Kelly Hollow

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As is often the case in the Catskills the routes to and from the trailheads are scenic drives. This is especially true for the Kelly Hollow Trail along Millbrook Road near the Delaware-Ulster County line. 

The Millbrook Road, running from the Pepacton Reservoir to the Dry Brook Valley, presents an ideal opportunity for a beautiful loop drive, as the trailhead is about halfway along the 25-mile circuit from Margaretville. And when you get to Kelly Hollow, the trail itself is a loop – two loops actually, with the longer one being just under four miles and inner loop about half that distance. Four miles is an easy distance by Catskills standards, and there’s only modest elevation change, but really this may be considered an intermediate hike. Kelly Hollow makes for a fun family day hike with its mixed forest and beaver pond, yet it also offers overnight accommodations in the form of a lean-to.

From the registration box, the natural inclination is to begin the loop trail on the left. It pulls you away from the road, crosses a small stream, and soon enters a stand of tall evergreens. You realize these trees have been planted, due to their uniform placement and similar height. They’re red pines and were planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. On both these subjects – the CCC and trees – your hiking experience is enriched by two local authors. Diane Galusha’s “Another Day, Another Dollar” covers the CCC’s history in the Catskills with plenty of stories and photographs, including contributions from those who served in the region’s CCC. We learn the location of the former Margaretville CCC Camp, and we develop a keener interpretive sense of features we encounter in the landscape. 

These features include circular, stone-lined ponds built by the CCC to fight fires. I once had occasion to join Diane and author Michael Kudish in looking for one of these structures in Kelly Hollow. Kudish is the author of “Catskills Forest: A History,” which is the authoritative source on not only a history of the forest, but the diverse human interaction with these forests, primarily beginning with the first settlers. Though a casual observer will notice evidence of settlement on the western leg of the hike, Kudish’s research, discussion, and mapping will train your eye to detect past activity based solely on differences in vegetation.

Hikers will notice something pretty rare for trails in the Catskills: yellow-markers with cross-country ski symbols. This is one of the only trails in the Catskill Park that is designated for this activity. (Maybe you know of another one.) As you head farther up the through the pines, the gradient is reasonable, and you can envision skiing. It even flattens out and is pretty tame all the way to and just beyond the lean-to, which is about halfway through the outer loop. However, even with proper skills and equipment, the hills and turns on the western trail segment are pretty radical and bordered by large tree trunks. The adventurer might strongly consider skiing the trail in the opposite direction. In any case, this is backcountry skiing to be sure. And just because a trail is marked, doesn’t mean it won’t call upon your finer discretionary abilities to complete a safe pass. This pertains to hiking trails – yes, I’m calling you out - Devil’s Path – that even in dry conditions will serve up some adrenaline-inducing challenges. 

Hiking in the Catskills can sometimes generate a feeling that emerges from being in a specific location. For me, hiking in Kelly Hollow - which really is quite a bowl in the mountainside – creates the urge to climb out of it and see what’s at the top. This happens especially in the interior section where the trail skirts the back wall of the hollow. After many years of walking the loop and for one reason or another not being able to launch uphill, I finally concocted a plan. First we preplaced a car in the lot at Kelly Hollow. Then we drove around the Millbrook Ridge, via Cross Mountain Road, and began walking up the Millbrook Ridge Trail on the eastern side of Alder Lake. After Beaver Meadow – more like Beaver Lake these days – we ascended that beautiful rocky section to the ridge. This is the top of Kelly Hollow, which is directly to the north. Rather than plunge straight down, we stepped off the trail, moved right, and skirted around the top of the hollow following a consistent line of elevation. Walking along these shelves is often fairly easy since the Catskills are an eroded plateau. These kinds of off-trail rambles are especially rewarding in the winter on a clear day. 

Well, there you have it: Kelly Hollow has a lot to offer, including some features we didn’t get to cover here. Maybe you are familiar with them, or you’ll get out there to discover them. In any case, every hike is different even if you return to the same place. 

Peter Manning is the executive director of the Catskill Mountain Club. To learn about CMC events, membership, and projects visit catskillmountainclub.org. 

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