The Catskills for Kids: 4 Family Trip Ideas
April 27, 2014

by Cheryl and William de Jong-Lambert

With the epic winter of 2013-14 finally behind us, who isn't thrilled to swap sleds, skates, and snowshoes for hiking boots, paddles, and sleeping bags? Living in New York City, the Catskill Mountain Preserve is our go-to destination for all of our weekend getaway needs. During the spring thaw, we plan trips to the nearby eastern and southern regions, and move further north and west as the seasons get warmer and drier. When the kids get out of school for summer break we can plan longer stretches away. Here are four of our favorite spots.

Ashokan Reservoir Dam 
Wet, slippery uphill trails can make for slow and slightly treacherous going for our 8-year-old daughter. So with its flat, paved paths all now closed to vehicular traffic, the Ashokan Reservoir Dam is a great springtime destination for hiking or bicycling as we wait for the sodden post-winter earth to dry up a bit. The out-and-back hike is about 5 miles altogether, offering beautiful views across the largest lake in the Catskills region. It is also popular with landscape artists who, like their early forebears in the Hudson River School, find inspiration in the sweeping mountain panorama. "The scenic value of this unusual viewshed cannot be overstated," writes Peter Kick in AMC's Best Day Hikes in the Catskills and Hudson Valley. "It was landscapes such as these that spawned a new concept of picturesque and sublime wilderness, and the values derived from that vision led to the formation of the National Park Service."
InfoAMC's Best Day Hikes in the Catskills and Hudson Valley, 2nd ed. (AMC Books)

North Point 
"If you have time for only one hike in the Catskills, make it this one," Kick writes—and we agree. But with kids, pack a picnic and plan on taking a few breaks along the way. At about 7 miles, this relatively easy, thickly wooded hike takes you down into a cool glen, past a few waterfalls (always a hit with our kids!), and eventually up to the North Point summit, which is the only moderately challenging portion of the journey. From this vantage, you will see numerous peaks throughout the region. This destination makes an excellent day trip or overnight at the tent and RV campground, which fills up quickly during the summer (so reserve early). While the beach is always popular, we have always found a spot for our blanket and there is plenty of room across the lakes to paddle to your heart's content (bring your own canoe or kayak). This spot contains one of our favorite vistas: the awe- and art-inspiring view across the Hudson River Valley from the site of the once-grand and now gone Catskill Mountain House.
InfoAMC's Best Day Hikes in the Catskills and Hudson Valley, 2nd ed. (AMC Books); Outdoors with Kids New York City (AMC Books)

Campground Trail—Little Pond Loop Trail 
We have a dear friend who has a very rustic cabin outside Livingston Manor. Traditionally she comes over the mountains to visit us wherever we are in the eastern Catskills so we can hike and loll around together. This year, we have our sights set on visiting her so she can lead us on one of her favorite hikes—the Little Pond Loop Trail, which sets off on the Campground Trail (originating at a popular campground) and includes part of the Touch-Me-Not Trail. Except for a beaver meadow early on, this 3.1-mile trail is largely wooded throughout—great for shade, but not so much for stunning horizon views! On excursions like this, we like to play "I spy" with evidence of wild life (beaver markings, animal droppings, insect nibbling) and different types of leaves and colors, and then take a well-earned break swimming and picnicking at the pond.
InfoCatskill Mountain Guide, 3rd ed. (AMC Books)

High Five: Fire Tower Hikes 
Throughout the Region Dotted about the Catskills are five historic fire towers that have been restored and opened to the public. For nearly a century, some 19 towers topped various mountains across the Catskills, and from those high perches, observers-in-residence looked out for signs of forest fires. The towers were phased out by the 1980s, they fell into disrepair, and their environs were closed to the public for safety reasons. Today, thanks to the efforts of countless volunteers and the Catskill Fire Tower Project, a joint effort of the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, five towers—at Overlook Mountain (which we did as a multigenerational hike with our children and their grandparents), Hunter Mountain, Red Hill, Balsam Lake Mountain, and Tremper Mountain—have been restored and opened as visitor observation decks. With wide and well-maintained paths (created in the bygone era for vehicles), they make for relatively easy hikes for kids or fairly rigorous bike rides. Fortunately there are plenty of beautiful resting spots along the way where you can stop and catch your breath.
InfoAMC's Best Day Hikes in the Catskills and Hudson Valley, 2nd ed. (AMC Books)


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Need some fresh ideas for outdoor fun with your kids? Here are a few free or low-cost suggestions gathered from AMC experts!
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If you want a sure-fire indicator of the divide between generations, ask people how far from home they could walk at age 8 without an accompanying parent.
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