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Catskills/Adirondacks, New York

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Did You Know … ?

  • Adirondack Park is larger than the Everglades, Glacier, Grand Canyon and Yellowstone parks combined.
  • The Woodstock festival of 1969 was held on a farm in Bethel.
  • “The Last of the Mohicans” is set in the Adirondacks and “Rip Van Winkle” in the Catskills.
  • “Dirty Dancing” (1987) was set in a fictional 1963 Catskills resort.
  • The Catskill/Delaware watershed provides more than 90% of New York City’s water, all delivered by gravity.

Parks without gates

New York’s Catskill and Adirondack regions are, in reality, state parks but without gates or obvious boundaries. The Catskill Park encompasses 600,000 acres, and the Adirondack Park covers approximately 6 million acres, or about one-third of New York. It’s America’s largest protected area outside Alaska. The Catskill Park is around 100 miles north of New York City, whereas the Adirondack Park covers most of the state’s northeast corner.

Both are known for valuable ecosystems set amidst eponymously named mountain ranges and their forests; thousands of freshwater lakes, including part of Lake Champlain; and thousands of miles of rivers and streams, including parts of the Hudson and the Delaware.

This is inherently a place for lovers of the outdoors. Manmade additions include hundreds of miles of scenic byways and thousands of miles of multiuse trails. Also, ski resorts offering year-round recreation.

Unconventionally, the state owns only about half the Catskill Park and 43%, or roughly 2.6 million acres, of Adirondack Park. The public land is protected in the state constitution as “forever wild.” The remaining lands, privately held, are devoted variously to forestry, agriculture and open-space recreation.

Approximately 50,000 people live in Catskill Park on farms and in villages — with Woodstock perhaps the best known. About 130,000 live in 100-plus Adirondack towns, including Lake Placid, host to 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics. The state distributes funds supporting “smart growth” to help maintain the sustainability of communities surrounded by parkland. Tourism is vital to this goal.

Both areas have attracted tourists since the 19th century, luring nature lovers and those escaping from hot cities. In the Adirondacks, the wealthy built their famed Great Camps. The Catskills were known (1920s to 1970s) for a booming summer resort business serving a Jewish clientele.

Today, Catskill and Adirondack accommodations range from campsites to modern resorts that may be sleek or an ultra comfortable take on the rustic.

Diversions run the gamut, too, from swift rivers for rafting, tall mountains for climbing or skiing and ziplines that earn the name to placid lakes for boating, trains for scenic sightseeing and villages where restaurants emphasize organic foods and shops sell local art.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Camp out in the Catskills or the Adirondacks. For a unique retreat, consider campsites on the Lake George, Indian Lake and Saranac Lake Islands in the Adirondacks. RV camping is possible, too.
  • After the snow is gone, use ski mountains in the Adirondacks or the Catskills for their challenging mountain biking routes. Or, choose whitewater rafting in the parks. Or both.
  • Sightseeing via hot-air balloon in an option in both areas. There is a balloon festival in the Adirondacks each fall, too.
  • Take on the country’s fastest zipline at Hunter Mountain. The tour includes five side-by-side racing ziplines. If that is a little much, there are other zipline choices in both areas.
  • Climb one or more of the 35 high peaks in the Catskills, each at least 3,500 feet tall. Or choose among the 46 high peaks in the Adirondacks, each at least 4,000 feet high.
  • Overnight at the former Vanderbilt summer home, the rustic Great Camp Sagamore, at Raquette Lake in the Adirondacks. Also, there are cabins for rent at White Pine Camp, at Paul Smiths; this was President Calvin Coolidge’s summer White House in the 1920s.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Go cross-country skiing at Lake Placid where Olympians have competed. Ditto for downhill skiing on Whiteface Mountain, which has the greatest vertical drop (3,430 feet) east of the Rockies.
  • Choose glamping — that’s clever shorthand for glamour camping — in the Adirondacks. It’s nature combined with gourmet dining, entertainment, massages or other unlikely diversions in the wilderness.
  • Want to catch a big one? Lake George and Lake Champlain are trophy fishermen’s destinations.
  • Do your fly-fishing where the sport was born, meaning in the Catskills. Try Willowemoc Creek or the West Branch of the Delaware River. Save time for the Catskill Fly Fishing Center on Willowemoc Creek. Also, in the Adirondacks, the Ausable River is a top choice.
  • Take a hike, or lots of them, especially when fall foliage is bright. The Catskill area boasts hundreds of miles of trails highlighting mountains, lakes and historic villages. In the Adirondacks, there are more than 2,000 miles of trails, often good for bird-watching and spotting wildlife.
  • Choose a sightseeing train for the views, historic modes of travel and/or a “train robbery.” Choices are the Catskill Mountain Railroad in Phoenicia, the Delaware and Ulster in Arkville and the Adirondack Scenic Railroad with service from four stations.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Play golf with some of the world’s finest scenery for a backdrop. There are dozens of courses, some top rated by “Golf Digest” and other sources.
  • Tour the Lake Placid Olympic Facilities and Museum in Lake Placid.
  • If a history buff, look for historic places. Aside from the Great Camps, Adirondack destinations may include historic forts at Crown Point State Historic Site on Lake Champlain (two forts), Fort Ticonderoga at Ticonderoga and Fort William Henry Museum on Lake George. Also, the home of abolitionist John Brown at Lake Placid and museums celebrating Native Americans.
  • Book a stay at one of the famed Catskills resorts and disconnect from hassles at home.
  • Tap into the artsy aspects of each area. Browse the shops and galleries on Tinker Street at the Woodstock/Byrdcliffe Art Colony. Find antiques shops, craft studios and farmers’ markets on the Catskills Pottery Trail. Or, in the Adirondacks, shop for locally created art, crafts and jewelry in Bolton Landing, Jay, Keene, Lake Placid and Saranac Lake.
  • Drive the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway in the Catskills or choose from 14 New York Scenic Byways in the Adirondacks. For one, the Lakes to Locks Passage highlights Lake Champlain and leads to places for boating, fishing and swimming.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the New York State Division of Tourism at