Get in the Car
No matter where you’re coming from, driving to the Catskills is the best way to go. Not only does driving get you there, but it gives you a perfect seat from which to enjoy the curves of every back road and to count all the silos once you get there. So, drive if you can. If you’re far, far away, get closer and then drive. Your car is the snorkel mask through which you see all the best fish. Ya feel?
I still remember the good old days of driving while trying to read a map. Crinkle, crinkle … nearly swerving into oncoming traffic while trying not to miss a turn. Cue the GPS. It’s hands down my favorite invention! So, assuming that you have a GPS (or you like to crinkle maps), I offer you advice instead of directions.
If you are driving to the Catskills from New York City, you have a few choices. In big highway terms, we are talking I-86 AKA 17 West to get into Sullivan and Ulster counties and I-87 AKA the New York State Thruway to take you north along the Hudson River into Ulster and Greene counties. These two highways create a big V, inside which sits Catskill Park and a lot of the meat and potatoes of the delicious Catskills.
To head west, start by pointing yourself down the Palisades Parkway (first exit once you cross the George Washington Bridge) and let the GPS do the rest (it will connect you with 17W/I-86). The Palisades is scenic and development-free. No billboards. No trucks. Just trees. And, if you are observant, you will be able to track how the seasons change as you progress from the city toward the country, and back again.
To head north, take the Thruway. You will have plenty of places to stop along the way to eat and you can cross over to the more westerly goodies of the Catskills from Kingston, Saugerties or Catskill. As you wish.
If you’re from somewhere else, don’t worry … it’s plenty pretty when you get there, so just plug your target destination into your GPS and get on your way.
On your way.
I imagine you, scrolling through Farm Girl’s Guide, sitting in the passenger seat next to your friend, getting peppered with the kind of questions I get when I copilot. How big is the town? How far is it? Where will we eat? What river is that? There’s a lot in here to help you, so keep clicking. You will be even more of a know-it-all than Cliff Clavin.
Try some guessing games as you make your way. Play “Did you know…?” Invite some guessing. Which is the biggest county? In square miles? People? Cows? Ha … you’ll have to count them when you get there.
Where to stop along the way.
On your way there and maybe even on your way back, you might get hungry or want to stop and stretch your legs. I have made the trek many times, and I know that sometimes you are just itchy to start exploring before you actually arrive. If that’s the case, I have included some excellent “On Your Way!” pitstop options — for food, coffee, art, history and even a little nature gawking or hiking. On one of your journeys to the Catskills wonderland, I think you oughta make at least one stop. A dozen options follow in single posts.
Bus or Jitney?
Yes, you can take a bus to the Catskills from the Port Authority. Keep your expectations low and you will be fine. Try Trailways or Coach. I suggest sitting toward the front of the bus. Don’t make me explain this — just trust me.
SUMMER 2019 UPDATE: Catskill Carriage (info and soul below) has suspended its jitney service for the weekend up-and-back for the time being. They are working it out... the scheduling, the financing, the deets and hope to bring this awesome service back in 2020. Until then, they are doing bespoke buses, retreats and possibly a weekend special here and there. Keep Catskill Carriage on your radar, folks. If anyone can make this work, it's them!
Now, lucky you, Catskill Carriage has emerged — a Hamptons Jitney without the Hamptons — with free WiFi, power outlets at every seat and a bar-to-brewery drop-off. Go up on a Friday and come back on a Sunday, unless there’s a Monday holiday, in which case you get to stay a little longer. Did I mention the dessert? Seriously, they serve homemade desserts. On the bus. SMH.
The bus is luxe and you can text your friends to boast your plans whilst you ease on down the road. Plus you can scroll through Farm Girl's Guide. It leaves from Midtown Manhattan and will take you to Monticello, Livingston Manor, Roscoe and also Callicoon. Check out their schedules and end points at catskillcarriage.com. Also, learn a little more about them in a post about their launch: Heading Upstate in Style.
Whether you go Coach bus or Catskill Carriage, you will need wheels when you get there. Either you have a friend picking you up, you plan to make it to an inn via car service and never leave, or you need wheels of your own. Taxis are limited but can be found. You can try Roscoe-Rockland Car Service at (607) 498-4400 or Uber, which is barely a thing here. Yet. Just FYI. Maybe this is your cue to build a small fleet of rental cars as your escape-the-city-with-a-business-plan strategy. You’re welcome.
If you’re coming for a visit from farther afield, Stewart International Airport (SWF) in Orange County, New York (60 miles north of NYC, just west of the Hudson River/Newburgh and much easier to navigate than LaGuardia or JFK), flies direct to/from (among other places) Raleigh, Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale, Atlanta, Las Vegas, and EVEN Dublin, Ireland!
You can rent a car when you arrive (ahem, call first) from Budget, Enterprise or Hertz, which are all there on the airport property. From Stewart, you can easily head up the Thruway (I-87) or head over to I-86/US-17 via I-84. No prob! Just wanted you to know ...
That's pretty much it, folks. Now, pick a destination and get moving! And don't forget to check out the destinations between New York City and the Catskills first... it's fun to get lost and found before you actually arrive.
XOXO Farm Girl
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