Why the Catskills continues to be one of the hottest destinations for travelers

Apr 8, 2021

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For years, the mountainous Catskills region of New York has been on the rebound, luring travelers with a spate of almost-constant hotel and restaurant openings.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, nearly a half-dozen properties debuted or reopened in this stretch of Southeastern New York in 2020, including the design-driven Urban Cowboy Lodge — with its outdoor cedar soaking tubs and clawfooted copper baths — and Kenoza Hall, a boarding school-turned intimate 22-room boutique hotel.

(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)

Last year, the Catskills also saw the reopening of the reimagined Shandaken Inn; the extension of the whimsical Roxbury Motel with the Roxbury at Stratton Falls; and the transformation of a 1960s motor lodge into the Starlite Motel.

Though 2020 may have been a big year for the Catskills, it’s no surprise that the region will attempt to multiply its success as travel begins its much-anticipated comeback.

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The 6,000-square-mile expanse of the Catskills was poised to thrive even with the near-shutdown of the industry last year, thanks to its bevy of outdoor activities and proximity to New York City.

In Ulster County, for example — home of the Urban Cowboy Lodge — 6.2 million people visited in 2020, up from 5.8 million in 2019.

And in Sullivan County (where you can find a number of popular inns and hotels, including the aforementioned Kenoza Hall), the occupancy tax rate was down slightly last year, but still managed to do about 90% of 2019, which was a record-breaking year.

“The Catskills have been and continue to be a popular drive-to destination for New York City residents and those from surrounding communities who live within driving distance,” said Lisa Berger, president of the Catskills Association for Tourism Services. “The local business owners of restaurants, breweries, lodging properties … continue to do an incredible job of offering unforgettable experiences for all who visit, whether they are returning travelers or first-time visitors.”

During the spring and summer, the forests buzz with hikers, climbers, paddlers and campers. There’s golf and fishing, swimming in the abundant waterfalls and cycling on the serpentine roads.

Come winter, the trails host snowshoers and cross-country skiers. There are even ski resorts in the area for travelers craving the adrenaline of downhill skiing and snowboarding.

A short 2-hour drive out of New York City and you are greeted with spectacular views and beautiful countryside. (Photo by Gabriel Pevide/Getty Images)

Just two hours from the Big Apple, the scene unfolding across the nature preserves and small towns of the Catskills is one of constant reinvention.

That’s because even though the Catskills may be having a moment, it’s not the first time this area has entered a halcyon period.

From the early 1900s until approximately the 1960s, when travelers took to the skies en masse to venture farther afield, New Yorkers have been heading north out of the city to find fresh air and outdoorsy pursuits. And many of those resorts are being reimagined for a fresh flock of vacationers.

Related: Prepare for travel’s comeback: The 12 hottest destinations of 2021

In 2014, for example, Foster Supply Hospitality — which operates a collection of hotels and restaurants, including Kenoza Hall — opened its first property, The Arnold House, in a former tavern and rooming house atop Shandelee Mountain.

The Arnold House on Shandalee. (Photo courtesy of The Arnold House/Facebook)

Two years later, Scribner’s Catskill Lodge reopened after a gut renovation of a mountain lodge built in the mid-1960s, and two years after that, a bunkhouse from the 1920s became the Eastwind Hotel and Bar.

More recently, the Urban Cowboy Lodge emerged from the 19th-century Alpine Inn. The Roxbury Motel occupies, in part, a motor lodge dating back to 1963.

And the legacy of turning abandoned properties into stylish new restaurants and hotels is continuing to sweep the Catskills.

Related: 8 easy New York City escapes you can get to in three hours or less

In Callicoon, a town in Sullivan County, a 120-year-old retreat for New Yorkers will reopen as Callicoon Hills this June. Promising “summer camp vibes,” Callicoon Hills will have 65 rooms, an on-site bar and restaurant, a Rise and Shine Coffee Shop and an oversized swimming pool.

Nearby, the Boarding House at Seminary Hill will turn two Victorian buildings into an eight apartment property with kitchenettes and living rooms.

In Ulster County, at the gateway to the Catskills, the Hotel Kinsley opened its second building on Pearl Street in January. It will eventually occupy four restored historic buildings in Kingston, New York, which will also see the transformation of the Hutton Brickyards into a hotel with 31 suites and cabins.

Other openings, renovations and expansions are simultaneously propelling the region forward toward a new heyday. And this year, the Catskills will have its reputation as a true luxury destination firmly cemented.

Fans of the iconic Chatwal, a Luxury Collection property in Midtown Manhattan can escape to a sister property in the Catskills this spring. Called the Chatwal Lodge, the 10-suite property will be nestled in the 2,500-acre Chapin Estate and boast a spa and farm-to-table culinary experience.

Also coming to the Catskills this year is a new 36-room wellness resort from Foster Supply Hospitality and the Eldred Preserve, which will open in the spring with a boutique hotel, restaurant, lounge, a 75-acre private lake and more.

The Catskills will also welcome The Aurum, a Roman hammam-inspired hotel in Mount Tremper. In addition to rooms and suites, guests can book standalone mountain bungalows with private outdoor gardens, showers and fire pits. The hotel’s lobby and restaurant occupy the former Maidstone Lodge, and though the 6,000-square-foot Aurum Thermae, or bathing spa, may be one of the first of its kind in the country, it, too, is a nod to a reborn golden era of travel.

Featured photo by MundusImages/Getty Images

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