Escape to the Catskills, to fly fish, take a zipline tour and more

In December 2010, New York Zipline Adventures opened In December 2010, New York Zipline Adventures opened the longest (4.6 miles) and highest (more than 600 feet) zipline canopy tour in North America at Hunter Mountain. Photo Credit: Handout

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For more than 200 years, the Catskills have served as a scenic and salubrious escape for frazzled New Yorkers fleeing the summertime heat. In the 19th century, visitors journeyed up the Hudson by riverboat and stagecoach to relax and rejuvenate in breezy mountaintop hotels. In the 20th, they arrived by private car at lower-altitude, full-amenity resorts to partake of the popular recreations of golf, tennis and swimming and to be regaled by big-name entertainers, especially in Sullivan County's "Borscht Belt."

But that era also passed, and the turn of the 21st century found the still-convenient Catskills attracting the latest generation of more adventure-oriented summer visitors. The new starting lineup includes race tracks and casinos, spas and health resorts, wineries and adventure sports. Together with some tried-and-true favorites, they now offer a veritable smorgasbord of attractions and activities that would keep even old Rip Van Winkle, the Catskills' most accomplished snoozer, awake at night wondering what to do next. Here are 10 suggestions.

A RIPPING GOOD HIKE

Palenville's claim to be the home of Rip Van Winkle is based on its proximity to Kaaterskill Clove, a spectacular, amphitheater-shaped gorge that certainly evokes the site of Rip's 20-year nap, and into which tumbles mesmerizingly beautiful, two-tiered Kaaterskill Falls, which at 230 total feet is the highest in the state. Access to both is via an extremely popular and moderately strenuous 1.4-mile trail off State Route 23A. And if it all looks vaguely familiar, that's because Kaaterskill Falls was a favorite subject of Thomas Cole, Asher Durant and other landscape painters of the Hudson River School. (catskillmountaineer.com)

HISTORY WELL DONE

Nestled along the Hudson River in the shadows of the Catskills, Kingston was founded by the Dutch as a trading post in 1614. In September of 1777, it became the first capital of the new state of New York, only to be burned to the ground by the British a month later. But Kingston was rebuilt and now boasts two historic neighborhoods, the original Stockade District, which includes the Senate House Museum, the Old Dutch Church, and the Fred J. Johnston Museum of early American furnishings, and the 19th century Rondout-West Strand commercial waterfront. You can also cruise the Hudson onboard the "Rip Van Winkle." (kingston-ny.gov)

BACK TO THE GARDEN

Woodstock is known worldwide for the generation-defining, three-day concert in 1969 that was conceived in town but took place 50 miles away in Bethel. It remains true to its early 20th century artist colony roots and its psychedelic '60s reputation. Galleries, New Age and head stores, funky restaurants and laid-back accommodations invite harried travelers to slow down and smell the flower power. Just north of town lies Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, an authentic Tibetan monastery complete with a 25-foot- high sitting Buddha. Casual visitors are welcome, and there are free guided tours on weekends at 1 p.m. (woodstockny.org)

GONE FISHING

American dry fly casting was born in the picturesque hamlet of Roscoe, now known as "Trout Town U.S.A." and a mecca for fly fishermen who come to test their skills each year in the Beaverkill and Willowemoc rivers. Classes and guide-led excursions are offered by a number of professional outfitters, but even landlubbers will find the nearby Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum. (1031 Old Rte. 17, Livingston Manor, 845-439-4810, catskillflyfishing.org; roscoeny.com)

WINE NOT

More than a dozen small to medium-sized commercial wineries, some of which can trace their roots back to 17th century French settlers, now dot the banks of the Hudson and the lower elevations of the Catskills, with most offering both tours and tastings of their regional and varietal wines. Stop by one or two en route or spend a day sampling the 30-mile, 14-winery Shawangunk Wine Trail in southern Ulster County. (845-256-8456, shawangunkwinetrail.com)

BENDING OVER BACKWARDS

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Beginning in 1974, visitors to the Catskills had a brand-new, 3,000-year-old way to relax at Swami Vishnudevananda's Sivananda Ashram Yoga Ranch. Today, the 75-acre compound offers daily classes in classical Indian yoga, meditation and contemplation, generally as part of weekend or weeklong courses. But daily drop-ins are also welcome, with $50 entitling you to two yoga classes and two vegetarian meals. (33 Yoga Rd., Woodbourne, 845-436-6492, sivanandayogaranch.org)

ZIP-A-DEE DO DAH

In December of 2010, New York Zipline Adventures opened the longest (4.6 miles) and highest (more than 600 feet) zip-line canopy tour in North America at Hunter Mountain (518-263-4388, ziplinenewyork.com). The marquee three-hour SkyRider tour includes equipment, training and five separate zips ($119 per person, height and weight restrictions apply). Seekers of lesser thrills can take the Mid-Mountain Tour ($89 per person) or ride the 500-foot dueling zip lines that are part of Windham Mountains' Summer Adventure Park ($10 per ride). (windhammountain.com)

FLOATING AWAY

Picturesque Esopus Creek flows through the heart of the Catskills, offering not only visual pleasure, but all the water-based fun you can handle via two-hour, self-guided, inner-tube excursions. Two outfitters in the town of Phoenicia will set you up, and on your way down the Class II white water for $26-$35 per person, including wet suit. (F-S Tube and Raft Rental, 845-688-7633, fstuberental.com. Town Tinker Tube Rental, 845-688-5553, towntinker.com)

RIDING THE RAILS

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New Yorkers haven't arrived in the Catskills by train for decades. But visitors can still travel back in time on two scenic, vintage railroad excursions. Running alongside Esopus Creek out of Mount Tremper for 45 minutes is the Catskill Mountain Railway (845-688-7400, catskillmtrailroad.com, $12 adults, $7 ages 4-11), while in Arkville, the Delaware & Ulster Railroad (800-225-4132, durr.org) travels up the East Branch of the Delaware River to Roxbury and back in two hours ($12 adults, $7 ages 3-12). Railway buffs should also visit the Empire State Railroad Museum in Phoenicia. (845-688-7501, esrm.com, donations)

SOARING ABOVE IT ALL

Thanks to ideal launch sites and steady, reliable winds, the southern Catskill town of Ellenville became one of the new sport of hang glidings' pioneer outposts in the 1970s. Today, it bills itself as the "hang gliding capital of the Northeast." Introductory lessons, which include ground school, simulator time and practice flights on gentle slopes, begin at $180 per person. (Mountain Wings Hang Gliding Center, 77 Hang Glider Rd., Ellenville, 845-647-3377, mtnwings.com)

GENERAL INFORMATION

visitthecatskills.com

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