First, let’s get this out of the way: I am a New Yorker who can drive.
Many of us can’t, won’t or just get nervous when they go anywhere north of the George Washington Bridge – and I get it. New York City is the kind of place that holds you close and gives you a million glittery, delicious reasons to stay within city limits.
But sometimes, you just need to drive.
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It was my boyfriend’s birthday and the weather report was looking flawless: bright sunny skies, warm-ish, no humidity. Just the kind of weekend that warranted a ramble upstate. We chose the Catskill Mountains – an American vacation classic (thanks, Dirty Dancing) and structured our weekend around a cute new hotel in the mountain town of Hunter.
First opened in the ’70s, Bluebird Hunter Lodge was fully re-imagined in 2022 as a rustic-chic mountain retreat that works in all seasons. Here’s how we got there, what we did in the area when we arrived and what it all cost.
The rustic-chic decor of Bluebird Hunter Lodge © Laura Motta / Lonely Planet
I can drive, but I definitely do not own a car. That means I booked a rental and picked it up in Jersey City, just across the Hudson River, to avoid having to drive in Midtown traffic. My share was $117 for a three-day rental. I didn’t have to add extra insurance because I booked it with my American Express Platinum card, which includes this coverage as a benefit. Hunter Lodge graciously hosted me for this two-night trip; September rates go for an average of $306 per night on weekends, and about $170 on weeknights. Because we stayed on a weekend, I’m factoring in the higher rate here ($612 for the stay, $306 for my share).
The landscapes of the Catskill Mountains, north of New York City, offer a dose of country beauty © Laura Motta / Lonely Planet
On the ground
Hunter Lodge is about a 2.5-hour drive from the city, and our route included $28 in tolls and toll fees (my share: $14). After about 90 minutes, we stopped for lunch at the classic Alexis Diner in the town of Newburgh. It’s the kind of place with lots of chrome and neon, and a menu that includes potstickers, shrimp scampi and cheese omelets. We ordered too much – though I have zero regrets about the matzoh ball soup – and it came to $20 apiece.
When we checked into our room at the handsome, plaid-and-antler-bedecked Hunter Lodge, we were zonked. Rather than get back in the car to find dinner, we decided to eat at the property. (We had a food-and-beverage credit.) Hunter Tavern, just off the hotel lobby, offers a cozy menu of comfort food that you can enjoy by a roaring fire on cooler days. We split some apps – the smoked trout toast and the house-made potato chips with bacon-horseradish dip – and each had a beer. My share came to $22.
The home of famous painter Frederic Church, Olana is a magnificent Victorian-era mansion overlooking the Hudson Valley © Laura Motta / Lonely Planet
This was our day for wandering. We started the day at the Olana State Historic Site, a jaw-dropper of a Victorian-era mansion built by painter Frederic Church. Church was a titan of the Hudson River School, the style of 19th-century painting that focused on idealized landscapes in nature. His colorful, eccentrically designed home – is it Moorish Revival? art nouveau? – sits atop a hill and offers views of the mountains. I loved seeing Church’s personal treasures, collected from his travels around the world. A tour is required to enter the home, and there are lots of options, including vehicle tours. We chose the one that felt right for a first visit: a walking tour that covered a bit of the grounds and the home’s main floor. Tickets cost $20; we had booked online in advance.
From Olana, we drove about 10 minutes across the Hudson to the town of Catskill to grab lunch at Subversive Malting + Brewing, which prides itself on using its own malts in its beer-making process. Their hip, unfussy taproom serves a roster of smash burgers and sandwiches. (My boyfriend opted for the classic smash burger, I for one with mushrooms and Swiss.) The total came to $20 for each of us.
Quaint shops and historic buildings line Hudson’s Warren Street © Laura Motta / Lonely Planet
We crossed the Hudson River (again – driving is great!) and spent the rest of the afternoon about 10 minutes away in the town of Hudson, where we roamed the shops along the impossibly quaint main street. Souvenirs included some loose rooibos and and almond tea ($12) from Verdigris Tea & Chocolate; notecards, pens and a notebook from The Social Type ($40); and a collection of Sylvia Plath short stories from The Spotty Dog ($11), a combo bar/bookstore.
Tired and filled with scenes of art and the green Catskills, we headed back to the hotel, and once again to Hunter Tavern for dinner. It was tasty, easy and close to home – sometimes just what you need when you travel. We split poutine and each had an entree; it came to $29 for each of us.
Artworks and historical artifacts on display at Olana © Laura Motta / Lonely Planet
We headed out early (after leaving $10 for the hotel cleaner – $5 each) and skipped a big breakfast, opting instead to grab coffee, yogurt and fruit from the hotel’s complimentary morning spread. For some reason, we followed a different route home and hit many fewer tolls than on the way, with the damage only coming to $2 per person. (Thanks GPS…I guess?) And of course, no road trip is complete without that final ritual: gassing up the rental car. That came to $19 per person.
The final tally: $638
A note about renting cars
I didn’t include the cost of transportation to and from the rental-car office in Jersey City. From Brooklyn, where I live, that would cost about $8 on public transit and about $50 in an Uber. Factor in a little less, maybe $30–$40, for a rideshare from Manhattan.
Laura stayed at Bluebird Hunter Lodge at the lodge’s invitation. Lonely Planet does not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.