Kaaterskill Falls

Catskill Mountains / Hunter / Greene County, New York, USA

Rating: 3.5     Difficulty: 2.5
Kaaterskill Falls

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INTRODUCTION

Kaaterskill Falls was an impressive two-tiered waterfall in the Catskill Mountains said to have a cumulative drop of about 260ft, where the upper drop was said to be 175ft. We were curious about this waterfall ever since someone contributed a writeup about it a few years ago. With our return to New York in 2013, we were determined not to let this one pass us by. However, in doing so, we had to squeeze in a visit in the late afternoon while racing against the onset of nightfall as well as the threat of rain. Thus, I ended up doing this hike solo while letting Tahia continue her afternoon nap in the car with Julie watching her (though it would turn out that this hike wasn't very child-friendly anyways).

The hike didn't actually start from the official trailhead at the Kaaterskill Clove, where there was an attractive cascade besides the road along with an interpretive sign. Instead, there was a forest service car park further up the road (see directions below), which featured a nice view of a valley bathed in Autumn colors. We were actually about to park at the small pullout near the trailhead at Kaaterskill Clove until a local told us about the official car park while also warning us about police who would fine us $200 for parking there. That person also recommended to me about going up to the top of the lower waterfall, which he said was slippery in spots but that I looked prepared with my hiking boots on. I guess I'd find out later what he was talking about.

The signposted trailhead for Kaaterskill Falls So from the official car park, I hiked about 200 yards along the road downhill towards the hairpin turn at Kaaterskill Clove. This road walk was literally on the road in places where retaining walls were in the way. Otherwise, I was able to remain behind the guardrails and in the gutter to the left of the road (facing downhill) to stay out of the way of vehicular traffic going uphill. Once I made it past the bridge (and cascade) and to the trailhead sign, I then went back over the guardrail to descend towards some rock steps that began steeply behind an interpretive sign. The signs indicated that the trail was 0.5 miles long in each direction from here.

I realized that the ascent here was already steep and rocky enough to make me glad I didn't bring my daughter along. Yellow markers on trees helped assure me that I was going the right way. Once I was at the top of this initial climb, the trail continued to go uphill but more gradually. The trail was still somewhat rough and eroded in spots, but was otherwise fairly straightforward to follow. I just had to be careful about turning an ankle given the uneven footing, especially in my haste to beat the onset of darkness.

The end of the official trail for Kaaterskill Falls Eventually after about 20-30 minutes or so, I made it to the end of the official trail where there were some large boulders from which to view the tall and columnar two-tiered Kaaterskill Falls sandwiched between some Autumn foliage. Given the narrow window between the foliage to see the falls without stuff getting in the way, there really wasn't that much real-estate to see the falls from this spot. There were other people sharing this limited viewing area so there were some moments where I had to wait before I could take photos and movies without my shots getting inadvertently photo bombed.

Just before getting onto the rocky viewing area, I noticed that there were some warning signs telling me not to proceed any further up the rocky slope rising along with the falls. When I looked up past the sign, I could see a steep climb that looked fairly doable though it did look steeper the higher up it went. I guess the guy I met at the trailhead earlier suggested I should at least go up this route to get to the base of the upper drop of Kaaterskill Falls. However, I knew I would be doing this at my own risk.

So I went up the part rock, part dirt ascent, which became steep enough to require me to use my hands for both balance and for a self-boost over some of the larger rock obstacles. I eventually got up to a section where there was a thin rope traversing a particularly eroded slope. I quickly learned that trying to traverse this slope above the rope was unwise as it was way too slippery to proceed safely. So I went beneath the rope, held onto it, and slowly made my way across the slippery slope before continuing on the very narrow trail beyond.

At this point, there was definitely dropoff exposure to my left as I proceeded towards the falls. In a couple of spots, the ledges were wet, and I knew that this had the potential for a fatal slip-and-fall hazard (now I understood why perhaps some people have died here in the past). The dropoff exposure and slip-and-fall hazard was especially apparent on the last bend before the base of the Upper Kaaterskill Falls as the footing was made wet from the spray of the falls. Once I made it to the front of the upper waterfall, I quickly took photos and movies from this spot, then I returned back the way I came. I was simply too uncomfortable with the hazards here to linger much longer and take any more chances knowing there was the threat of rain and that the night time was approaching quickly.

Going back down was just as hazardous as going back up. So I took my time getting past the slippery ledges, then the rope-and-slope traverse, and then finally the steep descent back down to the official trail. Once I was back on the official trail, it was pretty smooth going as it was all downhill. So overall, it took me about 70 minutes to do this entire excursion, but the difficulty score reflected only the official trail portion of the hike. If I was to include the unsanctioned scramble to the base of the Upper Kaaterskill Falls, then I could easily bump up the difficulty score to a 3 or 3.5.




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PHOTO JOURNAL

The overlook at the official car park for the Kaaterskill Falls hikeThe overlook at the official car park for the Kaaterskill Falls hike
This was the roadside cascade by the Kaaterskill Falls Trailhead, which I believe the interpretive signs identified this area as the Kaaterskill CloveThis was the roadside cascade by the Kaaterskill Falls Trailhead, which I believe the interpretive signs identified this area as the Kaaterskill Clove
Another look at Kaaterskill Falls surrounded by beautiful Autumn colorsAnother look at Kaaterskill Falls surrounded by beautiful Autumn colors
The official car park that wouldn't get us fined $200The official car park that wouldn't get us fined $200

Heading downhill alongside the Hwy 23A, but remaining to the left of the guardrails to minimize the chances of getting hit by a carHeading downhill alongside the Hwy 23A, but remaining to the left of the guardrails to minimize the chances of getting hit by a car

Some parts of the road had walls, which made it pretty much mandatory to walk amongst the passing vehicular trafficSome parts of the road had walls, which made it pretty much mandatory to walk amongst the passing vehicular traffic

Shortly after passing by the interpretive sign and roadside cascade, the trail climbed steeply up this rocky pathShortly after passing by the interpretive sign and roadside cascade, the trail climbed steeply up this rocky path

Throughout the hike, there were these yellow markers guiding me alongThroughout the hike, there were these yellow markers guiding me along

The trail pretty much followed along the Kaaterskill CreekThe trail pretty much followed along the Kaaterskill Creek

More yellow markers helping me along this relatively flatter section of trailMore yellow markers helping me along this relatively flatter section of trail

Finally, the Kaaterskill FallsFinally, the Kaaterskill Falls

Warning signs telling me not to go upWarning signs telling me not to go up

Going up the steep and rocky scrambleGoing up the steep and rocky scramble

Going up the scramble yielded some pretty unusual views of Kaaterskill FallsGoing up the scramble yielded some pretty unusual views of the falls

Looking down towards the base of Kaaterskill Falls just to get a sense of perspective on how high I had climbed to this pointLooking down towards the base of Kaaterskill Falls just to get a sense of perspective on how high I had climbed to this point

This was the slippery and potentially dangerous rope-assisted slope traverseThis was the slippery and potentially dangerous rope-assisted slope traverse

Beyond the rope-assisted traverse were more eroded and dropoff-exposed ledgesBeyond the rope-assisted traverse were more eroded and dropoff-exposed ledges

This section was a little overgrown and narrow with still the everpresent long dropoff on the leftThis section was a little overgrown and narrow with still the everpresent long dropoff on the left

Looking right up at the Upper Kaaterskill FallsLooking right up at the Upper Kaaterskill Falls

Even after seeing the Upper Kaaterskill Falls up close, I still had to go back and negotiate the narrow and potentially dangerous trail to return to the main trailEven after seeing the upper falls up close, I still had to go back and negotiate the narrow and potentially dangerous trail to return to the main trail

Partial angled view of Kaaterskill Falls as I was scrambling back down to the official trailPartial angled view of the falls as I was scrambling back down to the official trail

Finally, I made it back to Hwy 23A where I had to hike uphill along this hairpin turn towards the official car parkFinally, I made it back to Hwy 23A where I had to hike uphill along this hairpin turn towards the official car park

Once again, some parts of the road were not conducive to walking behind the guardrailsOnce again, some parts of the road were not conducive to walking behind the guardrails


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VIDEOS OF THE FALLS


Left to right downstream to upstream sweep of the Kaaterskill Falls


Top down sweep of the upper waterfall before panning over to the view from above the lower waterfall, then finally showing the precarious and dangerous trail to get here


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DRIVING DIRECTIONS

From Albany, we took the I-87 south towards exit 21 (about 34 miles from the toll stations at the I-90/I-87 interchange in Albany) for the town of Catskill. We then kept left onto CR 23B and Jefferson Heights Rd for the next 1.8 miles before turning right onto US 9W and followed it for the next 1.3 miles. Then, we stayed on Hwy 23A (leaving US Hwy 9W) and continued for the next 12 miles to the Forest Service car park on the left. This long stretch on the Hwy 23A passed through the town of Catskill, then eventually climbed up a series of curvy mountain roads.

Note that the car park was about 0.3 miles past the hairpin turn by the Kaaterskill Clove and the roadside cascade. The pullout here was said to be subject to fines though it wasn't explicitly signposted as such from what we could tell. But then again, the lack of vehicles at this limited pullout on a trail that was so popular was already a red flag to begin with. Overall, this drive was about 49 miles total and it took us about an hour.

For context, Albany was 152 miles (over 2.5 hours drive) north of New York City and 291 miles (4.5 hours drive) east of Buffalo.




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ITINERARIES

For more information about our itineraries involving this waterfall, check out the following links.




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MAP OF THE FALLS



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TRIP REPORTS

For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.




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TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES





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NEARBY WATERFALLS




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