The Most Beautiful Spot in America?

Revised from my original story for Travelhoppers

Mine Kill Falls at A Tiny House Resort
Mine Kill Falls at A Tiny House Resort (Photo by Danny Wild)

The Hudson River School Art Trail was called one of the most beautiful spots in the world by many of Early-America’s greatest painters and writers.

It’s only two hours north of Manhattan. But it may as well be a world away. Here, the Kaaterskill Clove is a Catskill Mountain ravine of stunning beauty, with dense forest and thundering waterfalls. And the biggest of those waterfalls – Kaaterskill – is higher than Niagara.

This region boasts stunning highland panoramas at every bend in the road. It’s a place of red barns and country-craft shops and old bookshops and B&B’s with little bells that ring when you walk in. And with quaint villages where everybody still knows everybody else.

“This area of the Catskill Mountains attracted Thomas Cole, the first of the so-called Hudson River School of Painters,” says Bob Malkin, a local historian and owner of the unique A Tiny House Resort nearby ( “In 1825, Cole completed one of three known paintings he did of the Kaaterskill Falls.”

Thomas Cole was soon followed by well-known artists such as Frederic Church, who became his student. This Hudson River Painters “movement,” lasting until 1875, is considered the first genuinely-American “school” of painting. Today, on the Hudson River School Art Trail, we can follow in the footsteps of these artists. And we can look out at the vistas they painted.

If you stand at Sunset Rock, looking down into the Kaaterskill Clove, you can see the views first sketched by Thomas Cole. On the Painters Trail, you can see the spot where he painted his majestic “Autumn in the Catskills” (ca. 1836), with a distant figure standing in the midst of mountains and forest.

You can stand where Frederic Church stood when he sketched the outline of “Looking West From Olana” (1864), which became a visual feast of forest, mountain, mist-shrouded waters, and setting sun.

If you head up North Mountain, you can see where Cole and Church sketched the legendary Catskill Mountain House Hotel. A  bit higher, you can see one of Cole’s favorite views, a spot from which he could see his own house (“Cedar Grove”) in the town of Catskill – twelve miles away. On the nearby hilltop where Frederic Church first sketched the Catskills is Olana, the whimsical Persian-style home he built, with ornately-carved red doors and arched windows with fluted tops.

Both Olana and Cedar Grove are open to visitors.

There’s great hiking in this region. The actual Hudson River Painters Trail is six miles, starting in the Kaaterskill Clove. And the views are spectacular; from certain points you can see not only the Hudson River, but also Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Many of America’s most treasured writers also came here to see the region, among them James Fenimore Cooper and Washington Irving.

“In James Fenimore Cooper’s ‘The Pioneers,’” Bob Malkin says, “Leatherstocking remarked that you could ‘see all of creation’ from the top of the falls. And the sleepy little hamlet of Palenville became the setting for Washington Irving’s ‘Rip Van Winkle.’”

Here, you’ll see more wild turkeys and deer and rabbits than people. And, if you listen hard, you’ll hear the footsteps of the legendary artists (with pen and paper or paintbrush) who came here on their way to immortality.

Then there’s Bob Malkin’s “A Tiny House Resort” in South Cairo, surrounded by some of the most beautiful waterfalls and mountains and forests in America. The resort’s only about 14 miles from the Painters Trail. And it’s probably one of the only vacation spots in the continental U.S. with a scenic waterfall right on the property.

And when you’re sitting outside on your deck here, overlooking Mine Kill Falls or the Catskill Creek or a pristine hiking path, you may find yourself thinking that this may just be the most beautiful region in America.