The concrete jungle may be sprinkled with man-made parks and tree-lined streets, but the great outdoors? Not so much. Enter the Catskills, a mountainous region two hours north of Manhattan that boasts more than 6000 square miles of pristine, untouched nature. It’s the backdrop to Dirty Dancing, the nap site for Rip Van Winkle, and where more than 35 peaks rise above 3500 feet. As ski season kicks into high gear, we’ve compiled eight things you need to know about New York’s natural gem.
1. THERE ARE A LOT OF ANIMALS.
The Catskills are home to black bears, cougars, bobcats, coyotes, porcupines and (shudder) a variety of poisonous and non-poisonous snakes. Black bears can be found on nearly every mountain in the Catskills region, which has the highest black bear population in New York State. Cougars and bobcats have been spotted much less frequently.
And the snakes? Well, they’re just about everywhere. The majority of poisonous snakes are found in Ulster County, and there’s a particularly large population at the summit of Overlook Mountain.
2. IT HAS NORTH AMERICA'S LARGEST ZIP LINE …
Located at Hunter Mountain, New York Zipline has the largest zip line canopy tour in North America. Their zip lines reach up to 650 feet long and 60 feet above the forest floor, and visitors can even enjoy a night zipping under the stars with their moonlight tours.
3. … AND THE WORLD'S LARGEST KALEIDOSCOPE.
The brainchild of '60s psychedelic artist Isaac Abrams and his son Raphael, a digital artist, the 60-foot-tall Kaatskill Kaleidoscope is the world’s largest, walk-through kaleidoscope. More than 20 people can fit inside the kaleidoscope—a former grain silo—for an energetic show of colors, music, and trippy images. As it goes with roadside stops, there are plenty of mini kaleidoscope souvenirs on your way out.
4. RIP VAN WINKLE SLEPT IT OFF HERE.
Washington Irving’s iconic story of Rip Van Winkle took place in the Catskills region. In the story, Van Winkle lived in the village of Catskill, which is where he took his notoriously long nap. Today, the legend of Rip Van Winkle continues to live on in the Catskills, with the Rip Van Winkle Wine and Cheese Festival in May, the Rip Van Winkle Golf Trail, and a statue of the beloved sleeper himself atop Hunter Mountain.
5. THE CATSKILL 3500 CLUB REQUIRES HIGH-PEAK CREDENTIALS.
The Catskills region has the perfect challenge for outdoor adventurers: the Catskill 3500 Club. Membership comes at a strenuous price—you have to climb all 35 of the Catskills’ peaks above 3500 feet—but the soreness and struggle come with some pretty immaculate views (and bragging rights).
6. MOUNTAIN STONE WAS USED IN THE CONSTRUCTION OF BIG APPLE ICONS.
While the Catskills are 100-some miles from New York City, they’re a foundational part of some of the Big Apple’s most iconic landmarks. Bluestone, an extremely hard, durable, fine-grained sandstone, is found throughout the region and was used in the construction of the Empire State Building and the base of the Statue of Liberty.
7. NOBODY PUT BABY IN A CORNER IN THE CATSKILLS. (THINK FURTHER SOUTH.)
When it comes to stellar entertainment, the Catskills—a.k.a. the Borscht Belt—had a storied history for many decades before Dirty Dancing, released in 1987 and set in 1963, revived its reputation. But it turns out that infamous summer at Kellerman’s didn’t happen in the Catskills at all. The actual movie shoot took place more than 500 miles south, in Pembroke, Virginia. Nonetheless, the movie helped elevate the profile of this beautiful region once again.
8. IT'S HOME TO A VARIETY OF BREWERIES, WINERIES, AND DISTILLERIES.
It’s easy to imbibe in the Catskills with breweries like the Catskill Brewery, wineries like Windham Vineyards, and spirits crafters Catskill Distilling Company, which is located right across from the farm where the infamous 1969 Woodstock music festival was held (in Bethel, not Woodstock, despite the name). The Catskills get extra hoppy in April when the annual TAP NY beer fest—the largest craft beer festival in New York—takes place at Hunter Mountain.