For 95 years, the Nicholsen family has welcomed family vacationers at the all-inclusive Sunny Hill Resort and Golf Course in New York’s Great Northern Catskill Mountains. Generations of New Yorkers make the pilgrimage to the Catskills year after year, and their tradition was evident during our visit as well. We heard families recount their visits as children, and how they brought their children and grandchildren to Sunny Hill too. We saw kids eagerly reuniting with their cousins and friends over the week. So what keeps these families coming back to Sunny Hill? I’d say it’s the scenic Catskill mountain vista, three meals a day of hearty food, and the Nicholsens themselves. Want more details? Continue reading for more of our visit to the Northern Catskills’ Sunny Hill Resort.
Sunny Hill Resort and golf course lies gently on over 100 acres of prime Catskill Mountain farmland. To “cut to the chase,” Sunny Hill Resort is a family-friendly “comfort resort.” It’s not a silver-service, fine dining, gourmet destination, but more of a meat-and-potatoes, comfort food, home-style vacation. Sunny Hill caters to families, and the Nicholsen clan welcomes all guests as part of their extended family. So pull a chair up to the table, and get ready to eat, play, and relax at Sunny Hill Resort. Below you’ll find specifics about the Sunny Hill accommodations, dining, and activities our family experienced.
There are 8 different motel style buildings at Sunny Hill Resort. Our suite was in the “Austland” building, right next to the dining hall, and included one bedroom with a queen-size bed and twin bed plus a living room with pull out sofa bed.
There was also a kitchenette area with sink, refrigerator, and microwave, and a modest bathroom. NOTE: there’s no shampoo amenities in the bathroom, so make sure you pack your own or purchase some at the giftshop or in town.
A sliding glass door opened onto a patio with spectacular view of the mountains, swimming pool, and expansive lawn.
The room was quite spacious, allowing our teen daughters to each have their own bed (sofabed and twin) while Mom and I shared the queen. The room was comfortable enough, the queen bed on the soft side and twin bed on the hard side. I’d describe the furnishings and amenities were on par with a budget hotel.
The best part of the room was the patio looking out to the mountains, and the close proximity to the dining hall. When you hear the dinner bell ring, you don’t want to come late.
Comfort food is the theme here with ample portions of roast beef, prime rib, chicken and mashed potatoes. You have assigned meal times and seating, and will share a table with another family (unless you have a large group of 8). Think of the dining-style similar to a cruise ship style on land. At first we were nervous about sharing all of our meals with strangers. However, we had a lovely family from Queens to dine with, and grew to enjoy our meal companions. Good thing because we kept seeing them all over the property. I’m sure they were just as concerned to spend their family meal time with us, but hopefully we made a decent impression (at least they kept showing up for meals).
One unusual thing was you needed to place your lunch orders during breakfast and dinner orders during lunch, but you quickly got used to the routine.
The food was simple, tasty, and filling. Don’t expect elegant presentations or fine-dining. This was all relaxed, comfort food. The service was first-rate, and our same server handled every meal of our stay (again, like a cruise ship). She quickly learned our tastes and preferences, and had our favorite drinks and condiments already waiting at the table when we arrived.
There are two rectangular pools at Sunny Hill, one designated for smaller kids. There are two slides attached to the deeper of the pools and a splash pad area as well.
Throughout the resort there are numerous playgrounds for younger kids, some themed with spaceships or wooden vehicles. There are also horseshoe pits, shuffleboard, volleyball, basketball, and tennis courts, as well as two full golf courses.
Past the golf course club house is a man-made lake (Lake Loree) stocked with fish. Sunny Hill does not provide fishing gear although you can purchase a small rod and reel in the gift shop, or there may be fishing poles available in lost and found. Don’t worry about bait. These fish have been raised on hot dogs. Just ask your server at one of the meals for hot dogs or sausages, attach a small bit to your hook, and you’ll be pulling out fish in no time. We caught at least 6 fish (some smallmouth bass) in just 20 minutes. In fact, our youngest cast in her line, and instantly had a fish attached to it. There are also kayaks, paddleboats, and rowboats available to borrow with life jackets are provided.
Feeling adventurous? Why not give the Viking Obstacle Course a try? It’s a 5.5 mile course studded with 35 obstacles throughout the woods around Sunny Hill Resort. My two daughters and I tried it one afternoon, and there are some major, major obstacles such as 10’ walls, floating logs over a mud bog, and super-high rope climbs.
I did love all the nods to the Nicholson family’s Viking heritage such as Odin’s Tables, Freya’s Cloak, and Loki’s Ladder. You need to sign a waiver before attempting the course, and for good reason. That being said, my daughters and I had a good time, completed 3.5 of the 5.5 miles, and did the obstacles where we felt comfortable. We did notice that some of the paths around the obstacles were more worn than the path through the obstacles, and we all have a new appreciation for American Ninja Warrior.
Sunny Hill hits a home run when it comes to evening activities. The afternoons are left unscheduled for swimming, golf, or excursions, but in the evening there was always something fun to do. A variety of vehicles were wheeled out to give tours of the property – we rode on a train and hay wagon, but also saw a military jeep, paddy wagon, antique fire truck, and more.
Musicians performed in the evening, and “Mr. Twisty’s” magic show was a huge hit with the families. Every night brought something different. For example, Sunday night was the “High Peak” rock climbing wall and “Cliff Hanger” inflatable slide both set up on the lawn.
Our number one evening activity was the family movie night under the stars by the lake. The Nicholsens even passed out blankets and free popcorn for everyone. Evening was our favorite time at Sunny Hill Resort.
Finally, while there’s plenty of activities for families at Sunny Hill Resort (especially if you are a golfer), you are also not far from other attractions in the Catskills. We took a scenic 30 minute drive into the mountains to see Kaaterskill Falls, a two-tiered waterfall nearly 100 feet taller than Western New York’s Niagara Falls (of course Niagara has an order of magnitude more water cascading over its precipice).
Also close-by to Sunny Hill Resort is the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, home to the Hudson River Art School. Artists, painters, photographers, and writers have ventured into the Catskills’ wilderness for years inspired by sites like Kaaterskill Falls to create their works.
Sunny Hill Resort and Golf Course harkens back to the “Dirty Dancing” era of Catskills family vacations, and the Nicholsen family has been there for nearly a century to help New York families enjoy time together. After we got home from Sunny Hill, we watched “Dirty Dancing” with the girls. Towards the end of the film, Max Kellerman (patriarch of the fictional Catskills’ Kellerman’s Resort) lamented his world seemed to be ending, and kids no longer wanted to come with their parents to take fox-trot lessons. Well, our kids loved spending time with us at Sunny Hill Resort, and the families we saw were already making plans to come back next year. Pack up your beach towels, fishing poles, and snacks, and step into the Catskills of “Dirty Dancing” at Sunny Hill Resort.
For more photos from our visit to the Catskills’ Sunny Hill Resort, check out the gallery below. Note: the photo gallery requires Flash Player, click here to view all the photos from Sunny Hill if your device is not Flash equipped.
DISCLOSURE: Our family was hosted by Sunny Hill Resort and the Northern Catskills Visitors Bureau for the purposes of writing this review. However, all opinions expressed are those of the author. For more family travel news, reviews, and trip reports, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on twitter and “like” our facebook page too.