Hiking New York: Giant Ledge and Panther Mountain in the Catskills

Well folks, it's been generally quiet around here, save last week's piece on a hike I've done a dozen times, but saw in a new light on a recent trip...I promise it's been quiet around for a reason.

A few of my closest friends and I at Giant Ledge for my bachelorette weekend!

And that reason, primarily, is the fact that I got married in September. I imagined I'd be a bride who didn't get wrapped up in the details, didn't stress too much, and had plenty of brain space for work, exercise, wedding planning, seeing friends and family, and keeping up with passion projects. Turns out, I didn't, and some things, including my passion projects, had to take a back seat.

But sharing a hike some of my closest friends and I did on my bachelorette weekend seemed like a perfect way to get back into the Adventure-Inspired swing of things! It also happens to be one of the most beautiful, relatively low commitment hikes in the Catskill Mountains.

Getting to the Trailhead

The trail to Giant Ledge and Panther Mountain (3,720') is incredibly popular, and with good reason; views are fantastic and the hike isn't long, which are both reasons we chose it for the trip. We opted to approach from the south, visiting Giant Ledge first and then determining whether the group would continue on to Panther Mountain or turn around.

The view from somewhere near the summit of Panther Mountain. It's clearly worth the trip!

We parked at the main parking lot here, and the parking lot is big, but due to the hike's popularity, when we returned from our hike, cars lined the road. From the parking lot, cross NY-47 (carefully) and step over a guard rail to find the start of the trail.

Hiking to Giant Ledge (~3.5 Miles Round Trip, ~1,000' Elevation Gain)

The blue blazed trail starts out relatively flat, and shortly after starting, you'll come to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation trail register. Pro tip: stop and register. Registering helps the groups that maintain the trails understand visitation and maintenance needs, and if you're overdue to return, registering just might save your life.

All signed in at the trail register!

About 0.25 into the hike, you'll cross a large wooden bridge, and then the climbing begins. The trail is generally rocky, which is par for the course in the Catskills, and after another 0.5 miles, you'll come to a junction. Turn left, and keep following the blue blazed toward Giant Ledge and Panther Mountain (unless a 2.5 mile one way detour to Woodland Valley sounds like a good idea). At this point, there's a brief reprieve from the elevation gain before you start climbing again.

Our crew making our way up one of the steeper parts of the trail to Giant Ledge.

About 1.5 miles into the hike, you'll see a small side trail to the right, which leads to the first of several ledges. We stopped for a break here on our hike because we didn't see anyone else there, giving us an incredible view all to ourselves. After finishing snacks, we continued on, looking for the other ledges. We found five ledges, or viewpoints, and at the last one, part of our group turned around while some opted to continue on to Panther Mountain.

Hiking to Panther Mountain (Additional 3 Miles Round Trip, ~500' Elevation Gain)

The trail beyond the ledges to Panther Mountain begins with a short ~200' descent before the climbing starts again. We found this section to be more rugged than the climb to Giant Ledge, but significantly less crowded.

Making our way up one of the steeper parts of the trail to Panther Mountain.

As we approached what I anticipated would be the summit of Panther Mountain after about 1.5 miles of hiking, we looked for a sign I'd seen in other trip reports indicating we'd reached the top, but we didn't see anything. We kept going another 0.25 miles before realizing we were starting to descend, and backtracked to a large rock. Somewhere between where we started backtracking and the large rock, as it turns out, was the summit.

Making our way up the large rock near the summit, views were totally worth the trip!

After taking in the views, we turned around, backtracking to Giant Ledge, and ran into a summit steward. She explained the sign had been removed, and not by anyone on official business, which explained why we didn't see it! We made it back to the car after approximately four total hours, including snack stops.

Things to Know Before You Go

Thinking about doing this hike? Start your weekend day hike early, or go on a weekday if you can. This hike is popular, and the parking lot fills up early. Make sure you have sturdy hiking boots or shoes, as the trail gets rocky and steep.

Three of our eight person crew on Giant Ledge. (PC: the summit steward on staff that day!)

Sign in at the trail register, and mind the signs at the junctions. The signs were clear, but one wrong turn and you'll end up quite far from the parking lot. Bring plenty of water and snacks; it's a challenging hike, and you're going to need nourishment!

Have you been to Giant Ledge and/or Panther Mountain? Leave a comment!