Kaaterskill Falls hike in the Catskills (lower trailhead)

Kaaterskill Falls
Average read time 9 min

The Kaaterskill Falls hike almost a “rite of passage” hike for Catskill hikers. It does not lead to a lofty peak, but it does take the hiker to one of the most majestic waterfall series in the Northeastern United States.

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Route 23A parking lot for Kaaterskill Falls closed, violators will be towed

Until further notice, the lower parking area is closed. Use the parking for the upper trail and hike down to the base.

Things you need to know:

  • This hike can be dangerous.
  • The walk from the parking area to the trailhead can be hair raising.
  • You’ll lose 140′ elevation from the parking area to the trailhead and then climb 465′ to the falls.
  • Total round trip is about 1.5-miles.
  • This is a very busy trail and the parking area often runs out of space quickly.
  • The trail is almost always wet.
  • To avoid the crowds the best time to go is midweek (early spring or late fall), after several days of heavy rain or during spring melt.
  • Weekends and summer is high traffic time.
  • There is a lower trail and upper trail. You can hike from one to the other as they are now connected. It is easier to hike them separately.
  • Winter is a special time here.

It is much more than a “waterfall hike.” It is steeped in history, right from the parking area to the falls. Starting off route 23a, which winds its way through Kaaterskill Clove, the parking area’s view is beautiful. So much that Asher Brown Durand painted his tribute “Kindred Spirits” to famed painter Thomas Cole and his friend, poet, and journalist William Cullen Bryant. Although the painting includes many features of the clove, including the falls, one can see the spot’s similarities from the parking area.

From parking Kaaterskill Falls parking area into Kaaterskill Clove
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking From parking Kaaterskill Falls parking area into Kaaterskill Clove
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking By Asher Brown Durand – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Asher_Durand_Kindred_Spirits.jpg, Public Domain

Even though this is a short hike, one should not underestimate the undertaking. Some people have died or been injured at the falls. Many are ignoring the signage with warnings and restrictions. In fact, on the day of this hike, we observed a hiker at the top of the falls, near the edge, attempting to get a picture. If you are up at the top, stay on the marked trails and take your photos from the observation deck.

Warning signs at Kaaterskill Falls
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Warning signs at Kaaterskill Falls

Remember it’s a dangerous place (even if you follow the restrictions) you can read about the incidents here, here, and here.

Carolyn, Chris, and I hiked from the lower parking area to the falls on this outing. One of the most hair-raising parts of this hike will be the 0.22-mile section of road you need to navigate from the parking area to the trailhead.

Parking area at Kaaterskill Falls
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Parking area at Kaaterskill Falls
Road walk from parking to trailhead
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Road walk from parking to trailhead

One can walk the obvious large drainage that is on the left side of the road. You will reach two rock retaining walls to navigate, but you can stay in the drainage instead of the road (see above picture).

The road will bring you to the hairpin turn where you will see Bastion Falls, a sight in of themselves. The smaller multi-tiered and muti-chute waterfall, in many ways, are more interesting than Kaaterskill Falls.

Bastion Falls in the Catskills
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Bastion Falls from the stream
Bastion Falls in the Catskills
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Bastion Falls from the Bridge

During high water, the main fall is fanned with more minor falls to the sides. The side fall to the left, a ribbon fall drops to a reflection pool below. To the right of the main fall, a terraced fall as the water cascades down and through chutes. One should consider these falls and not rush to the main spectacle and half a mile up the trail.

Bastion Falls

Before you depart the Bastion Falls, stop and checkout Roundtop and Kaaterskill High Peak once thought to be the tallest mountain in New York. One may get the feeling of why as you stand way below its summit.

Kaaterskill High Peak from Kaaterskill Falls trailhead
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Roundtop from Kaaterskill Falls trailhead

From the falls, you’ll follow the yellow trail. Sign in at the register, and you’ll make a steep ascent from the register where the trail will ease a bit.

Trail register at Kaaterskill Falls trailhead
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Trail register at Kaaterskill Falls trailhead
Climb from trailhead on Kaaterskill Falls trail
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking First climb from trailhead on Kaaterskill Falls trail

For the entire hike, you’ll be hiking near or above Spruce Creek as the walls of the ravine increase in height as you move along the trail. On your right, the land is the end of the ridge dropping from South Mountain with the Escarpment and other trails that penetrate the North-South Lake area. During high water, periods keep a lookout for small waterfalls off to your left cascading off the steep walls of the ravine.

The trail is well worn with some stairs (rock and wood) to aid your 465’ ascent from the trailhead to the falls base.  

Steps on the Kaaterskill Falls Trail
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Steps on the Kaaterskill Falls Trail

At about 0.5-miles, you’ll reach what you come to see, Kaaterskill Falls. The two-tiered falls at 260’ total drop are a sight to see. There is a large flat viewing boulder where many people sit to enjoy the falls. I suggest you take some time here to take in the scene.

Kaaterskill Falls

The experience will engage all your senses. You’ll hear the roar of the falls, feel the coolness and spray of the mist, smell the earthiness of this place, and see (hopefully) the beauty of the entire location, not just the falls. Finally, filter and taste the fresh, cold mountain water that the Catskills have to offer. The lower and upper sections have an overhanging wall and undercut crest that creates an air space behind the falling water. Do not attempt to go there.

Danger signs at Kaaterskill Falls
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Danger signs at Kaaterskill Falls, lower falls in the background.
Rock to view falls
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Carolyn and Chris on the rock ledge viewing the falls
View of Kaaterskill Falls from rock ledge
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking View of Kaaterskill Falls from rock ledge

Once you have sat for a bit, you may wish to visit the middle section of the falls at the upper-tier base. You can reach this by an excellent stone stairway. PLEASE be careful as the falls will spray and keep everything wet, including the steep staircase.

Stairs going down on Kaaterskill Falls trail
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Stairs going down on Kaaterskill Falls trail

After a couple of hundred feet of climbing, you’ll reach a junction that will take you to the middle of the falls (left) or onto the top of the falls (right).

The view of the upper falls is unsurpassed here. You will get glimpses as you ascend.

Kaaterskill Falls at the bottom of the upper falls

But then, from the short side path, the upper falls crash down and then spill over the lower falls. The updraft and mist created by the falls in the upper amphitheater can create wind and chilliness even on warm days. If the sun is out and at the right angle, look for rainbows.

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The hike to Kaaterskill Falls may be the best 0.5-miles in the Catskills. However, don’t expect solitude and always remember short doesn’t equal easy or safe.

Happy hiking!  

Kaaterskill Wild Forest
Contact Information:DEC Region 4 Stamford
Office hours: M-F 8:30AM - 4:30PM
Phone: (607) 652-7365;
Email: r4.ump@dec.ny.gov
Backcountry Emergency: (Search, Rescue & Forest Fire): 518-408-5850 or dial 911
Location: Towns of Hunter and Catskill in Greene County and the town on Saugerties in Ulster County
Map: View Kaaterskill Wild Forest Map - PDF (3.0 MB)
Amenities:Lodging and dining opportunities, as well as gas, food and other supplies may be found in the communities of Hunter, Tannersville, and Pallenville.
Scott | copyright Challenged Hiking Lower trail and road to Kaaterskill Falls (click to enlarge)