Blog post: 5 Common Misconceptions About the Catskills

Getting breakfast ready on the "summit" viewing ledge on Slide Mountain
Average read time 4 min

The Catskills were once “America’s First Wilderness”. Even though not thought of true wilderness today the Catskills are still plenty wild! Being only a 2.5-hour drive from NYC, it makes the Catskills a prime destination for millions of people. Over the years, the Catskills have been overlooked and “forgotten”. However, in the past few years, there has been a resurgence of interest in this once bustling region. So if you’re planning to visit let’s clear up some common misconceptions about the Catskills.

Chris making the very steep and rocky descent off the north face of Blackhead Mountain
Chris making the very steep and rocky 1,000′ descent off the north face of Blackhead Mountain

1. It is only the Catskills, the mountains are not that hard. This is bunk. I’m not really sure how this got started, maybe because people compare them with the Adirondacks. But don’t underestimate the Catskill hiking experience.

With trails and ranges like Devil’s Path, Burroughs Range, Blackhead Range, and Escarpment Trail which all have steep and rocky ascents and descents, these are wicked hard and at times very dangerous. Devil’s Path is often listed as one of the hardest trails in the North-eastern United States. At about 24 miles and with a total ascent of 9,000′, this trail will stand with the best of them.

As with any mountain range, they make their own weather. The Catskills are no exception. You may start out at a trailhead on a “sunny day” and find yourself on a summit with cold, windy conditions. Remember winter comes early and leaves late, the hiker may find snow starting in October and ending in May. Please be prepared for any hiking outings!

View from the Catskill 3500 canister looking toward Devil's Path
View from the Catskill 3500 canister looking toward Devil’s Path

2. The Catskills have no views. Yes, the Catskill mountains do not have 360-degree views from alpine peaks, but the views atop these mountains are second to none.

With the lowlands of the Hudson Valley abutting the Catskill escarpment, the peaks on the escarpment trail rise over 3,000 above the valley floor. Looking out from many peaks you’ll be able to see the mountains in Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. From various points, you will be able to view the Shawangunk Ridge to the south and High Point in New Jersey. The Catskill is also home to 5 restored fire towers which offer the hiker 360-degree views.

Our campsite on the Batavia Kill Trail in the Catskills, this is a few hundred feet from the lean-to
Our campsite on the Batavia Kill Trail in the Catskills, this is a few hundred feet from the lean-to

3. There’s not that much good camping in the Catskills. The fact is that backpacking and camping opportunities abound here. The backpacker can often find much solitude on camping excursions. With long trails ranging from 15 to almost 30 miles, there is something for most backpackers. The Catskill’s are home to many Lean-tos scattered along the trails with primitive campsites awaiting the backpacker for a great tenting experience.

For those looking for “ultra” long distance backpacking trips, a major part of the Long Path winds for about 95 miles through the Catskills. Don’t take this lightly as it crosses some of the most rugged parts of these mountains. Along with great back-country camping the Catskills has 8 state campgrounds and many private campgrounds for all sorts of camping from tenting to RVing to Glamping.

Escarpment Trail and Mountain Biking Signs
Escarpment Trail and Mountain Biking Signs on Elm Ridge

4. Besides hiking there’s not much else to do in the Catskills. Well now. Yes, the Catskills is known for hiking, but it is also the place to head for some great mountain biking, like the trail system in the Elm Ridge Wild Forest. The Catskills is also known for its great fishing anytime of the year and is commonly thought of as the “Birthplace of American Fly Fishing”. With its numerous ponds and lakes, streams and rivers, the Catskills is a fisherman’s paradise. With hundreds of thousands of acres of state forest, hunters can hunt and trap in the pristine forests filled with wildlife.

In the winter months snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, along with alpine skiing at any of the 5 major ski resorts, and great places to ice climb make the Catskills a winter wonderland.

Swimming, horseback riding, zip-lines, water parks, and adventure parks, plus paddling and tubing round out a great Catskills experience. Even take the Ski resort chairlifts to views in the summer months!

Notch Lake at Stony Clove on Devil's Path.
Notch Lake at Stony Clove on Rt 214 for parking and day use.

5. There are no cool attractions in the Catskills. This misconception may have come from the steady decline of the once great Catskill resorts. However, the Catskills have undergone a resurgence. With eclectic and historic towns such as Woodstock, Hunter, Windham, Phoenicia, Tannersville, and Haines Falls there are tons of great things to do. The visitor should remember that the “Catskills” extend beyond the forest preserve Blue Line and include areas of Schoharie and Otsego Counties.

Roadside attractions that include awesome waterfalls, parking/picnic areas with views, scenic drives, state parks and day use areas, some of New York’s best farm stands, museums, distilleries, orchids, and shopping of all types make the Cats a must visit. Stay at one of the large resort hotels or anyone of the many “mom and pop” motels or bed and breakfasts that offer the feel of a true Catskill vacation.

Where to start? Try the website The Catskills, or I Love NY. When in the Catskills make sure you stop in at the Maurice D. Hinchey Catskill Interpretive Center on Rt 28 in Mt. Tremper! So forget what you may have heard the Catskills don’t have and visit to discover this awe-inspiring treasures.