9 Reasons to Drive to the Western Catskills, New York

Lured by charming hamlets and a slower pace, more New Yorkers are flocking here for a picturesque city escape.

The Arnold House
Livingston Manor | The Arnold House

Thanks to its short distance from New York City, the Catskills have long been a tourism hotspot. And until recently—with towns like Woodstock, Phoenicia, and Tannersville considered some of the more popular destinations—it was the Eastern Catskills that received most of the glory. In addition, even further to the east, the thriving city of Hudson has stood as a major hub for a weekend jaunt with modern vibes and a bustling restaurant scene.

However, the tides are now shifting, and travelers are seeking out a quieter, more pastoral Upstate experience that offers a true escape with a unique sense of place: That’s where the Western Catskills come in.

Here, the area moves at a slower pace, and an increasing number of city expats and weekend travelers have taken notice, lured by a burgeoning scene of independent shops, farm-to-table restaurants, craft breweries, and more taking residence within the region’s charming hamlets.

A day in the Western Catskills means shacking up at a boutique hotel or inn (there is an ever-growing list); antiquing after sleeping in; leaf peeping in the afternoon; and generally disconnecting from the everyday hustle. Save for the time spent perusing in home shops and ordering lattes from a local cafe, most of the activities here—from world class fly fishing to small production farms—are best enjoyed outdoors.

While hot new restaurants and stylish distilleries continue to open, the heart of the Western Catskills remains the community atmosphere, bountiful produce, and beautiful nature, making fall the ideal time of year to make a visit. Narrowing down our list was difficult, but here are 9 of our favorite reasons to make the drive.

Livingston Manor | James Walsh/Flickr

Discover uniquely charming hamlets

One of the region’s many draws are the historic hamlets and small towns, each with their own personality and specialties. Three of which have experienced a small business reinvigoration of late: Narrowsburg, Livingston Manor, and Callicoon. Each one is a must-see, and can be experienced within a few hours’ time. Narrowsburg’s “downtown” is a one-road haven of home shops, antiques and cafes, while Livingston Manor boasts boutique properties like The Arnold House for lodging, Upward for craft beers, and The Kaatskeller for its famed wood-fired pizza. Callicoon is home to scenic cidery Seminary Hill, the Shaker-inspired Boarding House, and one of the best farmers markets in the Catskills.

Catskill Provisions Distillery

Sip on farm-to-glass spirits

Speaking of Callicoon, head there to find the tasting room of Pollinator Spirits, a women- and LGBTQIA-owned distillery that infuses all of their spirits with honey from the founder’s own apiaries. The spacious tasting room is located in the heart of downtown, in a converted historic firehouse. There, sip on neat spirits from whiskey to gin and amaro, or try one of their inventive cocktails.

Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum

Go fly-fishing

Drive through hamlets like Roscoe (nicknamed “Trout Town, USA”) and you’ll soon get the picture: the region loves their fish. It was once known for its passionate outdoors clubs, (one of which is currently for sale), and fly fishers still head from far and wide to the Beaverkill, a tributary of the Delaware River known for its ample trout. Visit the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum and set up a time to cast out a line during the long season, running from April until around the end of October. If you’d like to taste the famed fish without having to put on waders, just grab dinner at spots like the DeBruce.

Taylor + Ace

Shop one-of-a-kind boutiques and antique gold mines

The Western Catskills are bursting with lovingly stocked boutiques to rival the best in Brooklyn, from vintage clothing stores like Madame Fortuna and Concrete + Water, to home shops like Homestedt or Sunny’s Pop by Sunrise Ruffalo (actor Mark Ruffalo’s daughter). Antique shops are also aplenty, from curated finds at spots like Long Weekend in Livingston Manor and Taylor + Ace in Roscoe, to dig-for-gold warehouses like Antiques at Rick’s Barn and Nana’s Attic.

Basha Kill Area Association (BKAA)

Leaf peep (and bird watch) at Basha Kill Wetlands

Opportunities for leaf peeping—the autumnal activity of traveling to experience the beauty of the changing seasons—are practically everywhere you look Upstate (here’s our list of nearby recs). In the Western Catskills, one of the most interesting places to immerse yourself in fall colors is while strolling through Basha Kill, a wildlife management area that’s open year round. Besides its natural beauty, Basha Kill is a diverse habitat for tons of different animals, meaning opportunities to bird watch, see otters, beavers, white-tailed deer, and more. After your walk, visit nearby Bashakill Vineyards for a glass of organic wine.

The North Branch Inn

Experience an antique bowling alley in your hotel lobby

There’s a growing list of picturesque hotels and B&Bs in the Western Catskills, but only one of them has a retro bowling alley available for use. That’s a unique feature of The North Branch Inn, located a short drive away from Callicoon. Tucked away behind the dining room of the inn’s main lobby house, find a 100-year-old handset bowling alley, where you can knock down pins and experience fall-time pop up experiences. In the next month, they’ll be hosting everything from a German comfort food festival to a Halloween masquerade murder mystery dinner.

Taste of the Catskills Festival

Get a Taste of the Catskills at this annual festival

For one weekend every October, a showcase of the local restaurants, producers, and farmers takes place in the town of Delhi. Taste of the Catskills is a great chance to fill your stomach with a wide variety of all that the Catskills have to offer, from locally crafted maple syrup and honey to pizza, tacos, chocolate, and beer. Throughout the afternoon on both October 8 and 9, lifestyle workshops will also be hosted, like an autumn landscape paint and sip and another on how to make your own herbal oils.

West Kill Brewing LLC

Visit craft breweries and cideries

A trip to the Western Catskills isn’t complete without at least one trip to a local brewery or cidery (or both). Seminary Hill in Callicoon is situated atop a hill that overlooks the Delaware River, providing incredible fall views while you sip ciders made from local heirloom varieties of apples. Breweries in the region run the gamut as far as vibes go, from chalet-style Upward Brewing in Livingston Manor to the outdoorsy West Kill Brewing, which encourages al fresco imbibing on their hillside patio regardless of the season. During colder months, they’ll keep you warm with bonfires.

Meander through a Sunday market, or visit a farm stand

Long before it began to boom as an indie tourist destination, the region was renowned in the state for its superior produce. While you can find plenty of restaurants in the city that have fruit, veggies, meat and dairy shipped in from the Western Catskills, it’s even better IRL straight from the source. Discover farm stands while driving and nearly every small town and hamlet is home to a quality farmer’s market ripe for your Sunday produce haul. Specialty shops and stands are great if you’re on the hunt for something in particular, from flowers at The Farmhouse Flower Co. in Narrowsburg to locally raised and ethically butchered meat at Meat + Flowers in Hamden.

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Austa Somvichian-Clausen is a freelance food and travel writer, who lives in Brooklyn with her girlfriend and two fur babies.
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