The reward for this steep and strenuous ascent to Panther Mountain is arguably the best view in the Catskill Mountains. An absolute gem in the autumn, this trail takes you to three main points of interest. First is a series of 5 ledges that overlook Woodland Valley and several Catskill Peaks in the distance, including Cross Mountain, Wittenberg Mountain, Mount Pleasant, Romer Mountain, and more. Second is a beautiful alpine forest with an intimate winding trail that routes to the third point of interest, Panther Mountain Summit. Normally this view would be reward enough for any hike of this nature, but does play second fiddle to the 5 ledges, so if you're only here for the views it can be skipped, although it's best to see it all.
Around 1.3 miles into the ascent there is a Spring, just off the trail and clearly marked.
This is a classic 'out and back' and therefore extremely simple to navigate, with only a lone spot for a possible misstep. The hike commences on the yellow-blazed Phoenicia East Branch Trail (Yellow)
headed east. After a flat first tenth of a mile, the next 0.65 miles are very steep ascending approximately 550 feet rather quickly with sections of up to 45% grade.
At the top of this section, bear left (north) onto the blue-blazed Giant Ledge-Panther-Fox Hollow Trail
. What starts with a manageable grade quickly steepens until reaching the 1st ledge at around the 1.6 mile mark. Four more ledges follow in quick succession in the next 4/10's of a mile. While each ledge offers a similar view looking east, it is absolutely worth it to visit all 5.
Once you've had your fill, continue north on Giant Ledge-Panther-Fox Hollow Trail
, descending about 150 feet into a small valley before ascending the steepest section of the hike, a nice 700 foot gain in 8/10's of a mile. Near the top, the forest canopy changes to a wonderful singletrack through alpine forest. As you approach the summit be sure to climb a neat rock formation for a summit-like view and then onto a last ledge at the 3.5 mile mark.
After a rewarding snack, retrace the route back to the parking lot, taking in each ledge once again on your descent. There are a few recreation side trails to unmarked ledges that are worth exploring as well. The only possible spot to lose direction is the right-hand turn onto Phoenicia East Branch Trail (Yellow)
. It's a memorable spot with signage so you should only get lost if daydreaming while taking in the forest surroundings.
Expect typical northeast hardwood forest until near the summit of Panther Mountain where it turns into a lush Alpine Forest. Bear, Dear, and birds of prey can be seen in the area.