Table of contents
- Where to stay in the Catskills
- Top pick: Most unique thing to do in the Catskills: Mahayana Buddhist Temple Retreat
- Catskill, NY
- Olana State Historic Site
- Hudson, NY
- Greenport Conservation Area in Hudson, NY
- Saugerties, NY
- More ideas for unique things to do in the Catskills & Hudson Valley this year
- Woodstock, NY
- Kingston, NY
- Kaaterskill Falls
- Ashokan Reservoir & Ashokan Reservoir Promenade
- Bethel Woods Center for the Arts
- Phoenicia, NY
- Did we recommend enough cool places to stay in the Catskills?
Are you planning a Catskills and Hudson Valley weekend getaway?
This beautiful region of New York State, located between one and two hours from New York City (depending how far north you go) is the perfect escape from the city that’ll get you culture, history, nature and relaxation.
There are definitely a few top things to do in this region of Upstate New York, ranging from hiking in summer to skiing in winter. During the warmer months of the year (mid-spring to late fall), you’ll find so many outdoor activities in the Catskills, and for rainy days, unique things to do as well!
In planning your Catskills itinerary, think about which time of year you’re planning to go. Are you going in the early spring, and are you prepared for melting snow creating muddy trails? Are you going in fall, and are you keeping in mind that the days will be shorter, with sunsets closer to 6 pm?
The best time to visit the Catskills is, luckily, all year round! With the Hudson Valley towns right nearby on either side of the Hudson River, we find it fitting to recommend both a Catskills and Hudson Valley itinerary, together.
With your Catskills and Hudson Valley itinerary, whether you’re planning a trip for 48 hours on a weekend getaway, or a day trip from NYC, or from nearby Westchester or New Jersey, you’re probably researching what to do during your vacation.
From unique things to do in the Catskills and Hudson Valley, to outdoor activities that’ll please the whole family or friend group, we’ve got you covered.
Read on to find the most beautiful places in the Catskills and some off-the-beaten path finds, in our guide to the Catskills and Hudson Valley at any time of year.
Where to stay in the Catskills
There is absolutely no shortage of places to stay in the Catskills and Hudson Valley.
We’ve been to several weddings in the lower Hudson Valley region, and we’ve stayed at Airbnb rentals, major hotels and smaller hotels, in Fishkill, Poughkeepsie, Beacon and Wappinger Falls.
Moving northward, we have a guaranteed surprise for you about where to stay in the Catskills, and it’s a place that provides a very unique experience you’re sure to remember forever. The list that follows will range from budget stays to some luxury-style stays for couples and groups.
Unique place to stay for groups: Joy Cottage Catskills getaway cabin
We’re recommending a getaway cabin in the Catskills called the Joy Cottage at the Mahayana Retreat, in Leeds, NY. Staying here gives you a location of being close to the upper Hudson Valley and Catskills towns of Catskill and Hudson, which are more or less across the Hudson from each other.
By staying in a more remote location in the forest, you can wake up to nature, yet not be camping. That’s what we like about Joy Cottage: we woke up next to a lake in the middle of the forest, yet the accommodation itself is a modern six-bedroom house that’s great for couples, families and groups of friends.
What’s more is that this zen-style Japanese-inspired vacation rental house is located on the grounds of the Mahayana Temple Upstate Retreat, so after you’re done having your coffee on the porch in the morning, you can explore peaceful Buddhist temples and a seven-tiered pagoda next to the pond.
Trendy Splurge Stay: Catskills Tiny House Resort
Not far from Joy Cottage is the Tiny House Resort, super close to Joy Cottage, above, in the Leeds-Cairo area. At this resort, composed of several “tiny houses” of varying sizes and a shared pool, you can live the tiny house life and stay in any of these little homes for 2-6 guests.
The Tiny House Resort is great for couples and small group getaways, as rates range from $249-599 per night, depending on the day of the week, season and/or holiday weekend premium price.
Budget Stays in the Catskills: Where to stay for cheaper
The Catskills has really skyrocketed in popularity in recent years, from spring to fall, so you will certainly see inflated rates on weekends, holiday weekends and desirable times to travel (fall foliage). Keep an eye out for Sunday-to-Wednesday rates during the week, which will be less expensive, along with off-season like January through March (except for ski resorts).
Here are a few places to stay in the Catskills if you are on a budget, and you can book them all on Booking.com. Both of these suggestions are located within easy driving distance of all the things to do, and landmarks, in our guide.
This list won’t list specific Airbnbs, but if you’re interested in booking one, use this link to get $25 off your first stay as a new member.
- The Four Seasons Motel: This campy upstate motel outside Catskill, NY, is only a 30-minute drive from skiing in Hunter, and features free WiFi with a pool on the premises. It’s not fancy, but at a minimum of $70 as a weeknight rate, the price can’t be beat, in the area. It’s an authentic countryside motel experience.
- The Twilight Lodge: This bed & breakfast is located near the Kaaterskill hike trailhead, which makes it a desirable location for spring, summer and fall. At also $70 per night at minimum, the price is incredible for the value. It’s located 25 miles from Kingston.
Top pick: Most unique thing to do in the Catskills: Mahayana Buddhist Temple Retreat
Whenever we travel, we seek out things to do that are off the beaten path, and interesting.
In the Catskills, there are certainly some top sights to see like Kaaterskill waterfall, other heavily-trafficked hikes in the spring and fall, and the cute Hudson Valley towns that are all easily accessible by car and highway.
Then, there’s a way to get into something more unique that you can write home about and remember. This is where our top pick for the most unique thing to do in the Catskills comes in.
The most special thing to do in the Catskills, in our opinion, is to visit the Mahayana Temple Upstate Retreat.
In short, it’s the upstate retreat center for the two most popular and famous Buddhist temples in NYC, both of which are located in Chinatown (you can visit them during your trip to New York City, for sure).
So, why does this interesting thing to do in the Catskills check the boxes?
For one, you can pretend you left the country and went straight to the Far East. The three temples, smaller shrine and Jade Pagoda next to the lake, along with the obelisk monument next to the lake, are not things you typically see on the East Coast of the US!
The Mahayana Temple Complex was built in the 1970s and finished in 1971. It sits on more than 100 acres of forest property in the town of Leeds, NY.
Visiting these temples is a cultural experience that many people do not even get to do in their lifetimes, so be ready to take off your shoes (it’s for respect and cleanliness), be mindful with your camera (in case people inside are praying) and enjoy the Chinese and Buddhist culture that is free to access at the temples and pagodas of the Mahayana Upstate Retreat Center.
Also, make sure you take a photo outside the main gate, which is ornate and colorful! The most surprising part is that it’s on a seemingly-random country road, and you’ll pass barns and farms on your way in!
Catskill is a pretty and tiny town located right on the Hudson River, and conveniently, 15 minutes from Mahayana Temple and Joy Cottage, mentioned above.
The town of Catskill was for a long time, at the top of our wish list for a Catskills weekend getaway.
The rumors are true: Catskill is an adorable place to visit, with a single main street and lots of pretty houses that line the downhill streets leading downward.
The town has a long history, and was established in 1788. A lot of the original style of architecture is well-maintained, and much of the architecture on Main Street is revived, and painted in pastel colors.
Whether rain or shine, you’ll find things to do in the town of Catskill. There are nearby nature trails, restaurants, cafes, breweries and some bars. Here’s what to do in the town of Catskill.
What to do in Catskill: RamsHorn-Livingston Audubon Sanctuary
As for outdoor activities, a great idea for adding to your Hudson Valley day trip itinerary or weekend getaway plans is to go to the Ramshorn-Livingston Nature Walk and Viewing Platform (Treehouse).
I have to be honest: I found out about this nature sanctuary in Google Maps while doing our trip research before we left home (which is Brooklyn!). I saw the photo of the wooden treehouse-style viewing platform, and I said we had to go there, because it reminded me of one of our hikes in Keremi National Park, Latvia.
The nature walk itself starts off with a small parking lot that fits only a few cars, and it’s first-come-first-served, but parking is free.
You start off on a simple path that’s rather flat, and within ten minutes of walking through the tidal marshland and swamp, you’ll see a right turn for a boardwalk to the wooden viewing platform.
If you go in fall, you’ll undoubtedly get a great view of fall foliage in the Catskills and Hudson Valley, so we recommend that.
As for time of day to go, consider that the path itself is not very shaded, so if you tend to not do well in the sun, go early in the morning or later in the afternoon to have the potential for some shadows.
If you’re into bird-watching, this is the place, and there’s a bit of information about bird species at the entrance on a set of posters.
If you’re looking for something else to do in Catskill, NY, a unique thing to see here is the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, which is an accessible historic home of a 19th century painter, and the place has some nice mountain views!
Where to eat and drink in Catskill, NY
Catskill has no shortage of cute restaurants, bars and cafes! Here’s a list for your trip.
This is our top pick for where to eat in Catskill, NY, and it’s because they have a big menu of crowd pleasers, from tater tots to tacos and vegetarian health bowls. There’s a good amount of outdoor dining in a side area and back area with picnic tables.
Located next to Mermaid Cafe, this is a cool spot for ice cream, with one sidewalk table outside on the street.
This is the town’s top pick for coffee and treats. It’s located on Main St.! Note that it’s closed early at 3pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Crossroads Brewing Company
While we did not get the chance to have a brew at Crossroads Brewing Co., it has great reviews that tout its cool views, award-winning beers and friendly vibes.
Left Bank Ciders
We hope to visit Left Bank Ciders the next time we go up to Catskill. For now, we’ll let you know that it also has excellent reviews of its small-batch Hudson Valley and Catskill ciders and meads. It’s located near the river.
La Casa Latina Mexican & Latin Cuisine
If you know us, and by now you might, we seek out Mexican food everywhere we go (perhaps it’s because we adored our time in Mexico City?). This place serves up burritos and the like, for lunch and dinner, every day except Sunday and Monday.
Subversive Malting + Brewing
Are you really into breweries, and are you leaning into a brewery tour of the Catskills or Hudson Valley? I won’t say we’re not here to help. Head to Subversive Malting + Brewing for “outstanding atmosphere,” pretzels, sourdough pizza and a local Catskills brewery that produces its own malts.
Olana State Historic Site
Let’s be clear: I had starred Olana State Historic Site in my maps before we left home, and then I forgot.
While we were doing our nature walk at the Ramshorn-Livingston Sanctuary, an older couple we met atop the viewing tower recommended that we visit Olana, our way to Hudson.
We’re SO glad we did, because we were looking for additional outdoor activities in the Catskills, and Olana happens to be one of the most beautiful places in the Hudson Valley.
Olana State Historic Site is right off the Rip Van Winkle Bridge if you’re coming from the west side of the Hudson to the east side.
What is the Olana State Historic Site and Frederic Church estate?
The Olana State Historic Site is the former home of painter and artist Federic Church, who built the home in a Persian-meets-Victorian mix of architecture, and it is quite a sight to see.
In fact, we were completely taken by surprise at the beauty of this historic estate, and for this reason, it’s #2 in our list of most unique things to do in the Catskill Mountains and Hudson Valley!
When is it open? The historic park is open every day from 8 am till sunset, which will depend on the time of year. It’s free for the public (if you wish to take a guided tour, it is $20 as of when we most recently checked). We went without the guided tour, as the house actually seemed closed the day we went.
As mentioned, if you’re looking for the best time to visit the Catskills, it’s pretty much all the time!
No worries if you can’t enter the interior of the house. We spent quite enough time touring the grounds of the estate, getting as close to the mansion as we could to see the architectural detail, and then looking at the manicured flower gardens and views.
If you’re thinking, “What is open in the Catskills?” then chances are you can answer this question by driving right up to the Olana parking lot and touring around on your own because it’s rarely closed. See olana.org.
Nature walk on Ridge Road behind the Olana State Historic Mansion
One thing not to miss, as it is an essential (and surprising!) part of your visit to the Olana State Historic Site is Ridge Road. This is a gravel walking trail behind the parking lot, and you will see some signs for it in order to start your nature walk.
The Ridge Road trail starts in a wooded area with tall trees on both sides, and as you walk toward your left, the space opens up into an expansive view eastward of farms and towns. It’s super pretty.
As you continue for another 5-10 minutes, be patient, because the next viewing point is a panoramic view from atop the hill, where you can look down at the Rip Van Winkle Bridge (it will look so small!), the Hudson River, the Catskills to the southwest and a lot of open sky.
Grab your camera, because this is the spot where the original estate owner would paint the sunset! For this reason, the optimal time of day to visit the Olana State Historic Park and Ridge Road walking trail is golden hour or around sunset (just make sure you have a flashing or phone light to guide you back to your car).
In the Great Northern Catskills region, you’ll see a lot of references to Rip Van Winkle, starting with Rip Van Winkle Brewery and ending with Rip Van Winkle Bridge. Take some time to learn about Rip Van Winkle and the history of why he is the mascot of this region of Upstate New York!
Hudson was also at the top of our list for places to go in the Hudson Valley during this trip! We had heard from friends that it is a destination of its own in the Hudson Valley, and did you know that it’s easily reachable by taking an Amtrak headed northbound from NYC? Easy (if you don’t have a car!)!
Hudson is (nowadays) what is referred to by some populations as the “Sixth Borough of NYC.” Let me explain.
Hudson, with its gorgeous 1800s architecture and restored rowhouses, has a long history that you may not have heard of.
History of Hudson, NY
Chartered as a city in 1785, Hudson became famous as the head of navigation for the Hudson River (and it is named for Henry Hudson, naturally).
As the whaling industry took off and boats departed Hudson’s port, Hudson developed a red light district and was a center of gambling, for sailors at first, and then for soldiers during the world wars.
With immigrants and an influx of workers, Hudson was, at one point, the fourth-largest city in the state of New York, and at one point had fifty bars that attracted gamblers and revelers.
In 1951, the bars were broken up during a raid, and from there, things went downhill. Hudson lost a bunch of its population, its landowners went to the cities or left properties to their children who didn’t know what to do with them, and the city was no longer the prosperous Hudson Valley commercial center it once was.
We mentioned more aspects of the history of Hudson, NY in our photo gallery of its historic architecture.
The revival of Hudson, NY and beginning of new tourism
Things changed in the early 2000s, and with the revival of the main drag of Warren Street, along with developers, home-buyers and vacationers, Hudson now sports a majestic Victorian-meets-colonial vibe that, with the setup of posh stores and trendy eateries, bars and cafes, can’t be beat, as a place to visit on your Hudson Valley itinerary near the Catskills.
So, what should you do in Hudson and what’s on the list of the best things to do?
Best things to do in Hudson, NY, on a Hudson Valley itinerary
Hudson has lots of restaurants, bars and cafes. Here’s a starter list:
Hudson Brewing Company
Yes, it’s located “in a parking lot,” but that’s half the charm of this rustic-yet-modern craft brewery that sports a whole list of beers and ciders on tap. They also have sangria! There’s a host of indoor and outdoor seating, and a taco truck right outside where you can get a food fix when you’re a few drinks deep.
This is the main drag of the town, and if you start at South 5th St. and walk all the way to North 2nd, you’ll probably have seen the whole town. As you head from the Victorian-style houses to the colonial and federalist rowhomes on Warren Street, you’ll wonder if you’re in Cobble Hill Brooklyn or the West Village of Manhattan.
Wylde Hudson Coffee Shop
This is a cool spot for going alone, with a travel buddy, or spending some time working remotely from any of the indoor tables where the wifi is strongest. In fact, we wished we had had more time, and our laptops with us, so that we could work remotely while on our trip.
Wylde has friendly staff, ample seating space, great design, cool outdoor seating on a patio and an excellent iced coffee.
This place comes highly-recommended as a bakery on Warren St. for fresh bread and pastries and the coffee is highly-rated as well. A Hudson essential stop!
Issan Thai Star
This small restaurant near the eastern side of town has excellent Thai food, especially the red curry (which we took home). There’s outdoor seating and a wide array of beers inside.
This cozy and slightly-tight spot is even farther toward the eastern edge of town and has a set of outdoor dining tables (and few indoor dining tables). Menu highlights include enchiladas, and lots of them, and massive burritos.
Greenport Conservation Area in Hudson, NY
We went to the Greenport Conservation Area for a sunset spot that we heard about from the staff at Wylde Coffee shop (thank you!).
How to get to this sunset spot on the Hudson River
If you follow this point on a map for where to park your car in a small gravel parking lot, you’ll find the Greenport Conservation Area nature walk for sunset.
This is a great place to see sunset, if not the best, in the Hudson, NY region. This is because it faces west and is located next to the North Bay inlet, and there’s a pretty gazebo at the end of the trail that makes a nice photo. You can see more of our photos here in our photo experience.
To get to the gazebo where the land ends, walk 10-15 min on the gravel path that will go through a wooded area and then a wildflower pasture. It’s so pretty and peaceful!
For the sunset spot viewing spot itself, it’s this location on your map and after doing our research for places to see the sunset in Hudson, this proved to be the best location.
Bring mosquito or bug spray, as mosquitoes are in large numbers here at dusk!
Saugerties is a Hudson Valley Town located north of Kingston and south of Catskill and Hudson.
It was once a quaint village, and now it attracts a younger crowd looking to escape the city and start a new Hudson Valley destination.
Visit downtown Saugerties for eating and drinking
We liked the main streets of Saugerties, starting with Partition Street, which is home to bars, restaurants, bookshops and cafes and has a lot of great turn-of-the-century architecture.
We actually just found out that Jimmy Fallon is from Saugerties, as a fun fact of the day.
Saugerties is a town by the water, and makes a good day trip by car for its variety of things to do in the immediate area. Note: Saugerties does not have a train station. Despite this, it is still a great destination for a little trip of 48 hours in the Catskills or Hudson Valley.
Our favorite thing to do in Saugerties was the nature reserve walk that leads to Saugerties Lighthouse. We’ll detail this below as the best thing to do in Saugerties, and perhaps, the main attraction for things to do outside in the Hudson Valley and near the Catskills.
Hudson Valley Dessert Co.
Come here for fresh breads and desserts, along with coffee drinks. They have two cute outdoor tables where you can people-watch.
Bluestone Coffee Roasting Company
An original coffee shop that’ll get you a hot espresso and some nice ambiance.
The Partition Bar
A bar set back from the street, this one features live music and a solid drink menu with a great atmosphere.
This is the go-to for burgers, fries, sandwiches and a beer in the afternoon. This restaurant is located at the end of the main drag.
This restored tavern has plenty of brews on tap, with specials like garlic fries and German Chocolate Cake Beer, along with food from burgers to salads.
Miss Lucy’s Restaurant
This more upscale dining spot has a sophisticated menu with pate, fried chicken and biscuits, mac’n’cheese and cocktails to boot.
A lot of these restaurants, bars and cafes are closed on Tuesdays, or before 4pm. Check Google Maps for their open hours and close dates.
Plan a visit to the Ruth Reynolds Nature Preserve & Saugerties Lighthouse
Well, it went like this. I must have heard somewhere that the Saugerties Lighthouse was worth visiting, and then I found out that the only way to get there is via a 10-minute nature walk through marshland, officially called tidal wetlands.
This was not a problem, as we had wanted to see nature, didn’t want to break a sweat too much, and didn’t want to be in for any five-hour-long hikes that would have us winded.
Cue the nature walk to get to the Saugerties Lighthouse! This is a nice and flat easy hiking trail that involves some newly-renovated wooden boardwalks over marshland.
We enjoyed this hike a LOT, and the destination (and dead end) is the Saugerties Lighthouse.
Saugerties Lighthouse is not like other lighthouses and this is because it is super unique. It is a B&B! It’s a guesthouse that you can learn more about at the Saugerties Lighthouse website.
Once you’re there, don’t stop walking. Keep going to the back dock, which will leave you with precious views of the Hudson River.
Then, turn back the way you came for a perfect 10-minute walk covering half a mile of ground, to your car in the small parking lot (parking is free, and the hike is free).
Saugerties Lighthouse, because it is a bed & breakfast, is not open to the public for going inside; however, it’s perfectly pretty from the outside, and the best photo you can take of it is during your approach before you cross the little bridge.
See even more photos of the Saugerties Lighthouse here!
See even more nature on some easy walking trails
For more nature, visit the Esopus Bend Nature Preserve for easy flat natural walking trails with waterfalls.
This nature preserve is located just a few minutes from the city center, and with its picturesque hiking trails good for beginners, families, or anyone who just wants to get some steps, you’re sure to get some peace and quiet.
Watch out for muddy trails after any rains in the previous few days, so wear proper shoes.
More ideas for unique things to do in the Catskills & Hudson Valley this year
There’s SO much more to do in these two beautiful regions of Upstate New York at any time of year.
To put things in perspective, what we’ve outlined above are just a few of the towns, nature reserves, viewpoints and interesting things to do in the Catskills and Hudson Valley.
Of course you’ve heard of Woodstock, the famed name of the 1969 music festival that attracted hundreds of thousands of young people.
A fun trivia fact is that the festival itself did NOT take place in Woodstock, because they needed more space (true story!), but Woodstock gets all the glory.
Visit Woodstock as a stop on your Catskills weekend itinerary for a weekend trip, and spend half day to see the shops, restaurants, cafes and several bars. There’s also a good bit of shopping to do here, from Woodstock souvenirs, to art and music-themed stores.
What’s more is that the drive to Woodstock from either direction is quite pretty, as you’re in the Catskill Mountains, and if you take some back roads from Woodstock to Kingston you’ll be blessed with some cool cliffside views of the valleys and hills.
Kingston, NY, is a vibrant upstate town with a cute downtown (called “Uptown”) and some surprisingly-great historic architecture dating to the 1600s (!!!).
Because of its train station, Kingston is great for a Catskills and Hudson Valley day trip.
Kingston is a real city, with a variety of neighborhoods, historic landmarks and a cool food scene. For your visit, start in Uptown and dine outdoors at spots like Opa Greek Gyros, Sissy’s Cafe, “Outdated Antique Cafe” and Kingston Bread & Bar.
You can also enjoy the pastel-colored buildings on Wall St. (not to be confused with the Wall St. in Manhattan, as they are quite different).
Then, check out the area down by the water, where you can “hike” the Kingston Point Rail Trail and snag a photo of the pretty Rondout Lighthouse.
Kaaterskill is going to be the Dutch name most resemblant of “Catskill” itself and it is the name of the most well-known set of waterfalls that grace the region.
Found in Greene County, Kaaterskill Falls are really quite magnificent and require some hiking. You can see more on All Trails.
Ashokan Reservoir & Ashokan Reservoir Promenade
Would you have thought that a reservoir would be a point of interest on a Catskills vacation? Well, this one is quite beautiful, and it has got to be one of the most beautiful places in the Catskills without a doubt.
Check out the website for the Ashokan Reservoir to see how you can enjoy your time visiting this natural place that sends fresh water all the way to NYC.
Bethel Woods Center for the Arts
Here’s why Bethel is worth a visit: because this is where Woodstock was “ACTUALLY” held! (See above that Woodstock did not actually take place in Woodstock, NY.)
Check out the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts Museum, to learn all about the 1969 Woodstock Festival if you’re a huge music fan or history buff, or if you just like learning about pop culture and the musical phenomenon that stands the test of time.
If you can stick around, check out this huge list of concerts and events that are taking place at Bethel Woods.
Have you seen the Phoenicia Diner on Instagram? Something about this diner is both retro and cool, revoking old memories of the Catskill glory days, yet attracting a new wave of young visitors who want to take photos of great food for their socials.
Phoenicia Diner also has a cookbook, the Phoenicia Diner Cookbook. Aside from this trendy name brand, Phoenicia is a tiny sleepy little Catskills town, with a population of only 309!
Did we recommend enough cool places to stay in the Catskills?
We sure hope we did. This region of Upstate NY is changing so fast due to a demand for domestic tourism and vacation weekend trips that are a short drive from NYC.
So, we urge you to check out small towns, lesser-known hikes and off-the-beaten path unique things to do in the Catskill Mountains and Hudson Valley areas. Enjoy, and as always, take photos!
If you’re considering flying from another part of the US into the Hudson Valley region, consider Stewart Airport, which is located north of NYC. Find out more in this guide to all the airports in the NYC metro region.
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Last updated on November 18th, 2022