Catskill, New York, is a quintessential Hudson River Valley town. It's where Thomas Cole and Rip Van Winkle found a home. And where a young nation first went on vacation.
In this article, we've compiled a list of the the best things to do while you're in town. Intrepid souls, read on!
"The Gateway to the Catskills"
Catskill New York is located at the Rip Van Winkle Bridge on the west shore of the Hudson River in Greene County - 111 miles north of New York City.
Getting Here by train: use Metro North's Hudson Line. Transfer at Poughkeepsie and get on the Amtrak to the city of Hudson. From here, take a taxi (5 mi) across the Rip Van Winkle bridge.
By car: west of the river, take I-87 or route 9W. East of the river: use route 9, 9G, or the Taconic Parkway to Route 23.
A long time ago, the Esopus and Mahicans lived along Catskill Creek. The Esopus territory lay south of the creek and the Mahicans controlled north of it. Then, in 1678 a group of prospectors bought the lands from the Indians.
Over the next 150 years, Dutch and English settlers opened up profitable tanning and lumber operations, using the areas abundance of hemlock trees.
Notably, Washington Irving visited the mountains as a young man. And later set his hugely successful tale, Rip Van Winkle here, publishing it in 1819.
Intrigued by Irving's famous story, Thomas Cole, then an obscure painter, visited in 1825. He began painting sites such as the Catskill Mountain House, Kaaterskill Falls, and the Clove.
Visitors flocked to the area, inspired by Cole's vivid paintings of waterfalls and wispy mountain tops; and swayed by the fashionable Catskill Mountain House, the established social center and hotel.
During the second half of the 20th century, like many Hudson River Valley towns, Catskill New York fell on hard times.
People fled to the suburbs and strip malls and left the village in a state of decay.
Good news is, the village has largely re-emerged in the new millennium. Today, the legacies of Washington Irving and Thomas Cole, plus some of the best year round outdoor recreation opportunities in New York - fuel a renewed interest in the area.
1. Hike to Kaaterskill Falls...
A visit to Catskill New York yields an opportunity to see two of the most dramatic sights in the Hudson Valley: One of the tallest waterfalls in New York State and the 50 mile panoramic views at the former site of the Catskill Mountain House.
Best part is, you can see and do both in one day!
Double tiered, 260 foot Kaaterskill Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in New York State, higher even than Niagara.
Today you'll find that it's a popular sight, attracting people from all over.
On my last visit, I shared the trail with a group of young friends from France and a photography student from a nearby college.
To get to the bottom of the falls (where I took the above picture) you'll have to hike in about 20 minutes.
It's easy, but a little treacherous in icy
weather (as I found out). You can also view the falls from the top.
Getting Here: Drive 15 miles outside of the village of
Catskill New York on Route 23A. Find the trail head at the hair-pin
turn, where the road intersects with Kaaterskill Creek. Park at the lot
up and around the bend.
2. Then check out the Catskill Mountain House Site...
After you've had your fill at the waterfall, hike back to your car and continue up Route 23A. In 1.5 miles make a right onto N. Lake Road. Continue on this road for another 2.3 miles. This takes you to North and South Lake and the former site of the Catskill Mountain House.
Built in 1824, the Catskill Mountain House became America's most adored hotel in the 19th century.
The imposing Greek Revival hotel had a large piazza, lined with gleaming white Corinthian pillars, and 50 mile views looking out over a 2,500ft bluff - the wall of Manitou.
In it's heyday the Mountain House was the place to be. Many enduring names from American history rested their bones here and became very fond of it. Mark Twain, Alexander Graham Bell, JP Morgan, Theodore Roosevelt, the list goes on...
Ulysses S. Grant, weary from his battles, rested here after his Union army defeated the Confederacy in the Civil War. James Fenimore Cooper had written about it, saying, "If you want to see the great sights of America, visit Niagara Falls, Lake George, and the Catskill Mountain House."
With America looking ever westward, the hotel began to fall out of fashion in the early 1900s. Yet, it held on for many years. The last guest left in the 1940s and they shut their doors forever.
All that's left of it now are the views. The abandoned hotel was burned down in the 1960s for safety reasons.
When you visit you can drive right up in your car. Unless in winter: they don't plow the roads all the way up to the mountain house site. In that case, park at South Lake and strap on your cross country skis. (You can do it in regular boots, too)
When you get there, you'll feel half way between heaven and earth, standing on the edge of Manitou Bluff with vistas 50 miles 'round.
You'll see the Hudson River snake through the landscape; in the east the Taconic mountain range and even the Green mountains in Vermont outline the sky; and more peaks to the south in Catskill Park.
Perhaps a visitor to Catskill New York, who wrote to the Boston Recorder in Ocotber 6, 1826, said it best: "It is indeed magnificent - and he who could look upon such a scene and not turn from it a better man, must truly have forgotten his better elements."
3. Stroll and Shop the Village's Main Street...
Here we've got a familiar sight in the Hudson Valley. A handsome Main Street with rows colorful Victorian homes, window shops on sidewalks, glowing movie theater marquee, and of course, a church steeple...
It's just the right recipe for escaping into historic, small town America. Seeing and doing the best this village has to offer can take as short as an hour... or as long as you like.
Start at the end of Main Street on Catskill Point, where the creek and the Hudson River meet.
Dutchman's Landing offers nice views of the Rip Van Winkle bridge, and you can launch a kayak from here as well.
There's also a maritime musuem converted from the old freight masters building across the street.
Notably, Henry Hudson and his ship the Half Moon stopped here in 1609.
Get back in your car and park on Main street near the Greene County Courthouse. The courthouse has strong Greek columns and is wonderfully symmetrical, making it fun to photograph.
I suggest you check out Flossie's Gold Mine on Main Street. Owner, Mark Krstovich has lived in town for generations and is as friendly as they come. His antique shop has all sorts of cool stuff from old maps, guitars, photos, furniture, and vinyl records.
If you get hungry, you can try Asana Thai. We stopped in on our last visit. Adequate food, good prices. After you've enjoyed some Pad Thai, walk, or if you're in a hurry, get back in your car, and head up Spring Street in Catskill New York. Next up...
4. Visit Cedar Grove, Thomas Cole's House and Museum....
Thomas Cole is considered the father of America's first art movement: the Hudson River School, which refers to a group of landscape painters, whom besides Cole, included Frederic Church, Asher B. Durand and others.
Their romantic, impressionist paintings of the natural world got a huge response, and put American art on the map.
The house is now a museum and National Historic site. A visit offers you a one of a kind glimpse into his life.
Cole married Maria Barstow and moved to her family's home and farm in Catskill New York in 1836. After the death of Maria's brother, the house was deeded to Cole, who then died two years later in 1848.
The house contains several of his oil paintings and sketches, his personal collection of rocks and minerals; family heirlooms; an old Aeolian Harp, sketching stool, paint box; bible; leaves from his journal and traveling book; and other little secret treasures he probably never imagined someone coming to pay to look at.
From here you might want to sojourn along the Hudson River School Art
Trail. The trail leads you through the wilds to spots where Thomas Cole
and his cohorts set up their easels and interpreted the American
landscape. Brochures and maps are available at the museum entrance.
Where: Right off of Spring street, between Hudson Ave and Rt. 23.
Tours are available May thru October, Thursday - Sunday; 10am to 4pm.
Grounds open year round; 8am to sunset. Address: 28 Spring Street,
Catskill, New York.
5. Hit the Slopes at Hunter Mountain Ski Resort....
Not far from Catskill New York is the well known ski resort at Hunter Mountain. The 3,200 ft mountain features 58 well groomed runs ranging from easy (green) to extremely difficult (double black diamond).
Check out Ana boarding down Belt Parkway, almost crashing into a 6 year old, and jumping off a ramp. Shot with the new Go Pro Hero 3 HD camera!
The trails have a NYC theme with names like Broadway, 5th Avenue, Belt Parkway and such. On our last visit, we were surprised that, despite it's popularity, lines to get on the slopes moved swiftly and smoothly.
As I'm a beginner skiier (it was only my 2nd time) I started off at the easiest trails like Grand Concourse and Fordham Road and worked my way up to Off Broadway (green) and Kennedy Drive (blue).
Ana, being more experienced said she had fun on Belt Parkway - which is a long slowly descending run, and Bleeker Street (black diamond).
You can get discounted tickets and rental equipment at nearby Potter Brother's right off the Thruway in Kingston.
Inside the lodge you've got your basic fast food items. Nothing spectacular. On our last visit, friends of ours got the chili and weren't too impressed. I suggest packing your own lunches. You'll save money and eat better. There's a horseshoe bar around back with a good beer selection.
More at Hunter Mountain Ski Resort...
The fun doesn't stop at Hunter Mountain when the snow melts. In all seasons they're staying busy. In June they host Mountain Jam, a 3 day music festival. If you like heady music and good vibes, you won't be disappointed.
They've also got the longest and highest zip line in North America! You zoom across the treetops at over 50 mph from the summit of Hunter Mountain all the way to the bottom! Haven't tried it myself yet, but definitely on the bucket list.
A further sampling of their schedule includes everything from Oktoberfest and the Tap New York craft beer festival, to heritage events like the German Alps Festival and the International Celtic Festival. It's no wonder that Hunter Mountain is one of THE destinations in the Hudson Valley.
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