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How to Have a Perfect Catskills Weekend

by Jessica Festa

For those looking for a weekend retreat from New York City, the Catskills offer something for every season and personality. Made up of four counties—Sullivan, Ulster, Greene and Delaware—the region retains a rustic, welcoming vibe, and offers a plethora of activities.

Whether you’re into art, culture, adventure, history, food, wine or just want to relax at a charming B&B for the weekend, you can find it in the region. Best of all, you can get from any two points in the Catskills in about an hour or less. To help you plan your weekend itinerary, here are some suggestions.

Getting There:

To make the most of your Catskills trip, it’s worth it to have a car, either through a rental company or a Zipcar. Once you have your vehicle, take Route I-87 to exits 16 through 21B, depending where exactly your hotel is. For those opting to visit the Catskills without a car, Amtrak and Metro-North provide train access while Adirondack/Pine Hill Trailways and Shortline Bus can get you there by bus.

Have an Outdoor Adventure

No matter in what season you visit, outdoor adventure abounds. When it’s winter, mountains like Hunter, Windham, Plattekill and Belleayre allow you to take part in skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, ziplining and tubing. In warmer months, mountain biking, canyoning, rafting, horseback riding, geocaching, rock climbing, mountaineering, fly fishing and paintballing are popular.

Catskills-waterfall

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The region is also home to myriad hiking trails, from beginner strolls to multi-day treks. For an aerial Catskills vista, opt for the moderate North Point & North Mountain Ledge Trek. About 5.9 miles, the hike takes you past Ashley Falls to the top of the 3,180-foot North Mountain for views of lakes, mountains, the Hudson River, Hudson Valley and Kaaterskill High Peak. Another worthwhile trek is to Kaaterskill Falls in Greene County. This moderate 1.4-mile round-trip hike takes you through serene woodland and over charming bridges before arriving at the 260-foot two-tiered Kaaterskill Falls, New York’s highest cascading waterfall. And for something more challenging, the Hunter Mountain Fire Tower hike is a 4.2-mile round-trip hike accessible by Hunter Mountain chairlift to Colonel’s Chair. From there, trekkers can walk 2.1 miles to the 4,040 summit for panoramic views of the Catskill high peaks, Devil’s Path, Platte Clove and the Hudson Valley.

Tip: If you don’t have a car, you may want to opt for an accommodation with hiking trails on or near the property. Some excellent choices for this include The Sullivan Hotel, Stone Tavern Farm Home and Winter Clove Inn.

Go Back In Time

New York state features a worthwhile heritage experience called “The Path Through History,” a heritage path that runs through the state with a variety of stops being in the Catskills. One of the most iconic attractions on the trail is the Handorf Mills Museum in East Meredith, a historic working mill and authentic water and steam-powered site. The attraction, which features 16 heritage buildings within, aims to “inspire audiences of all ages to explore connections among energy, technology, natural resources and entrepreneurship in rural communities, with a focus on sustainable choices.” Some interesting aspects of the visit include seeing a 1926 Fitz Overshot Waterwheel in action, smelling the scent of fresh-cut lumber as it’s cut in a water-powered sawmill and viewing more than 50,000 artifacts and an impressive photography collection and library.

There’s also the Senate House and Museum in Kingston, the site where New York state was established in 1777 during the Revolutionary War. Next to the historic house is also a museum showcasing three galleries of Kingston-related art and artifacts, like a pilot wheel from the steamboat Mary Powell, a sheepskin mask from the 19th century Anti-Rent War and works by Kingston-born artist John Vanderlyn.

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Other Catskill region stops along the way include Kaaterskill Falls, Bethel Wood Center for the Arts & Museum at Bethel Woods, Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild, Hudson-Athens Lighthouse and Thomas Cole National Historic Site.

Get Creative

The Catskills are home to a rich arts culture, from performance to handicrafts to fine arts to the abstract. Visit the Piano Museum, which houses an expansive collection of historic pianos, musical artifacts and information on piano-making and history. Across the street there’s the Catskill Mountain Foundation, which does everything from presenting music, dance and theatre performances, to showcasing films, to providing art classes and programs and displaying rotating exhibitions in the gallery.

There’s also Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, located at the site of the famous Woodstock Festival. The attraction is a cultural centre that still hosts a variety of concerts on the green where more than 400,000 attendees in 1969. Visitors can also browse the museum, which showcases film, text, artifacts and multi-media exhibits to tell the story of the original Woodstock Festival and its legacy. The town of Woodstock itself is also known for its vibrant arts community. Full of galleries, performing arts centres, creative museums, vintage boutiques and film centres, you can spend days exploring. Head down Gallery Row on Tannery Brook Road to browse an array of art spaces, or peruse local works at the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum. Additionally, you can do a walking tour of the Byrdcliffe Arts Colony, America’s oldest continuing arts and crafts colony.

For a truly immersive art experience, opt to do one of the Catskill’s creative-themed trails. First there’s the Hudson River School Art Trail, which focuses on landscape artists and outdoor works, with the majority of the stops being within 15 miles of the trail’s first stop, the Thomas Cole National Historic Site. Once the home of the Hudson River School’s founder, Thomas Cole, visitors can tour the home, watch a video on Cole’s art and take in rotating landscape painting exhibits. Sunset Rock is another stop, which many landscape painters found truly inspiring due to its views of the Hudson River Valley and North-South Lake. In fact, Jasper Cropsey depicted the view in his 1855 painting, “Catskill Mountain House.” The Hudson River School Art Trail has eight stops in total. Note that while the route is drivable, you will have to do a bit of trekking to get to some of the stops. Other interesting creative trails include Sullivan County Pottery Trail, the Antiques Trail and the Sullivan County Arts & Cultural Trail.

Have a Drink

Oenophiles will be happy to know the Catskills region is home to many wineries and vineyards, which can be experienced on the Shawangunk Wine Trail, which boasts 12 wineries. Sip handcrafted wines at Benmarl Winery, estate-grown grape vino at Glorie Farm Winery and artisanal labels at Whitecliff Vineyard & Winery. Additionally, there are wineries not on the trail, like BashaKill Vineyards, known for its top-quality Noiret and Cayuga White vines, which can be sampled in the tasting room.

Not a wine person? The Catskills offers opportunities to sample artisanal beers and handcrafted spirits. All of the spirits from the Dancing Cat Saloon & Catskill Distilling Company, including vodka, whiskey, bourbon, grappa and gin, are meticulously blended by owner Monte Sachs, who can lead you through a tasting at the bar. Monte is also one of only two people in the entire world that he knows of to have created a spirit using buckwheat, which he has dubbed “The One And Only.” In many ways it looks and tastes like a whiskey, although with complex flavours of sweet fruits and spice. Hungry? The onsite restaurant serves up spirit-infused dishes like baby back ribs infused with Monte’s “Most Righteous Bourbon” and meatloaf topped with a gravy incorporating “White Wicked Whiskey.”

Beer lovers should head to Cave Mountain Brewing Company for some handcrafted beers made onsite. Choose from regulars like the oatmeal stout and West Coast Red & Blueberry Wheat or seasonal selections.

Just Relax

The Catskills immerses you in a rustic country atmosphere, with main streets full of whimsical boutiques, artisanal caf├ęs, used book shops and cozy bed and breakfasts. Because of this, it’s a great place to explore the ambient towns before holing up with a bottle of wine and a good book in a homey accommodation. While there are many B&Bs to choose from, there are a few standouts.

Catskills-boating

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At Hotel Vienna, be prepared for the sweet smells of freshly baked cookies and bread pudding, as well as the option to relax by the fire in a rocking chair. Then there’s Fisk House Bed & Breakfast, owned by friendly entrepreneurs Roxy and Lee, where you can walk in their garden, enjoy their antique shop and take a dip in the onsite pool before lounging in one of their common rooms or having a hot drink with Roxy in the kitchen. At Inn at Lake Joseph you’ll vacation on a 250-acre private lake, allowing for recreational activities as well as a scenic gourmet breakfast out on the veranda. And for those staying in Ulster County, Harmony House Bed & Breakfast features a manicured park-like yard, a four-course breakfast served outside on the deck, mountain views and spacious rooms featuring elegant rooms with period accents.

Along with relaxing at one of the cozy bed and breakfasts, visitors can experience the slow-paced country mindset by doing the West Branch Farm Trail. Enjoy animal encounters, sample fresh produce, pure maple syrup and farm fresh foods, immerse yourself in a sustainable agricultural setting, take part in festive events and get a glimpse at what life on a farm is really like. The trail allows you to visit 10 individual farms, all offering their own unique charm.