Things to do in the central Catskills’ Phoenicia and nearby, plenty and scenic – Travel 2023

A small town Main Street with restaurants and cars
A scene along Main Street in Phoenicia.
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TRAVEL 2023 – There’s quite a bit to enjoy at street level in the northern Catskills hamlet of Phoenicia, but to not look up at the surrounding mountains is to miss the point.

The scenic beauty at the west end of the Shandaken Valley has made this spot along the Esopus Creek a visitors’ destination ever since the Phoenix Tannery and other early industries faded in the second half of the 19th century.

The tiny community in northwest Ulster County is surrounded by some of the highest peaks in the Catskill Mountains, those that exceed 3,500 feet in elevation. The Slide Mountain Wilderness — which includes 4,190-foot Slide Mountain, the Catskillls’ tallest peak — is immediately to its south, and the Phoenicia-Mt. Tobias Wild Forest and Hunter-West Kill Wilderness to the north and east. The Esopus Creek — a famed trout stream — is in the front yard.

Today, Phoenicia is a place where people can camp, tube the creek (which contains Class II whitewater), ride a pedal-rail bike, hike to mountain summits or just kick back and relax in an area with plenty to do and a can’t-go-wrong restaurant scene. It’s well within day-trip range from the Capital Region.

Unfortunately, many people driving past Phoenicia on state Route 28, heading to the Belleayre Mountain ski area or other destinations, miss this little hamlet entirely.

Like North Creek in the Adirondacks, there’s a vibrant community just a quick turn off the highway.

“We’ve traveled all over,” said George Schlegel, a volunteer at the Maurice D. Hinchey Catskill Visitor Center ( in nearby Mount Tremper, who has been coming to the area since the early 1950s and later settled here. “People just want to live in nice places, and this is one of the nice places.”

Schlegel said most of the local mountains are about the same height — roughly two dozen circle that 3,500-foot number — because they were once, in the geological past, part of a high plateau.

Some 200 million years later, the mountains are what remain after many rounds of glacial melting formed streams whose water power then cut deep valleys.

Native peoples hunted here for thousands of years. European settlement dates from around 1779, when Fort Shandaken was built as a western defense for Kingston during the American Revolution.

The visitor center, located just off Route 28, is in a small building but offers a depth of exhibits on the natural and cultural history of the Catskills. It is named for the late Saugerties congressman who pushed for its funding.

The property includes fishing access to the Esopus Creek and an 80-foot fire tower moved from Florida that visitors can climb to get views of the surrounding peaks.

Just up the highway going toward Phoenicia is the Empire State Railway Museum (, open on weekends and holidays from Memorial Day through Columbus Day. It offers tours of the Phoenicia rail station, which was built in 1899, and its exhibits tell railroad history with a focus on the Ulster & Delaware Railroad.

Sharing the rail depot, but a different business, is Rail Explorers Catskills, which lets customers pedal tandem or quad rail bikes — small, pedal-powered rail cars — on eight-mile trips exploring the western end of the route that once linked Kingston and Phoenicia. The business is running Thursdays through Mondays with set tour times, but will be going to seven-day operation for the summer starting in mid-June, said assistant division manager Rena Baker. Reservations are recommended.

The rides are accessible to all, Baker said. Power-assisted pedaling is available for the return trip, which has a slight uphill grade.

“We get a lot of people coming up from the city [New York]. We’d love to have more people coming through the north,” she said, knowing where this reporter’s readership was located.

For those up to the physical challenge to get a great view, the hiking trail up Tremper Mountain, which starts about two miles east of Phoenicia on the Mt. TremperPhoenicia Road, leads to one of just five mountaintop fire towers in the Catskills. But be forewarned: It’s a steep climb, the trail can be wet and the warning about encountering timber rattlesnakes should be taken seriously — especially if you’re bringing your dog.

Directly south of Phoenicia is part of the New York-New Jersey Long Path that climbs Romer Mountain and Mount Pleasant with a number of ridge-line views. Many other hiking trails are in the area.

The restaurant scene tends to divide between places that do breakfast and lunch — such as Maeve’s Place Coffee Shop and Sweet Susan’s — and places that focus on later meals, such as Woodstock Brewing and the Phoenician Steakhouse.

The Phoenicia Diner on Route 28 is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Don’t expect fast food, though — and the last Stewart’s coming from the east was in West Hurley.

Local shopping includes a general store and grocery, both located in older buildings on Main Street, and a handful of other stores.

The Phoenicia Playhouse Community Theater is in the former Odd Fellows hall on Church Street.

Mary Certonna, manager of Phoenicia Arts & Antiques on Main Street, agreed with a statement that Phoenicia is underappreciated. She said the business, in a building converted from what was once a pharmacy, is doing pretty well.

“It’s feast or famine in retail,” she said. “We get tourists, we get locals, we get people coming up from Woodstock. In the winter we get skiers.”

Overnight accommodations in the area include a commercial tent and RV campground right next to the Esopus in Phoenicia. The Route 28 corridor between Mt. Tremper and Phoenicia includes the Emerson Resort and Spa.

The rooms may be pricey, but the on-site restaurant facing the Esopus is open to the public, and the Shops at Emerson, housed in a restored dairy barn, offers merchandise including modern farmhouse décor and furnishings, contemporary clothing for both men and women, toys, local food products and Catskills souvenirs.

The former barn’s 60-foot silo has been converted into what the Emerson bills as the world’s largest kaleidoscope with shows on a regular basis.

Phoenicia is about 80 miles south of Schenectady. Those traveling down the Thruway can get off at the Saugerties exit and come through Woodstock — because, you know, it’s Woodstock — or they can travel to Kingston and get directly onto Route 28.

From Kingston, Phoenicia is about 25 miles. Going that way will take any bicycling enthusiasts — or just those who want a scenic run or walk — past the 11.5-mile Ashokan Rail Trail (, which runs along the northern edge of the Ashokan Reservoir from West Hurley to Boiceville and has several points of access along the highway.

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Categories: Life and Arts, Life and Arts, Travel 2023

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