This beautiful mountainous region west of the Hudson Valley has been a popular getaway since the 19th century. The romantic image of mossy gorges and rounded peaks, as popularized by Hudson River School painters, encouraged a preservation movement: in 1894 the state constitution was amended so that thousands of acres are 'forever kept as wild forest lands.'
In the early 20th century, the Catskills became synonymous with so-called 'borscht belt' hotels, summer escapes for middle-class NYC Jews. The vast majority of these hotels have closed, although orthodox Jewish communities still thrive in many towns – as does a back-to-the-land, hippie ethos on numerous small farms. In the fall, this is the closest place to NYC with really dramatic colors in the trees.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Catskills.
The site of the 1969 Woodstock Music & Art Fair, on Max Yasgur's farm outside Bethel, is 70 miles southwest of the town of Woodstock. It's now home to an outdoor amphitheater with great summer concerts and an evocative museum with exhibits that burst with the music and images that made Woodstock such a cultural force.
Beginning in 1938, artist Harvey Fite (founder of the fine arts department at nearby Bard College) worked for nearly four decades to coax an abandoned quarry into this immense work of land art, all sinuous walls, canyons and pools.
It's hard to miss this stunning timber block work Ukrainian church perched on a hill just off of Rte 23A, about 10 miles west of Tannersville. You can stop by any time to get a closer look at the domes, or plan to visit during the shop opening hours or mass (9am Monday to Saturday, 10am Sunday). Special events like art shows and concerts are also held in the summer.
For the best view of New York State's highest falls – 260ft, compared to Niagara's 167ft – without a strenuous hike, head to the viewing platform. Popular paintings by the Hudson River Valley School of painters in the mid-1800s elevated this two-tier cascade to iconic status, making it a major draw for hikers, artists and nature lovers.
A half-mile nature trail leads to this 1869 landmark on the point where Esopus Creek joins the Hudson. Tours of the building are available by appointment, as well as every Sunday between noon and 3pm during the summer.
Cooperstown bills itself as the home of baseball (the myth that it was the birthplace of the game was long ago debunked). This classy three-floor facility has exhibits, a theater, a library, and an interactive statistical database on the game.
Founded in 1977, this creative space gives classes, hosts lectures and mounts exhibitions that expand the strict definition of the art form, thanks to a lively artist-in-residence program.
A reconstructed log fort (not a military outpost) from the 1750s when English settlers and Lenape Indians coexisted in what was then wilderness territory. Tours leave on the hour (the last one is at 4pm), with interpreters in period dress demonstrating skills such as candle-making, quilting, weaving and food preparation.
This gallery has an outstanding collection of Americana, including portraits of the town's founding father, William Cooper, and his sixth son, the novelist James Fenimore Cooper. It also has regularly changing art exhibitions.