Catskill, a historic town across the river from Hudson, frankly has seen better days -- and may again, as it is pinning its hopes on a rebound. Its riverfront zone and marina are slowly being developed, and in addition to a restaurant and public boat dock, there's a small museum and interpretation center of the area's history in the old freight master's building on The Point overlooking Catskill Creek and the Hudson River. A Saturday farmers' market and concerts are held here in summer, including the Catskill Jazz Festival the first week of August. The most important historic sight in Catskill is the Thomas Cole National Historic Site (Cedar Grove), 218 Spring St. (tel. 518/943-7465; www.thomascole.org; admission $8 adults, $6 students and seniors; May-Oct Thurs-Sun 10am-4pm, with last tour at 3pm; Memorial Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, and Independence Day 1-4pm; other visits by appt. only). A large yellow 1815 Federal-style home, it once sat on 88 prime acres with unimpeded Catskills views and was the home of Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River School of Painting. A painter, poet, musician, and architect, Cole lived in the house for 12 years after his marriage and died here in 1848; it was in this house that he tutored Frederick Church. Until the 1970s, Cole's descendants lived in the house. Cedar Grove was recently restored with surprising alacrity; it has some of Cole's personal effects and original family items, but the period furnishings aren't original to the house. The house is worth a visit mostly for fans of Cole's romantic American landscape painting. Worth a brief peek in downtown Catskill is the Greene County Council on the Arts, 398 Main St., with two floors of exhibit area for local artists.
Farther north along Route 9W in Coxsackie, the Bronck Museum [find], 90 County Rte. 42 (tel. 518/731-6490; www.gchistory.org; guided tours $5 adults, $3 students ages 12-15, $2 children 5-11, free for children under 5; Memorial Day to mid-Oct Wed-Fri noon-4pm, Sat 10am-4pm, Sun and holidays 1-4pm), is distinguished by a real rarity, the oldest surviving home in upstate New York. This beautifully solid stone Dutch medieval house was built in 1663 by the cousin of the man who would settle the Bronx. How old is that? Enough to predate the Constitution by 113 years. The museum is actually an entire complex of architecturally significant buildings. The homestead was a working farm and home to eight generations of Broncks, original Dutch settlers, until 1939. The original house has massive beams, wide floorboards, a cellar hatchway, and an early Dutch door; rooms feature Federal, Empire, and Victorian furniture. Also on the premises are a 1785 Federal brick house and three barns (including the unique 1835 "13-Sided Barn," the oldest multisided barn in New York). Coxsackie is a small but attractive town, a good place to grab a bite.
If your surname begins with O' and you want to get your Irish up, you might pop in to see a couple of sights in East Durham. The Our Lady of Knock Shrine, Route 145, features stained-glass and mahogany carvings from County Mayo, Ireland. The Irish American Heritage Museum, 2267 Rte. 145 (tel. 518/634-7497; www.irishamericanheritagemuseum.org), has exhibits and educational programs about the Irish experience in America. On the agenda in East Durham is a future Irish Village. More interesting for most is the Five State Lookout, a spectacular overlook with distant views of -- but of course -- five states, on Route 23 (the Mohican Trail) in East Windham. The village of Freehold is yet another small town emblematic of the revitalization going on in the Catskill Mountain region; this unassuming place has a couple of cool restaurants, a country store, and a pub, a regional hangout. On Route 23A in Jewett is another ethnic contribution to the area, one of interest to architects. St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church and Grazhda (tel. 518/734-5330; www.brama.com/stjohn) is a small, wonderfully crafted, rustic wooden basilica, built without nails or cement. You may have to get the non-English-speaking priest to open it up so you can see the wooden chandelier, but it's worth a look.
Several of the small towns in this region get their biggest jolt from winter downhill skiing and snowboarding at Windham and Hunter mountains, though the areas, with their golf courses and summer music and arts festivals, are also good year-round destinations. The village of Hunter has a newly thriving arts scene due to the efforts of the Catskill Mountain Foundation, Route 23A (tel. 518/263-4908), which operates an arts center, a farm market, an excellent bookstore, and a cool movie theater. The town hosts an impressive roster of music festivals and summer concerts. In Tannersville, next door to Hunter, is a sight for naturalists: the Mountain Top Arboretum, Route 23C (tel. 518/589-3903; www.mtarbor.org), a pretty 10-acre spot surrounded by mountains and containing nice woodland walking trails and flowering trees, evergreens, wildflowers, and shrubs; it's especially beautiful in summer.
Tip: The Kaaterskill Trolley (tel. 518/589-6150; $1, free for children under 5) runs from the village of Hunter to Tannersville and South and North Lake beaches, between noon and 9:30pm; the weekend schedule begins Friday at 5:30pm.
The natural highlight of the area, though, is Kaaterskill Falls, Route 23A, Haines Falls (tel. 518/589-5058), the highest waterfall in New York State (higher even than Niagara). There's a beautiful and easy half-mile hike along a path from the bottom that wends along the creek, though you have to park in a small lot on Route 23A, cross the road, and walk along it to the beginning of the path. You can also see the falls from the top by taking Route 23A to North Lake Road and turning right on Laurel House Lane. A short path there takes you right to the edge of the precipitous drop; some folks are brave enough to sit on the flat rocks dangling their feet over the edge of the falls. Nearby is North-South Lake, the former site of the famed Catskill Mountain House, the first great mountain resort in the U.S. If you have time, I suggest you take both paths to see the falls from both ends.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.