The Catskill Park is over 700,000 acres of wilderness located within the Catskill Mountains of New York State. The Park has been preserved for visitors to discover, and explore, the great outdoors while enjoying year-round activities such as, camping under the stars, hiking to the highest peaks, fly-fishing pristine waters, ski retreats, and unique wildlife viewing.
Located just a short drive from several major cities in the Northeast including New York City, Boston, Albany, and Philadelphia, the Catskill Park is a great place to escape the mundane of everyday city life to explore, and experience, something extraordinary.
What is the Catskill Park?
The Catskill Park (also known as the Catskill Forest Preserve) was established in 1885 and encompasses 286,000 acres of state land within the park. The acreage within the preserve includes forest, meadows, wetlands, and lakes. It also spans four counties: Greene, Ulster, Sullivan, and Delaware.
Fire towers in the Catskill Park were built in the 1800s to keep an eye on firestorms, but today just five remain throughout the park. They have been restored so visitors can enjoy the fantastic views from the top of five mountains: Overlook, Hunter, Red Hill, Balsam Lake, and Tremper.
What kind of park is the Catskill Park?
The Catskill Park is a State Park, not a National Park. What's the difference? Well for starters, there's no fee or gate to pass through when you enter the Catskill Park, so visitors can come and go as they please.
The Catskill Park is also one of only two areas in New York State designated as "Forever Wild" – meaning the land is protected under Article XIV of the New York State Constitution. The article dictates the land "...shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be leased, sold or exchanged, or be taken by any corporation, public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed or destroyed." (Source: Department of Environmental Conservation)
Fun Fact: A small portion of the land in the park is owned by New York City to protect the reservoirs that provide the city with water.
What animals live in the Catskills?
The Catskill Park is home to a variety of animal species. Some animals are more common than others and can be spotted on the mountains and in forested areas. The most commonly seen wildlife in the Catskills include:
- Black Bears - Black bears generally try to stay away from humans, but it's important to be vigilant when camping and hiking in the Catskills and make sure that your food and trash is secure.
- Bobcats - These carnivorous cats are great at hiding, but their tracks are pretty distinct when you come across them. They are most active during dawn and dusk, so watch out for them while hiking early in the morning or into the night.
- Deer - White-tail deer are the most abundant large mammal found in the Catskill Park. They are common prey for coyotes, bobcats, and cougars.
- Cougars - Also known as mountain lions, it is believed by some that cougars no longer exist in the Catskills, while others claim to have seen them recently. They were nearly hunted to extinction in the 1800s.
- Snakes - The Catskills are home to two very poisonous snakes, the Timber Rattlesnake and the Copperhead. Look out for brown, yellow, and tan movement across the ground as you are walking and avoid stepping on them.
- Coyotes - Coyotes are abundant throughout the mountains and valleys of the Catskills. Listen for them as they howl throughout the night.
- Birds - As with most places across New York State, the Catskills host 100s of bird species throughout the year, including a variety of birds of prey. The Catskill Park is a great place for birdwatchers.
- Fishers - Fishers are related to weasels and otters and are typically not easy to see because they are nocturnal animals.
- Porcupines - The average porcupine has about 30,000 sharp quills on its body. These herbivores are typically nocturnal but can sometimes be seen sitting in trees during the day.
Always be sure to exercise caution around wild animals, and refrain from removing plants as many are endangered or threatened, and also supply food and nutrients to some of the above-mentioned animals.
Where can I "check in" and find out more?
Planning a trip to the Catskill Park? Be sure to check out Catskills lodging, local farm-to-table restaurants, and upcoming events in the Catskills to round out your getaway.
While the Catskill Park doesn't have gates or tolls granting you access to the region, you can stop at the Catskill Interpretive Center (located at 5096 NY-28, Mount Tremper, NY) for hiking trail information, maps, the latest news on wildlife sightings, and additional local event information.