Not Just for Leaf-Peepers: 3 Fall Weekend Getaways in the Catskills

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Kaaterskill Falls near Hunter, NY (Photo by Katherine Alex Beaven)
Kaaterskill Falls near Hunter, NY (Photo by Katherine Alex Beaven)

While you can probably think of tons of different things to do in the Catskills during summer and winter (swimming holes and skiing, anyone?), many people fail to recognize that this beautiful, easy-to-access region is a fabulous year-round destination that goes way beyond leaf-peeping during fall. And while we aren't sure we want to spill all of i's autumnal secrets (hey, we like having our own slice of serenity as much as the next person), we just wouldn't feel right keeping it all to ourselves. 

So, fear not -- if you feel the need to escape New York City for calmer and cultured (yes, cultured) pastures, do it. Ditch the cacophony of sirens, car horns, and complaining; trade-in those tall, horizon-blocking concrete buildings, and take in a big heaping breath of fresh, mountain air. Don't worry, you'll still get to see those warm hues rustling all around you, and, if you're lucky, maybe a host of stars on a clear, crisp night. 

Here are three ideas for amazing fall weekend getaways in the Catskills...and of course we included the best places to stay, too!

1. Explore the Cultural Side of Hunter

Hunter in the fall, courtesy of jps246

Hunter in the fall, courtesy of jps246

Okay, so at first listen, heading upstate for a visit to a piano museum may seem a bit dull, but trust us, this is actually pretty cool. The Catskill Mountain Foundation’s Piano Performance Museum in Hunter is one-of-a-kind; it’s a small, hands-on museum where you can tickle the ivories and ogle the design of pianos dating back to an impressive duplicate of a 1774 harpsichord. Peep pianos that Mozart and Beethoven would have composed famous symphonies on (and yes, they actually sounds different, making you rethink some of their best compositions), a piano that would have shared the White House with Lincoln, and a signed Liberace piano. The 180-seater concert hall next door will sometimes put on concerts featuring these vintage pianos — or play stage to other unique events, like puppet shows. If you’d rather look than listen, grab a bite to eat at Karen’s Country Kitchen, a simple, but yummy local cafe that sources many ingredients from a nearby farm in Windham. There’s a small gallery off the side of the seating area that’s open on weekends and where you can find interesting art and handmade crafts by local artists.  

Round off your weekend by not just looking at the fall foliage, but participating in the space by hiking up to the top of Kaaterskill Falls, a magnificent waterfall that roars down the mountainside. Just be careful if it’s raining as the rocks can get quite treacherous. 

Where to Stay: Kaatskill Mountain Club

The Kaatskill Mountain Club is a mid-range property on Hunter Mountain that’s got rooms with wet bars (and in most cases full kitchens); a year-round heated pool; and a nice spa. It’s a solid pick both for outdoors enthusiasts and families. However, note that all units have somewhat dated mountain-lodge-style decor, and that some rooms still have old tube TVs.

2. Go Antiquing in Phoenicia and on a Gallery Walk in Woodstock

Duck hash skillet at Phoenicia Diner in Phoenicia

Duck hash skillet at Phoenicia Diner in Phoenicia

If you are a lover of antiques, the outdoors, and some delicious reimagined diner food, skedaddle over to Phoenicia for a weekend. Start your quest at Mystery Antiques, sifting through days past via their fabulous collection of vintage clothes, records, doodads, and general oddities that are much more authentic (and probably cheaper) than what you’ll likely find at your local city flea. If you work up an appetite, you can wander over to the Phoenicia Diner. Owned by a Brooklynite, this hip and retro spot has some seriously good diner-inspired grub and decor. Add on a 30-minutes-away day trip to Woodstock where you can stroll down the main drag of Tinker Street and check out all different works from local artists ranging from sculpture, to photography, to jewelry, to paintings. Some of our favorite spots are the Woodstock Artists and Association Museum and the Center for Photography at Woodstock — where you can also take part in workshops and classes!

Where to Stay: The Graham & Co.

With no TVs, spotty cell service in the area, and a location surrounded by nature (but within walking distance of restaurants and shops), The Graham & Co. lets guests get away from it all. It is relaxing, clean, and simple, with rooms of varying sizes (some have kitchens) featuring Tivoli radios with iPod hookups, reclaimed wood furniture, and large comfy bean bags — but little else. A small pool with mountains views; a large lawn with a fire pit, a volleyball net, hammocks, and a projector for movie nights; and a covered lounge with games and music are all wonderful features. Great freebies such as Wi-Fi, loaner bikes, breakfast on weekends, and beer upon check-in don’t hurt either.

3. Unwind in Windham

The small and picturesque town of Windham is widely known as an active winter destination, but don’t make that cause to overlook its surprising potential as a relaxing and pampering fall weekend getaway. Treat yourself with a dose of “ahhhhh” at the Windham Spa. Housed in a quaint and cozy 200-year-old guesthouse, this spa uses organic (and sometimes hyper-local) ingredients in its products and can have you feeling a million miles away from the stress and hustle of NYC. We recommend a facial with a Manuka honey pull or testing out whatever seasonal treatment specials they’ve got on offer! If that’s not relaxing enough, go straight to the Windham Vineyards and Winery and taste your way through their selection of New York wines. Head up the last weekend of November and you’ll be just in time to check out the final performance of the Windham Chamber Orchestra, put on by the Catskill’s cultural ambassadors, the Catskill Mountain Foundation, and featuring works by Mozart, Finzi, and Haydn. 

Where to Stay: The Thompson House
The Thompson House has spacious and bright rooms with simple, slightly dated decor, and free Wi-Fi. While most have balconies overlooking the mountain (so you can still peep the changing leaves!), try to think of the old-timey tube TVs as adding to the small town, mountain vibe. It’s also good to note that not all have air-conditioning or mini-fridges. 
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