Nature & Chill

Five ways to experience Ulster County this winter

The leaves are falling, the temperature is dropping, and Old Man Winter is hobbling this way. Summer has left the building, so to speak, and cold weather is upon us. In Ulster County, this doesn’t mean everyone retreats inside to their fireplaces for the next three months—quite the opposite, in fact. Here, the changing season can be cause for celebration, even for outdoor enthusiasts. And with so much of this year already spent indoors from shelter-in-place orders, you better believe a little nip in the wind or some snow on the ground isn’t going to stop us from soaking up the spectacular sights, sounds and seasonal activities of this unassuming paradise, located just two hours north of NYC in the heart of the Mid-Hudson Valley. Here are five ways to experience the winter wonderland of Ulster County.

  1. Cast a line in cold waters.

It’s no secret that the Catskills of Ulster County are home to some of the best fishing spots in the country—everyone from Mark Twain to Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter has documented their deep abiding love for the simple art of angling among the freestone streams found throughout the region.

Annual weather conditions unique to Ulster County typically bring trout season to a close November 30, but polar-bear anglers can spend all winter casting for other species like black bass, walleye and American eel at various lakes, rivers, streams and reservoirs—including the Hudson River (eel), the Ashokan Reservoir (walleye) and Esopus Creek (black bass).

For the most hardcore enthusiasts, Ulster County even boasts a handful of ice fishing spots at places like Sturgeon Pool east of Rosendale, Rondout Creek in Eddyville and Onteora Lake west of Kingston.

As you plan your fishing trip, be sure to stay apprised of weather conditions and know the rules and regulations of where you’re allowed to fish and what you’re allowed to catch—some species like black bass become catch-and-release only during certain times of the year.

  1. Hit the slopes at Belleayre Mountain.

Active adventurers flock to Ulster for the thrill of the challenging terrain. In spring and summer, that means hiking, biking, and climbing across cliff faces, steep mountain inclines, and winding forest trails.

During winter, adrenaline junkies trade in their bike shorts, wheels and carabiners for salopettes, skis and snowboards. With 171 skiable acres, 50 trails, two parks and eight lifts, Belleayre Mountain in Highmount is renowned for having some of the best skiing on the Eastern Seaboard, from challenging steeps for seasoned thrill-seekers to breezy cross-country trails suitable for all skill levels.

  1. Explore miles of snowy trails.

Though serious snowsports of all kinds are popular throughout the winter, you don’t have to be an active adventurer to experience the awesome wonder of snow-covered rolling hills and perfectly dusted forest ridges. Snowshoeing, tubing and hiking options abound across miles of trails.

Bundle up and get your morning aerobics in with a brisk snowshoeing jaunt across the Mohonk Preserve or Minnewaska State Park, or feel the soft crunch of powder under your boots with a hike along the Ashokan, Hurley, Hudson Valley or Wallkill Valley Rail Trails.

If you have children, consider spending a weekend at Rocking Horse Ranch Resort’s Winter Fun Park in Highland, where they can tube, ski, ice skate or ride horseback. We promise, they won’t want to leave.

  1. Lace up your blades and glide across the ice.

Practice your spiral at one of Ulster County’s seasonal ice skating attractions. For those who prefer indoor ice skating, Kiwanis Ice Arena in Saugerties provides a well-maintained Olympic-size rink in a state-of-the-art arena. Due to Covid, Kiwanis has instituted a series of protocols this season, including advance registration, limited public skating and no skate rentals (you must bring your own). Visit their website for more information.

For outdoor ice skating, visitors can choose from several parks and pavilions, including Stoeckeler Memorial Park in Ellenville and Smith Park in Pine Hill. But anyone looking for a truly epic outdoor ice skating experience should consider paying a visit to the Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz. Besides its lodging, dining and historic appeal, this 150 year-old Mountain resort (known affectionately by locals as the “Castle in the Catskills”), boasts a massive open-air Victorian ice skating pavilion that’s open every season from November to March.

  1. Knock out your holiday shopping in Kingston’s historic Stockade District.

Did you know that Kingston was the original capital of New York? It was only after the British burned the city during the Revolutionary War that the capital shifted to Albany. The fire was started in the stockade of Uptown Kingston, an area known today for its quaint storefronts, world-class dining and libations and historic architecture—the makings of a stellar weekend itinerary and the perfect way to experience the heart of what makes Ulster County so special.

Stroll the streets and admire the Dutch-Colonial architecture (be sure to swing by the Old Dutch Church on Wall Street), window shop for holiday gifts at one of the charming retail boutiques and savor the innovative flavors crafted by acclaimed chefs and mixologists.

Just remember to follow recommended health and safety protocols: wear a mask, practice social distancing and wash your hands frequently.

Ready to head upstate for chilly thrills? Start planning your trip to Ulster County now

Be sure to double-check with venues, parks and businesses ahead of your visit, as hours and openings may be different than listed due to COVID-19.