Jutting sharply above northern Hudson Valley in New York, the rocky Catskill Mountains are full of hidden mossy gorges, waterfalls and quirky, cozy villages that flourished as summer destinations during the heyday of rail travel. The area is a magnet for hikers, campers and climbers.
The small town of Narrowsburg, nestled between the Catskill and Pocono Mountains, is a good place to start your trip. From here, wend your way down Route 97 to experience river life circa 1770 at the Museum of Living Colonial History. Inside the historic fort is a splintery log stockade, and in the summer months costumed guides will walk you around the log cabins, a candle-maker and blacksmith, and an 18th-century armory.
North from Narrowsburg, on Route 52 at Kenoza Lake, you'll cross Three Stone Bridge. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it was built around 1880 and has a lurid tale attached to it. Apparently, one villager suspected another of putting a curse on him. One night as the suspect (probably innocent) walked home, he was ambushed on the bridge by a friend of the cursed man, who bashed his head with a cane and tossed him into the icy waters. For the 100-plus years since, a ghostly male figure allegedly sometimes has been spotted crossing the bridge.
Don't let the scary tales stop you from exploring the surrounding nine acres of untouched woods and fields, which are perfect for hiking and fishing. Otherwise, continue straight across and head for Callicoon Center. In the spring, numerous stands selling fresh maple syrup dot these roads; in the summer and fall, you'll likely encounter stalls with fresh berries, corn and other farm-grown veggies.
Gallop north about 50 miles to the whimsical mountain village of Mount Tremper, in the foothills of the Belleayre Ski Resort. Stay the night in the Emerson Resort & Spa, a restored 1870s Victorian that greets guests with champagne flutes. Lovers of kitsch will prefer Kate's Lazy Meadow Motel (owned and run by Kate Pierson of B-52s fame), a modest, one-story ranch on the outside, but a treasure trove of vintage mid-century decor on the inside. The comfy suites have private decks and mini-kitchenettes, and are tricked out in Eames furniture. Coffee can be had the next morning at the Emerson Resort's restored 1841 dairy barn, the Country Store, which contains the world's largest kaleidoscope.
Head north into Phoenicia, a cheery, upbeat hamlet dedicated to outdoor fun. A glimpse of early railroad life is revealed in the historic Delaware and Ulster Station, built around 1899 and housing the Empire State Railway Museum. Travel in style (or pretend you did) in a 1913 luxury Pullman and enjoy the photographs and videos detailing how the old train tracks turned this corner of the Catskills into a tourist center.
If you follow the slim, winding road for another 10 miles, you'll reach the forgotten factory town of Fleischmanns, once home to the famous yeast company of the same name. In the summer months, it fills up with Orthodox Jewish families who have adopted it as their special weekend retreat. On Saturday evenings after Sabbath, the families stroll the streets, not doffing their customary woolen clothes or heavy fur hats and wigs even in the smothering August heat. Griffins Corner Cafe on Main Street is where the modern and Orthodox worlds meet.
Continue north and east about 20 miles into the heights of Haines Falls. The mountaintop, four-turreted Rosehaven Inn, right at the cleft of Kaaterskill Clove Pass, has mammoth bedrooms with gas fireplaces and whirlpool tubs.
Hike around gorgeous Kaaterskill Falls, a 260-foot cascading delight that has inspired generations of New York artists. The most traveled trail starts at the overlook site on Route 23A, past Bastion Falls and then up a half-mile steep incline. Also consider hiking to Devil's Kitchen Falls or trekking up the overlooked Kaaterskill High Peak trail.
Getting there » Follow Route 28 from Kingston into the northern part of the Catskills; Route 17 hugs the preserve's western edge.
Where to eat
Griffins Corner Cafe » Main Street, Fleischmanns, 845-254-6300; www.griffinscornerscafe.com. A sunny corner diner with big country breakfasts, hearty yeoman's lunches and dinners, and occasional live music.
Where to stay
Emerson Resort & Spa » 5340 Mount Tremper, 877-688-2828; www.emersonplace.com; s/d $190/$220. A premier Catskills resort and spa, with several first-class restaurants, and set among pine-covered mountains.
Kate's Lazy Meadow Motel » 5191 Route 28, Mount Tremper, 845-688-7200; www.lazymeadow.com; $150-$180. A kitschy, upbeat and comfortable mountain motel with 1950s-style decor and mini-kitchenettes.
Rosehaven Inn » 147 Sunset Park Road, Haines Falls, 518-589-5636; www.rosehaveninn.com; Monday-Friday, $125; Saturday and Sunday $175. Deep in the mountains, this romantic Victorian B&B is surrounded by fantastic hiking and swimming holes.