Catskills Counties compared — Sullivan, Delaware, Ulster, Greene
Sullivan County is just one of 4 primary counties (Sullivan, Ulster, Greene and Delaware) that make up the Catskills region of New York. Two additional northern counties, Schoharie and Otsego are also sometimes included in the regional designation as well.
Dutchess and Columbia counties, often in the ‘hunt group’ among second home buyers, are located east of the Hudson River and are not in the Catskills.
The 4 primary counties in the Catskills vary tremendously, much like the 5 boroughs of New York City. When you’re starting to look for real estate in the Catskills, it can be very helpful to become familiar with the 4 counties. Each offers very different attractions for the second home buyer. So I put together this thumbnail about the main counties to help Catskill real estate buyers narrow their search.
Ulster is the closest Catskills County to New York City, with a straight shot up the Thruway. The southern end of Ulster County is considered part of the mid-Hudson region, with the Shawangunk Mountains near New Paltz offering dramatic vistas and world class rock climbing. The northeastern part of Ulster County is within the boundaries of Catskills Park, with great hiking and recreational activities. The country-cute village of Woodstock is located NW of Kingston.
Prices for Catskills real estate tend to be higher in Ulster than the other 3 primary counties, due to proximity to the city, more established country-cute villages, and a location astride the Hudson River and easy access to downhill skiing. Villages like Woodstock have been a magnet for wealthier artsy types for decades, and prices reflect that. Ulster also has the most convenient train service to the city, with Metro North just across the Hudson River in Dutchess County.
Because Ulster was settled before Sullivan or Delaware, you can find houses here from the late 1700’s to the early 1800’s, such as classic stone manor houses, that generally aren’t available in the later-settled counties. Stone Ridge, west of Kingston, has a wonderful collection of them. Another hamlet here popular with second home owners is Phoenicia.
While Ulster offers proximity to the Catskill Park, downhill skiing at Belleayre and in nearby Greene County, and the Hudson River, the county has very few lakes, and country property within the boundaries of Catskill Park or near the New York City reservoirs can be hard to come by.
Sullivan County, west of Ulster and south of Delaware, is the heart of the “traditional” Catskills, and was home to the famous Catskill resorts like Grossingers and the Concord. Sullivan overall offers more varied terrain than the other counties (see County Areas Overview). While Ulster and Greene appeal have more mountains, Sullivan has more water. Sullivan is the Catskills county you should focus on if you’re looking for a lakefront home, or want easy access to lakes for recreation. (See Sullivan County lakefront property for more detailed information on the lakes here.) Sullivan also borders the Delaware River, for canoeing, rafting, kayaking and fishing. The “Big 3” fly fishing rivers, the Beaverkill, Neversink and Willowemoc, run through Sullivan County, making it one of the top fly fishing regions in the world.
The one thing Sullivan County lacks is good downhill skiing, with only 2 small hills (Villa Roma and Holiday Mountain) that are best suited for learning or taking that new Christmas snowboard for a spin.. There is good skiing within an hour, however (see Skiing.) For golfers, Sullivan is the Catskills destination of choice, with world class links at Grossingers and the Concord, plus a half dozen other appealing courses — all with reasonable greens fees and little difficulty getting tee times.
Sullivan County is rougher around the edged than neighboring Ulster, with some parts that have seen tough times and never recovered from the decline of the traditional Catskill resorts. But many parts of the county have seen a renaissance over the past decade, with a number of vibrant country hamlets, better restaurants and lively farmers markets along with the spectacular scenery.
Sullivan County is home to the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, a major summer performing arts center that draws top acts. The single casino approved for the Catskills region will be going up just south of MOnticello.
Sullivan County real estate prices tend to be lower, sometimes much lower, than in Ulster County or eastern Delaware. The big difference here is that the county has very low density, so at any given price point you generally get more land with your house.
Delaware is the furthest primary Catskills county from New York city. Three hamlets in the eastern part of the county — Margaretville, Andes and Delhi — have become quite popular with second home buyers, but they’re beyond the magic 2 1/2 hour circle from New York City. Margaretville, in particular, is a quaint country village, with traditional farmhouses and charming older homes. But Margaretville’s popularity has pushed up home prices, which now are on par with other areas a bit closer to the city. Another up and coming spot is Roxbury, in the northeast part of Delaware County, where the cool and trendy Roxbury Motel is located.
One great attraction of the Margaretville-Andes area is that it offers the rural ambiance of western Sullivan or Delaware, but is closer to downhill skiing in Greene County. These areas are a good choice if you’re looking for a country getaway but want to be closer to downhill skiing. These areas, however, do not have the range of lakes you find in Sullivan County.
The northern and western areas of Delaware County (Hancock, Walton and further west) have lower property prices, but don’t offer the range of services like restaurants and markets that many second home buyers want that are more readily available in the hamlets further east.
A benefit of Delaware over Sullivan is lower property taxes. Delaware County is home to the two of largest New York City drinking water reservoirs, and a large portion of the county is part of the Catskill watershed, a large conservation area established to protect the water supply. (This limits development and the ability to increase tax revenue.) Due to the reservoirs and watershed within the Delaware County’s boundaries, New York City makes large transfer payments to the county every year, which help to keep down taxes. Overall, property taxes in Delaware tend to be about 30% less than in Sullivan or Ulster.
Greene County, north of Ulster, is the choice for second home buyers who want a four season getaway, with downhill skiing. Greene is the home of Windham and Hunter Mountains. Greene is the smallest and most mountainous of the primary Catskills counties, with development concentrated in the ski towns like Tannersville. If you’re looking for pastoral, rolling farm land type terrain, you can find it in Greene, but it isn’t the dominant topography here. Greene is all about the mountains. The north eastern part of the county is within commuting distance of Albany. While Greene has downhill skiing, it doesn’t have many lakes, so it isn’t a top choice for second home buyers searching primarily for a lakefront home.