Located on the East Coast of the United States in the state of New York, the Catskill Mountains are among the largest and most naturally diverse regions on this side of the country. Home to an astonishing 98 peaks in total, these scenic mountains are tucked away in the vast 705,500 acres of Catskill Park, where winding valleys, forested terrains, rushing rivers and streams, tributaries, and rocky landscapes dominate the expansive region.
Given their beauty and adventurous territory, the Catskill Mountains offer abounding recreational activities and a wealth of extraordinary sights for visitors to soak up, making this a world-famous vacation destination suited to outdoors enthusiasts, nature lovers, and thrill-seekers alike. But what is it exactly that makes the Catskills an incredible place to call home about? This in-depth guide to the Catskills Mountains sums up the answers to that very question!
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Are The Catskills Worth Visiting?
Unsurprisingly, the answer to this question is a resounding yes. These mesmeric mountains in NY are famous for many reasons, notably pristine nature, outdoor pursuits, stunning scenery, and great food are the focus of one’s retreat. In addition to breathtaking natural attractions like rivers, lakes, waterfalls, and sublime mountain peak vistas, the Catskill Mountains are also renowned for their high number of maintained hiking trails and even ski resorts, the latter of which are popular in the winter.
What’s more, despite being rural, the region also offers a vibrant cultural scene of farm-to-table restaurants, fantastic craft breweries and wine-tasting tours, and even art galleries. Furthermore, what makes this area of natural splendor all the more appealing is this: the Catskills are located just two to three hours from New York City by car, rendering the region one of the most accessible and tempting getaways for many urban dwellers.
Things To Do In The Catskills
‘What to do in the Catskills’ is a common query among New York-bound travelers. However, a better question to ask is what isn’t there to do in the Catskills; there’s simply so much to do and see. Overall, it’s outdoor adventures galore in these mountains and their undulating valleys, from hiking, horseback riding, and picturesque drives to camping, zip lining, mountain biking, and more. Visitors can also try their hand at numerous aquatic activities, including fishing in the Catskills lakes, white water rafting, and in-water pastimes on the more tranquil side, such as kayaking, canoeing, and paddle boarding.
A number of the best lakes in the Catskills for swimming, kayaking, and the likes are:
- Onteora Lake (popular with kayakers and excellent for fishing)
- Lake Minnewaska State Park Preserve
- Lake Awosting (located in Minnewaska State Park, this lark requires a hike in, as well as a day-use fee or empire pass. There are on-duty lifeguards here, too)
- Echo Lake (note that reaching this lake requires a hike up Overlook Mountain)
- Biscuit Brook (a hike off Route 42 towards Claryville is needed to get to this spot)
- Belleayre Beach (this lovely spot at Pine Hill Lake offers f fun activities for the family. Plus, lifeguards are on duty)
- Lake Superior State Park (offers supervised swimming)
- Mongaup Pond Campground (note that swimming is only allowed here when a lifeguard is on duty)
Additionally, swimming holes offer a refreshing dip, especially in the summer. Whilst there are much more worthy of note, some of the best swimming holes in the Catskills include:
- Peekamoose Blue Hole
- Split Rock Swimming Hole
- Kaaterskill Falls Swimming Hole
- Rat’s Hole Park Swimming Hole
- Vernooy Falls Swimming Hole
- Skinners Falls
For some of the best views in the Catskills, riding the famed rail explorers is a worthy experience that grants epic vistas to nature fans and photographers craving to capture that postcard-perfect picture. In a nutshell, a rail explorer is a pedal-powered vehicle that cruises along railroad tracks. They’re electrically assisted, making pedaling comfortable, fun, and easy.
Museums In The Catskills
If all of the above sounds a little too exciting, visiting historic sites in the Catskills might be a more calming fit. Catskills museums, galleries, and historic sites celebrate and commemorate the region’s special place in American history. There’s the nationwide famed Thomas Cole National Historic Site – the former home of painter Thomas Cole who started the Hudson River Art School – as well as The Bronck Museum in Coxsackie, home of the oldest structure in the Hudson Valley.
Visitors can also discover Pratt Rock and the Zadock Pratt Museum, both of which memorialize one of Greene County’s most influential citizens – Zadock Pratt, a Colonel in the New York State Infantry, who also went on to become a Congressman and successful businessman. Meanwhile, those with musical flair will appreciate exploring the history of pianos at the Doctorow Center for the Arts in Hunter, NY, which features a collection of rare, vintage instruments – some dating back to the days of legendary composer Mozart.
The Best Camping & Lodging In The Catskills
There’s no lack of campgrounds and accommodation in the Catskills, which is only natural since one of the most authentic ways to experience staying overnight in these mountains is camping, with most sites providing space for RV camping and tents. Though they’re aplenty, Catskills campsites are closed throughout winter, but most open up again in the spring – primarily for fishing.
Generally, summer is the best time to camp in the Catskills, as campers can enjoy a warmer and drier getaway unsullied by the famously chilly New York weather. Plus, the Catskills weather doesn’t typically subject visitors to unbearable heat in summer – perfect for campers. Fall is also a wonderful season for Catskills camping; the fiery fall foliage hues combine with hunting in these months to deliver extraordinary golden scenery and adventurous activities.
Ultimately, whatever the time of year, camping in the Catskills represents a blissful blend of adventure and relaxation that’s just a stone’s throw from the Big Apple. Whether as a family, a group of friends, a couple for a romantic retreat, or as a solo adventurer, this glorious part of New York has the ideal campsite – from more casual grounds with hot showers to primitive campsites deep in the wild right in the midst of nature.
Some of the best campsites in the Catskills that receive excellent reviews include:
- North/South Lake Campground
- Woodland Valley Campground
- Mongaup Pond Campground
- Kenneth L. Wilson Campground and Day Use Area
- Devil’s Tombstone Campground
- Bear Spring Mountain Campground
Food & Drink In The Catskills
If anyone knows just one thing about upstate New York, it’s that the food is big, hearty, and drool-worthy. Be it classic NY pizzas, hefty Manhattan breakfast, a beastly Midtown-style brunch, or fresh seafood, there’s a flavor for everyone in this part of the state. However, food in the Catskills has a particular focus on the farm-to-table experience, with many of the best restaurants in the Catskills serving up farm-fresh dishes lovingly made from locally sourced ingredients. As such, much of the tempting tastes in these parts are as fresh and natural as the environment’s unspoiled trails; gaining this destination traction in the realms of keen-eyed, grumbling-bellied foodies – and good grub is essential, what with all that Catskills hiking on the cards!
Granted, the Catskills region boasts a wide array of eateries, each offering mouthwatering cuisine and homely American favorites. Still, some of the top-rated Catskills restaurants visitors and locals can’t seem to get enough of are:
- New York Restaurant (353 Main Street, Catskill, NY)
- Barnwood Restaurant (14 Deer Ln, Catskill, NY 12414)
- Creek Side Restaurant (160 West Main St., Catskill, NY 12414)
- Ambrosia Diner (321 W Bridge St, Catskill, NY 12414-1729)
- Frank Guido’s Port Of Call (7 Main St, Catskill, NY 12414-1828)
- Table On Ten (2030 State Route 10, Bloomville, NY 13739)
- Mama’s Boy Burgers (6067 Main St., Tannersville, NY)
- Brushland Eating House (1927 county Route 6, Bovina Center, NY 13740)
- Dixon Roadside (261 Tinker St, Woodstock, NY 12498)
- Shindig (1 Tinker St. Woodstock, New York 12498)
The Best Hiking & Scenic Sights In The Catskills
Because the region is extremely large, one could spend weeks if not months exploring the vast expanse of untouched, serene lands and still only have scratched the surface in terms of scoping out the most scenic sights. However, some of the prettiest spots in the Catskills Mountains undoubtedly come in the form of its seemingly countless hiking trails and cascading waterfalls.
With treks to suit all ages, experience levels, skills, and abilities, these luscious mountains of astounding beauty and adventure are world-class hiking destinations. To prove that claim, a mere sample of the best Catskills hiking trails are:
- Vernooy Kill Falls (fantastic swimming pools and great for bird watching too)
- Balsam Mountain Trail (a route taking hikers to the summit of Balsam Mountain – one of the highest peaks in the Catskills)
- Catskill Scenic Trail (an easy hike that’s also great for biking and horseback riding)
- Giant Ledge Hike (truly paralyzing vistas at this ledge!)
- Hunter Mountain Via Becker Hollow Trail (the shortest hike up to Hunter Mountain, but also the steepest)
- Kanape Brook And Ashokan High Point Mountain (This trek takes the scenic Kanape Brook Trail along a rocky route to the summit of High Point Mountain)
- Blackhead Mountain (This illustrious trail to the fourth-highest peak in the Catskills covers some of the most beautiful hiking routes in the Catskill Mountains)
- Mary’s Glen and Ashley Falls (this hike is beginner-friendly and offers amazing views!)
- Onteora Lake Yellow Trail Loop (an easy trail free of mountain scaling. Just good old gentle, rolling hills, small streams, ponds, and forests)
- Crystal Lake Loop (A fairly easy, quiet loop around a beautiful lake)
Naturally, the Catskills aren’t just hiking trails and heart-stopping scenes conjured by Mother Nature; the region is also decorated by enchanting falls, many of which are possible to visit. Although there are many more, some of the best Catskills waterfalls include:
- Tompkins Falls (though pretty, these falls usually see fewer crowds)
- Diamond Notch Falls (the hike to this waterfall is a challenge, but trekkers are rewarded with impressive views!)
- Glen Falls (excellent swimming holes are found here)
- Nevele Falls (small, but incredibly scenic thanks to the unique curvature of rock formations)
- Fawns Leap Falls (awesome for cliff diving!)
- Old Mill Falls (located right near its namesake Old Mill in Robert H. Treman State Park, which visitors can also check out)
- Artist Falls (a 15-foot-high chute that flows into a natural pool at the base, perfect for swimming)
- Vernooy Kill Falls (its respective hiking trail already mentioned above!)
- Plattekill Falls (most impressive in early spring, this is the largest readily accessible waterfall in Platte Clove, whose rugged beauty inspired many Hudson River School artists)
- Kaaterskill Falls (Falling two tiers over 260 feet, this is the highest cascading waterfall in New York State and the crowning jewel of the Catskills!)
All in all, the Catskills is one of the best destinations in the United States for nature lovers, hikers, campers, outdoor adrenaline addicts, and those hoping to rekindle their relationship with nature. And, best of all, the region’s unprecedented natural beauty, epic activities, historic landmarks, and diverse wildlife are merely three-or-so hours from the hustle and bustle of New York City. It goes without saying that their proximity to one of the world’s global powerhouses and most famous locations on the planet means the Catskills Mountains are one of the best accessible nature hotspots and vacation destinations on the East Coast.
So, whether venturing from NYC or the opposite side of the globe, this outstanding area of exceptional natural awe is worth every mile traveled to reach the glorious grandeur of their gargantuan grounds.