My typical backpacking methodology involves careful gear and food selection to ensure I carry as little as possible. I’m successful if I come home having eaten every bit of food and worn ever piece of clothing I brought. No ounce is wasted. On a recent trip, we threw that methodology right out the window.
Have you ever looked at a packing list for a backpacking trip and thought, man, this is completely nuts?
My partner in crime picked Echo Lake within the Indian Head Wilderness as the destination for a dual birthday weekend celebration. Given the hike in is just under four miles, rather than conserving weight to move quickly and cover mileage, the goal was to get to the lake, set up camp, and eat and drink like kings and queens all weekend. And that’s exactly what we did.
HIKING TO THE OVERLOOK MOUNTAIN HOUSE AND ECHO LAKE
The trail to Echo Lake begins at a parking lot up steep, winding Meads Mountain Road across from Karma Triyana Dharmachakra in Woodstock, New York. This is the best map I’ve found for the area. Though there was plenty of parking when we arrived mid-morning on a Friday, the lot is usually overflowing on weekends.
We’d already spread group gear, food, and libations between eight people, but I could barely lift my fully loaded Gregory Deva 60 pack after my hiking buddy and I hopped out of the car to start the hike. I (very) briefly considered leaving my stocked Mountainsmith Cooler Tube, which was attached to the outside of my pack, in the car.
The majority of the 1,260 feet of elevation hikers gain on the way to Echo Lake is on a large, wide, graded road, dubbed the Overlook Mountain Trail. It’s a straightforward, albeit not particularly exciting, ascent up Overlook Mountain. We started on that red blazed trail (road), following it ~1.75 miles straight up to one of the most unique landmarks I’ve ever seen on a hike – the ruins of an old hotel.
|Imagine stumbling upon this mid-hike if you didn’t know it was there. Creepy, no? Especially given it was quite foggy that day!|
According to Atlas Obscura, the ruins are all that remains of the Overlook Mountain House. The hotel, built during a tourism boom in the Hudson Valley, burned down in 1875, was rebuilt, burned down again in the early 1920’s, and rebuilt again using concrete. The third rebuild was never finished, and the shell of the buildings were sold to New York State. What remains of the Overlook Mountain House sits right in the middle of the trail up to Overlook Mountain, the halfway point on our route to Echo Lake.
After stopping to explore the ruins, we continued along the Overlook Mountain Trail, passing the Overlook Fire Tower, until coming to a junction with a blue blazed trail. We turned left and dropped down almost 400 vertical feet in 1.2 miles until we came to another junction with the yellow blazed Echo Lake Trail. The lean-to was a welcomed sight, and would be home sweet home for the next three days for a total of eight of us. (Take a look at our entire route here.)
GOURMET LEAN-TO DINING AND THE LONGEST BEER RUN EVER
Remember our goal – to set up camp in the Echo Lake lean-to and spend a long weekend eating and drinking like kings and queens? Mission: accomplished. Lucky for all of us, one of the birthday boys is a chef by trade. Pulled pork tacos, chili from scratch with queso fresco, chocolate chip pancakes, prosciutto wraps, craft beer, and mulled wine with apple cider were among the items on the menu…after we carried all the necessary ingredients up a small mountain over four miles. It was completely worth the effort.
|Home sweet home – the Echo Lake lean-to. The NYS DEC does an incredible job maintaining special spots like this.|
We packed in a stock pot and saucepan to use in the pre-built fire pit along with two MSR backpacking stovesto boil water for warm drinks. We kept perishables cold by storing them in a small pond off of Echo Lake and set up a hanging bear bag with a pulley system to store food overnight. Trash went into garbage bags and up the tree with the pulley system to keep wildlife from digging through our leftovers.
Because the lake is incredibly popular, firewood was scarce, and we did end up deciding to walk all the way around the lake in search of downed trees and limbs. Thanks to a family of beavers that took up residence in the area, finding downed trees wasn’t too much of a challenge. But they did leave what we dubbed “human traps” all around the lake – pointy tree stumps that were tough not to trip over in the dark.
One thing we didn’t pack enough of was celebratory libations. We didn’t accurately estimated what we’d need for the group over the course of the weekend. The solution? Conduct birthday celebrations on the last night without libations, which was certainly an option, or make the 8-mile round trip trek back to the parking lot on Meads Mountain Roard and drive into Woodstock to resupply.
|A look at home sweet home across Echo Lake on our firewood gathering expedition. The beavers took down so many trees!|
After weighing the pros and cons, and sitting around doing nothing in camp all day, four of the eight of us grabbed day packs and headlamps and started the trip out at 4:00pm. By the time we hiked out, drove into town, resupplied, and got back to the parking lot, it was dark. Hiking the four miles back in, including passing the Overlook Mountain House ruins, in the dark was quite the adventure, and of course, none of us regretted it. (Take a look at the round-trip route here.)
HIKING OUT AND EXPLORING THE OVERLOOK TOWER
As is normally the case, I woke up Sunday morning not looking forward to heading back home. After battling spurts of sleet and rain, the skies cleared while we packed up the leftover food, swept out the lean-to, and scoured the area to make sure we didn’t leave any trash behind. Though our packs would be lighter on the hike out, we still had to be sure to take everything with us.
|My partner in crime and I at the overlook. You can see for miles up there!|
We said goodbye to Echo Lake around noon and started up the yellow blazed Echo Lake Trail. After 0.6 miles, we came to the familiar junction with the blue blazed Overlook Mountain Trail, turned right and kept heading up. At the 2.0 mile mark, we arrived at the intersection with a side trail to the Overlook Fire tower, dropped our packs, and ran up the rest of the mountain for beautiful 360º views of the Hudson River, Ashokan Reservoir, Indian Head Mountain Range, and Overlook Mountain.
|Beautiful, but a wee bit too high up for me to climb!|
The trail was predictably crowded, given its easy accessibility from the Meads Mountain Road parking lot, the weather, and the views. After a quick stop at the overlook to take in the scenery, which made it clear why the Overlook Mountain House and associated properties were built in the first place, we backtracked to the old ranger station at the top of the mountain and paid the overlook fire tower a visit.
The fire tower on Overlook Mountain is, according to the DEC, the newest of five towers in the Catskills. It’s been there since 1950, and at 60 feet high, it’s also one of the tallest. I got about halfway up before the relentless wind and rickety wooden stairs caused my fear of heights to get the best of me, but a few members of our group made it all the way up.
After we’d had our fill of Catskill views, we shouldered our packs for the two mile long slog back down the gravel road to the parking lot. Take a look at our entire route here, including the Overlook Fire Tower detour.
Overall, it was a successful weekend. Aside from the incredible amount of stuff we packed in, it was one of the most leisurely backpacking trips I’ve been on, which was a challenge in and of itself! Have you ever done a backpacking trip like this before? Do you normally go lightweight for high mileage, or take your time? Have you been to this part of New York State? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!