The Old Catskill Game Farm was a spot I heard about even before I started writing about things to do in New York. And, as someone who loves legally exploring abandoned places, I was always interested in checking it out.
Fortunately, I had the chance to do so in October 2021, and, in an effort to not bury the lede, it was amazing.
The Old Catskill Game Farm is located in a forested corner of Greene County, a short drive from Kaaterskill Falls and the Hudson River community of Catskill, New York. It is typically closed to the public unless you are staying at either their inn (which was once the giraffe house) or at one of the glamping sites set up around the property. (Repeat: This site is ONLY open to those staying at the property. Visiting without permission is trespassing.)
This zoo, which was the first privately-owned zoo in the country, was open for 73 years before closing in 2006. After the zoo was closed to the public, the animals were moved to other facilities, and the game farm was left largely abandoned for over a decade.
Keep reading to find out about the zoo’s history, what there is to see there today, and how you can visit the Old Catskill Game Farm for yourself.
The History of the Catskill Game Farm
The Catskill Game Farm began operations in 1933, though there is a bit of confusion on exactly when the farm opened to paying visitors (1933, 1939, and 1945 are all possibilities).
It was founded by Roland Lindemann, a banker from New York City, who had an interest in zoology. His farm started out with a large variety of deer from around the world, and he soon began breeding them and selling them to various zoos.
The game farm continued keeping and breeding different species of animals and, in 1958, was recognized by the United States Department of Agriculture as the country’s first privately-owned zoo. This distinction allowed them to start keeping more exotic animals at the property.
Over the ensuing years, the zoo would grow to house more than 3,000 animals from approximately 150 different species. At its height, the Catskill Game Park was nearly 1,000 acres in size, though only about 150 of those acres were open to the public. Today, the farm is roughly 200 acres in size.
The Catskill Game Farm was known not just throughout the Catskills, but throughout the entire region for its wide variety of animals, including some unique animal encounters and shows with tame animals from a variety of species. In fact, at its peak, more than 200,000 people were visiting each summer.
As zoo and animal care standards changed, as well as the interests of the public, the Catskill Game Farm began to decline and, on Columbus Day in 2006, the Catskill Game Farm closed its gates for the final time.
They would soon sell off all of their animals to other places throughout the country before abandoning the zoo to be consumed by the surrounding forest.
Interestingly, one of the animals they sold was April the Giraffe, who would go on to have fame at the Animal Adventure Park near Binghamton, New York, when her pregnancy was live-streamed on the internet.
The Catskill Game Far sat abandoned and rotting in the woods for six years until it was bought and work started to turn it into one of the most unique boutique hotels in New York.
Over the next few years, the grounds were marginally cleaned up and the old giraffe barn was turned into a fantastic hotel for visitors. Known as The Long Neck Inn, the boutique hotel opened in 2019.
In 2020, the property once again changed hands. The new owners are said to have big plans for the property, but exactly what those are hasn’t been spelled out.
It’s worth noting that other than a small handful of farm animals (which are taken care of), there are no zoo animals on the property anymore.
Staying at the Old Catskill Game Farm
In mid-October 2021, I decided to book a stay at The Long Neck Inn. I did this not only because I had long wanted to explore the grounds, but also because, starting in November 2021, the inn is only open to those renting out the entire hotel. (There are still camping spots that can be easily rented for a less expensive option that are discussed below.)
The 9,000-square-foot inn consists of six bedrooms and a large gathering space for guests and, at the time of publication in late 2021, costs $1500 per night for the entire inn.
The restoration did an incredible job incorporating modern elements while still retaining the unique feel of a giraffe barn. This is no more evident than in the common rooms of the inn.
In these spaces, original signs that were used throughout the game farm’s many years of operation line the walls, offering a really fun way to learn more about the history of this great place. Definitely make sure you take some time really look over the walls here.
In this common area, where the sitting area and a large kitchen are located, there are also portions of the original giraffe enclosures that you can see from the outside. You’ll also find more common areas outside include a hot tub and firepit.
There are a total of six bedrooms in the Long Neck Inn, each with its own bathroom. Bedrooms can be found on both floors of the building, though most are on the second floor.
During my visit, I stayed in the Rhino Room and was very impressed with the quality of the renovation, how comfortable and clean the space was, and how well they incorporated the zoo feel into the room.
Based on this stay and the photos I saw of the other rooms, I’m sure that each is fantastic.
If renting out the entire Long Neck Inn isn’t a good option for you, the Old Catskill Game Farm also has several glamping tent sites that can be booked on Tentrr.
There are a total of four campsites scattered around the property, each offering a unique experience. Each site comes with a canvas tent, memory foam mattresses, tables, firepits, and more.
During my exploration of the grounds, I came across the Fido’s Vineyard site, which was unoccupied at the time.
This site is located inside a large animal pen and is totally fenced in. It is accessed through a small wooden barn (which gives you somewhere to sit other than your tent if it’s raining outside. It’s even said that there are wild grapes that grow at this spot in season.
The other camping spots are the Mountain View Site, the Wooded Site, and the Overlook Site, with the names offering a good clue of what you’ll find at each. It should be noted that these three sites are only open from May to October, while Fido’s Vineyard can be booked year-round.
I’d definitely love to visit again to check out one of these unique camping opportunities and, for most, these are going to be the best option for visiting the Old Catskill Game Farm since you can no longer rent individual rooms at the inn.
Exploring the Old Catskill Game Farm
Whether you stay in the Long Neck Inn or at one of the Tentrr sites, you have access to explore the 200+ acres of the property, including the abandoned zoo.
As stated above, access to the Old Catskill Gam Farm is limited to ONLY those staying on the property. This site is not open to the general public otherwise. Please do not trespass.
It’s worth noting that while the inn and the camping spots have check-in and check-out times, guests are allowed to explore the grounds both before and after these hours on the days that they check in and out.
According to the information from the site, the 200 acres of land feature nearly 30 miles of hiking and biking trails. Unfortunately, there was no map of the property’s trails and features during my visit.
In fact, when I asked, the best map they had was an old map of the zoo on their website. While this was definitely helpful in navigating the 3.5 miles of paved walking trails around the old zoo, it doesn’t help if you wanted to explore the land beyond this area.
For that reason, I didn’t go beyond the public part of the abandoned zoo and, thus, will only be covering that portion of the property in this article. However, I think that most who visit this land are primarily interested in exploring this particular area.
All that being said, exploring the zoo is a ton of fun, and I spent about four hours here exploring and taking photos, though I could have spent longer.
When exploring the Old Catskill Game Farm, it can be helpful to break it into three different sections (based on the historic map linked above). Because of the way the paths are set up, there are few connecting points between these areas, so it can actually make sense to explore an area, and then retrace your steps to the giraffe house (Long Neck Inn), which is near the entrance.
In my opinion, the most interesting of these sections can be found by following the main path in front of the inn away from the entrance. Along this path, you’ll pass a variety of abandoned buildings and cages that housed many different animals.
The road ends at an area with several fairly well-preserved buildings that include a train station, a souvenir stand, and a few miniature houses that likely served as a playground. All of these make for interesting photo subjects.
A paved trail that branches off of this main path to the east passes under a sign that is still in great condition and denotes that this path leads to the “African Section”.
In this area, you’ll not only find some interesting abandoned buildings and enclosures, including some old moats, but also the historic Rhino House, which was the most interesting of the abandoned buildings I came across.
Walking onto the main floor of this building, you can explore both the visitor side and the rhinoceros side of the building, giving an interesting perspective on what it was like looking out to where the visitors once stood.
Interestingly, this is one of over 100 abandoned buildings on the property.
Despite this number, most of the buildings here are one or two room structures that are essentially empty. While the exteriors of many of these structures were quite fun to photograph and featured some unique details, the interiors were, by and large, less exciting.
In fact, the Rhino House was the only building that I spent a significant amount of time in, and I definitely recommend taking the time to walk through this building if you are visiting the Old Catskill Game Farm. (Bring a flashlight and mask with you if you plan to explore the interior of the abandoned zoo buildings.)
The area up the hill from the Long Neck Inn was also quite interesting to explore.
In this area, you’ll find more abandoned buildings including an abandoned show ring, fountain, miniature golf course, and even a rocky area for mountain goats.
The show ring was especially interesting as it featured a large concrete circle partially surrounded by decaying bleacher seating. While that might not sound interesting, if you use your imagination, you can almost see one of the game farm’s famous elephant shows going on in front of you while sitting on the wooden bleachers.
The last section of the zoo is the area right around the Long Neck Inn.
This area features several interesting structures, as well as the old entrance to the zoo (which features a very cool sign still perched above the closed gates).
Honestly, there are way too many neat spots to explore at the Old Catskill Game Farm for me to mention them all, and a lot of the fun is exploring on your own and seeing what interesting spots that you can uncover.
While it is a shame the Long Neck Inn is only open to those that rent to the entire lodge (as it was a very nice place to stay while exploring the grounds), it is great that they still have a few glamping spots scattered throughout the property that give you access to this abandoned zoo in the Catskills.
One last reminder: The Old Catskill Game Farm is CLOSED to the public unless you are a guest at the lodge or one of their campsites. Do not trespass!