A Southeast Catskill Tour: From the Mountains to the River
Let’s take a journey with one of our favorite locals, “Ranger” Dave Holden as he showcases some of the hotspots in the southeast Catskills to walk, hike, run, bike, canoe, kayak, bird-watch, fish, and more! Yes, it is amazing how much there is to do in our region. As Dave points out, this reflects the long history of recreation upstate New York, going back to the Hotel Days, when fleets of river-steamers plied the Hudson, stopping at riverports, like Kingston and Saugerties. Where city-people, seeking a fresh-air respite from coal-smoke-choked New York could then board trains for the many guest-houses and hotels in our own “purple mountains majesty” to take in the fresh Catskills air. Just take a look at the photo above! Photo Credit: Catskill Visitor Center OK, on to the Great Circle Tour of the Southeast Catskills – from the Mountains to the River!
CONGRESSMAN MAURICE D. HINCHEY CATSKILLS VISITOR CENTER (CVC)
5096 Route 28, Mt. Tremper, NY 12457 | 845-688-3369 | WEBSITE
What better place to start your tour of the Southeast Catskills than the CVC. This wonderful place is run by a partnership of the Catskill Center and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The building itself features state-of-the-art technology for interpretation of the natural and cultural resources of the Catskills region. It is the official visitor center of the Catskill Park and is located on 60 acres of fields, forest and meadows, with its own hiking trails and full-scale Firetower. From interactive exhibits to its nature trails and community events there is something for everyone at the CVC. It is a great jumping-off point for all visitors. Its friendly, knowledgeable staff can provide visitors with updated trail conditions, suggest places to hike and camp, as well as provide information and maps of other places to visit.
ASHOKAN RAIL+TRAIL (ART) | Woodstock Dyke Trailhead | 1285 Route 28, West Hurley, NY 12491 | WEBSITE
The western terminus of this delightful, world-class, 11.5-long recreational trail is only a few miles from the Catskills Visitor Center, the address above indicating the eastern end of the ART. This extraordinary path skirts the northern shore of the NYC-owned and operated Ashokan Reservoir which provides drinking water to the City and was built by, and is administered by a consortium that includes NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Ulster County Parks & Recreation Dept., the Woodstock Land Conservancy and the NY/NJ Trail Conference. This rail trail is 12-feet wide and surfaced with a compacted crushed-stone surface that is accessible for persons with disabilities and limited abilities. Activities on the ART include hiking, bicycling, running, nature observation, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Oh, the views! From every location along the rail-trail beautiful – and sometimes, immense – views unfold of the reservoir itself and the mountains around it. For more on this spectacular resource, please visit their website.
HUNTER MOUNTAIN | 64 Klein Ave, Hunter, NY 12442
This beautiful and challenging mountain deep in the Southeast Catskills is a major destination for many hikers, with its Firetower at the top providing incredible, panoramic views of the entire region, as the ultimate goal. While the above address only reflects the private access from the Hunter Mountain Ski Resort, much of Hunter Mountain is State Land, administered by the NYS DEC and all of the rules of NYS parks apply. Hunter, while most well-known for skiing, is also a major hiking destination, with several trails – some difficult, others, more moderate – ascending the mountain from all directions. To access from the north, to the Colonel’s Chair, the Hunter Mountain Resorts ski-lift, operates most of the year for the shortest, most moderate-level trail. Other, more demanding, approaches come from Becker Hollow, from near Devils Tombstone and Spruceton. Google Hunter Mountain for MAPS of its hiking trails and other access points
NORTH+SOUTH LAKE CAMPGROUND + DAY-USE AREA | County Route 18, Haines Falls, NY 12436 | 518-589-5058 | WEBSITE
This beautiful spot includes the location of the remains of Catskill Mountain House, a renowned old hotel and, as such, is one of New York’s oldest tourist locations, providing access to many trails with extraordinary and historic views, lakes that provide canoeing, fishing, kayaking and swimming and one of the nicest locations for a campground anywhere. Administered by NYS DEC, you can (and should) call ahead to reserve a campsite. There is plenty of parking available and the nearby trails offer truly amazing prospects, long coveted by landscape painters. North-South Lake is really a must-visit to see the best the Catskills has to offer.
SAUGERTIES LIGHTHOUSE | 168 Lighthouse Dr, Saugerties, NY 12477 | 845-247-0656 | WEBSITE
Located at the exact point where the Esopus Creek finally drains into the majestic Hudson after winding many, many miles down through the highlands, then lowlands of the Catskills, the Saugerties Lighthouse is truly a wonder to behold, commanding a great sweep of the river. Accessed only by a sometimes tidally-inundated nature-trail (always check the tides on their website) that meanders through a rich riparian ecology, complete with educational plaques along the way, this site offers a visitor a host of opportunities to see Bald Eagles, Ospreys, many, many other migrating birds and the occasional Harbor Seal. It is a great local day-use area, offering swimming at its beach in season and a good short walk (1/2 mile), seemingly out onto the Hudson. The Lighthouse also offers an extraordinary location for a B&B (see website for fees and reservations). On the property of the Ruth Reynolds Glunt Nature Preserve, it is operated by the Saugerties Lighthouse Conservancy. Definitely worth a visit.
KINGSTON POINT + HUDSON RIVER BRICKYARD TRAIL | 102-144 Delaware Ave, Kingston, NY 12401 | 845-877-5263 | WEBSITE
The Hudson River Brickyard Trail is a 1.9-mile trail that is a section of Kingston’s Greenline and the NYS Empire State Trail (EST), with parking and access located at Kingston Point Beach. Walking this trail you wander through the Hutton Brickyards, with its interesting industrial history of brick-making on the Hudson River and is the closest that the EST runs along the river. Nearby is historic Kingston Point, where great steamers docked, disgorging hordes of 19th-century tourists who then took the D&H train (now the Kingston Point Rail Trail) up to the Catskills. Skirting a tidal lagoon with the Rondout Lighthouse in the near distance, it is not unusual to see some of the areas many Bald Eagles here, as well as numerous Great Blue Herons in season. The Brickyard Trail came about as a collaboration of Scenic Hudson, Kingston Land Trust, the City of Kingston, the Town of Ulster and the State of New York. Visit www.scenichudson.org for more information on this great area.
BLUESTONE WILD FOREST | 904 Rt. 28, Kingston, NY 12401 | DEC 845-256-3076 | WEBSITE
Located just 3 miles from the NYS Thruway, many people pass right by this 3,000-acre gem hidden in plain sight. On 3,000 acres there are 21 miles of trails well suited to mountain biking and hiking year-round, as well as snowshoeing in winter. The Onteora Lake itself is a great destination for canoeing, fishing (ice-fishing, as well). Camping is allowed near the summer parking area (in winter, parking is only allowed near Rt 28). This is another local site where it is not uncommon to see Bald Eagles and Ospreys fishing, as well as to watch the pterodactyl-like Great Blue Heron hunting for whatever it can find. Keep in mind this is also a State Park and all of the DEC’s rules for camping, fishing and hiking apply.
OVERLOOK MOUNTAIN | 353 Mead Mountain Rd, Woodstock, NY 12498 | DEC 845-256-3076 | WEBSITE
Arriving at the original Overlook Trail-head, if the parking lot is full, please continue north a half-mile downhill to the new, expanded parking lot and additional trails. The trail to the summit and its Firetower is 2.2 miles and is not steep, but a steady uphill grade on gravel. Good ankle- support is recommended and particular caution should be used coming back down because of loose gravel. You may start out in shade but as you ascend it will become more open, so water and sunscreen are advised. In season, insect repellent may be desired. You walk up the Overlook Trail into history, really. This becomes apparent when you see the ruins of the Overlook Mountain House, a remnant of the lost Hotel Era of the Catskills. Reaching the eponymous Overlook Ledge you will be astounded at the phenomenal view on a clear day as your eye follows the blue Hudson River in the near distance, with Woodstock not far away below. If you’re fortunate to be there on a weekend when the Firetower is open, you’ll get to see the world-class view of Plattekill, Indian Head and Twin Mountains and the rest of the great Catskills receding in the distance, as well as the Hudson down below on the other side, with the far-away Berkshires and Taconics.
Article Written by “Ranger” Dave Holden
Dave Holden is a New York State DEC Licensed Hiking Guide with many years of experience on Woodstock trails, old and new. We are thrilled to share Dave’s local expertise as he showcases the beautiful places in the area that regular trail hikers miss. He is also available for hire to lead guided nature hikes.