While well-known spots are well-known for a reason, sometimes the most fun you'll have on vacation is straying from the beaten path and exploring those locals-only insider secrets. Kicking off a new series on the I LOVE NY blog, we're diving into the Secrets of the Catskills. Everyone knows about the good views, chews, and brews in the Catskills, but here are some more hush-hush spots, from a haunted mansion to a world-class chocolatier, that you can tell everyone you discovered all on your own. We won’t spill that secret.
A hidden resort from another era!
Photographer: Marie Frei
The beauty of the Catskills has been attracting visitors for centuries. In the mid-1800s especially, tourism to the area was booming, leading to many mountain resorts being built for the steady stream of travelers from Manhattan. One of the first of these was Overlook Mountain House, built in 1833, which you can still see the grand ruins of during a hike up Overlook Mountain. Should you choose to continue on, at the top of the mountain, you’ll also find a fire tower and a Buddhist temple. The hike is better suited for older kids and teens than younger ones. Keep an eye out for rattlesnakes along the trail.
A haunted mansion where you can spend the night!
You may have been to a fake haunted mansion in an amusement park or during the Halloween season, but have you ever been to a real haunted mansion? Burn Brae Mansion in Glen Spey was built in 1908 as part of the estate of a former president of the Singer Sewing Machine company. Today the mansion is the site of a plethora of strange and spooky paranormal activity—clear voices recorded on electronics, obscure glowing circles showing up in photographs, drained batteries, and shifts in temperature and pressure. This mansion has been the site of several ghost-hunting and paranormal television shows and visitors are welcome to use the mansion’s investigative tools to uncover spiritual activity themselves in group tours, scheduled in advance. Murder Mystery dinners are held throughout the year and if you’re braver than we are, you can even spend the night there.
A tiny house to try before you buy!
Photographer: Greene County Tourism
If you’re a fan of HGTV, you’re familiar with America’s obsession with tiny houses and the variety of shows with families downsizing from larger homes to 500-square-feet with hidden storage and less clutter. But it takes a certain type of person to actually make the move. See if your family can survive being in close quarters before you fully commit by staying a night at A Tiny House Resort in South Cairo. One of the ideas behind tiny-house living is to spend more time outdoors, and you’ll want to do just that when you stay in these homes on a cliff overlooking Catskill Creek, “where nature meets luxury.” While each tiny house comes with cable, wifi, and Netflix, we recommend borrowing board games from the lending library to maximize family fun.
A furniture store with one-of-a-kind pieces and outdoor sculptures!
Photographer: Franco Vogt
Steve Heller of Fabulous Furniture in Boiceville has been designing out-of-this-world pieces since the 1970s. While it's a furniture store first, with custom-made “live edge” tables that look like the bottom of a tree, the grounds are scattered with futuristic metal sculptures that are also out of this world—literally this time—like a UFO spacecraft with painted aliens peeking out of the windows or your choice of robots. Heller is well-known for his custom-designed cars, like the "Cro-Magnum" above, a completely customized Dodge Magnum. "The Marquis de Soto," Heller's customized Mercury Grand Marquis, has won The New York Times "Collectible Car of the Year" award.
A lesser-known waterfall!
Photographer: Lisa Wisely - Great Western Catskills
If you’re chasing waterfalls while in the Catskills, you’ll likely visit Kaaterskill Falls, a full 90 feet taller than Niagara Falls, but make time for some of the little guys as well. A particularly hidden gem is Tompkins Falls, just off of Barkaboom Road in the town of Andes. This beautiful 26-foot-tall cascade which flows into the Pepacton Reservoir is often missed unless visitors are looking for it. For a secret within a secret, see if you can spot the ruins of a dam from when the falls powered three nearby towns before they were flooded to make room for the reservoir.
A historic but modern movie-going experience!
Photographer: Sullivan Catskills
If the last few movies you’ve seen have been on your couch while scrolling through Instagram and helping the kids with homework, you deserve to experience a film in the way that it was meant to be seen. Callicoon Theater can take you and your family back to a time when seeing a movie was a special event. The historic theater, from 1948, has many originals like the waterfall curtain, the post-art-deco light fixtures, and even a Manley popcorn machine. But the theater also provides a state-of-the-art experience in terms of projection, sound quality, and legroom.
A throne room on Sugarloaf Mountain!
Photographer: Greene County Tourism
No one knows exactly who is responsible for building the thrones, dining table, and spiral staircase out of the bluestone left over when Dibbles Quarry was abandoned in the late 1800s. (Or if someone does know, they’re keeping it from the rest of us.) You can still visit this secret spot by parking at Roaring Kill Road, walking ¼ a mile until the Pecoy Notch trail, and walking almost a mile to the bluestone. Take lots of fun photos while the kids are pretending to be kings and queens of the Catskills, ruling over the expansive views of Kaaterskill High Peak and Round Top. Experienced hikers can continue on but the trail becomes a lot more challenging—families with kids may want to head back to the parking lot post-photoshoot.
An (almost) private concert venue!
Photographer: Chris Saraceno
Roxbury Arts Group regularly holds concerts in Roxbury’s Old School Baptist Church, built in 1856, nestled in picturesque Vega Valley. With limited seating, a cozy atmosphere, and acoustics to write home about, a show here is guaranteed to be one of the most intimate and memorable musical experiences of your life. Previous performances have included the French Woods Quartet, the cello-, violin-, and banjo-playing trio Harpeth Rising, and harpist Brandee Younger accompanied by bassist Rashaan Carter.
A brewery with a playgroup for the kids!
Photographer: RR Taproom
While Reynolds & Reynolds Taproom in Woodstock is typically a family-friendly establishment, it’s especially fun the final Monday afternoon of each month during “Toddlers & Taps”. Each month, the popular watering hole hosts a playgroup for the kids while adults can sample the taproom’s rotating drafts (just $3 for 5 ounces). All visitors can find something on their local, mostly organic, vegan- and vegetarian-friendly snack menu. There’s also an actual watering hole, err...stream, running through the backyard.
Photographer: Fruition Chocolate
In a nondescript building in Shokan sits a factory responsible for making some of the world’s best chocolate. Fruition Chocolate sources fair-trade organic cacao beans from the Dominican Republic, Peru, and Bolivia and crafts the ingredients into Instagram-perfect bars and confections. If you’re shopping while they’re making magic, you may catch a glimpse (or a sniff!) of the process. We personally recommend the smooth Brown Butter Milk Chocolate bar, which won “Best in Competition” for Milk Chocolate at the International Chocolate Awards in 2017. Other fun products include Dark Chocolate Coated Jalapeño Dusted Corn Nuts, Thai Basil Peanuts, and Mango Tumbled Coconut, also sold at Fruition’s retail boutique in Woodstock, along with other local jams, maple syrups, and honey. Tell the kids to eat their treats slowly—it’s meant to be savored.