The 14 Coolest Things to Do in the Catskills
Get out of town before summer’s over.
If you learned anything from a certain coming-of-age movie, besides not putting Baby in a corner, you know that the Catskills are a scenic, accessible escape from NYC, especially during COVID, when we’ll take advantage of any opportunity to get out of our small living quarters.
But there’s more to the Catskills than mountains and good looks, like these 14 awesome things to do when you get there. So grab your mask and hand sanitizer, and get ready to show off your adventures with some like-worthy pics for your feed.
Pitch a tent (or sleep in one that’s already there)
Whether you define “roughing it” as sleeping on the ground, not having WiFi, or just being able to see a sky full of stars, there’s a camping option up here for every type of camper. Experience nature in full at the Phoenicia-Mt. Tobias Wild Forest and Balsam Lake Mountain Wild Forest -- and be sure to take out what you bring in. If you’re after a more upscale adventure, book Blue Hill Farms Tent and Breakfast in Narrowsburg, where tents (we’re using that term loosely) come equipped with queen-sized beds and full bathrooms, or reserve one of the tree house yurts at Harmony Hill on 70 wooded acres in East Meredith, each of which are fully furnished and include a bathroom and kitchenette. Treetopia Airstream Hotel and RV Campground in the town of Catskill is a new campground with basic glamping tents, a full-service RV park, and stationary airstreams for rent -- plus a pool and hiking trails.
Say you’ve gone fishin’
The Catskills and its tributaries are some of the best fly-fishing spots in the country, mainly because the whole idea originated here on the Willowemoc River. Learn about it through local organizations like the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum, the Royal Wulff School of Fly Fishing, and the Livingston Manor Fly Fishing Club, then head to Roscoe, New York (aka Trout Town, USA) and nab yourself some trout. Not ready to cast your own line? You can find smoked trout from Heller’s Farm at area farmers markets.
Party like it’s 1969
Located right on the site of 1969’s Woodstock, the Bethel Woods Center attracts big-name musical acts throughout the year and also hosts other events like food festivals and markets. Some upcoming events to get your fanciest face mask ready for is a Sunset Silent Disco and the 22nd Annual Harvest Festival. The center also has a museum and extensive grounds, as well as a much-photographed plaque by the fields where the legendary festival took place. Keep your eyes peeled for painted Woodstock doves around the region and if you’re looking for merch and a snack, try Woodstock Oasis. Oh, and take note: The town of Woodstock is great, but not where the actual festival happened.
Take a hike
Our guess is you escaped the city to enjoy fresh air, which comes via forests, mountains, waterfalls and the like. If long (but flat) hikes are your speed, take the Catskill Scenic Trail, a 26-mile stretch that was once a railway, and will take you past farms, scenery, and general “aaaah.” For something with an incline -- and the views to match -- try Overlook Mountain, which includes walking past atmospheric hotel ruins and the option to climb even higher by way of a fire tower at the top. Other worthwhile trails include Tusten Mountain Trail, Mongaup River Trail, and the various trails that surround the epic Kaaterskill Falls.
Explore on two wheels
Where there are mountains, there should be biking and the Catskills area has finally begun to beef up their bike trails in recent years. If you’re looking for serious mountain biking, Windham Mountain Bike Park should be your first stop and Elm Ridge has some beginner mountain biking paths. But not to worry, flatter paths are also an option, including the aforementioned Catskill Scenic Trail and the O&W Rail Trail. If you’ve got access to a motorcycle, take Route 55 to check out the Neversink and Rondout Reservoirs, Route 97 to follow the Delaware River for a 70-mile stretch, or the 88-mile loop of the Shawangunk Scenic Mountains Byway.
Take to the water
One thing the Catskills are not lacking in is water: the region is full of lakes, ponds, waterfalls, springs, streams, and of course the mighty Upper Delaware River and the Hudson River run through all of it. Whether it’s tubing, rafting, canoeing, or kayaking, Lander’s River Trips in Narrowsburg and Screaming Eagle Outdoor Adventures in Athens have pre-planned routes along the Delaware, so you don’t even have to think as you float -- but beware the whitewater rapids. If wave-free boating is more your speed, guests at the new Kenoza Hall have access to canoes and kayaks on adjacent Kenoza Lake and there are dozens more lakes to explore, including North-South Lake, Swan Lake, and Mongaup Pond, to name just a few.
The Catskills’ natural beauty has been inspiring artists for decades (you can still visit the home of Thomas Cole, who founded Hudson River School), and today there are dozens of galleries, pottery shops, and museums to inspire, like Stray Cat Gallery in Bethel, Delaware Valley Arts Alliance in Narrowsburg, Catskill Art Society in Livingston Manor, and Open Studio in Catskill. Jeffersonville artist Trey Speegle sells his own prints and paint-by-numbers at his RePop Shop and hosts rotating exhibits in Gallery 52 downstairs.
Catch a show
The Catskills have a rich history of music and theater, especially during the Borscht Belt era when performers took up residencies in the hundreds of popular hotels of the day. And of course, some of the world’s greatest musicians came here to rock Woodstock in 1969. Today, musicians play venues like Bethel Woods, The Falcon in Marlboro, and Downtown Barn in Liberty, while restored theaters like Art Deco gems Tusten Theatre in Narrowsburg and Rivoli Theatre in South Fallsburg host everything from plays to concerts to comedy shows. Just be sure to wear a mask and social distance responsibly when possible.
Learn how local booze is made -- then drink it
At some point during all of this, you’re going to need a drink. Sure, you can hit up a bar or bottle shop to do that, but why not get it straight from the source? The Catskill Distilling Company in Bethel makes several different whiskeys, gin, and even a “Peace Vodka” homage to its Woodstock roots, while Prohibition Distillery in Roscoe offers gin, vodka, and bourbon along with its irresistible Beaverkill Bourbon Cream (bourbon, cream liqueur and maple syrup).
If you aren’t into the hard stuff, the Vineyard at Windham specializes in small-batch wines made from grapes grown on their mountain top vineyard in Greene County, and the recently opened Left Bank Ciders in Catskill (Greene county’s first cidery) features small-batch ciders made with forged apples. There are also plenty of breweries worth a pint or two, like Upward Brewing Company, which makes beer using the natural spring on its property in Livingston Manor (don’t forget to scale Beer Mountain while you’re there!), and West Kill Brewing, which adds locally harvested ingredients like maple syrup, honey, and cherries to its beer.
Chill out with a summer treat
Ice cream and summer go hand in hand. And Summer 2020 brought pop-up B-Line Ice Cream to the Narrowsburg Union where local honey is used to sweeten all the flavors and the brownie sandwich will probably change your life. Just down the road is Nora’s Luvin Spoonful, which is known for its 24 flavors of soft serve (don’t sleep on the burger, either). Over in Saugerties, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Alleyway Ice Cream is located in a (you guessed it) alley just off Partition Street, selling one-of-a-kind flavors like Ube Heath Bar Crunch, Thai Tea Cookies and Cream, and Sour Cream and Blueberry.
Try some farm-to-table restaurants
It’s no surprise that a region known for its farmland has some quality restaurants serving exceptional food. From a seasonally driven tasting menu at the award-winning The DeBruce to wood-fired pizza at the Kaatskellar to tacos from Barrio Kitchen, there’s something for everyone. Stop by Roscoe’s Northern Farmhouse Pasta for pasta to eat there or cook at home and Fruition Chocolate Works for craft bean-to-bar chocolate in Woodstock. Check out the new and beautiful Jeffersonville Bakeshop (yes, a bakery can be beautiful, especially when it has a library-like sitting room with a fireplace) for everything from bread to doughnuts to cupcakes.
Stay at a 'grammable hotel
The Catskills area used to be known for its massive family resorts (check out the still-kicking Villa Roma Resort if you’re into that vibe) but today it’s home to some of the chicest boutique hotels outside Manhattan. Foster Supply Co. has some of the best in the area, between the Arnold House, The DeBruce, and the newest, Kenoza Hall, and we also love the hidden gem Villa at Saugerties and the luxe Hasbrouck House. For those looking for some retro flair, the Roxbury Motel and its new location at Stratton Falls has some of the most of creative rooms around (fairy castle, anyone?), or book a room at Kate’s Lazy Meadow (that would be Kate Pierson of the B-52s). For a farm experience, try Gray Barn at the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary, which rescues farm animals, or stay on the top floor of the barn at Buck Brook Alpaca Farm (yup, that means you’ll be surrounded by adorable furry alpacas). For chic cabins, you’ll want an A-frame Lushna Suite at Eastwind Hotel or one of the tiny houses at the aptly named Tiny House Resort.
Support local businesses
You’ll find antique shops all over the Catskills region, like Rick’s Barn, a gigantic shop specializing in antique European and American furniture. But, if you aren’t in the market for a huge farm table (because… NYC apartment sizes), head to Phoenicia’s Homer and Langley’s Mystery Spot, an antiques shop/emporium that’s into some Instagram-worthy stuff. We’re talking a stuffed, man-eating piranha named “Petey,” and an entire exhibit dedicated to creepy dolls. For less weird and more design-forward home goods, check out Sunny’s Pop in Narrowsburg for chic pottery and glassware alongside a curated selection of vintage pieces. Clothes-wise, River Mint Finery in Kingston is a good bet.
Discover the past
The Catskills have a rich history, including as the birthplace of fly-fishing (see above), being the center of the iconic Borscht Belt era (visit Swan Lake Historical Pavilion for tons of photos and ephemera from that time), and hosting one of the most epic music festivals of all time. Learn about the region’s role during the Revolutionary War at the Minisink Battleground in Barryville and visit photogenic historic bridges like the Stone Arch Bridge in Kenoza Lake and the Bendo and Vantran covered bridges in Livingston Manor.
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