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  • Writer's picturelil pines


Three fire towers in the Catskills and Hudson Valley, in Upstate New York.

The Catskills are rich in history as New York's original vacation-land. They were an escape from America's first experience with pollution. They are rich in cultural history as the birthplace of a new artistic depiction of the American landscape in the Hudson River School of painting. And they are rich in geological history with their many stories of varied sea-levels, meteor craters, and glacial shaping. They can seem expansive, but there are so many pockets of good hikes and exploring that it's easy to make a day, or two, or three out of them without getting overwhelmed. Pair some hikes with some of the museums along the Hudson River. Combine a hike with a visit to one of the great breweries along the Hudson. The possibilities are endless.

Overlook Mountain is a good place to start because it's nestled above Phoenicia, Woodstock, and Saugerties, all of which have great places to stay the night. The mountain itself is steeply sloped, and is an invigorating hike as you rise above the trees. Bring a wine in a can up the trail, pass through the Overlook Mountain House ruins, and push on through to the peak where you can crack open that can with your lunch and let the red-wine courage bring you to the top of the Overlook Mountain fire tower.

It's the kind of view that makes you think you can notice the curve of the earth. It'll make your stomach drop. When we were there, the wind was so bitter that there was almost nothing to feel. It was beyond my personal recognition of cold. But the Catskills are so beautiful in the winter, especially from above, where their pines look fuzzy and one can only imagine that the glaciers were thoughtful about scouring over them. And when you descend the mountain and hear from a local in the Stewart's that the top of the mountain was negative fifteen degrees that afternoon, you'll feel damn proud of yourself for making it that far up the fire tower. Or you can just go in the summer.

Ferncliff Forest is the second fire tower you should hit for the views. You're across the Hudson River from the Catskills now, and you can really ponder where you were standing the day before with this view. Ferncliff Forest is just a 25 minute drive from Woodstock. Spend the afternoon walking the trails throughout the forest, and then from there, head to Beacon.

Mount Beacon Breakneck Ridge Trail- if you're starting from the North, very close to downtown Beacon- begins with a steep incline that zig-zags upwards before leveling slightly by the ruins of the Mount Beacon Incline Railway. Take a break and stand among the brick and machinery that used to carry visitors to the casino that sat only a short walk away. The casino's old footprint -only a foundation remains- offers a wide, flat overlook of Beacon and the Hudson River. Beyond Beacon Overlook, you'll notice a fire tower in the distance. The tower is closer than it seems, and if you follow the Breakneck Ridge Trail, you can get there in under thirty minutes. It's about a mile hike out to the tower, and the terrain is so interesting and worthwhile.

The mountain allows amazing views throughout the Breakneck Ridge Trail. From the fire tower, you can continue on to follow the Breakneck loop, which will take you along the spine of the mountain and all the way South to 9D. This trail head is a good starting point for those traveling from New York City on Metro-North- there's a stop between Cold Spring and Beacon on the Hudson Line. This south-side of the trail and mountain tends to be busier because of this. Starting the trail in Beacon allows you the quicker route to the fire tower, and lends time to exploring the town of Beacon. Stay a night and check out Dia:Beacon before heading back. Further north up the river, among countless places to visit, are our favorite breweries- Sloop & Suarez. We also like to head in to Warren Street in Hudson, especially for a snack and drink at Backbar.


The Catskills: Its History and How It Changed America

is an entertaining read, starting with Henry Hudson and ending with stories about glorious resorts.

In the Catskills

John Burroughs was a master of observation, and you'll want to see the Catskills through his eyes.


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