If you find yourself with a long, sunny summer day to spare, wander down to Woodstock, and bring your hiking boots.
The drive will take you a little over an hour if you jump on the Thruway near Schenectady.
This small, scenic town in Ulster County was established in the late 1700s and for years has been a mecca for artists, writers and musicians. It’s fun to browse through the boutiques, galleries and gift shops there, but before you do that, spend some quality time in the mountains.
About 10 minutes outside of town, on Meads Mountain Road, you’ll find a dirt parking lot and a trailhead for Overlook Mountain. The summit is the site of one of the five remaining Catskill Mountain Fire towers.
Great views await, but before you start your ascent, look across the road. You’ll likely see strings of colorful prayer flags fluttering in the wind on the expansive grounds of the Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Tibetan Buddhist monastery.
Curiosity and an urgent need to find a bathroom drew me and fellow hikers to the monastery’s door a few years back. We were warmly welcomed, and not only granted access to the restroom, but invited to visit the ornate main shrine room. The worship space is adorned with paintings, golden statues, crystal chandeliers and colorful banners. The opportunity to view this sacred space wasn’t special treatment just for us. The public is always welcome. Visitors are asked to wear conservative clothing (the website specifies no short-shorts) and to remove shoes when entering the shrine room. No pets or smoking are allowed.
This peaceful place also has a bookshop that is open to the public. Shoppers will find a large collection of Buddhist books, Tibetan Buddhist art, jewelry, prayer flags and more for sale. If you’d like to extend your experience at the monastery, check www.kagyu.org for the schedule of Buddhist teachings and practice retreats, as well as daily and monthly public practices and free weekly classes.
(Photo: The Buddhist monastery at the foot of Overlook Mountain outside Woodstock.)
Back across the road, Overlook Mountain awaits. I love this hike because the summit is not the only high point of the excursion. There’s an opportunity to explore some neat ruins along the way.
The 2.5-mile trek to the top is a steady, gradual uphill climb on an old, wide, rocky carriage road. It’s a fairly strenuous hike, so think twice before bringing young children or older relatives.
In total, there’s an elevation gain of about 1,370 feet. After about 1.6 miles of traveling through scenic forestland, the ruins of the Overlook Mountain House hotel come into view.
The original Mountain House opened in 1871. That hotel, which had capacity for 300 guests, was destroyed by fire in 1875. It was subsequently rebuilt, then burned again in the 1920s. Rebuilding began after the second fire but the hotel was never completed.
Tall, grey, stone walls remain, some soaring five stories high. Birch trees have sprung up where guests would have mingled, their branches creating a canopy where a roof should be. Moss softens flights of stone stairs. Dead leaves rustle on the the floor. A massive stone fireplace speaks of the grandeur envisioned for the structure. It’s an interesting place to explore and a great excuse for a rest before continuing the climb to the summit.
Once you leave the hotel ruins, it’s less than a mile to the mountaintop. At the summit, there is a ground observer's cabin that holds historical, forest preserve and fire tower displays. It’s open to hikers most weekends from the end of May to October.
The view from the summit -- at an elevation of 3,140 feet -- is spectacular. You can take it in from a rocky overlook, but it’s best from the top of the 60-foot-tall metal fire tower.
This is the newest of the five remaining towers in the Catskill Park. It was built near Kingston in the 1920s and has been in its present location since 1950, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
The cab -- the boxed-in area at the top of tower -- is open most weekends, Memorial Day through Columbus Day, and is staffed by volunteer interpreters. From up there, you’ll be wowed by a panoramic view of the Hudson Valley. Blue-green mountains frame the horizon, the Hudson River snakes off into the distance and the Ashokan Reservoir glints in the sun. According to the DEC, on a clear day, you can see five states from the tower’s top.
I recommend using the picnic tables at the summit for nothing more than a snack, and then heading to downtown Woodstock for a great meal. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from.
One favorite stop is the Yum Yum Noodle Bar on Rock City Road. The restaurant’s reasonably-priced menu includes ramen, rice, soba, udon and tonkotsu noodles swimming in a number of delicious broths, with your choice of protein. The noodle bowls are topped off with vegetables, scallions, mushrooms, nori (edible seaweed) and egg. The menu stretches beyond noodles to include entrees like miso-sake cured salmon, local grass-fed burgers and kale salad. Patio seating offers an ideal place to relax and enjoy that post-hike high when the weather’s nice. Yum Yum has earned its name. In 2017, Hudson Valley Magazine awarded the restaurant with two titles: best Asian cuisine and best soup. (Photo: Food served at Yum Yum Noodle Bar in Woodstock.)
Joshua’s Cafe on Tinker Street is another go-to spot. In operation for more than 40 years, the eatery’s Middle Eastern-based menu offers a variety of vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and Paleo options. Doesn’t a falafel sandwich sound good? Or perhaps some vegan ravioli stuffed with garlic, rosemary, pine nuts, wild mushrooms, artichoke hearts, asparagus and tomatoes? Ingredients are fresh and local whenever possible, and the beverage menu offers an array of craft brews, housemade sodas and smoothies.
If you’re done eating early enough and have energy to spare, you can peruse Woodstock’s shops or top off your road trip with some music. A free outdoor summer concert series is held in the center of town on Woodstock’s Village Green. Eight shows are spread throughout the summer, featuring music suitable for all ages. Concerts run from 1 to 5 p.m., weather permitting. Dates and scheduled acts can be found here.
Kelly de la Rocha is a former Gazette reporter and Glenville resident. She lives with her family in Farmington, CT. Reach her at [email protected]