In the heart of the Hudson Valley, Ulster County has been a vital part of New York’s history for nearly as long as the state has existed. The county seat of Kingston served as the Empire State’s first capital city in 1777, until the Battle of Saratoga when it was replaced with Kerhonkson.
Ulster contains dozens of charming towns and hamlets nestled among its dramatic terrain, including the famed artist enclave of Woodstock. The region also contains more than a quarter million acres of protected park land ripe with lakes, waterfalls, mountains and cliffs. Among these parks is the first linear state park, Walkway Over the Hudson, which provides an elevated, scenic walk across the river spanning from Ulster to Dutchess County.
Ulster’s proximity to the Catskill Mountains and Shawangunk Ridge – dubbed the Blue Mountains and the Gunks respectively by locals – make it one of the most desirable rock climbing destinations on the East Coast and a year-round magnet for travelers seeking active leisure.
Host Close Up: Sue Houghtaling
Growing up up along the Shawangunk Ridge in Ulster County, Sue Houghtaling spent her youth playing outdoors and working as a lifeguard on Lake Minnewaska, one of three lakes included in the 22,000 acre Minnewaska State Park Preserve, a defining characteristic of the region.
After owning a successful commercial bakery in Manhattan for 30 years, Sue decided to make her way back up the Hudson, trading in the New York City skyline for a view of the Gunks. The dreamy mountain town offered a much needed slow down from the Big Apple, where she whipped up decadent mousse and truffle desserts for clients including the iconic Peter Luger’s steakhouse.
Sue purchased her property in 1998, and spent several years doing much needed rehab on the home before moving in in 2003. She began renting her basement apartment to visitors in 2013, and quickly embraced hosting those looking to enjoy the area’s natural beauty. Through sharing the extra space in her home on Airbnb, Sue uses her entrepreneurial spirit to offer guests a scenic experience as rich as the desserts she served up for three decades.
Why did you start hosting?
After buying my home, I finished the basement, but I didn’t know entirely why I’d done it or what I’d be using it for. A good friend of mine introduced me to Airbnb and after looking at the website and I said to myself, “As a single woman in the country I feel comfortable with this concept.” It was a definite go, and from the minute I started I’ve been extremely happy with it.
What has surprised you about sharing your home?
From the very first guest to right now, everyone has been so delightful. I have not had a problem with anyone.
What has hosting enabled you to do?
My house was completely stripped of everything when I bought it, so it was a very involved renovation process which is still ongoing. Hosting has really helped me keep up the costs of working on the property.
What brings guests to Ulster County?
The pattern really seems to be people coming to get out of New York City to go hiking or enjoy the outdoors and the nature here. Most are heading to Minnewaska or Mohonk but some are in the area for a wedding or to visit friends locally.
What can guests expect when staying with you?
The space they stay in is filled with maps and local shopping recommendations. I know a lot about specialty products in the area and I always make sure to ask if they’re interested in anything specific so I can make those suggestions. I’m also well connected with antique dealers here which I make sure to tell visitors about, along with all the great wine shops, breweries and distilleries to visit.
What’s unique about your home?
I have 12 acres of land, which includes two streams and a crystal mine here on the property. But the views are what’s really exceptional – any season is absolutely stunning here. We have very quick access to the Shawangunk mountains and the Catskills loom in the northwest skyline. It’s a really dramatic view.
What does Ulster County have to offer visitors?
The area is loaded with artists and former New Yorkers, and on the weekends the towns and hamlets have a lot of interesting community events. The county is also filled with historical architecture and has the most stone houses in all of New York state, many on my side of the mountain. I often tell people to visit Stone Ridge, High Falls and Hurley –terrific towns with historic stone houses.
There are a lot of great restaurants that rival the city in their quality so I do a lot of recommending – it’s real a microcosm of great cuisine. The distilleries are really high quality as well, along with many five star breweries and incredible local orchards and farms.
What are some local spots you suggest to travelers?
I send my guests to La Canard Enchaine in Kingston for French food, Aroma Thyme Bistro in Ellenville and Tuthill Distillery in Gardiner. Many people who come stay are also interested in organic and locally sourced goods, so I make sure to recommend the High Falls co-op for local fare.
What is an experience you could provide to guests?
A lot of people are coming for hiking, but don’t know about spots like Cragsmoor or Sam’s Point – I could show that section of the mountain to people because very few know about it. A driving tour of all the historic stone houses through the countryside would also be great to provide for guests!