Train-ing to Ride the Central Catskills
With two Adventure Cycling interstate routes passing through New York State -- the Atlantic Coast Route and the Northern Tier -- and the Adirondack Loop completely within the state, I was surprised to see that there have not been more Bike Overnight adventures submitted for New York. The MTA Metro North Commuter railroad link from here in the mid-Hudson Valley provides numerous possibilities for the starting location of a cycling adventure, both long and short. Quite a number of people have already taken advantage of this bicycle/rail-transit link for the start of a day ride or a longer overnighter.
The bike/transit possibilities here in Poughkeepsie increased with the 2008 introduction of the bicycle-rack-equipped UCAT Ulster-Poughkeepsie LINK buses. The northwest terminus for these buses is the village of Rosendale. While I have not ridden the exact Bike Overnight described in the following narrative, I have ridden the SR/BR 28 section as part of a three-day tour that started in Pine Hill. And the route to the Ashokan Dam was part of a day ride I did recently. Ostensibly, the destination for this Bike Overnight is the hamlet of Pine Hill, but it could be easily extended beyond there (see narrative below).
The Catskill Park, which is actually more like a national forest, is only about 15 miles away from Rosendale. While not nearly as large as the Adirondack Park upstate, Catskill Park still encompasses a very large area, and contains villages and hamlets within its boundaries. The central Catskills of northwest Ulster County are rather like the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, with numerous peaks topping out at 3,500 feet or higher. The highest peak in the Catskills is Slide Mountain, 4,180 feet, which is in this area.
From Grand Central Terminal in New York City -- GCT in railroad parlance -- take the MTA Metro North HUDSON LINE train to the end of line in Poughkeepsie (Bike Permit required).
After de-training in Poughkeepsie, take the elevator up to the overpass and then wheel your bicycle to the transportation center; follow signs for BUS. Take the UCAT, or Ulster County Area Transit, bus to Rosendale. The last stop for the UCAT LINK bus is the park-and-ride lot across from the town park, which has a small building with a waiting area and bathrooms (open daily, including Sunday).
From the park-and-ride lot, go right onto SR 32 then left onto SR 213 (there is a Stewart's Shop at this intersection). Now on Rosendale's main street, you'll follow this highway out of the village and stay on it for approximately 15 miles, to Olivebridge and the Ashokan Reservoir and dam.
A short 4 miles from Rosendale is High Falls, a Delaware and Hudson Canal town. Here you'll find the D&H Canal Museum, along with a restored section of the canal and an old lock. An old inn still serves as a restaurant (there's also a deli and some other eateries).
Continue on this highway to US 209, a somewhat busier main road. The two highways merge; to continue on SR 213 west/north, turn left into the village of Stone Ridge. SR 213 becomes CR 4, and begins a gradual rolling climb, with an occasional steeper grade. After around 10 miles you will enter a forested region, part of the New York City watershed.
A few miles later you will enter the Catskill Park. Soon, a short, steep grade takes you up to the mountain hamlet of Olivebridge; a short distance later the highway ends at the intersection with SR 28A.
About 16 miles out of Rosendale, you will arrive at the lower dam NYC DEP public-access area. The Ashokan Reservoir is the oldest and largest reservoir within the Catskill system. It's 180 feet at the deepest point, and covers 8,300 acres. The reservoir was formed by the building of the dam on Esopus Creek and the subsequent flooding of the valley; entire villages, and a part of the Ulster & Delaware Railroad, had to be relocated. This was early in the 20th century.
To continue, turn left at the Y going uphill to the top of the dam, where the view is awesome. Follow the sign for SR 28.
New York State Route 28 is also NY Bike Route 28; it goes through the 287,000-acre Catskill Forest Preserve, situated within the 700,000-acre Catskill Park. You will begin an extended climb, gaining some 900 feet of elevation in 17 miles. The SR 28 corridor is a four-season resort area; as a result, the accommodation options are many. The campgrounds are clustered around the Phoenicia area. This busy hamlet is home to the Empire State Railway Museum and the Catskill Mountain Railroad, a privately owned and operated scenic excursion train.
After Phoenicia comes Shandaken, where you can take SR 42 north through a gorge; this would be the turnoff from the main route for an extended 2-day adventure. There are several B&Bs in the area.
Pine Hill, 41 miles from Rosendale, is at the base of Belleayre Mountain, elevation 3,420 feet. On the highway here you'll find a deli/grocery store. Pine Hill has been a vacation getaway since the late 19th century, and the resort hotel here has been known as Pine Hill Arms since the early 1900s (established in 1882, it was originally called the Avon Inn). Several other lodgings are found nearby, as well.
Tip for this adventure: The best time of year to do this tour is the autumn, absolutely, with the combination of beautiful scenery and colorful fall foliage.