When I think about highlights from a recent trip I took to Greene County, New York, I struggle to determine which of these favorite things was my favorite, favorite thing.
There was the Reuben Egg Roll at the Old Factory Brewing Company in Cairo; and homemade cinnamon doughnut at the Catskill Mountain Country Store & Restaurant in Windham.
There was the leisurely stroll at Colgate Lake Wild Forest, complete with views of the surrounding Catskill Mountains; and the seemingly never-ending horizon as seen from Five State Lookout on Route 23, as you head From Windham toward Cairo.
Mahayana Buddhist Temple in Leeds offered serenity. And the sense of anticipation I experienced by driving to the site of the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in Oak Hill, two weeks prior to the festival, was palpable.
But I guess it’s so hard to nail down just one thing I loved about Greene County, above all others, because visiting Greene County isn’t about just one destination or one experience. The Great Northern Catskills Region is an all-encompassing, all-consuming undertaking that, above everything, allows you to detach from the grind of every day, and it affords you the opportunity to pause, take a deep breath, and then exhale as you find your footing in a world that seems to get more topsy-turvy with each tick of the second hand on a clock.
Driving everything was the fact that, when it comes to Big Sky Country, Montana’s got nothing on New York State, the Hudson Valley and Greene County.
The deeper I got into rural Greene County, and the closer I came to the majestic Catskill Mountains, the more I felt the burdens of the world lifting off my shoulders. My mind became clear and my spirit soared.
Playing pivotal roles in all of this was the wide-open sky, wide-open spaces and seemingly endless pastures, fields, country lanes and creeks that define Greene County, New York.
This bucolic community, located across the Hudson River from the City of Hudson and its Amtrak station, is home to numerous destinations offering all kinds of escape and enjoyment.
There is Hunter Mountain for skiing in the winter; Colgate Lake Wild Forest for camping, hiking and fishing; and East Durham for the annual Irish Festival. But if it’s July, that means one thing and one thing only—the time is at hand for Bluegrass music devotees, performers and fans alike to gather at the annual Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival on the Walsh Farm in Oak Hill. And Amtrak makes it all accessible with Hudson Station.
By all accounts, Grey Fox July 14-17 did not disappoint as it welcomed the biggest names in bluegrass and some of the most loyal and passionate fans you will find in any musical genre, for any band, anywhere.
Jerry Douglas, the Del McCoury Band, Steve Earle and Bela Fleck, who are in no uncertain terms Bluegrass royalty, all graced the Grey Fox stage. For those who are not so familiar with Bluegrass, keep in mind that while rock and roll has the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and the Beach Boys, Bluegrass and Grey Fox have Jerry Douglas, Del McCoury, Steve Earle and Bela Fleck.
There were numerous other musical acts at Grey Fox, along with a Family Stage featuring ventriloquist Steve Charney, and Family Yoga with Helen Spinelli. There were also workshops, seminars, an open mic and an Emerging Artist Showcase.
But the biggest star of the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival this year—as it was last year and will be next year, and the year after that—is the crowd. Thousands of fans made their annual pilgrimage to the Hudson Valley, with camping gear, musical instruments, a sense of abandonment and a sense of purpose. All of it was intertwined and underscored group meetups that only happened at Grey Fox, for those who stayed the weekend and those who enjoyed it for a day.
But wait—there’s more.
About 30 minutes from the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival site sits Colgate Lake Wild Forest, an intimately-spectacular site with a walking path; opportunities for fishing and camping; a lake; and a creek. The sense of isolation generates a feeling of serenity that is beyond comforting, and most accessible.
The ride from Colgate Lake back to the Grey Fox site places you front-and-center in the Catskills. Winding roads, wildlife, more creeks and that ever-present Hudson Valley Big Sky following you everywhere.
The region is filled with hiking trails. Pratt Rock features historic rock carvings, while Mountain Top Arboretum’s public garden is the perfect place for a stroll. The popular Kaaterskill Falls and Hunter Mountain are nearby. If you’re a thrill-seeker, check out New York Zipline Adventures, which hosts a high line that’s the longest and fastest in the country.
Head toward the Town of Windham and your Catskill Mountain immersion expands with a cozy community offering all kinds of comforts, from lodging and dining to beverages and fun things to do.
The Catskill Mountain Country Store & Restaurant is a gem among Greene County gems. Beyond what this establishment has to offer customers, this business is welcoming, warm and evokes an old general store in such a way that can stir nostalgia, regardless of your age.
The Catskill Mountain Country Store & Restaurant serves breakfast and lunch and sells a range of items, from local honey, Buffalo bleu cheese dip and keychains to fudge, apple butter barbecue sauce and homemade bread.
As you make your way out of Windham you can take a stroll on the Windham path.
“The first phase of the Windham Path is a 1.5-mile-loop accessed by a parking area on Route 23 and the second phase is a half-mile section that connects the business area of South Street and Route 296 to the first phase loop,” reads www.greatnortherncatskills.com. “The Windham Path provides the only public access to the Batavia Kill stream in Windham and meanders through meadows and woodlands and across bridges, providing fantastic views of the Great Northern Catskills. Make a point to take a break during your ride or walk to enjoy the gem of the Windham Path, the magnificent and picturesque covered bridge that spans the Batavia Kill stream.”
Keep driving on Route 23 and, as the road descends, make sure to stop at the pullover spot whose name, Five State Lookout, says it all. The sweeping view is exhilarating and provides yet another opportunity to pause, take a deep breath and exhale.
A few miles farther on Route 23 lies Cairo and a restaurant-brewery that serves a food item that literally changed my life. I don’t know who at the Old Factory Brewing Company came up with the idea for a Reuben Egg Roll, but I would like to shake his or her hand.
I love Reuben sandwiches. I love egg rolls. But I was very suspicious to read the Old Factory menu and see that someone had combined the two together. But one bite laid my suspicions to rest and left me wanting to do cartwheels on the Old Factory front deck. I instead turned my attention to the House Breaded Southern Fried Chicken Sandwich, which was spectacular. I’m more of a burger guy, but pushed myself outside my comfort zone for this meal, and was greatly rewarded.
Complementing my meal was the Old Factory Brewing Company’s contemporary, industrial décor, and sound system that brought a smile to my face by playing “Sk8er Boi” by Avril Lavigne. I have always liked this song, but hadn’t heard it in years, and between the memories it evoked, and that Reuben Egg Roll, I left the Old Factory Brewing Company feeling like $10 million. Thank you, Cairo!
Capping off my trip to the area was a drive to the nearby Mahayana Buddhist Temple. This stop offered more serenity with a stroll on the grounds, compelling architecture and a sense of spirituality that was all-consuming.
And so it was that Greene County, at every turn, from Grey Fox to Colgate Lake to my Reuben Egg Roll and Mahayana Temple offered a total and complete re-calibration of my senses, spirit and soul.
A bit off the beaten bath, Greene County and its destinations are most fulfilling, and upon departure, leave you wanting more. Personally, I felt quite clever having found it all, so close to the Amtrak station in the City of Hudson. I felt, in fact, sly as a (Grey) Fox.
Visit greatnortherncatskills.com for more information on the festival and visiting Greene County.
Rent a car from Enterprise! Enterprise picks you up at HUD and takes you to your rental car. Use the code, NYTRAIN, for a discount when making your reservation. Click here to reserve your car or call Enterprise’s Hudson office: 518-828-5492.
If you’re making your trip from Long Island or NYC, you can find Amtrak at Moynihan Train Hall, located in Penn Station. Taking the Long Island Railroad to Penn Station leads you right to Moynihan Train Hall, making it an easy and convenient travel option.
Amtrak has taken several initiatives to ensure the safety of its passengers. They have committed to requiring face masks for all passengers, converting the cafe car to takeout only, adding social distance signage, and much more.