- The southwestern corner of the Catskill Forest Preserve has 13,500 acres of land titled the Balsam Lake Mountain Wild Forest. The area lies primarily in Ulster County with small appendages in the towns of Middletown and Andes in Delaware County. An extensive trail system dotted with wonderful fishing ponds and streams attracts thousands of campers, hikers, canoeists, hunters, anglers and winter sports enthusiasts.
The terrain is a combination of high mountain ridges, steep sided valleys, numerous brooks and ponds, with elevations ranging from 1,740 feet to 3,723 feet.
The wilderness area has 22 miles of trails ranging from easy hikes such as the Alder Lake Loop Trail which is a 1.5 mile red-blazed path circling Alder Lake. Mill Brook Ridge Trail is a popular half day hike totaling 5.9 miles reaching an elevation of 1,520 feet. This yellow-blazed trail is accessed either from the Alder Lake Loop on the west or the Balsam Lake Mountain Trail on the east. The splendid trek offers the hiker a challenging route through the heart of the wild forest providing access to the Beaver Meadow lean-to which is 2.25 miles from the Alder Lake Trailhead. A popular hiking destination is Balsam Lake Mountain. Three routes carry the hiker to the mountain's summit. One route begins at the Balsam Lake Mountain Trailhead on Beaverkill Road. Follow the blue-blazed Dry Brook Ridge Trail north .9 miles to its junction with the red-blazed Balsam Lake Mountain Trail. Turn left and follow it northwest .85 mile, passing a lean-to before reaching the summit. The elevation gain is 1,200 feet with a total distance of 3.5 miles round-trip. Another route begins at the Dry Brook Ridge Trailhead on Mill Brook Road. Follow the blue-blazed Dry Brook Ridge Trail south for 2.25 miles to its junction with the Balsam Lake Mountain Trail. Turn right and follow the red-blazes southwest for .75 mile to the summit. The total round-trip distance is 6 miles with an elevation gain of 1,120 feet. The least traveled route begins at the Alder Lake Trailhead and follows the Alder Lake Loop and Mill Brook Ridge Trails eastward to the summit for a total round-trip distance of 13.4 miles with an elevation gain of 1,520 feet.
Cross-country skiing is enjoyed in this wilderness area along the 4-mile Kelly Hollow Loop and the 1.5 mile Alder Lake Loop.
Mountain bikers will not find designated routes but will find some of the area's trails suitable for biking.
Primitive camping is allowed at yellow-blazed sites throughout the Wild Forest lands at least 150 feet from any road, trail or water source. Camping is prohibited above 3,500 feet elevation from March 22nd until December 20th. This is to ensure the protection of the fragile mountain vegetation. Campers need to take bear precautions and hang all food, garbage and toilet articles a minimum of 15 feet above the ground and an additional 10 feet from any adjacent tree trunk or overhead limbs and a distance of 150 feet from camp. Other precautions are outlined in DEC publications.
Hunting, fishing and trapping are traditional uses which are encouraged within the Forest Preserve. Balsam Lake Mountain Wild Forest has a large population of black bear and white-tailed deer which are hunted in the fall. Wild turkey is hunted during both spring and fall seasons. Smaller game including beaver, fisher, bobcat and coyote are regulated as well. Boating and fishing are popular recreations enjoyed at Alder Lake. Parking is located off Route 54 in the town of Hardenburgh, 18 miles north of Livingston Manor. The lake supports an abundant population of high quality wild brook trout. No ice fishing is permitted, nor gasoline motors. The lake extends over 45 acres with a maximum depth of 22 feet. A minimum size limit of 10 inches and a possession limit of 3 fish per day are currently regulated to maintain the high quality of brook trout fishing. Use of any fish as bait is strictly prohibited to prevent the establishment of species that would compete with the native brook trout. In addition, many perennial streams provide excellent brook trout fishing including Alder Creek, Black Brook, Balsam Lake Brook, Mill Brook, Gulf of Mexico Brook and the headwaters of Beaverkill.
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