Views and Craft Brews in the Great Northern Catskills

Traveling has always been something that I’ve wanted to do. As a student I was lucky to have traveled abroad, studying English literature and psychology, on top of interning with two independent publishing companies in London, England. Amidst catching the tube to different pubs, museums, and markets throughout the London’s thirty-two boroughs, I was also fortunate enough to travel outside of the city. From Paris to Budapest to Prague, Krakow, Amsterdam, Brighton, Edinburgh and the Isle of Skye in Scotland, I was able to see a lot of Europe in a short visit. Upon returning from my adventures abroad, I quickly realized how little of my own area—the Hudson River Valley, I’ve explored. So, when given the opportunity to travel throughout the Great Northern Catskills, I was beyond thrilled. I couldn’t wait to see what was in store during two days of exploration—all in my own backyard.

THE GREAT NORTHERN CATSKILLS

My adventure began by catching the 63 Amtrak train (on the Maple Leaf line) from the Poughkeepsie station. I really like the Poughkeepsie station, and have used it on a plethora of occasions, whether I’m traveling up to Syracuse or catching a train down to New York City. You can really go anywhere your heart desires from this station.

Great Northern Catskills of Green County
Walkway Over the Hudson | Fall Day-Trip
Leaving Poughkeepsie Station on Amtrak toward Hudson, NY. Great Northern Catskills here I come! | Photo by Lauren Sandford

Leaving Poughkeepsie Station on Amtrak toward Hudson, NY. Great Northern Catskills here I come! | Photo by Lauren Sandford

As anticipated, the ride was relaxing for an early morning trip. Once seated I had a nice scenic view of the Hudson River the entire way up, traveling from Poughkeepsie to Rhinecliff to Hudson, my final destination. Before hopping off at the Hudson Station in Columbia County, I was curious about other passengers’ weekend plans and decided to ask around.

The older gentleman I was sitting with was traveling to visit his family in Rochester. A college-aged girl was sitting with her dog, a black-and-white Border collie mix, getting off at the Albany-Rensselaer station to see her boyfriend. She mentioned how excited she was about being able to travel with her dog on Amtrak, and how much easier it was without the struggle of finding someone to watch her furry companion.

Upon arriving at the Hudson station, I was greeted by a friendly Enterprise driver who took myself, along with another passenger, to their headquarters to set us up with our own vehicles. Along the ride, winding through the streets of Hudson, the driver told us briefly about its history as a whaling village, once almost entirely occupied by sailors. The town did project a sort of historic charm, with red brick buildings and cozy main streets.

After filling out paperwork at the Enterprise office, I was given a quick yet informative tour of my car: a dark blue Toyota Camry. It was one of the nicest cars I had ever driven, with heated seats, Bluetooth and voice controls – let’s just say, I was very excited to be driving around from place to place. And I did, after thanking my Enterprise salesperson I was on my way to my first location on my two-day adventure, the Thomas Cole National Historic Site.

TAKING IN THE SCENERY AT THE THOMAS COLE NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE

Exiting off the Rip Van Winkle Bridge, leaving the hustle and bustle of traffic in the midst, I pulled into a quiet, secluded property and immediately noticed the impressive yellow house with a beautiful wrap-around porch. I began the tour looking out from the porch onto the scenery before me. Past the houses and power lines that didn’t exist during Thomas’ time, were the magnificent Catskill Mountains, the exact scene Thomas had painted numerous times.

As a primarily self-taught artist, Thomas Cole was enamored by the “haunting beauty of the Catskill wilderness” and took to painting the scenes that enveloped him, a majority of his work depicting not only the beauty of the natural world, but the necessity of it. I was inspired by this idea, Thomas Cole projecting the idea of transcendentalism through his paintings, similar to the writings of Thoreau and Emerson, and I couldn’t think of a better way to kick off my trip.

The newly-renovated studio at Thomas Cole National Historic Site in the Great Northern Catskills. | Photo by Lauren Sandford

The newly-renovated studio at Thomas Cole National Historic Site, constructed to match Cole’s original blueprints. | Photo by Lauren Sandford

After touring the interior of the home, viewing a few of Cole’s original paintings, I was shown the newly-renovated studio, constructed to match Cole’s original blueprints. An old barn with exposed wooden beams and a giant easel, it was the quintessential writer’s quarters. I imagined all of the hard work and creativity that once existed in that room, which was enlightening in its own right.

Waving goodbye to Thomas Cole, I was on the road for a thirty-five-minute journey toward Hunter Mountain, where I was about experience one of greatest thrills of my life – zip lining! Winding toward my destination, a light rain began to fall and a white mist began rolling up and over the mountains. It was spooky and beautiful all in one, so of course, I had to stop and take a few pictures.

The Thomas Cole Nat’l Historic Site

ZIPLINING AT HUNTER MOUNTAIN

The weather started to clear up once I arrived at Hunter Mountain. The New York Zipline Adventure Tour is “the longest and highest zipline canopy tour” in all of North America, so I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous. Those nerves seemed to melt into excitement once I met the ever-so-friendly staff and group I would be ziplining with. Once we bundled up in our gear of strappy harnesses and bright red helmets, we hit the ski slopes that carried us to the top of the mountain. The ride up was incredible, and regardless of the light rain, the view was spectacular. The verdant Catskills rolled on for miles in every direction.

At the top, the group’s’ collective adrenaline was kicking in – especially when we saw the first of five ziplines on the tour. Stretching from one peak to another, the first line traveled over the valley, revealing the most impressive view and the steepest drop. Out of the four total tour guides, two traveled down the lines first to secure the platform on the other end.

The launching point of Hunter Mountain's Zipline Tour in the Great Northern Catskills. Ready to jump? | Photo by Lauren Sandford

The launching point of Hunter Mountain’s Zipline Tour. Ready to jump? | Photo by Lauren Sandford

Considering every other person in the group had come in pairs, I was the odd man out, it only meant one thing – I would be the first person to go. Seizing the opportunity, and preventing myself from wimping out, I readied myself at the platform and tried not to think about the stomach-lurching drop that was two feet in front of me. The guide instructed me to run off the platform and jump into a cannonball position, similar to jumping into a swimming pool. I thought, not only am I the first victim down this mountain but now I have to run and jump into thin air?

Before I could let my nerves get the best of me, at the “okay” of the instructor, I went for it. Jumping off the platform, I was flying through the air and forgot entirely about being scared of the height because I was taken aback by the immense beauty of the view all around me. The excitement I was feeling lasted for about three hours, as we made our way down the mountain, flying across five different zip lines until finally landing on the last platform. It was an exhilarating experience.

CHECKING IN AT THE HOTEL VIENNA

Hopping back into my Enterprise rental, I found myself winding through the Catskills once more, the smoky mist rolling down and through the valley. My destination was Windham, a quaint town known for its skiing, hiking, mountain biking – essentially anything involving the outdoors. I traveled over several small brooks and through open fields of green before I came upon my home for the evening, the Hotel Vienna.

Following check-in, I made my way up the carpeted steps to my room, a large space with a vanity and bathroom, king-size bed and a porch looking out onto the surrounding area. A charming birdhouse hung right next to the porch, the little birds escaping the chilly air. I settled in before heading to Athens, NY. It was time for dinner and craft brews on the Catskills Beverage Trail.

ON TO CROSSROADS BREWING CO. FOR DINNER AND CRAFT BREWS

Crossroads Brewing Company is the place to be on a Monday night. Why Monday? It’s trivia and wing-and-beer night, where you order a dozen of their wings and get a beer for only one dollar!

I rolled up to the brewery and it was crowded, customers young and old bustling around, chatting with individuals at other tables. Crossroads held a very comforting, homey atmosphere and was absolutely buzzing with charm. I was seated closer to the bar, but I could still be present during the exciting trivia session that lasted until closing.

Dying to try one of their beers—all the beers on tap were new as of July 19th, I ordered the Brick Row Red Ale, described as “a bright amber color and rich malt flavors with notes of nuttiness, biscuit, caramel and a mild bread character.” The brew was delicious, and it went perfectly with the dozen wings I had ordered: honey sriracha and the black rock BBQ. Partnered with homemade bleu cheese dressing, the wings were fantastic – dare I say, the best I’ve ever eaten.

BREAKFAST AND A HIKE

Returning to my cozy room at Hotel Vienna, I collapsed on the bed for a good night’s sleep. Sleeping soundly through the night, I woke up just in time to catch the hotel’s complimentary breakfast in their dining room. I packed up my belongings and loaded up my car, then hit the buffet, consisting of apples and bananas, eggs, oatmeal, different cereals and delicious jam-filled and buttered croissants. Along with a fresh cup of coffee and some orange juice, I sat at the wooden table accompanied by an elderly couple, who were staying in Windham for the week. The dining room reminded me of one that would be in a log cabin, with wooden furniture, a beautiful fireplace and a view of the Catskills beyond the deck.

After finishing the last bite of croissant, I took to the nature trail, called the Windham Path, which wrapped its way behind the hotel in a two-mile loop. Several small bridges crossed over areas of overgrown foliage and winding streams. The path took me around the grounds, revealing beautiful views of the mountains. There were a few individuals already out on the path, walking or running or chatting with another person. It was a nice trail to follow, whether you’re looking to get some exercise or just some peace & quiet.

TREKKING KAATERSKILL FALLS

A beautiful view of Kaaterskill Falls in the Great Northern Catskills from atop the viewing platform. | Photo by Lauren Sandford

A beautiful view of Kaaterskill Falls and the Great Northern Catskills from atop the viewing platform. | Photo by Lauren Sandford

Leaving the quaint atmosphere of Hotel Vienna behind me, I headed towards Kaaterskill Falls, taking the scenic route that curves along the mountainside. I found the parking lot without any issues, and I was surprised to see you didn’t have to pay for parking (which is always a bonus in my book). There were several trails to take: one leading down to the viewing platform, another winding down to the lower falls, one for hiking the mountain to Inspiration Point, and a twenty-two-mile hike for the escarpment trail end in Windham.

I decided I needed to see the viewing platform, saving the more strenuous hike for another time. Taking in the fresh air and the blue skies, I walked a short distance down the path before arriving at the viewing platform. Beautiful, impressive, verdant and open, none of these words do justice to the views of the falls below the platform. Traveling from left to right, the falls spray fresh water below to smaller falls, which cascade down massive rocks and form the river that winds through the Catskill Mountains. The scene of the Catskills was immaculate.

A view from the base of Kaaterskill Falls in the Great Northern Catskills. | Photo by Lauren Sandford

A view from the base of Kaaterskill Falls. | Photo by Lauren Sandford

EXPLORING THE LOWER FALLS AND GRABBING LUNCH

Because I had some time to kill, and I could see a bunch of people at the lower falls, I decided to travel down to the falls on the steep, short one-mile hike. The trail was a little rocky and muddy, so I was lucky to have a good pair of sneakers to take me down. It only took me about fifteen minutes to get to the bottom, and I could see what all the fuss was about – the falls were a stunning site, and it reminded me of a painting Thomas Cole had done of Kaaterskill Falls – it felt like I was living it.

I was growing hungry by the time I climbed back up the trail and decided it was time to grab a bite for lunch. At the main intersection in Tannersville, a small town five minutes from Kaaterskill Falls, sits Mama’s Boy Burgers, a quirky joint acclaimed for its “great food in the great outdoors.” Serving up burgers, fries, frozen custards, milkshakes and more, it’s the new “go-to” place in Tannersville.

It also had outdoor seating, bright red picnic tables, which was nice considering the day was getting warmer and lovelier as it went on. I ordered the Devil’s Tombstone burger, two patties with the works and a special sauce, and onion rings. As I waited outside for my food, I appreciated the charming, cheerful atmosphere of the little town, with families walking up and down Main Street, and bicyclists winding down the road. I was beyond excited as my food arrived, the onion rings piping hot, the melting cheddar cheese oozing down the burger. I was in heaven!

Great Northern Catskills of Green County

A SAMPLING AT RIP VAN WINKLE BREWING CO.

Savoring every last bit of burger, I was able to finish up just in time to hit the road for the Rip Van Winkle Brewing Company tour, located at Angela’s Italian Bistro and Brewery in Catskill. I was able to easily navigate myself away from the mountains (sad) toward the Hudson River, taking about thirty minutes to arrive at the brewery. Once there, I was greeted by the friendly wait staff and was shown the room where all the magic happens – the brewery itself! All of the craft beers are made with Catskill Mountain spring water, so of course, I had to try a few samples. I received a flight of five of their best craft beers.

I sampled the Palenville Pale Ale (malty-caramel), the Rip Van Wit (my personal favorite of the five, wheat with coriander and orange peel), the Shucker Punch Oyster Stout (dark, creamy and smooth, containing real shellfish), the Kiskatom Brown Ale (malty with chocolate and caramel notes), and the Mountain House Helles (golden-hoppy lager). The Mountain House actually won the silver medal at the 2017 New York International Beer Competition. All of the beers were deliciously fresh, and a few of them are even used in the Bistro’s recipes. For instance, they use the Kiskatom Brown Ale to make their popular French onion soup.

HAPPY HOUR AT NEW YORK RESTAURANT

The New York Restaurant of the Great Northern Catskills on Main St. in Catskill, NY. | Photo by Lauren Sandford

The New York Restaurant on Main St. in Catskill, NY. | Photo by Lauren Sandford

I had one more stop before dropping off my Enterprise rental at Hudson Station, so I hit the road once again for happy hour at New York Restaurant in Catskill. Walking down Main Street towards the restaurant, I admired how up-and-coming the area was. People of all ages milling on the sidewalks, some sitting outside enjoying an early dinner, others with shopping bags in hand.

Arriving at New York Restaurant, I was surprised by the modern, yet warm and cozy the atmosphere. Candles adorned the dark wooden tables, and flowers and art pieces covered the walls. The restaurant was mildly busy for a Tuesday afternoon, a majority of folks crowding the bar, drinking and eating small appetizers. I was seating at a small table for two next to the bar, enjoying the light breeze coming in through the wide-open windows.

The menu ranged from chicken wings to pierogis, to a traditional Polish dish of kielbasa, golabki and bigos, called the Tour of Poland. Considering my own Polish background, I decided on the potato-and-cheese housemade pierogies. The waitress mentioned cauliflower wings, which I had never heard of before, so I had to try them.

After a short wait for my food, I was quick to dig in and was just as quickly blown away. I was incredibly impressed with the cauliflower wings, a mix of spicy, sweet and creamy with the bleu cheese. The pierogis were also delicious, and I could tell they were homemade. I would definitely return to New York Restaurant; the food was amazing, the new owner did a wonderful job mixing a sleek, modern restaurant with their Polish influences.

HEADING HOME

Leaving Catskill, I crossed over the Rip Van Winkle Bridge and traveled back toward Hudson. Filling the Enterprise car with gas before parking it in the small lot next to the Hudson train station, I couldn’t help but reflect on the past forty-eight hours of enlightening, fulfilling experiences. I felt lucky to have been able to participate in such a trip, taking me all around Greene County, through beautiful scenic routes and seeing the breathtaking Catskill Mountains at every turn. As my Amtrak train pulled into Poughkeepsie Station, I knew I’d return to the Great Northern Catskills soon – after all, everything was right in my backyard.

GETTING TO GREENE COUNTY IN THE GREAT NORTHERN CATSKILLS

Amtrak’s Empire Service, Maple Leaf, Adirondack and Ethan Allen Express lines service the Hudson Station; a two-hour ride from Penn Station, and a 25-minute ride from Albany-Rensselaer Station. The cost is $38 for a one-way, off-peak ticket from Penn Station, and $18 from Albany-Rensselaer with sufficient advance purchase, but price can vary. The earliest trains to Hudson leave Penn Station at 7:15 a.m. and Albany-Rensselaer at 5:05 a.m, arriving at 9:20 a.m and 5:30 a.m. respectively. For schedules visit amtrak.com.

Get picked up at the Hudson Station by Enterprise Rent-a-Car and taken to your reserved rental car! Use code NYTRAIN for a discount when making your reservation. Reach the Hudson office at 518-828-5492. From there, Greene County and the Great Northern Catskills are a 20-minute drive away.

Don’t forget to use the See New York and Save 15% Discount when purchasing tickets!

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