Valley Driving Tour - Greene County New York
From Civil War history to roller skating in the 1950s, the Valley Region of the Great Northern Catskills is full of surprises.
The Valley Region of the Great Northern Catskills is often called the “Emerald Isle of the Catskills,” and with good reason. Home to a thriving Irish cultural center in East Durham, the region’s rolling hills look like they’re straight out of the old country. A self-guided driving tour through the Valley Region reveals wonderful surprises, a breathtaking landscape, and a bit of whimsy.
Begin your driving tour at the Greene County Visitor’s Center in Leeds. Located off New York Thruway (I-87) Exit 21, this is a great spot to stop, grab a map of the area, get some additional recommendations for where to go and what to see, before hitting the road for this 30+ mile self-paced driving tour. From Leeds NY, head to South Cairo where a seven-story tall Jade Pagoda and the only Arhats Hall in the United States are located. The Mahayana Buddhist Temple is a treasured wonder. Open year-round for visitors, the temple is a place that inspires meditation and contemplation.
After a restorative visit, continue to the town of Durham where the Durham Center Museum offers a fascinating glimpse into the area’s history. The museum was built in the 1820s as a schoolhouse. Now, it houses exhibits featuring folk art and Greene County historical artifacts. In East Durham, your first stop – if you happen to be traveling anytime between June and September – is the Zoom Flume water park. The Catskills #1 water park features thrilling rides and lazy lagoons, making it a perfect spot to stop and cool off!
East Durham is also known as the “Emerald Isle of the Catskills,” for its landscape’s similarities to the rolling green hills of Ireland. In fact, many Irish families settled in the region after emigrating to the U.S. because it reminded them of home. Today, the region’s Irish cultural heritage is alive and well. The Michael J. Quill Irish Cultural and Sports Centre hosts annual festivals like Irish Arts Week and the East Durham Irish Festival that showcase the incredible music, dance, and artwork of Ireland. The MJQ is also home to a 200-year-old traditional thatched roof cottage that was disassembled and transported from Ireland to the Catskills before being reassembled. Be sure to call ahead to make a reservation for a tour of the cottage. After stopping at Guaranteed Irish for souvenirs, it’s time to visit Our Lady of Knock Shrine. This national shrine is dedicated to Our Lady of Knock, the Mother of God, who appeared in Knock, County Mayo, Ireland on August 21, 1879. Beautiful stained-glass windows and all the monuments were imported from Donegal, Ireland.
Wrap up your driving tour and trade your car for roller skates at the Purling Roller Rink in Purling, New York. This traditional 1950s roller rink is open on weekends and offers a bit of whimsy to round out your tour of Greene County’s Valley Region.