The Name That Stuck and Other Kaatskil Tidbits

As the summer draws to an end and let’s admit it is, time spent outdoors becomes ever more precious. At least that’s how I feel. Suddenly I find myself pondering, will it be too cold in Vermont in October? Too buggy in Maine in August? Maybe I should go back to the Catskills. So I pull out the maps, #40 – #44, quadrants of razor thin, waterproof paper of green and beige, red and black lines intersecting, curving, separating, guiding. I lay them out on the floor to form the complete map of the Catskill Mountains. Like a hawk’s (yes, excessive flattery, I agree) my eyes scan for a continuous red line which I’ve yet to follow. My pupils dilate as I zoom in and out of the quadrants, evaluating level of remoteness, transportation options, water sources and most importantly, a new frontier. Then it hits me. I’ve hiked over 85% of these trails. The Escarpment Trail is my final destination. Did I subconsciously save the best for last? Quite possibly.

Wittenberg MountainNow what of this? What of the mountains and towers I’ve climbed and streams I’ve crossed and lakes and rivers I’ve cooled off in? The Catskill Mountains and their people have been good to me. But how much do you or I really know about this magical place?

Originally “Kaatskil” to the 17th century Dutch settlers, the locals preferred to call them the Blue Mountains, in tune with the Green Moutains of Vermont and New Hampshire’s Whites. There are many theories as to how “Catskills” stuck. My favorite is that a Mohican tribe which inhabited the area was led by chief named Cat. This also explains Cat Stevens and possibly the name of my next dog. Located south of Albany but (thank god) far away from New York City, the Catskills are not so much a mountain range as they are a dissected plateau, that is an area that has been uplifted and then severely eroded, leaving behind a “relief,” what we perceive as mountain tops. Real mountains are commonly referred to as orogenic and are formed by magmatic, metamorphic and folding activity. Don’t worry, there is no quiz later. Nevertheless, this 600,000 acre park is stunning.

Any hike rat will appreciate the towns hidden away among the peaks, especially a music rat. The Catskills are always ready to jam. Bearsville Studios just west of Woodstock was opened in 1969 by Albert Grossman manager of Bob Dylan, The Band, Janic Joplin and Todd Rundgren. Among many others, Phish and The Rolling Stones recorded at the studio and the town has retained its hippie vibe and hosts rock, reggae, acoustic and jazz festivals and sessions almost every weekend. You can even join the community drum circle in Woodstock on Sundays 4PM-6PM. No need for skill or instruments, an enormous chest is filled with drums and bells to suit any liking and old timers keep the rhythm even if you can barely stand to listen to yourself play. Click here for a full schedule.

So why not camp out in the Catskills before the summer’s over? Campgrounds are operated by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and have something for everyone, whether you’re looking for a weekend of hiking, paddling, fishing or just some waterfront reading. Most have free naturalist led programs for children and rent canoes, kayaks and/or rowboats for just $15 for the entire day.

Go to to check for availability and if you have any questions, give the campground a call, those folks put friendly on the map. You don’t even need a car. Catch a Trailways bus to Woodstock and a cab from there to North South Lake campground. Enjoy the fleeting days of summer and let the sun’s warm rays embrace your spirit, this and every year to come.

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