One of my favorite parts of mountain bike road trips is discovering those “along the way” trail systems that aren’t your destination but are a nice break from sitting in the car. We all have backyard haunts, and by stopping at small, little-known trails on a trip, you get a glimpse into someone else’s.
The Jockey Hill Trails are located near Kingston, New York in the Catskill Mountains and are located within the larger Bluestone Wild Forest. Bluestone is a 3,000-acre parcel that is part of the larger Catskill Park, which was created in the early 1900’s as the result of a combination of tax delinquent properties and a desire to mitigate flooding and the timber industry’s destruction of the forest. The land is partially owned by the New York Department of Conservation (DEC), and partially by private landowners who allow hunting, hiking and mountain biking on their property. About 16 miles of trail at Jockey Hill is supplemented by and connected to about another 8 miles at nearby trail system Onteora Lake, also part of the Bluestone Wild Forest.
Jockey Hill: A trail access success story
Mountain bikers began riding at Jockey Hill in the early 1990’s, but at that time, none of the trails had any legal definition and they were just a collection of old, overgrown logging and mining roads. Enter the Fats in the Cats Bicycle Club, which was formed in 1994 to legitimize mountain biking in the area and get permission to build new trails in the Catskills.
In the early 1990’s, New York State had no rules regarding mountain bikes on its public lands. The Fats in the Cats helped to start the dialogue and made the case that all trails should be open to bikes unless problems arose. The DEC listened, leaving all trails open to bikes and allowing the Fats in the Cats to start building bike-specific trails to help eliminate future user conflicts.
The Jockey Hill Trails are a testament to local clubs and land managers working together, and the DEC has been pleased with the results. The Fats in the Cats built and maintain all the trails at Jockey Hill, which are highly sustainable due to their rocky nature.
Riding through history
The trails at Jockey Hill range from fairly mellow to moderately technical, with some rocks, roots, tight turns, off-camber stretches and punchy climbs to navigate. Most of the miles are easy enough for an intermediate rider to negotiate but fun enough for more experienced riders to have a good time and not get bored. It’s a great stop along the way if you’re traveling the 1-87 corridor or are in the Kingston area.
A doubletrack road runs out from the parking lot and acts as a connector or easy bailout, with trails sprouting from both sides. The topography of the area features several small knobs with trails running up to and around the tops of each. There is some climbing, but most of it is fairly gradual with a few punchy sections.
The history of this land is still very apparent as trails run through and across old stone walls, which were used to delineate pastures and property lines. There are also several quarries in the area, which were worked by hand in the 1800’s, and remnants of old buildings.
The Jockey Hill system easily connects to the Onteora Lake trail system via roads, but there are plans to connect the two areas via singletrack in the future. The Onteora Lake trails feature more technical terrain than Jockey Hill.
If you go:
- Trailforks currently has a more comprehensive map of the trails than MTB Project. The Fats in the Cats website also has a cool hand-drawn map.
- Parking is available at the end of Jockey Hill Road. You drive through a residential neighborhood to get to the gravel parking area. Please drive slowly through the neighborhood and respect the residents to ensure that parking access in the future is not jeopardized.
- If you’re around on Tuesday night, join in for the Fats in the Cats group ride at 5:30!
- The trails at Jockey Hill are on land that is open to hunting. Please keep this in mind if you are riding during hunting season and respect fellow land users. You can find a comprehensive list of New York state hunting seasons here.
- More info can be found on the Fats in the Cats website.
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