By TYLER A. MCNEIL
CITY OF HUNTER – This is a jam packed 12 miles.
Nestled in a mountainous backdrop, the almost back-to-back communities of Haines Falls, Tannersville, and Hunter line Highway 23A. Expect colorful window displays, brews and an abundance of Greene County wilderness.
The itinerary builds on a complementary chain of attractions, said Jeff Friedman, director of the Greene County Chamber of Commerce.
“Hunter Mountain being in Hunter lends itself to people who need to travel all over town and be exposed to all the different things that are available,” Friedman said.
WHERE IT STARTS
This westbound journey begins in the 7,620-acre Kaaterskill Wild Forest which overlaps parts of the nearby hamlet of Haines Falls. The nearest peak is Kaaterskill High Peak, the only mountain near Highway 23A visible from Albany.
The Haines Falls area offers trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding, as well as camping along North-South Lake in the state campground.
For many, the first stop is also one of the Catskills’ most popular attractions: Kaaterskill Falls. About 67,000 visitors per year visit the two-cascade waterfall 90 feet higher than Niagara Falls.
State officials diverted the original 1967 trail in the 1980s due to safety and liability concerns. Totaling more than 200 deaths in two centuries, only one visitor survived the fall of the falls. It has earned a particularly deadly reputation in the age of Instagram following recent cases of visitors distracted by selfies dying.
In recent years, the state has invested more than $1.25 million in 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 feel like hiking in the desert? Take a look at the 70-foot Bastion Falls that straddles Highway 23A.
Keep in mind that the mighty Santacruz Falls (300ft) and the eponymous Haines Falls (160ft) are on private property. Regional nature blog Catskill Mountaineer has advised travelers to avoid an altered route since the 1800s to this last waterfall which, if attempted, “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 traffic congestion over the past two years.
Friedman believes state travel restrictions over the past two years have reignited interest in the Great Northern Catskills this summer.
“We still saw incredibly high numbers and very high tourism numbers all over the county, especially at the top of the mountain as well,” Friedman said of visitation in 2021. “But we saw it almost everywhere .”
As a result, demand for workforce housing and parking in Tannersville is high. Community leaders hope to capitalize on a $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant secured last November to alleviate the two crises, improve walking and bolster business opportunities.
Currently in the design phase, the funds are not expected to bear fruit until 2023.
“I wouldn’t say we’re victims 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 move to attract visitors by repainting old buildings brightly along the main strip. At 1,900 feet, the highest village in New York State, Tannersville later became known as the “Painted Village in the Sky”.
Similar to styles prevalent in southern Catskill hippie groups, funky murals and groovy patterns dot the streetscape. The seemingly chalk-covered town center is home to antiques, shops, and country produce, plus more than a dozen dining options ranging from Bear and Fox Provisions cafe to Tabla Catskills tapas bar.
There is also entertainment. While the Orpheum Film & Performing Arts Center’s popular jazz festival hasn’t resurfaced since its indefinite suspension in 2020, the 247-seat venue owned by the Catskill Mountain Foundation has resumed programming following the COVID-19 crisis. 19 live entertainment. The foundation also owns the village of Hunter’s Mountain Cinema, an independent cinema that has screened films since 1941, and a 1,000 square foot art gallery across the street. Hunter village is less dense and less summer-oriented than Tannersville.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation vacated some Main Street properties along Schoharie Creek to mitigate flood risk after severe hurricane-triggered flooding in 2011.
While the retail scene is comparatively less robust, consumer options remain. Nearby is Hunter Mountain Brewing, a gastro pub with 10 house beers on tap. The highest-rated pub in the area according to Google reviews is Jagerberg (German for “Hunter Mountain) Beer Hall & Tavern, specializing in alpine beers and food from a chalet built by Austrian immigrants in 1983. Jagerberg offers raclette, a crispy hot cheese that’s been scrapped from wheel to dish since it opened in 2018. The gooey treat, hard to find in upstate New York, has gone viral on social media in recent years.
“It’s very popular and it’s really good as long as you can have cheese, you know?” said owner Kim McGalliard. “It’s always – we get the real Ralette cheese, which is great.”
Of course, the most notable attraction in Hunter Village is the 4,040 foot Hunter Mountain.
Located behind Slide Mountain in Ulster County at 60 feet, Hunter Mountain is the second highest peak in the Catskills. The summit can be seen as far as Haines Falls. Most of the mountain is state owned. Vail Resorts occupies the northwest corner of the mountain 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 Colonel’s Chair to save 3,200 feet of climbing en route to the state-owned summit. For climbers looking for a low-stress experience, Olivia Deep, 27, recommends avoiding trails marked with black diamonds, which signal difficulty. The Albany-based hiking enthusiast used that lesson to “conquer the mountain” a year after breaking her leg on the North Rim in 2014.
“As you walk on this side of the mountain, those rocks break and move a lot under your feet,” Deep said. “At one point we were sliding down and then I started falling.”
Jenny Flavin, visitor experience and stewardship coordinator at the Catskill Visitor, described Becker Hollow Trail as a strenuous, steep, rocky experience best suited to hikers looking for a challenge. The most “manageable route for a wide variety of people” is Spruceton Trail, according to Flavin. The 6.4-mile loop trail, she said, is lined with vibrant brush before you reach the summit.
“It’s a little different than some other hikes where you come to an outcrop, you have a good view, you’re just a little bit in the woods, then you come back down,” Flavin said. “As you go up [Hunter Mountain], not only are there lots of really nice native plants along the way, but when you get to the top it opens up to this big – almost like a field. Visible from the fire tower on a clear day are the Black Dome, Thomas Cole, Blackhead and Overlook mountains, as well as the village of New Paltz.
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