The Catskills offer many picturesque towns, dotted with 19th Century architecture, antique shops and restaurants — perfect for any non-skiier. At left is downtown Woodstock. (Rolando Pujol)

Rip Van Winkle dozed amid their serenity for 20 years. The Hudson River School artists captured vistas you can still admire today. They are the Catskills, America's first true wilderness tourism destination.

If your friends are heading to the Catskills slopes and that's just not your scene, tag along for the ride and try these fun and easy skiing alternatives instead.

If your friends are skiing at Hunter Mountain or Windham Mountain, consider:

1) Stopping in Prattsville and examining Pratt Rock on Route 23. These unusual white-painted sculptures carved from rock high on a hill are a tribute to Zadock Pratt, a 19th-century tannery mogul. This site features images of a horse, a bust of his son and inspirational words, which speak to the things that were meaningful to him. The rock can be examined up close by taking a vigorous walk up a trail.

2) Take a drive along the length of Route 23A. You'll see the charmingly offbeat town of Lexington, with some beautiful and in some cases ramshackle buildings.

Farther east is the 1960s-era St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Church, a striking site, followed by a drive through the Platte Cove, a winding jaunt with vistas to stir the soul (Note: This part of drive is closed in winter; ideal for fall foliage). In Palenville, take the short but steep hike to Kaaterskill Falls, immortalized in a Thomas Cole painting. Consider hiking part of the Escarpment Trail. The vista at the site of the long-gone Catskill Mountain House is one of the finest in the tri-state area, and the names and dates carved along the rocky edge date back to the mid 19th century.

Finally, consider a stop at the town of Catskill’s main drag, for the requisite antique and coffee shops, restaurants and 19th century architecture. The nearby Cedar Grove (the Thomas Cole house) is worth a stop if the Hudson River School intrigues you; there, you can pick up Route 23 and head back to Windham.

Dinner time: Meet your buddies at Chalet Fondue (518-734-4650) in Windham. The warmth of this Alpine-style restaurant will hit the spot. The Swiss-German cuisine is hearty, the homey decor and fireplaces are cozy, and the service, under the watchful eye of Ute Seigies, is welcoming. If you're not driving, sample the beer and then spend the night next door at the picturesque Albergo Allegria (518-734-5560) Italian for Inn of Happiness.

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If you're skiing at Belleayre or Plattekill, consider:

1) Taking a drive along Route 28. Be sure to explore Phoenicia. It's a town with many delights: The Esopus Creek (summer tubing), a drug store with old-school charms, the ultimate spot anywhere for pancakes (Sweet Sue's) and the most curious curiosity shop we know of -- Homer & Langley's Mystery Spot Antiques.

From there, head west along Route 28 toward Margaretville, whose small downtown is worth a look (Note: There's a cauliflower festival in September). The payoff awaits over the hills, in the town of Andes. This Victorian mecca has excellent antique shops such as Andes Antiques & Art (845-676-3420) and Kabinett & Kammer (845-676-4242), restaurants and charm to spare.

2) Countercultural sidetrip. Down Route 212 lies Woodstock. The famed music festival didn't actually occur there, but the Spirit of '69 infuses practically every shop. A walk down Tinker Street is a feast for the senses -- tolerance for tie-dye is a must.

Dinner time: The Peekamoose Restaurant and Tap Room (845-254-6500) in Big Indian on Route 28 has a warm, rustic vibe. There's a fine dining room as well as a bar, where you can sample the brew and satisfying grub. Nearby, treat yourself to a stay in one of the whimsical cottages of Kate's Lazy Meadow (845-688-7200), co-owned by Kate Pierson of the B-52s.