Located just under three hours by car or bus from NYC are the Catskills: a mountain range that’s long been a haven for outdoor recreationalists and artists alike. With tons of camping, hiking, fishing, swimming in fresh lakes, art and culture, breweries, and seasonal festivals, the Catskills is a perfect weekend getaway for those looking to escape the chaos of the city. Grab some friends, a pair of hiking boots, and check out the list below to plan out your perfect Catskills weekend.
One of the most beloved attractions in the Catskills, the two-tiered Kaaterskill Falls has been drawing tourists to the region on hot summer days for hundreds of years -- William Cullen Bryant even wrote a poem about it. Standing at 260 feet, Kaaterskill Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in New York state (for comparison, Niagara Falls is 167 feet). The steep hike takes about two hours round trip, with a total ascent of 527 feet. Before you begin your hike, opt for a swim at the bottom of the falls in Kaaterskill Creek. Once at the top, lay your towel on the rocks and take in the views.
Take a zipline canopy tour
If you’re looking for an even bigger adrenaline rush than hiking your way through the mountains, whizzing by on a cable at 50mph over 600 feet in the sky will probably do the trick. New York Zipline Adventures is located on top of Hunter Mountain and claims to be one of the highest and longest ziplines in North America. Visitors can partake in the Adventure Tower, a “linear jungle gym” full of swinging and climbing ropes and wooden bridges. Nighttime canopy tours are available as well.
Explore the Catskills Beverage Trail
If you're thirsty after spending all that time outdoors, head to the Catskills Beverage Trail, which connects you to five local breweries and a winery, including the award-winning Crossroads Brewing Company. Try the 2014 World Beer Cup Gold Medal-winning Black Rock Stout, or the Brady’s Bay Cream Ale if you're looking for something a bit lighter.
Take in art and nature on the Hudson River School Art Trail
Since the early 19th century, the Catskills has been a source of inspiration for artists, writers, and poets alike. Countless painters, including Asher Brown Durand, have retreated to the region, with the peaks and landscapes of the mountains becoming the subject of famous paintings. The surge of artists in the area led to a movement known as the Hudson River School, characterized by landscapes painted in the style of romanticism. Download a trail map and hike through the trails to experience the very sights that inspired the movement.
Refuel at Twin Peaks Coffee & Donuts
Despite not being affiliated with the David Lynch TV show, Twin Peaks Coffee & Donuts still offers a damn fine cup of coffee. It’s also known for its inventive donuts, like the Samoan (a play on the classic Girl Scout cookie) and Maple Bacon -- but your best move is one of the donut sliders: egg, cheese, and your choice of bacon or sausage sandwiched between freshly baked donuts.
While there are several campsites to choose from in the Catskills, the North-South Lake Campgrounds offers the most variety. In addition to several hiking trails that will lead you to some of the region’s most famous sights, like Kaaterskill Falls and the Catskill Mountain House Site, North-South Lake also has two lakes and beaches for swimming, fishing, and boating. The campground offers over 200 campsites for around $22 a night, with basic amenities such as a fire pit and picnic areas with charcoal grills. A playing field, volleyball nets, and horseshoes are also available.
... Or enjoy the great outdoors in the comfort of a luxe, furnished lodge
If you’re looking to experience the beauty of the Catskills but aren’t so keen on outdoor camping, there are plenty of luxurious accommodations available as well. Boutique resort Villa Vosilla prides itself in celebrating Italy in all forms -- from the onsite restaurant Ladoria Ristorante that includes a chef’s tasting menu, to weekly bocce tournaments. For something more sleek and modern, opt for Scribner’s Catskill Lodge. Rooms at the lodge are equipped with maple hardwood floors, fireplaces, and private terraces to ensure picturesque views of the mountains. Prospect, the lodge’s restaurant and bar, serves up an eclectic food and cocktail menu with specials changing daily.
Ride the Skyride up Hunter Mountain
While Hunter Mountain is best known for being a premier ski resort, there are plenty of reasons visit in the summer as well. When the snow melts, the mountain’s ski lift transforms into the Skyride; a scenic ride up to the mountain’s 3,200 foot summit. Once you make it to the top, you’ll get optimal views of the region, and on a clear day, views of the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts and Green Mountains in Vermont as well.
Enjoy cheese, candy, and kitsch at Last Chance Antiques & Cheese Café
Located at the foot of Hunter Mountain in the village of Tannersville, Last Chance Antiques & Cheese Café is known for its extensive beer menu, hearty comfort food, cheese plates, and live music. Standout menu items include pulled pork nachos and the smoked jalapeño havarti cheeseburger. Also inside the quirky café is a gourmet shop, where you can pick up local and imported cheeses, honeys and syrups, and vintage candy to take home.
Plan your Catskills trip around one of the area’s many summer festivals. The Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, held July 13-16, offers a lineup of over 40 bluegrass bands and musicians, workshops and seminars, jam sessions, open mics, and yoga and meditation. Or head up on August 26 for the Great Catskills Mountain BBQ Fest, which will feature chefs from all over the country going head to head for cash prizes. Among the categories is a “People’s Choice Rib-Off,” which gives guests the honor of tasting and choosing the best ribs. Live music, vendors, and a craft beer tent will also be part of the festivities.
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Caroline King is a writer based in Buffalo, NY who is an avid beer drinker and novice hiker. Follow her on Twitter or read about her travels on her blog.