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It’s not often that I unearth a hidden gem in upstate New York. Having lived within 50 miles of New York City my entire life, I’m fairly intimate with the region I consider my backyard. Lately, I’ve been exploring the Catskills, the mountainous area west of the Hudson River, north of New Paltz and just south of Albany. It’s an area with plenty of fun things to do, hills to climb and great restaurants thanks to talented chefs and local farm bounty.
What I didn’t know is that there’s a standout spa resort in the Catskills that happens to have the world’s largest kaleidoscope, shopping that rivals midtown boutiques and a mountain glam vibe.
Meet The Emerson Resort and Spa, one of the best resorts in the Catskills and located less than two hours by car from NYC.
What You’ll Love About The Emerson Resort and Spa:
- 53-room boutique hotel with two distinct lodging vibes: sleekly modern and chicly rustic
- On-site full-service hair and nail salon and spa with sauna, steam room and outdoor hot tub overlooking the Esopus Creek
- Two onsite restaurants: Spa Bites and Woodnotes Grille
- World’s largest kaleidoscope, daily shows complimentary for resort guests
- Complimentary daily activities including craft workshops and nature walks
- Weekend bonfires with s’mores kits available for purchase ($5)
- Boutique shopping experience
- Beautifully landscaped grounds including formal beds and native pollinator gardens
- Seasonal outdoor pool
- New pickleball court
- Pet friendly with a dog park
- New children’s playground
- Free wifi and parking with EV charging stations
- Conveniently located near many Catskills hot spots including Woodstock, Hunter Mountain and downtown Kingston
What You Might Not Like:
- No cell service
- Located on busy Route 28
- The primary restaurant and bar is located at the far end of the property
The Emerson, named in honor of American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, is located on property that was once a prosperous dairy farm. It has been thoughtfully developed in several phases, retaining many of the original buildings including the barn, silo and farmhouse.
Current owner Emily Fisher and her management team demonstrate an ongoing respect for the resort’s precious setting by establishing eco-friendly initiatives and encouraging guests to “reconnect to nature and each other,” according to Marketing and Sales Director Tamara Murray.
This commitment reveals itself in many ways. For example, knotweed, an invasive shrub throughout New York, rapidly grows on the property each spring. Instead of using herbicides, The Emerson harvests a quantity to use as craft material in its wind chime class. And then a herd of goats is brought in for a summer residency to devour the rest.
The walls of the Inn building are adorned with Emerson’s most famous quotes and a copy of his essay “Nature,” inspired by a visit to the Catskills, is in the guestrooms to be enjoyed while visiting or purchased to take home.
Rooms at The Emerson
A Luxe Stay at the Inn
Your first decision when booking your stay at The Emerson will be to choose the vibe for your holiday. Are you feeling sleek and chic? Then the Inn is for you. The contemporary guest rooms have clean lines, a touch of glam and a large in-room sitting space with a gas fireplace and outdoor deck or balcony. I’m an early riser, but the plush pillowtop king bed seduced me into sleeping past dawn during my stay in one of the Inn’s Regal King rooms.
Thoughtful amenities are provided throughout. There’s a mini-fridge with Keurig coffee station, 50-inch Smart TV, charging hub and large desk. I kept thinking, in the event of another lockdown, I’d happily remote work from The Emerson.
What’s really over the top about the Inn rooms? The bathrooms are luxurious retreats. There’s a separate toilet area, huge vanity space, large Swiss rain shower with body jets and oversized air-jetted tub. Most soaking tubs just don’t align properly for a reclining soak but the design of the one in my room let me lounge in total comfort.
Request a robe when you check in so you can get all cozy in front of the fireplace post-bath.
SheBuysTravel Tip: I’m someone who gets completely foiled by modern plumbing fixtures particularly those in hip European hotels. I greatly appreciated the how-to signs thoughtfully provided by The Emerson to assist with working the jetted tub. The one thing they forgot to mention, so I’m letting you know, is that the tub runs a 3-minute purge cycle about 20 minutes after the tub drains.
Catskills Cabin Chic
In sharp contrast, but also delightful, are the Lodge rooms. They have an authentic mountain cabin vibe with timber exteriors, rocking chair porches and wood ceiling beams. There are one-room classic doubles available in the Lodge, but many of the rooms are duplexes with lofted bedrooms and sleep sofas.
Small kitchenettes are tucked behind the stairs in these units. Rocking chair porches front the Lodge units. Because they face busy Route 28, some people complain about the traffic noise. I didn’t notice it primarily because there’s a very wide buffer of landscape grounds and activity areas between the road and the Lodge buildings.
The bathrooms are not as ritzy as in the Inn but they’re more practical for families with small children who need traditional tub/shower combos. Wall-mounted trees have pegs for towels, a charming and practical touch.
Pet-friendly rooms are available in both the Inn and the Lodge.
Although The Emerson property is large (20 acres), the buildings are all clustered in one main area. The Inn is in the complex with the spa, Spa Bites restaurant, kaleidoscope and shops; the pool and Woodnotes Grille are near the Lodge buildings.
Videos of each of the room choices are available on The Emerson’s YouTube channel. Reservations are made via email or with a phone call to an on-site reservations agent who will happily provide guidance regarding your room selection.
SheBuysTravel Tip: What you won’t find at The Emerson and many locations in the Catskills is reliable cell service. However, like The Force, the wifi is strong. If you need to make calls and receive texts, turn on wifi calling on your phone. If you don’t know how, ask the friendly front desk staff to assist.
Things to Do at The Emerson
With a wide range of complimentary activities on the property, The Emerson makes an ideal destination for those interested in a “set it and forget it”-type getaway.
Couples can book a deep-tissue massage for two and snuggle up in front of their in-room fireplace.
Bachelorette parties can craft and hike and exhaust the shopping options.
Families have an outdoor pool, playground and the “kaleidoshow” available. And you can bring Fido. The dog park is a very welcome amenity for the family pooch.
Here’s what you can do at The Emerson Resort & Spa without leaving the property:
- Splash about in the heated outdoor pool or creekside hot tub
- Work out in the fitness center featuring Peloton bikes
- Book a facial, pedicure or massage and chill out in the spa relaxation room
- Take one of the complimentary craft classes
- Go for a nature walk to learn about the history of The Emerson and the unique natural resources in the Catskills
- Borrow one of the complimentary bicycles and take a spin on one of the area bike trails (kid and adult bikes available).
- Drop some dollars in The Shops at Emerson
Don’t Skip Experiences
The free scheduled activities at The Emerson are what set this resort apart from others in the area. My 91-year-old father merrily boasts “If it’s free, it’s for me!” And I’m my father’s daughter, so I happily indulged in many of The Emerson freebies.
On most days, daily 1-hour nature walks begin at the front desk. Liz Appelson, The Emerson’s Director of Activities, started the walk with a brief overview of the lobby art. A series of paintings that resemble topographic maps by artist Alison Berry line the walls, representing a timeline of the region. Up close you notice all of the Native American icons and factual information embedded in the designs.
We headed outside and wandered through pollinator gardens and down to the Esopus Creek as Liz told the story of The Emerson from its origin as a dairy farm through its transformation into the present-day resort.
I learned that the preservation of the Catskills’ hemlock forests, ruthlessly cut down to support the region’s leather-tanning industry in the 19th century, was the result of the need to establish a clean drinking water source for New York City.
The Emerson’s free craft workshops are also wonderful. I was a bit reticent at first. When it comes to crafting, I’m all thumbs. But I was assured by Tamara Murray that the lessons are designed so that even the craft-inept can produce something wonderful.
I spent a delightful session with Liz learning Suminagashi, a Japanese marbling technique. We swirled and dipped and chatted away and my paper coasters weren’t half bad. Liz said the classes, which also include pet portraits and wind chimes, are for all ages; she’s taught the marbling technique to a 3-year-old!
The Shops at Emerson
I’m not a shopper. It’s a necessary drudgery, 99% of the time. However, when I stumble upon that elusive 1%, it sparks a joy that makes me squeal. The Shops at Emerson is that type of place. It’s the complete opposite of most resort gift shops that are usually small afterthoughts, stocked with logo apparel and sundries.
The Shops were the first redevelopment of the property from farm to resort. The 19th-century dairy barn was preserved and the interior was redesigned into a series of boutiques, featuring:
- children’s toys and clothing
- pet accessories
- men’s and women’s clothing
- home and garden decor
- General Store with local food products, Catskill-themed apparel and bath and body goodies.
The merch is curated with care and the prices are lower than I’ve found in other parts of the Hudson Valley. Have holiday shopping to do? You can get it finished in one stop and have a massage and a cocktail to congratulate yourself.
World’s Largest Kaleidoscope
If you’re the type of person who swerves off the highway when you see a billboard that advertises a Guiness-worthy attraction, you’ll be happy to know that The Emerson is home to the world’s largest kaleidoscope.
The brainchild of Dean Gitter, The Emerson’s original owner, the kaleidoscope is housed in the barn’s silo and measures 56 feet tall and 38 feet in diameter.
Check-in at the Kaleidostore in The Shops for a 20-minute Kaleidoshow. Shows run continuously throughout the day and are free for resort guests (also free for under 12, $5 for adults).
You’ll be admitted to the silo and can lean against a tilted board or lie down on the floor to look up at the silo dome where the kaleidoscopic images are projected, accompanied by narration or music. There are a variety of presentations. The latest, “The Earth Laughs in Flowers,” was produced by The Emerson’s marketing team and features floral imagery taken around the resort.
It’s absolutely charming and totally trippy, very much in keeping with the Catskills vibe.
SheBuysTravel Tip: If you would like to take a photo during the show, ask the other people in your group before it starts. Some people mind; others don’t. Or try to snag a solo viewing. I went right before it closed for the day and had the silo to myself.
Plan to include some time in The Emerson Spa during your stay. It’s a delightful retreat, located in the main building. The spa menu includes a wide variety of treatments including facials, body wraps and massages. There are also nail and hair salons if you want “the works.” Spa package pricing is offered Monday through Friday.
Check in at the spa desk in the lobby and proceed to the locker room through an intricate Eastern-inspired doorway. There are men’s and women’s steam rooms and saunas. An outdoor hot tub sunk into the creekside deck is a wonderful indulgence, even when the weather’s gloomy like it was during my visit.
My 60-minute Relaxation Massage delivered what it promised and I retreated to the relaxation room for a cup of tea in a tranquil state of mind. Next time, I’d like to try a more vigorous option like the Firm Swedish or Deep Tissue massages. Treatment rooms for couples are available if you’re traveling to The Emerson for a romantic getaway.
Dining at The Emerson Resort & Spa
The Emerson was once home to a beloved Catskills institution, The Spotted Dog. The firehouse-themed restaurant featured live entertainment produced with the input of a Disney Imagineer. Today, the resort has two on-site dining options: Spa Bites and Woodnotes Grille.
Located in the main building at The Emerson, Spa Bites is open most days of the week during brunch hours. Its decor mirrors the sophisticated neutral palette found throughout the Inn and the spacious indoor dining room and bar are complemented by a large outdoor creekside deck.
The menu features cuisine you’d expect to find on a spa menu like smoothie and acai bowls,, charcuterie, salads and a soup of the day. But there are also heartier options including flatbread pizzas (cauliflower crusts are optional) and a signature cheeseburger.
It’s perfectly okay to dine wearing your robe and slippers between spa treatments. If that makes you uncomfortable like me, order takeout. I snuggled into a cozy nook in the grand Great Room next door to eat my yummy Buttery Brie and Roasted Turkey Breast sandwich. I’m a lover of carbs and the toasted peasant bread hit all the right notes.
The bar menu features an Immuneschein Elderberry Elixir shot, for those looking for a health boost. If you prefer to get your boost from booze, the signature cocktails include Soothe the Soul, a spice-infused bourbon concoction.
Open for breakfast and dinner, Woodnotes Grille is a popular Catskills dining experience for hotel guests, tourists and area residents who enjoy a 20% meal discount on Thursdays. The restaurant is located in a standalone building at the far end of the Lodge section of the property. It is not a long walk from the Inn, but if you need to drive, there’s a large parking lot.
The interior is two-tiered: the host desk, bar and several tables are on the entrance level and an additional dining section is several steps below with a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows.
What’s special about the setting isn’t the inside, which to me was comfortably decorated in Alpine style but lacked a “wow” factor. Outside, however, is a massive deck overlooking the Esopus Creek where the rushing water provides a relaxing soundtrack. My server enthusiastically recommended a return visit to enjoy the setting.
And she’s someone who speaks the truth, as I was to discover.
I started my meal with one of the author-themed signature cocktails. I chose the bourbon-based Hemingway over the Emerson, Dickinson, Wilde or Whitman, because it seemed a good match for the dark and gloomy evening.
The soup of the day was a splendid chowder featuring clams and the last of the summer sweet corn. I chose the Fried Eggplant Caprese appetizer instead of an entree for my main. It was a risky decision since I’ve had plenty of these towers that were sodden with grease and tasted flat.
This was not the case at the Woodnotes Grille. The alternating layers of eggplant, tomato and fresh mozzarella were elevated by a well-seasoned coating.
I had room for dessert, so I asked my server for a recommendation. Here’s when she earned my undying trust. Her suggestion? The house-made warm apple crisp with vanilla ice cream and caramel drizzle. It was heavenly and big enough to share.
Things to Do Near the Emerson
The Emerson lies in the shadow of Mount Tremper, one of the Catskill Mountain peaks, near Phoenicia, west of Kingston, New York’s original state capital. The 2,740-foot summit is actually a bit higher; there’s a fire tower you can climb to give you sweeping views of the surrounding area. Climbing the region’s fire towers is great exercise and one of the best things to do when visiting the Catskills. Here are some of the other fun activities nearby:
- Rail Explorers – coast along railroad tracks in a pedal-powered cart
- Shop Woodstock’s Tinker Street
- Attend a concert at Bethel Woods, the site of the original Woodstock festival
- Do all the winter mountain things (ski, snowboard, snow tube) at one of the Catskills ski resorts (Hunter, Belleayre, Windham)
- Hike to Kaaterskill Falls
Emerson Resort and Spa FAQs
What are the reviews of the Emerson Resort and Spa?
The resort has a 4.0 Very Good rating on Tripadvisor. Reviewers praise the exceptional customer service, comfy beds and great Catskills location.
What is the price for a two-night stay at the Emerson Resort and Spa?
Midweek 2023 rates for a Regal Suite in the Inn start at $469.91 per night and weekend rates start at $561.72 per night. Midweek 2023 rates for a Deluxe Room in the Lodge start at $375.69 per night and weekend rates start at $422.80 per night. Promotional discounts are available. For example, a 20% discount applies for two-night mid-week stays during the fall leaf-peeping season.