The Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway meanders for 52 miles (84 kilometers) through the heart of the Catskill Mountains. Only two hours from New York City, the byway travels through several quaint villages and offers travelers picturesque views of the surrounding mountains, waterways, and rolling farmlands. It’s an especially gorgeous drive when the hills are bursting with colorful fall foliage.
From scenic hikes and quirky roadside attractions to breweries and farm-to-table restaurants, visitors will find plenty of fun things to see and do along the way.
The Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway is located in New York State, and is only two hours from New York City. The byway follows New York State Route 28 and has official starting points in Andes and West Hurley, New York, and can be driven in either direction.
The New York metropolitan area has three major airports: John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) and LaGuardia Airport (LGA). From each of these airports it’s around two hours to West Hurley, New York, on the eastern end of the byway. Alternatively, visitors may opt to fly into Albany International Airport which is an 89-mile (143-kilometer) drive to Andes, New York, at the western end of the byway.
For those coming from New York City, West Hurley will be your likely starting point. Andes is the best option for travelers coming from points in the north or west.
The easiest way to get around the Catskills is by car. Public transportation is limited along the Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway, but some Greyhound and Trailways bus lines take visitors between New York City and some villages along the byway.
There are no fees required to enter Catskill Park or drive the Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway.
There are a number of bed and breakfasts and small hotels along the Catskill Mountains Scenic Bway, especially in the larger villages like Margaretville and Andes. Vacation homes are a popular option along the byway and include modern homes, rustic cabins, and amenity-filled condominiums. One thing you won’t find along the way is a lot of chain motel options.
Margaretville is the largest village along the Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway and it’s filled with explorable shops, interesting eateries, art galleries, and more. You’ll also find plenty of lodging accommodations in Margaretville including Victorian-era bed and breakfasts, locally owned hotels and golf resorts.
Located at the western end of the byway, Andes has a handful of small inns in the center of town. The area also has a wide variety of vacation rentals available through websites like Airbnb and VRBO.
There are several private campgrounds located along the Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway, most are located between Boiceville and Fleishmanns. To protect water quality, no camping is allowed along the Ashokan and Pepacton Reservoirs. Beaverkill Campground is a popular state campground located south of Pepacton Reservoir and reservations can be made in advance.
The Catskills really offers something in every season, since in winter it’s one of the closest ski areas to New York City. The warm months are obviously a terrific time to visit with everything in bloom and hiking trails all open and hopefully dry. Summer and early fall are when you’ll find farm stands brimming with fresh produce and booming farmers markets. The Margaretville’s annual Cauliflower Festival is held towards the end of September, and celebrates this once thriving Catskills crop.
Fall is by far the best and most popular time to drive the Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway, attracting leaf-peepers out for the colorful displays. Vibrant fall colors make this picturesque drive even more stunning. Fall foliage typically starts to turn in late September and often peaks by the second week of October. Exact timing varies from year to year based on temperature and precipitation amounts and also varies by elevation. Check out the online fall foliage reports before you go.
The Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway stretches for a short 52 miles (84 kilomerers) across the central Catskill Mountains, and it takes only about an hour to drive one way without stopping. But why hurry? The byway’s manageable length makes it perfect for a leisurely drive, and there’s no need to rush between sights to make sure you cover all the must-see places.
We recommend spending at least a half day driving and stopping at the places of interest along the way. And if you have the time it’s easy to fill a whole day enjoying the views, taking a hike of two, and exploring some of the villages that line the byway. Better yet, stay overnight in one of the villages or spend a leisurely whole weekend here exploring the towns and also taking on some smaller hikes.
Considering the Catskill Mountains are only a two-hour drive from New York City, popular trailheads and restaurants can get busy on weekends during the summer months and peak fall foliage season. Plan to arrive at popular trailheads early in the morning if you’re traveling during the busy season, and book accommodations and restaurant reservations well in advance for the most sought-after options.
Running along the northern shore of the Ashokan Reservoir, the Ashokan Rail Trail offers picturesque views of the reservoir and the Catskill Mountains from multiple vantage points. This crushed gravel trail is accessible to most bikes, and is also great for walking and trail running.
Located on the eastern end of the Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway, the Ashokan Reservoir is a vital source of drinking water for New York City. Visitors are drawn to this large reservoir for its beautiful panorama and recreational opportunities – making it an ideal spot for hiking, biking, birdwatching and simply enjoying the surrounding mountains.
This scenic gondola ride offers fantastic panoramic views of the Catskill Mountains in every season, from the lush greenery of summer to the vibrant fall foliage. The Belleayre Mountain Gondola is a must-visit attraction and allows visitors to appreciate the beauty of the Catskills from a remarkable and easily accessed vantage point.
This colossal kaleidoscope housed inside an old grain silo provides a unique blend of art and entertainment, and allows visitors to immerse themselves in an unique sensory journey. The world’s largest kaleidoscope is a must-see attraction for those who enjoy odd and unusual sights.
Nestled in the heart of the Catskill Mountains, the neighboring towns of Margaretville and Arkville are known for their welcoming communities, vibrant arts scene, lively local shops, and excellent dining options. It’s well worth dedicating at least an hour or two to park and explore these towns on foot. Also of potential special interest is the Water Discovery Center – sounds boring but it’s actually very interesting – and the heritage Delaware & Ulster Railroad.
Located at the Catskills Visitor Center in Mount Tremper, the Upper Esopus Fire Tower is just a short hike from the parking area and offers visitors fantastic panoramas of the surrounding mountains. It’s a great chance to learn about the role fire towers played in early forest fire detection, but really, you should do it for the views!
This easy, flat trail passes through beautiful woods to a monument for naturalist John Burroughs. It’s a great family-friendly option and also great for dogs since it follows a creek for the first mile. This lesser known trail is located between the hamlets of Big Indian and Pine Hill, and is also popular with tent campers (there are two nice campsites located close to the trailhead) and cross-country skiers in winter.
For fantastic views of the Pepacton Reservoir, hike the Shavertown Trail, just outside of Andes, New York, to a viewpoint overlooking the reservoir. The trail is moderately difficult as it climbs 520 feet (158 meters) in the first mile but the views make it worth the effort.
If you only have time for one hike along the Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway, make it the short jaunt to the Upper Esopus Fire Tower from the Catskills Visitor Center. The fire tower is only a quarter mile from the parking area and offers visitors fantastic views of the surrounding mountains from the top of this 80-foot (24-meter) steel tower. Interpretive signs along the trail point out the interesting local and natural history that makes the Catskills unique.
Located about 18 miles (29 kilometers) northeast of Phoenicia, Kaaterskill Falls is by far the most popular hike in the Catskills. It’s not technically on the byway but it’s definitely worth the detour. At 260 feet (79 meters), this stunning two-tiered waterfall is one of New York’s tallest. It’s a 1.4-mile (2.3-kilometer) hike to the falls and can be challenging in sections due to the trail’s steepness and slippery terrain. But the reward at the end will make it worth it!
Who doesn’t want to check out an award-winning chocolate factory? Fruition Chocolate Works in Shokan specializes in single origin, bean to bar chocolate. There are lots of tasty things to try here, including cups of hot chocolate, bars of chocolate and caramels. And you can watch it being made right in front of you!
There’s something about the lush valleys in the Catskills that makes it ideal for growing a variety of fruits and vegetables. You’ll find fresh farm stands and farmers markets all along the Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway so look out for locally produced cheese, produce, ciders, maple syrups, honey and more. The Pakatakan Farmers’ Market, located about five miles north of Margaretville, is held on Saturdays from mid May through November and is one of the longest running markets around.
If it’s a warm summer day then you’ll want to stop in at Belleayre Beach, one of New York State’s best rated beaches. Belleayre Beach is the hot spot to swim or go for a paddle – for locals and visitors alike and sometimes outdoor movie nights are held too. Just heads up, there is a fee to visit the lake and it’s typically open from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
The Ashokan Reservoir was constructed to supply drinking water to New York City. During the reservoir construction, twelve communities and thousands of acres of farmland were flooded, resulting in the displacement of 2,000 people. Information placards along the reservoir tell the stories of the submerged towns and the residents that were forced to find a new home. And in Arkville, further down the parkway, there is a Water Discovery Center that has a lot more great information about this displacement story.
Just outside Phoenicia, you can ride in a four-wheeled, pedal-powered ‘Rail Explorer’ vehicle that rides along the railroad tracks, through the forest, and along the river. It’s fun for families, or even energetic couples, and the electric pedal assist means that you won’t get too exhausted. If you have time it’s well worth the top, as it’s part nature experience and part thrill ride – all with an enchanted forest vibe. In the busy season reservations are recommended, but there’s no harm in dropping by to see if there’s space available.
Layers: Even though the Catskills is only about two hours from New York City, it can be a lot colder in the mountains. It’s best to bring warm layers, even in summer you’ll want light, long-sleeved shirts, a sweater and a windbreaker – the nights can be surprisingly chilly. And in winter add thermal layers, a fleece or other mid layer, and a warm parka for hikes and strolling around town.
Footwear: Be sure to bring a comfortable pair of shoes for exploring the towns along the byway, as well as a pair of winter or hiking boots for outdoor activities.
Daypack: A comfortable pack makes all the difference. In addition to carrying an extra layer, water and sunscreen, it’s a good idea to throw a few snacks in there as well.
Insect Repellant: If you’re planning on doing any hiking in the Catskills from early spring through mid summer you’ll want to bring along some bug spray. Mosquitoes and black flies can be bothersome during this time.
Sun Protection: You’ll spend a ton of time outside during your trip to the Catskills, so don’t forget to bring sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses.
Water: Always bring water – refillable water bottles are recommended.
Phone Charger: If you’re taking pictures with your phone, running out of batteries may result in missed opportunities. A DC car charger is best, so that you can charge your phone while driving.
Plastic Bag: We always carry a plastic bag when we hike, so we can do our part and help keep the trails and waterways clean. If you see some trash along the way, pick it up, drop it in the bag. When you get back to the trailhead, simply drop your bag in the recycling or trash bin and voila! You’ve helped keep the parks beautiful for everyone who visits.
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