Woo-hoo! The weather's great! You're ready to strap on some hiking boots and hit the trails of the Catskill Mountains. One problem. The little people. You want to spend some quality time with Mother Nature and the kids in your life. But you don't want that quality time to involve a whine-fest. What to do? There are two ingredients to a pleasant family trek: 1. timing 2. choosing the right hike.
My Dad who was an Elementary School Principal for decades gave me some great advice when my daughter was old enough for me to start including her in outings; 90% of having a good time with kids is timing. Don't start the hike anywhere near what is normally a mealtime for them. Give them some real food before you set out and take some snacks. My daughter will never eat enough if she's not sitting at a table with a minimum of distractions so it's important for us to fuel her up before we set out on a hike or risk a "hangry" little hiker. Don't try to take your kids on a hike when they are approaching their nap time! Seems mindblowingly simple right? It takes some practice. Sometimes grownup priorities get in the way of proper kid timing and sometimes less than stellar planning leads to you start out later than you'd intended. If you've got a little one who's under 40 pounds and easygoing you can solve this problem the way my husband and I did. Carry them in one of these.
The Kelty Pathfinder - Gold Standard of kid-carriers. Totally comfy for the kid and their sherpa. It has pockets for carrying drinks and snacks and is much easier to get on and off than it appears. However, once they get too big to be toted around in this way you'll have to rely heavily on #2, choosing the right hike. hiked around a lot of the Catskills but these are the trails we've returned to again and again because we all enjoy them.
1. The Saugerties Lighthouse Trail, Saugerties (Ulster County)
This is about as easy as they come. It's not really a hike, more of a nature walk. It takes an hour max, even with the slowest of slowpokes and has a really great payoff - the lighthouse. You'll wander over little bridges, see lots of wildlife (birds including ducks and swans, bugs, squirrels and the like), be able to play on some sandy beaches and feel like an adventurer as you walk single file through head-high grasses to emerge at the lighthouse. People often walk their dogs along this path but they generally have them leashed. My daughter loves this trail. We always have to bring some kind of bucket for everything she finds to add to her "nature collections" while we're there. Head into Saugerties after your walk for some lunch or a trip to the bookstore.
2. Commeau Property, Woodstock (Ulster County)
This is another easy option. A couple of miles of trails wind along the Mill Stream in Woodstock. Kids can stick their toes in the water and spend an hour or two throwing rocks into the stream. The property also serves as a dog park, so if your little ones are frightened of dogs this isn't the best option for them.
3. Tanbark Trail, Phoenicia (Ulster County)
This trail has actual pitch! Without kids it's about 22 minutes one way. Don't be put off by the first 100 yards (you have to scramble through a crevice in a gigantic rock to get on the trail) after you get through them it's just a nice, safe hike. There are lots of little mountain streams, a magical grove and gigantic rocks to enthral the little ones along the way. When you get to the top there's a nice view of Phoenicia and the Catskills. When you get back down you can hit Sweet Sue's, The Phoenicia Diner, or Mama's Boy Market for a snack. Here's a sneak peak at what you'll find on the hike (hooray for random YouTube videos!).
4. Overlook Mountain, Woodstock (Ulster County)
Overlook Mountain trail is significantly more challenging than my first three picks. It's 4.8 miles roundtrip (if you don't take the detours to echo lake and the ledge overlook - those nearly double the hike). Here's the good part, you're hiking up a groomed path (once a carriage path) that allows you to push a good running or all terrain stroller. And there's a major payoff mid-way up, the cement hull of Overlook Mountain House is well worth the hike. It's just cool. I've always thought that someone should stage a guerilla production of Shakespeare's "Macbeth" there. It would be fantastic! But you'd somehow have to get an audience up 1.5 miles of hill! If you can figure out how to make that happen I'll definitely show up! Here's a great article (and photo) from Kimberly Wadsworth at Atlas Obscura.
If you continue on to the top you'll get a great view and you can (carefully) climb the firetower for an even better view. The last time we climbed it we saw what must be world's largest porcupine. If there are larger ones I don't want to meet them. He weighed 50 pounds if he weighed one! We admired him from a distance.
5. North South Lake, Haines Falls (Greene County)
There are a variety of trails at North South Lake. They are hikes of every length with some beautiful scenery. They're not terribly steep so they're great for kids. There are a few you will want to avoid if you have little ones without great "listening skills" - ask the Park Rangers at the entrance which trails you should stick to if you're concerned about this. You don't want your hike to include an over-the-cliff rescue mission. In addition to the great hiking there's a campground and 2 lakes, both with swimming beaches and small boats for rent (here's a map of the campground). This is the perfect spot for a family getaway.
We love to stop in Tannersville at the Village Market and Deli for some of their outstanding sandwiches (seriously their sandwiches are awesome, go there), take a nice long hike then take a swim. I really can't imagine a better way to spend a Summer day.
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Amy Wallace - Marketing Director - Coldwell Banker Village Green Realty