I’ve always wanted to experience summer in the Catskills with kids! Located two hours from NYC, the Catskills are a perfect weekend or extended trip during any season. After four long months quarantined due to COVID-19 (with summer camps closed and playgrounds crowded with kids in masks), I jumped at the chance to adventure! Staying in a little hamlet, called Lake Hill, we spent five blissful summer weeks in the Catskills. We stayed near Woodstock with my three kids, aged 10, 7 and 5. It turned out to be a huge silver lining! Over these five weeks, we discovered beautiful nature hikes, swam in crystal clear lakes, waterfalls, and creeks. To help you plan your own itinerary, I’ve also compiled 8 Perfect Summer Activities in the Catskills with Kids. Most destinations below are 20-50 minutes away from Woodstock, but scenic drives will only enhance these exciting excursions!
Hiking in the Catskills with Kids
Scenic nature walks are one of my favorite things to do in the Catskills! As a plus, they’re also super easy to do with children. My husband was working in the city our entire trip, so I did most of these activities alone with my kids, as well. Nearly every place was empty or people were very respectful, both wearing masks and maintaining social distance. Here are three of our favorite family-friendly hiking spots.
Cooper Lake Reservoir
Cooper Lake Reservoir is a gem hidden in plain sight! Unlike anything you’ll find on a map, it’s one of the most breathtaking hikes I took this summer in the Catskills with kids. It’s easy and flat along the edge of crystal clear Cooper Lake, which is the largest natural lake in the Catskills. Offering incredible mountain views, my kids cherished opportunities to spot herons, frogs, fish, geese, deer, newts, turtles, and even beavers. For a family picnic, there is a perfect spot on flat rocks jutting into the water. While swimming here is forbidden, dipping our toes into the water was one of the most serene moments of the summer. Remember warm months on the lake can also present unruly foliage blocking some paths, but don’t miss the chance to take in the stunning views here. Head to Cooper Lake Road, right next to the Lake Hill Post office.
Our favorite route was on the lake-side of the road, a few yards past a funky, little blue house (on your right-hand side shortly after the lake comes into view; if you lose sight of the lake, you drove too far). Walk to the water’s edge and proceed to the right, counter-clockwise, which will lead you to the perfect picnic rocks, sandy spots, and shady woods. At one point, you’ll emerge from the shaded trees into an open space that looks like a cut-down forest. Don’t be deterred by this reservoir overflow! The path continues along the water and then bears left. Turn around and retrace your steps when the main street comes into view. In months with less foliage, continue around the lake. Take one last stretch on Cooper Lake Road for lovely views, as little legs may get tired making it back to where you parked!
Giant Ledge Trail
Giant Ledge is a legit H-I-K-E. Though it’s a fantastic climb and the views at the top are spectacular, it’s rated as “moderate.” But because it’s only 1.5 miles up, there’s also a big pay off for your effort. While challenging, this hike is totally manageable to tackle if you want something not too long, but still enough elevation for a real view. After parking at the Trailhead, cross the street to where this trail begins, walk over a little bridge, and suddenly, you’re on your way up! I like to think of the trail as having 3 sections to help motivate the kids, and myself! For reference, it took us an hour and a half to reach the top, with a few stops to rest and hydrate. We visited the ledges for approximately 45 min before heading back down.
Giant Ledge Trail’s first section is an upward, rocky climb. Kids have so much fun stepping on the rocks and over the tree roots! Though it’s not super steep, you’re nonetheless following yellow trail markers up a 725-foot incline. Then, the second section starts when you see a trail junction informing you you’re only 0.8 mi away (and another 410 feet in elevation). Don’t worry, this stretch is all flat! Children can frog jump from stone to stone, pretending they are lily pads. Which is an apt analogy, because there may be some wet and muddy spots. (Prepare for lots of dirty sneakers!) On the Blue Trail, the final section is uphill and rocky. These rocks, however, are large boulders. These large, eerie formations are beautiful to behold, but require a little scampering around. Then, suddenly, a ledge comes into view. You’ve finally made it!
Kaaterskill Falls is a jaw-dropping waterfall requiring a hike to reach. It’s the highest cascading waterfall in New York, and as a result, not a well-kept secret. Though moderately-heavily trafficked, it’s nonetheless worthwhile to visit with kids! Dress them in a swimsuit and bring a towel, because they can swim in the plunge pool along the way. (We didn’t realize and my kids went for a dip in their underwear as it was too tempting to resist the chance to cool off.) While not too many others were swimming (probably because the water is chilly or they also forgot bathing suits), it’s completely safe. Water shoes are a must, but if you hike in Keen shoes, you’re all set. There are three ways to access the falls, but I don’t recommend the Lower Trailhead. It’s dangerous, stressful, and totally unnecessary to reach your destination.
One option is to walk a 1.5 mile Rail Trail and then hike down. I prefer this because while you add some walking mileage to your route, it makes the whole day feel more serene, despite the crowds. Drive past the dangerous parking lot on 23A, and when you see the sign for Haines Falls, take the next road to the right. Park near the big blue sign for the visitor’s center. The trail starts at the old railway station and is virtually empty. (Kids will love finding remnants of the old rails!) Ending at the Laurel House Road parking lot, head to the Falls Viewing Platform, and then down to the falls itself. Upper Trailhead is the shortest, most popular, and direct way to access the falls, however.
Swimming in the Catskills with Kids
What child doesn’t love dipping their toes in the water? I also checked out a few local beaches, lakes, and swimming holes during my summer in the Catskills with kids. Since there’s nothing quite like cooling off on a hot summer day, here are two of my favorite recommendations for families. Finding a sandy beach and taking a dip is one of the best things to do in the Catskills with kids!
Colgate Lake is a big, beautiful, mountain-top lake! Take the scenic route through Tannersville, up the mountainside on Platte Clove Road. After parking in the Colgate Lake lot, walk up the road and take the worn footpath on your right. At the top is Colgate Lake, one of our favorite places to swim and spend the day! Rather than sand, you’ll find grass surrounded by wildflowers, and flanked by footpaths to explore. Plus, the water is warm and shallow. (Bring water shoes anyway.) On the lake, families can swim, float on inflatable rafts, fish, and paddle boats (my kids love catching frogs), but it doesn’t feel too crowded. Much like any place, it’s less crowded on weekdays and earlier in the morning. Note: there are no food vendors or bathrooms here. On your way home, stop at Mama’s Boy Burgers in Tannersville for delicious ice cream!
Pro Tip: Don’t sit on Colgate Lake’s immediate grassy area. The water entry here is a bit rocky for kids. Instead, walk over the footbridge to find a grassy spot with lots of room, and where the water entry is shallow and sandy. A little further along the lake, through a bushy path, there are also small “cut-outs” that offer lots of privacy and swimming spots without the crowds. But you’ll need to arrive super early for this prime real estate! Another option, if it’s available, is to settle in Colgate Lake’s left-hand side on sand cut-outs, not grass. (You need to wade through ankle-deep water to reach it, but the views from this angle are perfect. Plus, the sandy beach is unique on this lake.) My son also found some new friends not too far from this spot: frogs and newts, which became our temporary Catskill pets!
Peekamoose Blue Hole
Peekamoose Blue Hole is a natural, turquoise, crystal clear pool. Swimming here is as unique as it is beautiful! It’s now rated as a top Catskill destination, though, attracting huge and rowdy crowds. If you visit on the weekend (which I don’t recommend!), a permit is required. Park past the Buttermilk Falls lot and pull into the next official parking lot on your right-hand side. If this lot is full, park in the next one. (Don’t worry, the walk isn’t too bad!) There are “No Parking” signs all along the road, but when we left Blue Hole at mid-day, people seemed to be ignoring these. I’m not sure if they got ticketed, but I would arrive early to ensure parking and avoid crowds. My family really enjoyed our visit to the Blue Hole when we went on a Monday morning and left by noon!
We also initially thought Blue Hole stood across from the official parking lot, behind the dumpster, because the water here is so blue! But this isn’t it. To reach the legit Blue Hole, walk on the side of the road in the direction you came from. There, you’ll see an info kiosk, followed by a path leading to the Blue Hole. When you see it, you’ll know you’ve reached paradise! Though the path itself is flat, you’ll have to go down a few steep steps to sit on the rocks surrounding the pool. To get to the jumping platforms, stay on the path, and circle around to the ledge for one. Afterward, cross over to the other side of the hole. This way, kids can have their pick from two 10-feet jump-offs. Be aware: the water is freezing, you’ll likely feel numb after a short dip!
Down on the Farm in the Catskills with Kids
In case you don’t feel like working up a sweat (whether hiking or just sunbathing), the Catskills also offer two unique fun on the farm options for your next family vacation. When in the Catskills with kids during the summer months,be sure to check out one of these family-friendly farms for a plethora of activities and yummy treats!
Saunderskill Farm is one of the few Tricentennial farms remaining in the United States! That means alongside historic value, it also has a beautiful flower field, an excellent farm store, shaded picnic tables, a garden with tables, and organic blueberry picking. (Get some for kids to snack on for $7/Qt or $4/pint!) Overall, it’s a lovely place to settle in for the day and sample some local delicacies. When my family visited, we had the blueberry bushes all to ourselves, and even stayed for a picnic lunch. In case you don’t feel like packing your own meal, the on-site bakery and store sells sandwiches, soups, and delicious baked goods. Saunderskill Farm also hosts seasonal family-friendly events during non-pandemic times, like strawberry festivals and corn harvests. After lunch here, we went up the road to discover more activities to do during a summer in the Catskills with kids!
Kelder Farm has an old-school, vintage vibe. This packed activity-filled destination for kids, includes access to a range of exciting opportunities like a trampoline, mini-golf, animal zoo, and more (all for $13/pp ticket!). With that, you’ll also receive either one quart of you-pick fruit (blueberries, black raspberries & blackberries) or one bag of you-pick veggies (eggplant, squash, garlic, lettuce, cabbage, peas, herbs, and more). An on-site food stand sells hot dogs, pizza, donuts, and ice cream. Since we just had blueberries, we particularly loved veggie picking, driving directly up to the fields for picking. Each row of vegetables is close to one another, so it’s not a lot of walking. Also, because there are so many to choose from, you can gather a variety of quality products. Running around spotting cucumbers, pulling up onions, and picking zucchinis was almost as fun as the mini-golf (almost!).
Horseback Riding Lessons in the Catskills with Kids
Horseback riding is one of the best things to do in the Catskills with kids! We chose Vertical Limit Stable in Saugerties for my daughter’s lessons. It was truly a dream come true for a horse-loving city kid! Even my boys loved petting the horses, playing with the dogs and cat, and voluntarily sweeping hay in the barn. I can’t recommend this enough for families visiting the Catskills with kids! In addition to a welcoming vibe, they teach visitors life lessons about how to properly care for animals. Riders here often compete at the highest levels, but they also teach kids who just want to have fun. There are plenty of options for horseback riding lessons in the Catskills, so be sure to do your research before booking.
Pro Tip: Reach out to the owner, Sharon (845-706-6273), and mention that you know us (Stephanie & Eliza). We purchased an evaluation and four-lesson package for a really reasonable rate.
We hope you’ve enjoyed top contributor Stephanie Feingold’s list of 8 Perfect Summer Activities in the Catskills with Kids! Regardless of how you spend your summer with kids, though, what’s important is spending time together! For more travel recommendations on vacationing with children, be sure to join our Facebook group Families Who Love To Travel! It’s a community of dynamic families who love adventure and exploration through travel. Plus, follow us on Instagram (@families.love.travel) to connect with other families who love the unique experiences travel has to offer, as well as updates about our upcoming articles!
Written by Families Love Travel Contributor, Stephanie Feingold. Find more about Stephanie, as well as her other articles here. Plus, find her on Instagram @stephaniesheminfeingold. In her writing and her travels, Stephanie prioritizes authentic experiences, delicious meals, impressionable moments, and balancing the iconic with the path-less-traveled.
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