About Kaaterskill Falls
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 about 175ft.
In addition to being one of the tallest waterfalls in the state of New York, its location between Albany and New York City (where most of the state’s population lives) further ensured its popularity.
Furthermore, hiking to the viewpoint of the falls involved a pretty short hike so it was very accessible.
And as if that wasn’t enough, we even happened to experience this pretty waterfall with Autumn foliage, which further added to the falls’ scenic allure (see photo above).
Hiking to Kaaterskill Falls – Walking the Hwy 23A Road
I managed to do this hike in October 2013 so at the time, the only option I had to experience Kaaterskill Falls was to do a two-mile round-trip hike from the so-called “lower trailhead”.
At the start of the hike, I actually had to hike along the Route 23A for about 200 yards before even reaching the actual trailhead at Kaaterskill Clove.
Earlier, I had almost made the mistake of parking right at the trailhead until a local told me about police fining people $200 for parking there despite the absence of no parking signs at the time.
He was the one who told me about the trailhead parking further up the road.
Moreover, he also recommended to me about going up to the top of the lower waterfall upon seeing that I was wearing hiking boots (which I’d learn later that it was an unsanctioned scramble).
In any case, I did my best to remain behind guardrails or on the gutters, but there were a few spots where I had no choice but to walk on the road itself.
That made for some pretty nervous walking as cars would have to swerve onto the oncoming lane in order to avoid making contact with me.
When I finally made it to the actual Kaaterskill Falls Trailhead (I saw signs mentioning Kaaterskill Clove here), I was able to get a nice view of a multi-threaded cascade called Bastion Falls.
Hiking to Kaaterskill Falls – From Actual Trailhead to Sanctioned View
After having my fill of the Bastion Falls, I then went on the trail leading up past the waterfall and up along a moderately steep and rocky ascent along the eastern bank of Spruce Creek.
During this stretch of the trail, I realized that the steepness and rocky terrain made me glad that I didn’t bring my two-year-old along for this hike.
Yellow markers on trees also helped to assure me that I was going the right way.
After the initial stretch of this moderately steep climb, the trail continued to go uphill but it did so more gradually.
The trail was still somewhat rough and eroded in spots, but it was otherwise straightforward to follow.
I just had to be careful about turning an ankle given the uneven footing.
Eventually after spending about 20-30 minutes or so on this mile-long uphill section of trail, I eventually made it to the trail’s end at a viewing area right at the foot of Kaaterskill Falls.
There were some large boulders from which to view the tall and columnar two-tiered Kaaterskill Falls sandwiched between some Autumn foliage.
However, given the narrow viewing 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 cleanly.
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.
But for all intents and purposes, this was the end of the sanctioned Kaaterskill Falls experience, and I’d return back the way I came to complete the hike.
Overall, it took me about 70 minutes away from the car, and the difficulty score reflected just the sanctioned part of this hike.
Hiking to Kaaterskill Falls – Why People Have Died Here
When the stranger back at the trailhead recommended that I go to the top of the lower drop of Kaaterskill Falls, I was oblivious to the dangers of this recommendation.
It was only after I did this hike did I realize the danger that I had put myself in when I made this pursuit.
To make a long story short, getting to the top of the lower drop of Kaaterskill Falls involved scrambling up a steep slope that got increasingly steeper the higher I went.
Then, I had to follow a narrow ledge with dropoff exposure, especially near a corner where spray from the falls had made the footing slippery.
I believe it was this troublesome ledge that was the real dangerous spot that had caused all the deaths (which I only learned about in hindsight).
Nevertheless, even when I was traversing that ledge, the sketchiness of the traverse (even with the grip from my hiking boots) was very real, and I wouldn’t recommend doing it.
But I know people make their own decisions, and all I can do is provide information about what I saw and how this was actually not worth the risk versus reward in my mind.
Just realize that if you do decide to go past the warning signs, you are doing so at your own risk.
Kaaterskill Falls resides in the Kaaterskill Wild Forest near Hunter in Greene County, New York. It is administered by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.
It was about 34 miles from the toll stations at the I-90/I-87 interchange in Albany.
We then kept left onto CR 23B and Jefferson Heights Rd for the next 1.8 miles before turning right onto US 9W and following 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 parking lot 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 trailhead parking was actually about 0.3 miles past the hairpin turn by the Kaaterskill Falls Trailhead (at Kaaterskill Clove and the roadside cascade called Bastion Falls).
The pullout here was said to be subject to fines though it wasn’t explicitly signposted as such from what we could tell during our October 2013 visit.
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.