan Reservoir (left in the image) and Slide Mountain, the Catskills’ highest point at 4180’ (center-right of image).

Blackhead Range from Albany County
The Blackheads from Albany County

As the highest peaks on the northern escarpment of the Catskills, the Blackheads are visible from many locations north of the mountains. Driving home from Albany on back roads, I stumbled upon this spot in southern Albany County, and was taken by the super clear view of these 3 high peaks (L-R Blackhead, Black Dome and Thomas Cole Mountan), which reflected so nicely in the water.

Catskills Northern Escarpement
The Northern Escarpment of the Catskills

Continuing with views from the north, we get a straight-ahead view of the northern escarpment showing Blackhead Mountain, Acra Point, Burnt Knob and Windham High Peak off to the far right. This is the northern front of the Catskills, up close and personal. I shot this photo last weekend, with this photo essay in mind.

Catskill Northern Perimeter
Windham High Peak, Burnt Knob and Acra Point

Here is another look at the northern front of the Catskills, this time from the northwest. Behind the front, you can see 2 of the 3 peaks of the Blackheads. It’s worth noting that Windham ski area lies on West Cave and Cave Mountains, a few miles southwest of here.

Balsam Lake Mountain firetower view
Looking East to the Catskills from Balsam Lake Mountain Fire Tower

It’s difficult to define the boundary of the Catskills on the west. As the western-most Catskill high peak, Balsam Lake Mountain with its fire tower has great views of the Catskills from the west. This view shows at least 10 high peaks including the Blackheads in the far distance on the left, and a nice collection of other peaks in the center and right-center (Eagle or Panther, Graham, Slide, Doubletop, Lone, Table and Peekamoose).

Red Hill view
View of Table and Peekamoose from Red Hill Fire Tower

The Red Hill fire tower lies a few miles south of the Catskills’ southernmost high peaks. The view looking north shows Slide Mountain on the left and both Table and Peekamoose Mountains on the right side of the image. This tower lies about 10 miles northwest of the location of the first image in this essay. We’ve come full circle. I hope you’ve enjoyed the tour.


All images click to enlarge.


Steve Aaron has skied the Catskills his entire life. He’s an avid skier, hiker, cyclist and photographer, always armed with a camera. Steve’s landscape photos have appeared in Backpacker Magazine, Hudson Valley Magazine, NY Newsday and the Albany Times Union. His work is also featured in pieces for Ulster County Tourism, Scenic Hudson, The Trust for Public Land and other outdoor oriented organizations. Every August, Steve publishes a wall calendar featuring beautiful landscape images from the Catskills and Shawangunks. For more information on the calendar, join Steve’s mailing list.

15 comments on “The Catskills: From the Outside Looking In

  1. Steve thanks for your contribution. The pictures are stunning, the golden hour is unreal.

  2. Great pics
    Dig the Blackheads
    And Acra point… my stopping grounds!!
    Nice work

  3. Excellent pictures! I am based in the Adirondacks so I usually admire the Catskills from across the river on the Taconic, Have you used Peakfinder.org for figuring out which peak is which? I carry the app because I am spatial and memory challenged.

  4. Great photos. Have you been to Olana in Hudson, NY? Amazing Catskill views, also the Rip Van Winkle Bridge which now has safe pedestrian access. I am very lucky to cross that bridge daily and the Catskill view is never the same and never gets old.

  5. Thanks for the comments everyone. In response to the questions:
    I don’t use Peakfinder because I enjoy trying to figure out what I’m looking at using maps. I’m not always accurate, but it’s just something I like doing.
    I have been to Olana, and a photo form Olana would fit right into this essay. The Rip Van Winkle Bridge does provide great views of the northern Catskills. I have a pano shot taken from right near the bridge entrance that was under consideration for this post.

    Thanks everyone.

  6. Steve captures the vastness and grandeur of the Catskills more completely than any other photographer I know. He obviously loves the area and knows all the hidden scenic treasures of the area.

  7. Excellent pictorial article Steve. Hope to meet you on the trail one day

  8. Nice essay Steve and beautiful images– I have seen many of these views, including those coming south from Albany. Now you’ve got me thinking. There are some cool views of Windham from the hills around South Durham. And there must be something you could see from Minekill, since you can see the upper and lower reservoirs from Windham. You had a very nice image you took from Schunemunk once upon a time. And of course there are two or three spots along the Thruway which offer nice views of the southern escarpment (although difficult to take a picture while driving!)

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