West on Route 28
Route 28 heads out of Kingston and runs right through heart of Catskill Park and Catskill Forest Preserve (no entrance fees necessary). Just past Boiceville, the land turns wooded, wild, and wonderful, with mountains rising to the left and right. Five of the Catskills’ highest peaks are located in Ulster County.
Near the entrance to the park begins the 12-mile-long Ashokan Reservoir. Built between 1909 and 1919, despite fierce local opposition, the reservoir displaced eight communities, 2,600 graves, 64 miles of road, and 11 miles of railroad. Around the reservoir runs Route 28A, a marvelous scenic drive that skirts Ashokan Dam, fountains, and a picnic area. Peaks rising to 3,000 feet surround the western end.
To either side of Route 28 are small, wistful villages that were once major resort destinations but now aren’t much more than clutches of well-worn buildings, huddled together against the modern world. The original Route 28 once ran through their centers; the modern route bypasses them completely.
On the outskirts of Boiceville is Onteora, the Mountain House (96 Piney Point Rd., 845/657-6233, www.onteora.com, $185–265 d), a noteworthy B&B. Onteora sits high on a mountaintop overlooking Catskill Park. Once the posh retreat of mayonnaise mogul Richard Hellman, the home features huge picture windows, cathedral ceilings, and a massive stone fireplace. The B&B offers seven guest rooms, all with private baths and most with magnificent views.
The very popular Bread Alone Bakery & Cafe (Rte. 28, 845/657-3328) offers much more than just great fresh bread baked in a wood-fired oven. Also on the menu are homemade soups, sandwiches, pastries, and coffees.
One of the odder attractions in the Catskills is Emerson Place (5340 Rte. 28, 845/688-5800, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Thurs.–Mon., adults $7.50, children under 12 free), where you’ll find the world’s largest kaleidoscope, housed in a former grain silo painted with blue sky, white clouds, and a pair of honey-colored eyes. Inside the 60-foot-tall tower, visitors provided with headrests stare straight up into a myriad of images that are multiplied by 254 facets covering about 45 feet. Shows on American history are presented.
Also in the complex are shops selling kaleidoscopes, furniture, clothing, books, and gifts; the Catamount Cafe (average entrée $15), serving “international farmhouse cuisine” in a setting overlooking the Esopus River; and the luxurious Lodge at Emerson Place (845/688-2828, $190–300 d), furnished in an upscale log-cabin-style decor.
La Duchesse Anne Inn (1564 Wittenberg Rd., 845/688-5329, www.laduchesseanne.com, $90–150 d), built in 1850 as a Norwegian guesthouse, is both an inviting B&B and a popular French restaurant run by a French-born owner. Perched on a small hill surrounded by woodlands, the inn offers about a dozen guest rooms, many of which share bathrooms, and a wide, lovely veranda. The romantic dining room (average entrée $21) serves classic French favorites such as assorted pâtés, escargot, and scallops Provençal, and offers a French and American wine list.
Another classic French restaurant in the area is the luminous Catskill Rose (5355 Rte. 212, 845/688-7100, $17), its front door framed with pink neon. To one side is an art deco bar glowing blue, to another a clutch of dining tables. Dishes are prepared by a husband-and-wife team.
A good area campground is the Kenneth L. Wilson Campground (859 Wittenberg Rd., one mile off Rte. 28, 845/679-7020). Reservations should be made well in advance; call 800/456-CAMP.
One of the largest and most prosperous of the villages along Route 28 is Phoenicia, known for its trout fishing, kayaking, and tubing—all done on nearby Esopus Creek. From May to September, floating down the creek on huge black inner tubes is one of the county’s most popular “sports.” Many of the tube-rental shops are located at the entrance to Phoenicia. Among the largest and most prominent is Town Tinker (10 Bridge St., 845/688-5553).
Besides outfitter shops, Phoenicia’s Main Street holds turn-of-the-century wooden homes, wide porches, creaky gift shops, general stores, and Upstate Art (60 Main St., 845/688-9881), a six-room upstairs gallery that showcases the works of regional artists. Housed in the old railroad station at the town’s east end is the Empire State Railway Museum (Main St., 845/688-7501, www.esrm.com, 11 a.m.–4 p.m. Sat.–Sun. June–Oct., adults $3, seniors $2, children $1), which documents the history of the five different railroads that serviced the Catskills between the late 1860s and the 1940s.
Between the railroad museum and nearby Mt. Pleasant runs the Catskill Mountain Railroad (845/688-7400, www.catskillmtrailroad.com, 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Sat.–Sun. June–Sept., adults $8, children 4–12 $5). The scenic rides hug the banks of Esopus Creek.
Brio’s (Main St., 845/688-5370) is a good, dependable luncheonette. And “everyone goes” to Sweet Sue’s (49 Main St., 845/688-7852), especially for brunch. On the menu are over a dozen pancake dishes.
Woodland Valley Recreation
Off Route 28 one mile west of Phoenicia, Woodland Valley Road turns off to the left and leads through Woodland Valley, one of the deepest and most romantic valleys in the Catskills. Four miles in, the road comes to a parking lot at Woodland Valley State Campground (1319 Woodland Valley Rd., 845/688-7647), where reservations should be made well in advance; call 800/456-CAMP.
Also here is a well-marked trail that takes hikers to the top of Wittenberg Mountain. The 3.4-mile, 2,800-foot ascent takes about three hours. It’s steep near the beginning and again near the top, but only of moderate difficulty most of the way. The spectacular view from the summit—one of the best in the Catskills—encompasses almost all of Ashokan Reservoir.
From Wittenberg Mountain, a short, narrow trail leads via a connecting ridge to Cornell Mountain, which offers good views of Slide Mountain, the highest peak in the Catskills. The hike from Wittenberg to Cornell takes about 30 minutes.
Pine Hill and Highmount
One of the most economical places to stay in all of the Catskills is the friendly Belleayre Hostel and Cabins (15 Hostel Dr., off Main St., Pineville, 845/254-4200). The establishment offers a bunkhouse with two bunk rooms ($20/person) and dining hall, three private rooms ($50/night), and a handful of cottages ($75–90/night) and log cabins ($150–200/night). Hostelers should bring their own linens and towels.
Anchoring the small village is the old-fashioned Pine Hill Arms Hotel (Main St., 845/254-4012), which features a beautiful old bar, a restaurant serving an especially good breakfast, and live music on some weekends.
Good downhill skiing can be found at New York State–owned Belleayre Mountain Ski Area (Belleayre Rd., off Rte. 28, Highmount, 845/254-5600 or 800/431-4555, www.belleayre.com). On the upper mountain are 16 trails for intermediate or expert skiers; on the lower mountain are beginner and intermediate slopes. The vertical drop is 1,404 feet. During the off-season, you can hike or take a chairlift to the summit.
© Avalon Travel and Sascha Zuger from Moon New York State, 5th Edition