There are plenty of rural lodges with log cabin architecture and a family-friendly environment. And there are also a myriad of modern hotels that offer a luxurious, adults-only atmosphere. But we only know of one resort that is both of those at once: The Emerson in Mt. Tremper, New York.
Spot Cool Stuff went to visit The Emerson as part of our road trip test drive of a Kia Sportage EX and our family road trip around the Catskills area of New York State. We stayed at The Lodge at the Emerson (the family-friendly section of the resort), toured The Inn at the Emerson (the resort’s adult portion) and did some shopping at the resort’s country store, which, among other things, is the unlikely home to the world’s largest kaleidoscope. Here’s what we found at each:
The Lodge at the Emerson
The Lodge at the Emerson should, technically, be called the Lodges at the Emerson. The Lodge’s family-friendly rooms are divided among three separate buildings — code-named Black Bear, Grey Wolf and Red Fox — each a minute’s walk apart. Rooms in the former lodge (numbers 302 through 320) generally have the best river views; rooms in the latter two have the possible advantage of offering direct outside access.
With the log cabin walls and dated wall art, you could be forgiven for glancing at a photo of an individual Lodge room and being reminded of a summer camp cabin. But chances are your summer camp didn’t offer luxuries like fluffy mattress covers, whirlpool bathtubs, 26-inch flat screen televisions (along with access to a library of DVDs), free high-speed wifi internet, plush robes, gas fireplaces and private riverside decks. And that’s the beauty of staying here — it has a woodsy “getting away from it all” feeling while also being very comfortable.
Our room at The Lodge was in a two-floor Junior Suite. It had a living room (with a fold-out queen bed sofa), television and mini-kitchenette on the ground floor and a huge room with two queen beds above. Traveling with children, as we were, this set-up was perfect. The YAKs (young adults and kids) could fall asleep upstairs while the parents had some much-needed recuperation time below. Rates for the Junior Suite were around US$200 per night — an excellent value given the quality and huge space.
Another bonus: The Lodge at the Emerson is friendly towards canine family members too. There’s a fenced-in dog play area on the grounds and the front desk will rent you a dog crate ($10 to $20 per night) if needed. (Click here for more on their pet policy.)
Unlike some other rural family resorts, The Emerson doesn’t have a lot of open activities you could show up and spontaneously do without any advanced planning — the seasonal swimming pool is the main one that comes to mind.
However, also unlike most other rural family resorts, there’s a huge variety of personalized activities the friendly Emerson staff can organize for families if you simply ask.
One especially worth mentioning is hiking. The Catskills mountains abound with hikes, of course. But which hike to choose? And how not to get lost? Tell an Emerson staff member how long you’d like to hike for, how difficult you’d like it to be, what sorts of things you’d like to see and they’ll liaison with a local family-owned company to provide a guide to take you (and to pack a picnic for you, too, if you so choose). Many of the hikes available through the Emerson are on private land and thus not ones you could do yourself.
In addition, there’s excellent fishing in the Esopus River that flows through the Emerson’s property — the staff can set you up. Plus, there are multiple daily yoga classes, cooking and photography classes (though not at the same time), tubing, kayaking, winery tours, board games and more.
Like many family-oriented resorts, The Emerson makes meal-time easy by having several restaurants on site. The The Catamount Restaurant, or the “Cat,” open every evening, is located amongst the Lodge buildings.
The atmosphere at the Cat echoes the Lodge with warm wood, a stone fireplace and a casual, friendly bar. If you eat here with kids, you’ll need to know that the open-mic night is uncensored and there are multiple televisions in the restaurant. You should also know that the creative, delicious fare, as well as the upscale service might make you forget you’re in a family-friendly restaurant — until the waiter assures you it’s no problem to make numerous alterations to a dish just to meet your child’s tastes. You’ll certainly have left-overs, which you can store in your room’s mini fridge and gobble up the next day. On warm sunny days, the outdoor deck overlooking the river adds an additional layer of charm to “Cat” meals.
The Inn at the Emerson
The Inn at the Emerson is a mere five-minute walk from The Lodge but the rooms are a world apart. If the Lodge is a game of Lincoln Logs then the Inn is something along the lines of Baccarat — elegant, simple, sophisticated with a hint of pretentiousness. All the rooms are modern, with clean lines and wood accents. All feature canopy beds, large jet tubs and Swiss showers and flatscreen televisions.
The basic “Regal Suite” runs around $230~300 a night (depending on the time of year and day of the week). For 40~50% more you can upgrade to the two-story Imperial Suite. It has a large living room area downstairs and a loft bedroom upstairs, with a bathroom and television on each floor. It makes for a perfect wedding suite. (Not coincidentally, the Emerson has their own on-site wedding coordinator.)
The Inn is located in the Emerson’s main building, which is also where you’ll find the hotel’s lobby, fitness center, Phoenix Restaurant (see below), spa and “Great Room.” The latter is a large space of the sort where, in a begone era, men would sit smoking cigars and discussing politics. These days, the Great Room is an inviting area where anyone can hang by the fireplace, lounge on a couch or play one of the freely available board games.
All of those facilities are open to guests of The Lodge, too.
The Emerson Spa is worth a special mention. You enter through a 17th century door that was once the part of a palace in Rajasthan, India. While the door adds a bit of old world charm, the spa itself — with full-size lockers, plush robes, glittery sunset-colored tiled showers, a steam room and sauna — is clean, modern and luxurious. A large variety of massages, body treatments, facials, and mani-pedis are available both individually as well as part of several spa packages. As with most spas, the differences are in the small details. Ice water with fruit, a selection of Harney & Sons teas, magazines and chaise lounges in the sunny waiting room add to the experience. The locker room is equipped with hair dryers and a sundry of body products, making it unnecessary to even bring your own toiletries.
The Phoenix serves both breakfast and lunch (but not dinner). As with The Cat, the Phoenix’s menu is expansive and kid-friendly and the service was top notch, happily accommodating our requests for a single plain yogurt. Detailed decor and fine table settings abound, making for a beautiful setting that’s more fit for a formal party than breakfast with a baby.
The Country Store & World’s Largest Kaleidoscope
Attached via walkway to the hotel’s main building is the Emerson Country Store. It’s less of a single traditional country store and more a collection of boutiques collectively selling antiques, art, clothing, kitchen wares and gourmet food. There’s also a little cafe with coffee, ice cream and baked goods.
The Country Store is located within a 19th century dairy barn, whose former grain silo has been converted into the world’s largest kaleidoscope. Why a kaleidoscope? The Emerson’s owner simply figured “it would be a good idea” to convert the silo in such a way.
That idea has had the effect of turning the Emerson into a mecca for kaleidoscope enthusiasts — yes, there are such people — who have come from as far away as Japan to watch the trippy 15-minute kaleidoscope show. (The show is free for Emerson guests.) Also on display is the world’s smallest kaleidoscope along with a wide variety of kaleidoscopes for sale at the “Kaleidobar.”
Spot Cool Stuff, not being kaleidoscope enthusiasts, would not travel to The Emerson specifically for the world’s largest kaleidoscope. But it, combined with the luxurious rooms and the multitude of activities, add up to The Inn and the Lodge at The Emerson being one cool place to stay.