New York State is home to some of the most diverse landscapes along the East Coast which can make it challenging to figure out what's worth seeing. For those who live in the state or around it, or even in northern New England in the case of the Adirondacks, deciding between two major mountainous regions - the Catskills and the aforementioned Adirondacks - isn't easy.
Both have their pros and cons just like any comparable destinations, along with some benefits that the other one doesn't offer. In terms of mountain elevation, the Adirondacks outshines its southern cousin's ranges.. In terms of small towns that don't feel overly isolated, the Catskills is homey cozy. When it comes to choosing one or the other, and determining whether a longer drive is worth it, there's only one way to decide for sure: follow the seasons.
Typically, you'd want to make the trip up to the Adirondacks during the summer months, right? After all, the temperatures must be cooler up there because they're much further north. It's quite the contrary, actually - during the summer, especially the late summer, temps in the Adirondack mountains soar and usually hang around 80 to 90-degrees Fahrenheit, and tend to remain that way with only brief reprieves from a summer thunderstorm or two. Hiking in this can also lead to many mistakes as the temperatures take more of a toll on a person's body than one might anticipate at higher elevations.
By contrast, the Catskills remain at a temperature between the 70s and 80s; however, at night, they dip low into the 50s and 60s, which makes for the ideal summertime climate. It's perfect for fire pits, outdoor dining, camping, and hiking. These temps also lend themselves well to water sports, as it won't be blazing hot by the time you're ready to get out and lay on one of the many Catskills riverbanks or lakeshores.
As temperatures wind down, something else magical happens: the leaves begin changing. All of a sudden, there's a brisk chill in the air that's symbolic of the cooler weather to come but, for now, it's breezy and wonderful. The best place to soak in all of this awesome fall feeling is the Adirondacks. It's well worth the drive at this point with the leaves changing and landscape beginning to reflect the autumn season, and there's no shortage of things to do.
From pumpkin and apple picking to haunted houses and cider tours, the Adirondacks practically come alive during the fall. That's not to say that the Catskills won't but when it comes to who does it best, it would need to be argued that the Adirondacks wins this round. It's also peak tourist season but this is unavoidable in both destinations, but you might have a chance at beating most of the crowds the further north you drive.
Winter: Both, But Mostly Catskills
Winter travel means that you either really love the winter landscape or you're a winter sports fan, in which case, both the Catskills and the Adirondacks have their pros and cons. First up is the Adirondacks; anyone who's into winter sports such as snow tubing, snowboarding, skiing, and snowmobiling will be happy to know that there's an abundance of it there. While this is a little less in the Catskills, both regions have their own ski and snowboard areas, but the Catskills doesn't necessarily stack up to the Adirondacks' elevation or resorts.
When it comes to being one who enjoys the winter landscape, the Catskills wins out due to proximity. If you happen to be closer to this region then it's automatically the better choice. The roads throughout upstate New York, especially the further north a traveler goes, can be incredibly unpredictable in the middle of the winter. The Adirondacks do have varying elevations that are more so than that of the Catskills which means more switchbacks, more closed roads, and more potential for hazards.
After the winter thaw, the Adirondacks become a great place to explore. When the birds are chirping and the sun is high in the air, the streams, rivers, and waterfalls roar back to life and it truly is like a whole new world. Gone are the icy and frigid snow-covered mountains and back are the trees the blossom into lush greenery.
The springtime flowers begin poking their heads out and while it's not exactly warm, it is comfortable enough to walk around outside and explore towns and restaurants. Easy hikes and canoeing or kayaking are also great sports for the spring and give a new perspective to the season.