The Best Places for Hiking and Camping in the Catskills
Whether by car or public transportation, these destinations are only a few hours away from NYC.
After what feels like month number infinity of staying inside our apartments and safely social distancing throughout COVID, it’s time to switch out concrete sidewalks and towering NYC buildings for hiking trails and picturesque campgrounds outside of the city instead. And the great news is, whether you have a car or not, escaping town to find yourself immersed in nature is an easy feat achievable in a matter of hours.
Situated just north of NYC, the Catskills has long been a favorite getaway destination for New Yorkers to break loose from the daily grind. The area is abundant with hiking trails, waterfalls, and campgrounds, and the region takes up more than 200 miles that wind you through mountain paths, lakes, and villages. As the weather warms up, we’ve broken down the best places to hike and camp in the Catskills. And being vaccinated is no reason to shrug off all that we’ve learned in the past year—please be sure to read up on hiking and camping guidelines and etiquette for the safety of everyone.
Sam’s Point Preserve
How far is it: Two hours and 20 minutes from NYC by car
What to expect: At Sam’s Point Preserve, you’ll find a rare mix of fauna in this region—the 5,000-acre area is home to the uncommon pitch pine barren trees, dwarf pines, and chestnut oak trees. You can also explore the ice caves of Lake Maratanza (one of the five Shawangunk sky lakes). Visitors might even get a peek of Verkeerder Kill Falls—a 187-foot waterfall—though do note that it’s on private property, so you’ll have to stay on the trail. There’s also a $10 car fee for parking in the lot when you’re visiting, which can fill up very quickly during peak season.
Nearby campground: Sam Pryor Shawangunk Gateway Campground—also known as the Gunks Campground—offers 50 campsites across 50 acres, 34 minutes by car or five hours on foot from the trail. The nearby cliffside is a huge attraction for campers; it’s only a 20-minute walk to the base of a cliff from the campsite. The campground also offers tours led by Alpine Endeavors guides, if you’re looking for a bit of a lesson in local geography, wildlife (they do have quite a black bear population), and fauna. As for amenities, the site offers coin-operated showers, a centralized fire ring, limited parking, Wi-Fi access, and picnic tables. Campsites have a four-person max and run $38 a night, with discounts given to AAC and Mohonk Preserve members. To reserve a site, head to the Sam Pryor Shawangunk Gateway Campground website.
How to get there: Take I-87 North to Ellenville.
The Finger Lakes Trail
Difficulty: Intermediate to hard
How far is it: Two hours and 30 minutes from NYC by bus
What to expect: The Finger Lakes Trail winds from the Pennsylvania-New York border (starting in Allegany State Park) all the way to the Long Path in the Catskill Forest Preserve. But you can catch an especially scenic section of the 950-mile trail near Roscoe, New York. This free trail is connected to other popular trail systems in the area: The Great Eastern Trail, The Bruce Trail, and The North Country Scenic Trail. Needless to say, you can spend a day, weekend, or weeks taking in the path in its entirety, if you’ve got the proper camping gear. Make sure to check the trail condition updates before heading out on your hike.
Nearby Campground: Roscoe Campsites (a four-hour hike or 25-minute drive from the trail route) offers cabin rentals, RV rentals, as well as sites where you can set up your own tent. Aside from hiking the nearby trails, you can bird watch, fly-fish, kayak, and tube at the Beaverkill River. Read more about the accommodations and pricing (an overnight campsite will run you $60 for a site with water and electric hook-ups or $55 without) on the campground’s website.
How to get there: Take the Short Line Bus service from Port Authority to Roscoe, New York. A round-trip ticket will cost you $74.
Overlook Mountain Trail
How far is it: Two hours and 40 minutes from NYC by car
What to expect: Overlook Mountain Trail is a 4.6-mile trail that takes you through fields of wildflowers and the ruins of an old hotel (the former Overlook Mountain House, which was built in the early 1800s). Two things to keep in mind: Don’t miss the fire tower, and keep an eye out for wildlife—more than one commenter on AllTrails has called out a timber rattlesnake sighting in the past.
Nearby campground: You can rent one of the 76 sites at the Kenneth L. Wilson Campground (20 minutes by car or three hours and 10 minutes by foot from the trail) for $22 a night. Out-of-state visitors will also have to pay an extra $5 nightly fee. The campground is surrounded by mountains, and it’s located five miles from one of upstate New York’s most famed towns: Woodstock. You’ll find firewood for sale, bathrooms, showers, boat rentals (rowboats and canoes), horseshoes, and a recycling center on-site.
How to get there: Follow I-87 North to NY-28 West toward Woodstock.
How far is it: Two hours and 50 minutes from NYC by bus
What to expect: You’ll find the tallest two-tier waterfall in New York on this short, steep hike. Kaaterskill Falls is a popular spot for hikers, so you probably won’t be the only person taking in the views. If you’re keen on checking out two waterfalls in one day, check out the nearby Bastion Falls. You can find it just off the trailhead and it’s even visible from the road. The falls are a three-hour hike from Palenville—you can grab a taxi to drop you off closer if you’re looking for a shorter journey—but the route from Palenville’s city center takes you through the scenic Kaaterskill Wild Forest.
Nearby Campground: Blue Mountain Campground is located a quick 4-minute drive—or a 55-minute hike—from Palenville. The campground offers tent sites, cabins, and RVs for rent, and if you’re looking for equipment, they can hook you up with that (tents sites to rent are $39 a night for up to two adults and two children, with a $10 fee for each additional person). It also has an on-site laundry room, a camp store, fire rings, picnic tables, a playground, Wi-Fi, showers, and full-service bathrooms.
How to get there: Buy a ticket to Palenville, New York from Port Authority bus terminal via Pine Hill Trailways. A round-trip ticket will cost you $68.
Sloan Gorge Preserve
How far is it: Two hours and 50 minutes from NYC by bus
What to expect: Sloan Gorge Preserve is the first interpretive geology trail in the region, according to the Woodstock Land Conservancy, meaning you’ll pass by various Ice Age geologies on your way. The gorge itself is a canyon that’s mostly hidden by the Catskill Front, which can be found just northeast of Woodstock. The nature trail that takes you up to the canyon can be found on Stoll Road right near West Saugerties Road. There’s also a parking lot located at 487 Stoll Road. Expect to pass creeks, quarries, and some of the Catskills’ most stunning cliff sides on your way to the canyon.
Nearby campground: New Life Campground is a 15-minute drive, or an 8-mile hike, from the Sloan Gorge Preserve and one of the closest campsites around. In addition to the general inland scenes, this 49-site campground also has a handful of waterfront sites along Plattekill Creek. You can choose from a number of rates: $60 for a daily pass, $250 for a weekly pass, $550 for a monthly pass, and $2,200 for a season pass that lasts May 1 through September 30. Each site comes with metered electric and water hook-ups, show access, and an option to rent canoes.
How to get there: Take a Trailways bus from Port Authority to Woodstock, New York. A round-trip ticket will cost you $60.
Vernooy Kill Falls
How far is it: Two hours and 50 minutes from NYC by car
What to expect: Vernooy Kill Falls is known for being an incredibly kid-friendly hike, thanks to its lack of cliff sides, shallow water, and absence of adjoining trails. But the best part is that once you get there, you can wade and swim into the falls’ pool to cool off. If you pay a visit during the late spring or early summer, you can catch the Mountain Laurel bushes in full bloom.
Nearby campground: If you’re looking to steer clear of fellow hikers and campers, The Peekamoose Valley in Sundown Wild Forest—about an 8-hour hike from the falls—is a great area to find your own site and hook up your tent for the night. Straying from the campground path for this first time? Camping Console has a great list of things to keep in mind when planning a night away from an organized campground. The Peekamoose Valley is a popular spot for primitive campers, but note that you may need a special permit for large groups or if you plan on spending more than four nights in the area. Read more about the camping rules on the DEC website.
How to get there: Take I-87 North toward Rochester, New York.
Bear Spring Mountain State Park Loop Trail
How far is it: Three hours and 10 minutes from NYC by car
What to expect: The Central Loop of the Bear Spring Mountain State Park Trail will take you through nine miles of ponds, grassy fields, and a bridge. It’s a preferred snowmobiling and horseback-riding trail, but you can walk it without getting too lost, according to Catskill Hiker.
Nearby campground: For $18 a night—note that there is an additional $5 per night charge for out-of-state visitors—you’ll find an incredibly rustic place to park (and your horse, if you’ve got one) at Bear Spring Mountain Campground. This campground is located two minutes by car or 30 minutes on foot from the trail. This region is known for its incredible horseback trails, as well as hunting and fishing spots. It’s home to 41 sites, athletic fields, 24 horse-tie stalls, a beach, boat rentals, picnic tables, bathrooms with showers, and grills. Oh, and it’s surrounded by 24 miles of prime hiking trails. You can reserve a campsite on the Reserve America website.
How to get there: Follow NY-17 West to Roscoe, New York and NY-206 West to Walton.
How far is it: Three hours and 15 minutes from NYC by bus
What to expect: Your Tanbark Trail hike begins at a red bench in Phoenicia Park and takes you through 2.3-miles of an old quarry (fun fact: stones sourced from the area were used to pave the streets of NYC). You’ll wind through plenty of geological compositions, but be sure to keep an eye out for the “weeping rock”—a rock formation with a water drip—which you’ll see before you hit the half-point of the hike. With 800 feet of elevation, the view at the end of this hike offers a stunning sight of the entire town of Phoenicia. Past hikers have warned those who are interested in checking out the trail to wear sturdy shoes; you’ll be navigating through loose gravel at multiple points.
Nearby campground: Woodland Valley Campground is located right at the foot of Slide Mountain, a 15-minute drive or a two-hour hike from Tanbark Trail. Open May 21 through October 11, a campsite will cost you $20 a night (with an extra $5 for out-of-state visitors) and gets you access to hot showers, bathrooms, grills, and a recycling center. The campground is also close to the Slide-Wittenberg and Woodland Valley-Denning trails, as well as tubing on the Esopus Creek.
How to get there: Take a Trailways bus from Port Authority to Phoenicia, New York. A round-trip ticket will cost you $70.
Catskill Scenic Trail
How far is it: Three hours and 40 minutes from NYC by car
What to expect: This 26-mile trail has a gentle grade that’s great for hiking, biking, or horseback riding. The Catskill Scenic Trail spans through the West Brand of the Delaware River and along parts of NYS Route 10, 23, and 30. The area used to be home to a railroad line (now out of service), and has since turned into a recreational hotspot. It’s recommended that you park at one of two entrances: the intersection of Railroad Avenue and South Street in Stamford or the parking lot on Route 10 east of Bloomville.
Nearby campground: The Nickerson Park Campground is located in the Upper Catskills region, about a twenty-minute car ride or four hours and 15 minutes on foot from the Catskill Scenic Trail. The rustic sites with picnic tables and a fire ring go for $42 and include entry for two adults (you can also get a seven-night stay for $252.) Sites with water and electric hook-ups run $50 per night. Reserve a spot on their website.
How to get there: Take I-87 North to NY-28 West
How far is it: Two hours and 40 minutes from NYC by car
What to expect: Huckleberry Point is a 4.5-mile hike that will take you through stunning views of the Huckleberry Point Overlook and Plattekill Mountains. You can climb down to different overlooks of the Clove, but do so at your own risk and tread safely. The trail ends at the Overlook, so the second half of your hike will be a repeat of your path out (the entire thing will take three hours). If you’re looking to extend your hike, you can add Kaaterskill High Peak to your trip.
Nearby campground: The Rip Van Winkle campgrounds (11 minutes by car or a one-hour-and-45-minute hike) are named after the folklore that was born in the region. As the story goes, a man who was annoyed with his wife wandered into the nearby forested mountains, drank a magic potion, and fell asleep for 20 years (#goals). You can explore the surrounding “cloves” where Rip Van Winkle allegedly snoozed or take in the much more modern statues and monuments inspired by the deep sleeper. The campgrounds are equipped with picnic tables, fire rings, firewood, bathrooms, showers, and a laundry room. There are a couple of site options: A basic tent site costs $40 per night, a river’s edge site with access to electricity and water costs $63 a night, a Lover’s Lane site with access to electricity and water costs $65 a night, and RV sites cost $69 a night. You can also rent an extra tent for $29 a night. The campground also offers cabin rentals starting at $130 a night.
How to get there: Take I-87 North toward Hunter, New York
Difficulty: Very hard
How far is it: Three hours and 45 minutes from NYC by bus
What to expect: Plateau Mountain trail is located at the ascent of the Devil’s Tombstone—a deep pass that cuts through the peaks of Plateau and Hunter Mountains—and is known as one of the steepest in the Catskills (hello, bragging rights!) and one of the most difficult hikes in the United States. The hike kicks off with a mile-long ascent that will take you up more than 1,000 feet. Once you hit the summit, the real view is a short walk away to take in Sugarloaf Mountain on the other side. You can actually climb two mountains in one day, if you also take on the two-hour hike to the Sugarloaf trail.
Nearby campground: Devil’s Tombstone Campground (16 minutes by car or 90 minutes on foot from the trail) offers 22 campsites, fireplaces, a playground, and picnic tables. This region is surrounded by some of the Catskills’ many peaks and is a great area for experienced hikers to explore. Make sure to reserve your site before making your visit. Boating, fishing, and swimming are located nine miles away at the nearby North-South Lake.
How to get there: Take a Trailways bus from Port Authority to Hunter, New York. A round-trip ticket will cost you $76.