I picked up the rental car at around noon, and took the Saw Mill River Parkway and Taconic Parkway up the east side of the Hudson River to the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge. After crossing over, I made my way through Saugarties and Palenville to Catskills State Park. Highway 23A is a steep, windy road that heads up through a dramatic gorge that wouldn’t be out of place in the Oregon Cascades.
I pulled over at the trailhead to Kaaterskill Falls and hiked the half-mile trail to the base of the falls. While fairly short, the steepness of the trail and the rocky terrain made it one of the more brutal hikes I’ve taken on either coast. (I’ve noticed that many Northeastern hiking trails tend to be fairly trashy and head straight up the side of a steep hill, while the trails I hiked in the Northwest tend to ease you up a hill through a series of switchbacks.) Probably doesn’t help that I’m completely out of shape and that it’s been months since I’ve walked on something that isn’t made of asphalt or concrete.
Once I made it back to the car, I drove the long way around through the Catskills, passing through a series of some quaint and not-so-quaint small towns and hamlets. Woodstock was particularly interesting; the whole town is like one giant head shop, and I saw a couple people wandering around who appeared to have been “wandering” around town since 1969. It’s sort of like a hyper-condensed version of Eugene, Oregon. (I later learned that the 1969 Woodstock music festival took place about 40-some miles from the actual town of Woodstock.)
On the way back toward the city, I came back down the west side of the Hudson on Highways 32 and 17, passing through Kingston, New Paltz, etc. before eventually finding myself driving through the suburban wastelands of northern New Jersey. I was able to stop in IKEA and pick up a new dresser as planned, and then came back into the city via the George Washington Bridge.
I need to make a point to do something like this much more often. The scenery north of NYC is quite beautiful, and (at least depending on which route you take) it’s amazing how it transitions from urban to almost-rural within a very short distance. Compare to Chicagoland, where you have to drive through almost 40 miles of suburban sprawl before you get anywhere that even resembles “rural”, and even then you’re out in the middle of cornfields rather than mountains and forests.