Kaaterskill Falls

Catskill Mountains / Palenville / Hunter, New York, USA

About Kaaterskill Falls


Hiking Distance: 2 miles round trip
Suggested Time: 70-90 minutes

Date first visited: 2013-10-10
Date last visited: 2013-10-10

Waterfall Latitude: 42.19327
Waterfall Longitude: -74.06321

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.

Kaaterskill_Falls_053_10102013 - Kaaterskill Falls
Kaaterskill Falls

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.

Kaaterskill_Falls_019_10102013 - Walking on Hwy 23A where there was no shoulder so oncoming traffic would have to swerve to avoid making contact with pedestrians trying to reach the trailhead for Kaaterskill Falls
Walking on Hwy 23A where there was no shoulder so oncoming traffic would have to swerve to avoid making contact with pedestrians trying to reach the trailhead for Kaaterskill Falls

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.

Kaaterskill_Falls_008_10102013 - View of Bastion Falls from the Kaaterskill Falls Trailhead at Kaaterskill Clove
View of Bastion Falls from the Kaaterskill Falls Trailhead at Kaaterskill Clove

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.

Kaaterskill_Falls_021_10102013 - The somewhat rocky and uneven ascent up the so-called 'Lower Trail' to Kaaterskill Falls
The somewhat rocky and uneven ascent up the so-called ‘Lower Trail’ to Kaaterskill Falls

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.

Kaaterskill_Falls_022_10102013 - The Kaaterskill Falls Trail followed along the east bank of Spruce Creek
The Kaaterskill Falls Trail followed along the east bank of Spruce Creek

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.

Kaaterskill_Falls_040_10102013 - Finally making it up to the base of Kaaterskill Falls
Finally making it up to the base of Kaaterskill Falls

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.

Kaaterskill_Falls_075_10102013 - Context of the very sketchy narrow ledge leading to the top of the lower drop of Kaaterskill Falls
Context of the very sketchy narrow ledge leading to the top of the lower drop of Kaaterskill Falls

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.

Kaaterskill_Falls_079_10102013 - Looking up at the upper drop of Kaaterskill Falls. I'll let you decide if this was worth the risk to get here
Looking up at the upper drop of Kaaterskill Falls. I’ll let you decide if this was worth the risk to get here

Just realize that if you do decide to go past the warning signs, you are doing so at your own risk.

Authorities

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.

Kaaterskill_Falls_017_10102013 - Easy-to-miss sign suggesting that the trail required hiking back along the Hwy 23A from the nearest sanctioned parking lot
Kaaterskill_Falls_018_10102013 - Heading downhill alongside the Hwy 23A in pursuit of the Kaaterskill Falls trailhead, but remaining to the left of the guardrails to minimize the chances of getting hit by a car
Kaaterskill_Falls_001_10102013 - Context of the Kaaterskill Falls Trailhead with the hint of Bastion Falls tumbling in the background
Kaaterskill_Falls_011_10102013 - Getting a clean look at the Bastion Falls before going past it on the way up to the Kaaterskill Falls
Kaaterskill_Falls_025_10102013 - The Kaaterskill Falls Trail pretty much followed along the east bank of Spruce Creek
Kaaterskill_Falls_029_10102013 - Following the yellow markers, which helped me along this relatively flatter section of the Kaaterskill Falls Trail
Kaaterskill_Falls_033_10102013 - Approaching the final turn before the rocky lookout for the Kaaterskill Falls
Kaaterskill_Falls_050_10102013 - Finally making it up to the lookout for the Kaaterskill Falls from the end of the official trail
Kaaterskill_Falls_060_10102013 - Another look at the Kaaterskill Falls flanked by Autumn colors
Kaaterskill_Falls_035_10102013 - Warning signs telling me not to go up past this point (near the Kaaterskill Falls trail end)
Kaaterskill_Falls_069_10102013 - Going up the steep and rocky scramble past the warning signs en route to the top of the lower drop of Kaaterskill Falls
Kaaterskill_Falls_071_10102013 - Going up the unsanctioned scramble yielded some pretty unusual views of Kaaterskill Falls
Kaaterskill_Falls_073_10102013 - Looking down towards the base of Kaaterskill Falls just to get a sense of perspective on how high I had climbed to this point
Kaaterskill_Falls_074_10102013 - This was the slippery and potentially dangerous rope-assisted slope traverse in pursuit of the top of the lower drop of Kaaterskill Falls
Kaaterskill_Falls_077_10102013 - Looking down at the narrow and drop-off-exposed ledge that traversed this root then went around an even narrower ledge right around the bend before the top of the lower drop of Kaaterskill Falls
Kaaterskill_Falls_078_10102013 - This section was a little overgrown and narrow with still the everpresent long dropoff on the left. I suspect that right on the other side of this root was the death section of the scramble
Kaaterskill_Falls_080_10102013 - 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 trail
Kaaterskill_Falls_081_10102013 - Partial angled view of Kaaterskill Falls as I was scrambling back down to the official trail. You can imagine my relief when I made it this far back down to the main trail
Kaaterskill_Falls_084_10102013 - Making it back to the familiar Bastion Falls on the return hike
Kaaterskill_Falls_085_10102013 - Finally, I made it back to Hwy 23A where I had to hike uphill along this hairpin turn towards the official trailhead parking for the 'Lower Trail'
Kaaterskill_Falls_086_10102013 - Once again, some parts of the road were not conducive to walking behind the guardrails on the way back to the Kaaterskill Falls 'Lower Trailhead' parking
Kaaterskill_Falls_091_10102013 - Back at the Kaaterskill Falls 'Lower Trailhead' parking lot where I got this last panoramic view with the fading light of the day

join-booking-970x240-1.jpg


To drive to Kaaterskill Falls from Albany, we took the I-87 south towards exit 21 for the town of Catskill.

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.

Kaaterskill_Falls_016_10102013 - The nearest trailhead parking to the 'Lower Trailhead' for the Kaaterskill Falls (it wasn't called that when I did this hike)
The nearest trailhead parking to the ‘Lower Trailhead’ for the Kaaterskill Falls (it wasn’t called that when I did this hike)

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.

Kaaterskill_Falls_014_10102013 - Pretty Autumn scenery as seen from the nearest trailhead parking for the Kaaterskill Falls
Pretty Autumn scenery as seen from the nearest trailhead parking for the Kaaterskill Falls

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.

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

Tagged with: catskill mountains, catskills, palenville, hunter, new york, upstate, waterfall, greene county, kaaterskill clove



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Visitor Reviews of this Waterfall:

Kaaterskill Falls. January 3, 2010 8:21 am by Nicholas Lovett - The nicest waterfall I know in NYS is Kaaterskill falls in Ulster County in the Catskills. It's a two tiered waterfall with the upper falls 175 feet and the lower falls 85 feet. It's at the end of a short (maybe 1/4 mile) trail just off state highway 23A. It's very pretty, not too heavily… ...Read More

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Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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