Fall Drives 2009
The leaves are changing, the air is crisp, the nights are getting longer — it’s the ideal time to hit the road. Check out our local action-packed fall foliage routes
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Foliage Drive #4: Route 23A
The great outdoors in all its glory
By Jennifer Leba
Thirty-five majestic Catskill High Peaks are a sight to behold at any time of the year. But in fall, well, the foliage does for this spectacular region what restoring the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel did for the Vatican. And a cruise down Route 23A, which cuts east-west for 35 miles across Greene County, is surely one of the most scenic byways in the state, allowing you to glance at seven of the stately peaks. Your ooh-ing and aah-ing also is enhanced by the fun of driving on this two-lane road, which is both twisty (some hairpin turns will make you slow down to 15 m.p.h.) and hilly, and offers a glimpse of the famous Kaaterskill Falls, New York’s highest two-tiered waterfall. And should you want to get into the great outdoors, first-rate opportunities for hiking, biking, swimming, and camping abound.
Pick up the road at Route 9W just outside the village of Catskill. Heading west five miles uphill, you’ll find yourself in the sleepy hamlet of Palenville, once dubbed the “First Art Colony in America” because Frederic Church and Thomas Cole set up shop there during the heydey of the Hudson River School movement. But the real excitement is what the artists most loved to capture on their canvases — Kaaterskill Falls, just outside of town, in the Catskill State Park. It is well worth pulling over into one of the two parking lots and taking the Kaaterskill Falls Trail, which rises steeply over fairly tough terrain, for almost half a mile to the falls, which total 260 spectacular feet. (But be warned: Watch for traffic when you get out of your car, and wear appropriate shoes.) If the weather is still warm enough, there are several opportunities to dabble in spectacular swimming holes in the Kaaterskill Creek on the way up.
Once back on the road, you’ll climb steeply into beautiful Kaaterskill Clove and the town of Haines Falls, which once was home to an Ulster and Delaware train station. You can stop at the Mountain Top Historical Society to learn more about the town’s railroading past. Back on 23A, look for a right onto North Lake Road to access the extensive and very popular state-run North-South Lake Campground — with expansive views of five states on a clear day. There are more than 200 camping sites, but you can also get a day pass through October for eight dollars and hike or swim at one of the two pretty beaches. There are also dozens of trails to pick up here, including one that leads to the site of the famous Catskill Mountain House (a 19th-century hotel visited by three presidents, it burned down in 1963), and the challenging 23-mile Escarpment Trail with its ever-changing scenery and heady mix of pine and fir trees.
If you continue on, you’ll soon find yourself in Tannersville. The stately homes will tip you off that you’re there, but the main giveaway is the handful of multicolored buildings — we’re talking orange-and-blue pinstripes here — that scream out at you from throughout the three-block downtown area (conceived as part of the 2003 Tannersville Paint Project). The epicenter of the town has long been Maggie’s Krooked Cafe & Juice Bar, a funky little eatery famous for its pancakes, baked goods, healthy sandwiches, and of course, that crooked floor. While in town, it is certainly worth a visit to the Mountain Top Arboretum; admission is free and you can wander around the trees and shrubs of this 21-acre preserve, which is bursting with color, as native holly, mountain ash, and dawn redwoods do their autumn thing among the perennial green.
By the time you roll into the village of Hunter, it will seem positively urban — what with its movie theater, art galleries, antique shops, and sandwich hubs. Of course, the main attraction remains Hunter Mountain — that mega ski-resort with the hard-partying reputation. But now, before the white stuff falls, is the ideal time to take the Hunter Mountain SkyRide (otherwise known as the A-Lift). In 20 minutes (round-trip), the lift whisks you to the summit (3,200 feet), where you can fix your sights on three mountain ranges (Berkshires, Green, and Catskills) and contemplate whether you’ll tackle the Hunter Mountain Fire Tower — at sixty feet, the highest in the state. Going down? Either clamber back aboard the ride, hike down, or ride your mountain bike. The Skyride is open through October 11.
Heading west out of town, Route 23A parallels the brown trout-stuffed Schoharie Creek, and you’ll notice several public fishing spots. If you choose this route, you’ll eventually leave the Catskill Park and hook up with Route 23 right outside of Prattsville. Once there, you’ll want to drive by Pratt’s Rock, a series of stone carvings all about the life of local legend Zadock Pratt, a tanner and New York Congressman (you can also check out the Zadock Pratt Museum.) Alternately, from Hunter, you can opt to take 296 North to the charming town of Windham, 10 miles away. While dinner at the highly-touted Bistro Brie & Bordeaux will have you feeling trés chic (try the signature cassoulet), a night at the luxurious Catskill Maison B&B, right on the main drag, will be the perfect place to discuss your leaf-peeping adventures. Don’t be fooled by the B&B’s rather plain exterior; the rooms are spacious and sumptuous (and each named after a different wine), and the inventive and locally-inspired breakfasts will help you face another day of fun in the great outdoors.
Route 23A Highlights:
Mountain Top Arboretum
On Oct. 3 at 11 a.m., join the arboretum’s executive direction for a stroll through the grounds.
Hunter Mountain Skyride
The skyride — at more than one mile long — is the longest chairlift in the Catskills. Check out the fall foliage for $8.00.
The Mountain Top
Catskill Park; www.mths.org
Maggie’s Krooked Cafe
& Juice Bar
Zadock Pratt Museum
Bistro Brie & Bordeaux
Catskill Maison Bed & Breakfast