I’m a little ashamed to admit that being deep in the woods, with nary a soul for miles, gives me a panic attack. The silence, the density of trees, the distance I’d have to cover to find someone to help me in the paranoid horror-film scenario my imagination scripted: It spells “too many years of city living.” It also makes me want to carry a white-noise machine everywhere. But there’s something about the Catskills, a little over two hours north of Midtown Manhattan, that can soothe even the most savage urbanite. Whether you’re on a three-mile hike to a misty overlook or enjoying a three-hour, freshly sourced meal for the ages, the “wilds” of upstate New York will help slow your heart rate to a more reasonable “out-of-office” flutter.
Where to stay in the Catskills
Let’s start with a quick primer: What are the Catskills? Technically, “Catskills” is shorthand for the eponymous mountain range, a 600,000-acre Catskill Park (public and private land), a Catskill Forest Preserve, and four counties (Delaware, Greene, Sullivan, and Ulster) full of hamlets and villages. These recommended hotels and lodges are mostly clustered near each other, save for Kenoza Hall, which is farther west.
Urban Cowboy Lodge Big Indian, NY
Best for: a romantic weekend getaway
Highlights: A former mountain inn has been rebooted with clawfoot tubs, Pendleton robes, Stumptown coffee, handcrafted rocking chairs on private balconies, and a Roberta’s pizza truck straight out of Brooklyn.
Book Now: urbancowboy.com
Scribner’s Catskill Lodge Hunter, NY
Best for: families
Highlights: Another former midcentury inn reimagined by Brooklynites! All kidding aside, Scribner’s delivers Alpine-inspired interiors—think lots of fireplaces and wood paneling—and 38 supremely cozy guest rooms, each with its own look. Many travelers come just for the handmade pastas and 32-ounce Highland Hollow rib eye at Prospect restaurant.
Book Now: scribnerslodge.com
The Herwood Inn Woodstock, NY
Best for: Stevie Nicks fans
Highlights: “A dreamy hipster retreat that honors women to boot?” What’s not to love? wrote Devorah Lev-Tov on Herwood Inn’s opening in 2019. Each of the four suites celebrates a music legend–Carole King, Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell, and Stevie Nicks—with curated records and a record player in the room, and the owners source the inn’s products from women- and minority-owned businesses.
Book Now: theherwoodinn.com
Kenoza Hall Kenoza Lake, NY
Best for: spa seekers
Highlights: Open this June—a pandemic success story!—this lakeside luxury hotel by Foster Supply Hospitality is a wellness weekend waiting to happen. Hemlock Spa, set on 55 acres, includes “walking paths with varied sensations,” along with a pool, hot tub, outdoor barrel sauna, aerial yoga, and more.
Book Now: kenozahall.com
Eastwind Hotel and Bar Windham, NY
Best for: A proper glamp
Highlights: Opt for the 1920s bunkhouse with Scandinavian-inspired rooms or the “A-frame glamping cabins with private fire pits, as well as a hot tub and sauna for soothing steams after a day spent hiking,” writes AFAR contributor Jennifer Fernandez.
Book Now: eastwindny.com
Things to do in the Catskills
We wouldn’t fault you for just coming up here to stay in your room and soak in a clawfoot tub, but since the region is beautiful and known for its hiking and cycling, consider a few of these adventures, recommended by Urban Cowboy Lodge:
Beginner hikes: Biscuit Brook Trail, Alder Lake, Ashokan Rail Trail (park at the Boiceville entrance and pick up Bread Alone for a picnic on the way), Diamond Notch Falls (hike to a little waterfall), Kaaterskill Falls (stunning, short but exposed hike that gets crowded on weekends so come early)
Intermediate hikes: Giant Ledge (recommended, a rocky scramble about 1.5 miles up to an overlook), Woodland Valley Trail, Balsam Lake Trail, West Kill Mountain (stop for beers at West Kill brewery for a reward), Artists Rock Trail (Newman’s Ledge)
Advanced or “ass-kicker” hikes: Indian Head (11 miles), Slide Mountain (6.3 miles up the highest peak in the Catskills)
Where to eat and drink in the Catskills
With such discerning (read: snobby) eaters coming up from NYC, the Catskills have long delivered a top-notch food scene. Make time for an all-American feast at Phoenicia Diner, a 1960s spot that’s been restored for modern enjoyment (with a BALT worth all the calories). In COVID times, it has social distancing down to an art with an Airstream food truck and picnic tables for extended-season outdoor dining.
Nearby, the Peekamoose Restaurant and Tap Room serves local comfort food so fresh, the farms are named on the menu (Snowdance Farm chicken, Migliorelli Farm carrots). The 12-ingredient chopped salad and aforementioned chicken with mashed potatoes are winners, as is the garden patio overlooking an outdoor firepit “movie theater.” Let it be known that watching Jaws while you eat is a terrific idea.
Farther north, Woodstock makes for a fun afternoon of window shopping and dessert eating (go just for Peace, Love and Cupcakes and Bread Alone). We also have it on good authority that it has some of the best ramen outside of NYC.
Make an advanced reservation at Silvia, an open-kitchen, wood-grill Woodstock restaurant that’s upscale without feeling stuffy, and hyper-locally sourced without feeling like an episode of Portlandia. It’s also veggie-ful, so opt for dishes like seared green and yellow beans in chili-garlic sauce.
The beer in the region is so. good. West Kill Brewing on a historic 127-acre dairy farm in the Catskills makes the kind of IPAs you want to bring home by the 30-pack. (Call ahead for its beer garden hours.) Woodstock Brewing, right down the street from Phoenicia Diner, has a creative tap list (Baby Dragon pale ale for the win) and treats you like family.
How to get to the Catskills from New York City
Easiest as a driving trip, you could zoom up on I-87 N in about 2.5 hours from Midtown Manhattan (depending on your destination—Woodstock is the closest stop, Kenoza Lake is farther west). Or take your time on the prettier Palisades Interstate Parkway before heading deeper into the mountains.