There’s something magical about the valley through which Vly Creek runs and possibly it’s the wealth of great people who live there. Downstream from the Vly headwaters that originate alongside the trail to Vly Mountain, you’ll find Morse’s maple syrup, Vly bottled water and delicious, cream line milk from the DiBenedetto farm where the product is sold on the age-old, country honor system. As you drive along Route 37 crossing from Delaware County to Greene County, to get to the trailhead on Route 3, you’ll pass house after beautiful house in vibrant colors in a cozy, well-lived valley and photo opportunities galore with classic cars hidden behind barns, registered landmarks, and ancient houses. It looks like a movie set; Route 3 would make a riveting long walk in itself for this reason.
Vly Mountain is one of the lowest peaks over 3500ft in the Catskills at 3,549ft and one of the most serene especially in the winter. Both Bearpen and Vly Mountains, which are often hiked together, are just outside Catskill Park boundary (“the blue line” on the map), and it feels like you’re at the end of something majestic, having just stepped over the Catskill Divide, far away from the madding crowd and truly alone.
Many Catskill 35 hikes begin on or by one or more tributaries and Vly Creek was raging at the weekend like all the other creeks nearby that were inundated after last week’s storms. Beginning a hike along a roaring brook sets a calming tone and you notice the babbling wane as you climb higher.
To get to the beginning of the trail, drive to the end of Route 3 and be careful where you park. Do not park in the snow plough turnaround or on private property. Park on the road. Take the wide jeep trail that seems like an extension in the same direction of Route 3, what is known as a “woods road” on the NYNJ Trail conference map for about a mile until you reach a fork in the trail and a black cabin on the left fork. The black cabin is on the start of the trail to Bearpen. The trail to Vly is off to the right through the trees, in the opposite direction of Bearpen and technically a bushwhack although the trees are daubed with blue paint all the way to the top. Follow the blue paint. This last part to the top is very steep and only dangerous in parts, but the summit is worth the difficult climb because it’s one of the most enchanting. It’s evident that you’re on the cap of a mountain and through the tangle of aged trees you can glimpse ski centers, reservoirs and other peaks in the Catskills range. It’s breathtaking.
It goes without saying that if you are not an experienced hiker you should not be hiking during the winter. Getting lost on a peak in low temperatures is seriously life threatening. Wait until spring and never hike unaccompanied or unprepared. Do your homework and hire a guide because these mountains are beautiful, but unforgiving.