Verdant forests, undulating mountains, swiftly moving streams and rivers, meandering creeks, waterfalls, and abundance of wildlife lure visitors to the Catskills, particularly the northern Catskills. But there is also a deep sense of mystery and spiritual vibrancy that has drawn travelers through the centuries. Henry Hudson felt the pull of these looming, mist-shrouded mountains in 1609, as
did the Dutch and English colonists who populated and farmed the fertile land in the small, upland valleys between the stony round-topped peaks.
Rising between the Hudson River to the east and the upper Delaware and Susquehanna rivers to the south and west, the Catskills—called Onteora, or "land in the sky," by the Algonquians and "these fairy mountains" by writer Washington Irving—are among the most visited, written-about, and painted mountain ranges in the country.
In the mid-19th century a group of artists led by Thomas Cole and Frederick Church—the rock stars of their day—followed old American Indian trails into the deep clefts between the mountains and emerged with a series of cathedral-like, supernatural paintings that spoke to the popular imagination and drew thousands of New York City urbanites to the mountains. An entire rugged-tourism industry sprouted, and more artists, writers, and early environmentalists flocked to the area, followed in the 1900s by ethnic and religious groups fleeing the heat and oppression of the city. Syrians, Armenians, Viennese, Ukrainians, Germans, Italians, Russians, Irish, and others came to the Catskills, leaving indelible stamps that still pervade the region today. The first resort, the Catskill Mountain House, was built in the 1820s near Haines Falls.
Despite the many developments here, environmental visionaries have strived to protect the Catskill's pristine landscape. Since 1904, 700,000 acres have been incorporated into the Catskill Park and Forest Preserve, with approximately 250,000 acres designated "forever wild."
The Catskills today are a destination for travelers from around the globe. Championship golf courses dot the area; world-class trout streams flow through the region (which incidentally spawned the sport of fly-fishing). More than 200 mi of marked hiking trails wind through the hills and valleys here, and both skiers and hikers aim for the high-peaks region. Hunting and fishing also are significant draws.