A Northern Catskills trifecta along Route 23A

A tourist stands in front of the 70-foot Bastion Falls in Hunter. (photo provided)
PHOTOGRAPHER:

A tourist stands in front of the 70-foot Bastion Falls in Hunter. (photo provided)

By TYLER A. MCNEIL

TOWN OF HUNTER — It’s a jam-packed 12 miles.

Nestled amid a mountainous backdrop, the nearly back-to-back communities of Haines Falls, Tannersville, and Hunter line state Highway 23A. Expect colorful storefronts, brews, and rugged Greene County wilderness aplenty to roam.

The route builds on a complementary chain of attractions, opined Jeff Friedman, director of the Greene County Chamber of Commerce.

“Hunter Mountain being in Hunter lends itself to people having to travel through the entire town and be exposed to all of the various things that are available,” Friedman said.

WHERE IT STARTS

That westbound trip starts in the 7,620-acre Kaaterskill Wild Forest overlapping parts of nearby hamlet Haines Falls. The closest summit is Kaaterskill High Peak, the only mountain near Route 23A visible as far as Albany.

The Haines Falls area boasts trails for hiking, cycling and horseback riding, as well as camping alongside North-South Lake in the state campground there.

For many, the first stop is also one of the Catskills’ most popular attractions: Kaaterskill Falls. Roughly 67,000 visitors annually visit the two-cascade drop 90 feet higher than Niagara Falls.

State officials rerouted the original 1967 trail during the 1980s due to safety and liability concerns. Totaling more than 200 fatalities within a two-century span, only one visitor has survived the falls’ drop. It’s earned an especially lethal reputation in the Instagram age following recent instances of selfie-distracted visitors falling to their deaths.

In recent years, the state has poured more than $1.25 million into safety features, including a 200-step stone staircase from top to bottom. Trails to Delmura Falls (25 feet) and Lower Buttermilk Falls (46 feet) are also available.

Don’t want to trek through the wilderness? Take a quick glance at the 70-foot Bastion Falls straddling Route 23A.

Keep in mind the mighty Santacruz Falls (300 feet) and the eponymous Haines Falls (160 feet) are on private property. Regional nature blog Catskill Mountaineer advised travelers to avoid a since-altered 1800s route to the latter cascade that, upon attempt, “will result in your death.”

PAINTED SHOPS AND ALPINE CHEESE

Shuttle transportation for $2 is available between Tannersville and the hamlet of Haines Falls for the first time. The move is self-funded by serial entrepreneur Ryan Chadwick in response to congested traffic within the last two years.

Friedman believes state traveling restrictions from the last two years reinvigorated interest in the Great Northern Catskills this summer.

“We still saw incredibly high numbers and really strong tourism numbers throughout the county, especially on the mountaintop as well,” Friedman said about visitation in 2021. “But we saw it almost everywhere.”

High as a result is the demand for workforce housing and parking in Tannersville. Community leaders hope to capitalize on a $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant secured last November to ease both crises, improve walkability, and bolster business opportunities.

Currently in the design phase, the funds aren’t expected to bear fruit until 2023.

“I wouldn’t say that we’re a victim of our own success,” Friedman said.

The tannery-turned-resort community rebounded from 50 years of economic decline in the early 2000s with a then-controversial initiative to attract visitation by repainting old buildings vibrant colors along the main strip. At 1,900 feet, the highest New York State village, Tannersville later became branded the “Painted Village In The Sky.”

Akin to styles prevalent in Southern Catskill hippie clusters, funky murals and groovy patterns dot the streetscape. The seemingly chalk-covered downtown boasts antiques, boutiques and country goods, as well as more than a dozen dining options ranging from Bear and Fox Provisions coffee shop to Tabla Catskills tapas bar.

There’s entertainment, too. While the Orpheum Film & Performing Arts Center’s popular jazz festival hasn’t reemerged since being put on indefinite hiatus in 2020, the 247-seat venue owned by the Catskill Mountain Foundation resumed programming following live entertainment’s COVID-19 slump. The foundation also owns the village of Hunter’s Mountain Cinema, an independent theater screening films since 1941, and a 1,000 square-foot art gallery across the street. Hunter village is less dense and summer-focused than Tannersville.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has vacated some Main Street properties along the Schoharie Creek to mitigate flood risk after severe hurricane-induced flooding in 2011.

While the retail scene is comparitively less robust, drinking options remain. Nearby is Hunter Mountain Brewing, a gastropub with 10 house beers on tap. The highest-rated pub in the area per Google reviews is Jagerberg (German for “Hunter Mountain) Beer Hall & Tavern, specializing in Alpine brews and fare out of a 1983 Austrian immigrant-built chalet. Jagerberg has offered raclette, crispy hot cheese scrapped from wheel to dish since its 2018 opening. The gooey treat, hard to find in upstate New York, went viral on social media in recent years.

“It’s very popular and it’s really good as long as we can get the cheese, you know?” said owner Kim McGalliard. “That’s always — we get the real Ralette cheese, which is great.”

HUNTER MOUNTAIN

Of course, Hunter village’s most notable attraction is the 4,040-foot Hunter Mountain.

Falling behind Slide Mountain in Ulster County by 60 feet, Hunter Mountain is the Catskills’ second-highest peak. The summit can be seen as far as Haines Falls. Most of the mountain is state-owned. Vail Resorts occupies the mountain’s northwest corner as a ski center during the winter and the lower grounds as an off-season venue for events like the Taste of Country Music Festival, held in June.

Hikers can ride the Colonel’s Chair to spare 3,200 feet of climbing en route to the state-owned summit. For climbers seeking a low-stress experience, Olivia Deep, 27, recommends avoiding black diamond-marked trails, which signal difficulty. The Albany-based hiking enthusiast used that lesson to “conquer the mountain” a year after breaking her leg on the northern slope in 2014.

“When you step on that side of the mountain, these rocks kind of break and move a lot underneath your feet,” Deep said. “At one point we were sliding down and then I just started tumbling.”

Jenny Flavin, visitor experience and stewardship coordinator at the Catskill Visitor, described Becker Hollow Trail as a grueling, steep, and rocky experience best suited for hikers seeking a challenge. The route most “manageable for a wide variety of people” is Spruceton Trail, according to Flavin. The 6.4-mile loop trail, she said, is flush with vibrant brush before reaching the summit.

“It’s a little different than some other hikes where you come to an outcrop, get a good view, you’re just kind of in the woods and then you head back down,” Flavin said. “As you hike up [Hunter Mountain], not only are there a lot of really beautiful native plants along the way but when you get to the top it opens up into this big — almost like a field.” Visible from the fire tower on a clear day are the mountains Black Dome, Thomas Cole, Blackhead, and Overlook, as well as the Village of New Paltz.

Categories: Life and Arts

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