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  • The Mohonk Mountain House in the Catskills: A Family Nature Retreat

    Head out to the Catskills Mountains with the family and unplug at this nature retreat at Mohonk Mountain House. Hit the trails, kayak, and more!

    By Tobey Grumet Segal

    photo by Mohonk Mountain House

    The Mohonk Mountain House is an enigma. A majestic, castle-like compound nestled in the peaceful grandeur of the Catskill Mountains, it offers old-world service and a visceral feeling of history along with an open invitation to enjoy nature at its finest. And because it’s just 90 miles from the bustle of Manhattan, overlooking the quaint college town of New Paltz, it’s also the perfect getaway for New York families.  

    After a two-hour car ride and a winding drive up a lush mountain road, we pulled up to a massive Victorian structure. Uniformed staff descended to take the car, secured our bags and got us checked in and comfortable. No, Mrs. Maisel wouldn’t be swinging by to drag us to a game of Simon Says and nobody would be suggesting Baby be put in the corner, but Mohonk is a solid reminder of the illustrious Catskill resort — where families would spend lazy summers socializing and being entertained with planned activities and plentiful amenities.


    photo by Mohonk Mountain House

    Built around a glacial lake, which in turn is surrounded by miles of wooded trails, Mohonk swaps elegance for comfort. Leisurewear or hiking gear is encouraged by day — and though you’ll have to pack appropriate dinner clothes if you’re planning on making reservations in the resort’s Fine Dining Room, there’s no need for a cocktail dress or jacket. Organized around an all-inclusive philosophy, the price of your room includes meals, buffets served in large and well-lit dining rooms, and a long list of activities. But you don’t have to be social if that’s not your thing—the extensive, 1200-acre grounds offer hours of self-exploration.


    photo by Mohonk Mountain House

    Families can also enjoy the complimentary Kid’s Club for children aged 2 to 12, with morning and afternoon sessions available, and even evening sessions for ages 4-12. The kids are grouped into Tykes, ages 2 to 3; Explorers, ages 2 to 6; and Adventurers, ages 2 to 12. Registration is limited so you may want to enroll early during the busier summer season.


    photo by Mohonk Mountain House

    An activity calendar is provided each morning in the lobby and includes a daily morning hike and house history tour as well as happenings as varied as pastels in the garden to tomahawk throwing. There are also six tennis courts (bi-weekly tennis lessons for kids aged 4 to 12 are also free of charge), an indoor heated pool, a nine-hole golf course, basketball courts, an 18-hole disc golf course and a handful of lake-inspired activities like fishing, boating, and swimming during the warmer months. Looking for some adult time? Book a treatment at the spa or just pay a day rate to relax in the mineral pools, saunas, and steam rooms.


    photo by Mohonk Mountain House

    Our double room overlooked the lake and included a working fireplace and a balcony with two comfy rocking chairs. No TV and no radio made it even more relaxing, though the resort does offer WiFi for those who need to stay connected. Because the Mohonk provided the lodging and food for our visit, they also gave us an engaging itinerary for our two-day stay, with enough wiggle room to make our own plans if so desired.


    photo by Mohonk Mountain House

    We arrived at noon, with a few free hours to explore before our first activity. After checking the daily schedule, we decided to get the lay of the land — beginning with the stables and the Barn Museum, where you can reserve a guided horseback or carriage tour for an additional charge, then a walk through the colorful gardens and greenhouse, swathed with spring tulips and flowering trees.


    photo by Mohonk Mountain House

    Because the weather was still cool, we decided to eschew the rowboats and kayaking and thought about beginning a hike. But with over 85 miles of trails meandering around the property, we decided to save it for the next morning. To the left of the lake is a jumble of prehistoric-looking rocks, which after closer scrutiny turned out to be a combination of a climb/hike called the Rock Scramble.


    photo by Mohonk Mountain House

    I cannot emphasize the fun we had climbing through and over these naturally formed boulders, up ladders and over small bridges and eventually, squeezing through what is known as the “Lemon Squeeze,” a tight, steep crevice. If you bring a backpack or tie a sweater around your waist—everything will need to come off to shimmy through. Once up (it should take approximately an hour) you’ll emerge to stunning, 360 views of the Hudson Valley. The Sky Top Tower is also a draw when you reach the top, and if you have it in you after the scramble, you can climb to the tower for an even more spectacular vista.


    photo by Mohonk Mountain House

    Our scheduled activity of the day was archery, so after the scramble, we hightailed it over to the range and joined a group to learn the basics. Learning how to shoot a bow and arrow felt just right surrounded by earthy woods, and the instructor was both kind and helpful. We each got at least three turns to hit the target, and most everyone in our group of all ages did just that—though there were a few stray arrows.


    photo by Mohonk Mountain House

    After our already full day, we decided to take advantage of afternoon tea, which is served daily at 4 pm in the dining room overlooking the lake. With an assortment of hot and cold drinks and snacks, it’s a perfect way to give yourself a break — and the kids were happy to scoop up some cookies and relax on the waterfront seating.

    In addition to the nightly buffet, a four-course tasting menu is available in the Fine Dining Room for dinner — though we’d suggest booking ahead of time. A stunning farm-to-table experience, the menu offers a rotating, seasonal look at some of the freshest ingredients available in the region. From fish and meat to locally grown fruit and vegetables, and even artisanal condiments, it is a feast to be savored slowly—and not available for kids under the age of eight (this may be when you investigate the evening Kid’s Club).


    photo by Mohonk Mountain House

    Nightly activities include movies, lively discussions and nature gatherings. Shuffleboard, lawn bowling, croquet, and a small putting green are also a perfect way to enjoy some family time in the last gasp of the summer sun—though if you want to stay indoors, you can play billiards, cards or board games. For a spotlight on the resort’s history, download the new augmented reality experience called Hidden Histories, recently launched for the Mohonk’s 150-year anniversary. A fun and fascinating way to explore the Mountain House, you’ll use a smartphone and the free app to follow 12 pieces of artwork around the colossal halls—and unlock audio stories behind each one.


    photo by Mohonk Mountain House

    Hiking in the 40,000-acre Shawangunk natural area is a large chunk of the Mohonk experience and you can choose your level, depending on time, level of fitness and age of your party. The next morning, we chose a trail in the mid-to-upper range and did an approximately eight-mile loop called Trapps Bridge. Though this popular hike remains on the resort’s grounds, it offers stunning 360-degree views and a strenuous uphill climb on the return—so save some energy! Don’t want to break a sweat? Stick to the four-mile Duck Pond hike and walk the several carriage roads and trails that zigzag the property. There are also 120 different summerhouses to explore, including the Sunbonnet Summerhouse, built directly into a cliff. Finding each one can also be its own excursion.

    The true joy of the Mohonk Mountain House is not only the heady combination of nature, relaxation, and adventure, but its constant ability to surprise and captivate the whole family. Whether you want to spend the day being entertained or find your own path (literally), this resort holds the keys to a surprisingly close and simply a getaway for every type of New Yorker. Room rates start at $765 per night for two adults and each additional child aged 4 to 12 is an extra $125. This includes three buffet meals, afternoon tea, and most activities.

     

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