Summer in the city is sticky, sweltering and strangely quiet—with plenty of New Yorkers escaping as often as possible. Just a few hours north, the Catskills offers the peaceful respite of nature—and a little action. Whether hiking mountains, swimming at the base of waterfalls, floating down a river, visiting wineries and breweries, a summer road trip can be as adventurous or relaxing as you choose. We recently hit the road for a weekend that was equal parts laid-back escape and adventurous activity—all with plenty of Catskills charm.
Diamond Notch Falls
Just under three hours from NYC, Diamond Notch Falls is part of a four-mile loop a little east of Hunter-west Kill Wilderness, and it’s the ideal first stop on your road trip. The hikes here cater to novices and experienced hikers alike, with the main trail considered moderate—and several starting points ranging from one mile to four. There’s also the opportunity to link with the Hunter Mountain Trailhead and make it into a roughly eight-mile loop. While the falls are stunning simply to witness, you can also climb down off the trail, dip your feet in the stream, or even go for a swim if you’re adventurous.
Surely having worked up an appetite on the hike, next stop is Phoenicia Diner—an institution serving up delicious American diner fare since 1962 (although it was relocated to the Catskills in the ‘80s). The fare at this classic Americana-style diner includes house-made granola, a slew of skillet dishes (we suggest the Farmers Skillet with market veggies, the diner’s classic Phoenician potatoes, cheddar cheese, eggs any style and toast), locally smoked trout on bagels, cornmeal waffles, grass-fed burgers, Reubens, and the famous Catskills Po’boy. They also have a full bar and offer local beers and wine, cocktails, Bloody Marys, mimosas and bourbon milkshakes.
Phoenicia Black Bear Campground
When you’re ready to set up camp for the night, head five minutes down the road to the Phoenicia Black Bear Campground, which is located right along the Esopus Creek and offers everything a laid-back campground should. This property has RV sites (with water and electric hook-ups), tent sites for couples and large groups—and even tent rentals, in case you forget to bring your own. When pulling into the property, a sign says “Pick a spot” and the owner (George) can usually be found in front of the bonfire at the front of the property, cigar in hand, relaxing with friends and visitors. He comes and collects dues from campers each morning. The relaxed campsite feels secluded—with its leafy surrounds and picturesque views of the creek—but it’s actually a short walk to town, where campers can find a supplier store and market, liquor store and several biker bars.
Perfect for an early lunch, Woodstock Brewing is less than two miles from Phoenicia Black Bear Campground (around three minutes in a car, or 30 minutes on foot). Founded in 2018, the micro-brewery has exploded from a half-barrel pilot system in a Woodstock garage to a fully functional 15-barrel brewery with a complete beer list, restaurant and outside beer garden with games and a fire-pit. Aside from the stellar beer list—which includes their local favorites like Woodstock Lager, their Awesome, Terrible, Holy, Majestic Double IPA, and all-new pineapple passionfruit gose—Woodstock Brewing also offers delicious pub fare like beer-battered onion rings, wings (with house-made blue cheese dressing), homemade tamales, tacos and more. We recommend trying a flight of beers and plenty of snacks before heading out to a winery or to Town Tinker Tube Rental to float down the creek for a few hours.
Eastwind Hotel & Bar
A converted hunters lodge from the 1920s, Eastwind Hotel & Bar is located way up in the Catskill Mountains and features 19 rooms—including three unattached Lushna Cabins. Whether reading by the fire-pit or sweating at the on-site sauna, there’s plenty on offer here—including a bar with impressive cocktails and food, focused on seasonal ingredients. Eat a family-style meal with other guests (we recommend the genuinely melt-in-your-mouth slow-roasted braised short rib) and then play board games in the salon, before waking up early for a yoga class. During the summer season, the Eastwind offers foraging classes, outdoor on-site concerts and more.
Hero image courtesy of Eastwind Hotel & Bar