This run combines well-marked trails with great bushwhacking. For those beginning to explore off trail, the ascent up Fir Mountain is a great introduction. The approach goes between two streams so it is hard to get lost. At the top, the canister is easy to find. If undertaken in the winter, there are great views through the leafless trees, however, do not expect much in the summer.
The ridge route from Fir to Big Indian is great and littered with interesting and challenging boulders, however, there are some pockets of pine trees that can be challenging. The journey back is quick and easy to follow along the Pine Hill - West Branch Trail
. You can do this all in a day or camp by the lean-to at the base of the Big Indian.
The stream crossing at mile 2 is difficult, make sure to find a spot to cross that you are comfortable with. For bushwhacking, make sure you have a compass and a map (or the Trail Run Project mobile app
) since the trees will block your view.
This approach leaves from the Frost Valley Road (47). The parking lot is medium sized, but can fill up. The trailhead is about twenty feet down the road on the opposite side of the parking lot and stream.
You'll begin by following the blue-blazed Pine Hill - West Branch Trail
. The first mile is steep and ascends quickly. This is some of the steepest grade of the whole trip. Once over the hill, you have a gentle descent down to Biscuit Brook. If you plan on camping at the lean-to on the way back, I recommend leaving your overnight pack here and continuing with a light backpack. The lean-to is on the left and well-marked.
Once you pass the lean-to, you'll arrive at the junction of a tributary of Biscuit Brook. This is a hard stream crossing and often visitors head a bit upstream to cross. Here, you can choose to either bushwhack up Fir Mountain or continue along the Pine Hill - West Branch Trail
until you reach the summit of Big Indian.
We started with bushwhacking, just in case it took longer than we thought, and needed to return to the lean-to in the dark (the blue blazes that mark the Pine Hill - West Branch Trail
are reflective, making navigation in the dark easy and safe as long as you have headlamps or flashlights).
The bushwhack up Fir can be challenging but as long as you keep going up and make sure you do not cross a stream, you'll find the top no problem. At the top of Fir, make sure to sign in the canister before continuing on to Big Indian. There are pockets of dense pine trees so here it is important that you have a compass and map. The tendency is for bushwhackers to drop down off the top of Fir too early, make sure you head north for a mile before heading west towards Big Indian.
Once you find the ridge line (the Catskill divide), you'll easily be able to follow it directly to the top of Big Indian where again you'll find a canister. From Big Indian, you still have 0.25 miles of bushwhacking back to the Pine Hill - West Branch Trail
but there is a path and it is easy to follow. When you see the blue blazes, head south back to the lean-to. This trail follows Biscuit Brook and has great scenery.
You return to the trailhead from the lean-to the same way you came in.