If you're done with Beacon and fatigued with Phoenicia, there's another slice of nearby upstate New York that beckons with small-town charms and sweeping vistas. It doesn't come up in conversation quite the same way that the Catskills and the Hudson River Valley do, but here, farm country mixes with woodlands that on a recent trip were aflame with fall's ochers, burnt oranges and blazing yellows.
It's the Upper Delaware River region on the western edge of New York's Sullivan County, and the main event is New York State Route 97. There's a lot of competition for prettiest country road in the Northeast, but Route 97, which stretches some 70 miles from Hancock, New York, to Port Jervis, is a strong contender.
Every section is flat-out gorgeous -- you'll feel like you're the star of your very own car commercial, and it's no wonder that 97 is popular with day trippers and motorcyclists. And its short length makes it ideal for a weekend jaunt.
You can town hop and hide from the rigors of life in one of many Airbnb rentals in the area, as I did with my wife and daughter (cottage in the woods -- check), or stay at the picture-perfect North Branch Inn (northbranchinn.com), a great place to start out -- it's a short drive to 97 and your first destination of Callicoon.
My advice is to start on the road's northern end and head south. For the outdoorsy inclined, there are many opportunities along the way to canoe, fish and swim. Much of the road passes through the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River Park (nps.gov/upde), with numerous points to access the river, which today remains the last major undammed waterway in the Northeast.
You can break up the trip in any number of ways, but an ideal approach is to spend Day 1 town hopping, then drive the rest of the road on your way home.
Start in Callicoon, which has the feel of a western town like Leadville, Colorado. There's even a charming old-time single-screen movie theater. The town is bisected by railroad tracks, and on the other side you'll find flea markets galore. (Artists have known about Callicoon for years, and were showcasing their wares on my recent visit at the Callicoon ArtWalk.) For a brew and a burger, try the Callicoon Brewing Company (845-887-5500, callicoonbrewing.com), with a dozen beers and ciders on tap, including its own Callicoon Cow Pale Ale and Callicoon Brown Cow Porter. Want something more exotic? We savored the excellent Vietnamese bánh mì sandwiches at Bá and Me (845-887-3227, baandme.com), whose proprietor, Nhi Mundy, also publishes Delaware Valley Eight magazine, a showcase for photography and writing about the area's burgeoning creative scene (dv8mag.com).
A short drive south down 97 from Callicoon is Narrowsburg. Equally charming, it's more hippy chic than wild west. Upscale boutiques dot the main street. At The Farmacy, which uses local ingredients from Heirloom Acres (845-557-0110, heirloomacresny.com), you'll find all kinds of lotions, salves and other skin care products. Call it the farm to lipstick movement. Next door is The Heron (845-252-3333, theheronrestaurant.com), a nice spot to take in brunch or grab dinner (mains include buttermilk fried chicken with mashed potatoes, and blackened catfish with jalapeño grits). Locals take justifiable pride in the area's natural offerings, which were on full display at the recent Honeybee Festival. The town is also known for being Bald Eagle Capital of New York. You'll find a viewing platform on Main Street, a great spot to take in the beauty of the river and look out for one of these national icons.
ROEBLING BRIDGE AND LACKAWAXEN
On Day 2, you'll want to relax on one of the most pleasant drives in the region. Hugging the river, 97 dips and bends gently as you head south. There aren't town centers like Narrowsburg and Callicoon, so a good idea is to pack your lunch and find a nice stop. About midway down 97 is the Roebling Bridge, a one-lane structure designed by John Roebling, famed for the Brooklyn Bridge. It's an engineering gem, with strong and simple lines.
Across the river in Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania, is the Zane Grey Museum, housed in Grey's two-story residence where he lived from 1914 to 1918. Here, Grey wrote pulp Western classics like "Riders of the Purple Sage." Free and open to the public, it's a small piece of literary history. Grey was an avid fisherman who was said to make Hemingway jealous with his prolific catches. Rent a canoe nearby, and put in at the boat launch -- here the river ambles gently, an ideal place to float downstream.
After lunch, prepare yourself for the breathtaking finale of this road trip, the section of 97 known as Hawk's Nest. Here, the Delaware widens considerably, and the road gains significant elevation as you pass into Orange County. The views of the gorge below are out of a postcard -- there are several places where you can pull over and take in the sweep of the landscape spreading out. It's so beautiful that it's worth turning around at the end, and heading north for one more pass. You'll get a different perspective on the scenery.
One note of caution: Hawk's Nest is hugely popular with motorcyclists, who can be quite possessive of the turnoffs. I was also honked at by a few aggressive bikers who wanted me to speed up as I drove along. While not as malevolent as SAMCRO from "Sons of Anarchy," these irksome elements were just a slight off-note in an otherwise perfect country weekend.