Kaaterskill Falls is another bucket list item we’ve been able to fulfill this year. Our journey through Georgia and North Carolina showed us some spectacular waterfalls and it really motivated us to get up close and personal with our own waterfalls in New York State. We’ve already been blown away by Niagra Falls and we knew there were many more hidden gems awaiting our discovery in upper New York (for the non-natives this means all of New York State outside of New York City and Long Island). Kaaterskill Falls was close enough for us to make a day trip from our home on Long Island. We even added a stop at Fishkill Farms for some apple picking and lunch on our way up.
This two-stage waterfall is set on Spruce Creek in the Eastern Catskill Mountains in between the hamlets of Palenville and Haines Falls. The Catskill Mountains are now a part of New York’s Forest Preserve lands owned and managed by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. Forest Preserve lands have “exceptional scenic, recreational, and ecological value.” With rugged mountain peaks, remote lakes and ponds, acres of unfragmented forests and miles of trails, the Preserve achieves a balance between recreational use and resource protection.
- The two cascades total 260 feet in height, the longest at 180 feet
- One of the highest waterfalls in New York
- Tallest cascading waterfall in New York
- 90 feet higher than Niagara Falls (167 feet)
- One of the tallest waterfalls in the Eastern United States
Quick Access to Kaaterskill Falls
If you’re pressed for time, but really want to see Kaaterskill Falls, you can access the Kaaterskill Falls Trail from the Laurel-House Road parking area or two small lots along Route 23A just before and after Bastion Falls. (Be advised, these are small lots for about 20 cars and can fill up fast, especially on a weekend.) It’s a short walk from the parking areas to the “observation decks” from either lot (.2 & .3 mile). The parking along Route 23A is a precarious walk. You will be walking along a winding, narrow road and local residents tend to fly through the area pretty fast. I suggest bright colored clothing and carrying your small dogs here if you bring them. Laurel House Road parking was created to avoid the dangerous walk along the road. A wheel chair accessible gravel path takes you to the overlook platform. (Note: Laurel House Road brings you to the top of the falls, Route 23A parking brings you to the bottom near Bastion Falls.)
Hiking to the Falls
“The 7,620-acre Kaaterskill Wild Forest, located in the Catskill Forest Preserve is a popular destination for outdoor recreation, due to the abundance of hiking and other recreational trails available, as well as the iconic Kaaterskill Falls. The terrain within Kaaterskill Wild Forest varies significantly in topography with sprawling mountains, dramatic cliffs, scenic waterfalls, and deep valleys. The area is occupied by deciduous and boreal forest species as well as an abundance of other plants and wildlife.”- DEC
Our family was limited on time for this first visit to the falls so we chose the short hike from the nearby Route 23A parking area. This was a short trail that took a considerable amount of time not just because of our admiration of the beautiful scenery, but the uneven rocky terrain. The DEC has invested more than one million dollars in safety improvements for you to safely enjoy the falls. The 200 step stone staircase is one of those major improvements (We can’t imagine hiking that stretch without them!).We would suggest that you leave three hours for this one mile hike to give you ample time to navigate the path, rest if needed, enjoy the scenery, and take loads of pictures. Our three hours was well spent, especially for a first visit. It left us wanting to come back and explore more, specifically the trails from the top of the falls.
You would imagine this trail would be rated as “easy” due to the short length, but young children, seniors, and any persons with a disability affecting their balance, walking, and agility would find this arduous. However, there’s always exceptions to the rule. There were a handful of seniors hiking this trail with walking sticks doing just fine. They gave me inspiration and I have much respect for each of them.
Check out their awesome Trail Map we discovered after our visit.
Kaaterskill Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls in the region. Renowned painters and photographers have depicted its beauty in a myriad of art pieces. It is a natural wonder that captivates all of its visitors. You can not help but take photos of and with this beau ideal of the Catskills, but remember to respect Mother Nature.
In attempts to get the perfect picture, people have gotten too close to the falls. The deaths at this waterfall are not to be dismissed (at least 8 fatal accidents, 6 within the last decade). Please remember “safety first.” Your social media post will look just as amazing if you keep your distance from the edge of the falls and stay off of jagged slippery rocks.
A note from Visit the Catskills: “Kaaterskill Falls has seen a massive spike in foot traffic in recent years, which makes it ever more important to practice Leave No Trace principles. When visiting any waterfall or trail in the Catskills (or anywhere!), please make use of waterfall safety and trail etiquette guidelines to ensure a safe and sustainable adventure.”
Hiking Trails in the Catskill Forest Preserve
- Long Path– long backpacking trail that extends through the Catskill Forest Preserve
- Kaaterskill High Peak Trail– 6.5 miles, encircles Roundtop Mountain and Kaaterskill High Peak, snow mobile trail in winter, open to mountain bike, horse back, and hiking in warmer months
- Huckleberry Point Trail– 2.4 miles, views of the Hudson Valley, Overlook Mountain and peaks in the Indian Head Wilderness to the southwest, access Steenburg Road parking area
- Sleepy Hollow Horse Trail– 4.9 miles, connects the Long Path with the Mountain House Turnpike wear Rip Van Winkle Historic House site is found.
- Poet’s Ledge– 3.6 miles, from Harding Road Parking Area
- Buttermilk Falls– 4.8 miles, scenic waterfall on Long Path, access from Steenburg Road or Harding Road parking areas
- Escarpment Trail– 23.9 miles (9.8 miles in Kaaterskill Wild Forest)
- New York State Route 23A, Hunter, NY
- Open year round
- Free- no entry or parking fees
- Available Parking– 1 parking lot, 5 smaller parking areas
- Moderately difficult trail
- Laurel House Road Parking- wheel chair accessible gravel path to overlook platform
Family Adventure Rating ❤️❤️❤️❤️
Cost– Your only cost to visit Kaaterskill Falls is travel. There are a lot of interesting places to explore that are free so pack your own food and enjoy the day. Mass transit is an expensive option, especially for a day trip. Amtrak goes to Hudson and you can take a bus from there or rent a car. Taking your own car or carpooling with some friends will save you tons of money and keep your cost down to $20-$30 for gas and tolls.
Parking & Transportation– There are parking options that bring you close to trail heads, but they are limited. It’s best to plan on an early start or have some patience to wait for a spot to open up. Mass transit options are Amtrak to Hudson and then a bus or car rental—do-able but not great.
Location– Most people outside of the state think only Manhattan is New York, some add the Hamptons due to their fame. Many don’t even associate Niagra Falls with New York State! But New York is beautiful and mostly rural. The Catskills are just one example of the amazing natural beauty of the state. I ❤️ NY
Day Trip or Overnight– This could easily be an overnight adventure. Hunter Mountain is close by and offers more fun activities and lodging. You can find more options at visit the Catskills. You can also find dining, food, gas and other supplies in the nearby communities— Hunter, Tannersville, and Pallenville.
Experience– This is a terrific adventure for outdoor fun and exploration. You can enjoy Kaaterskill Falls with family and/or friends. (You should never hike alone, but you can enjoy the beauty of the area if you need some personal time for soul searching.) Connecting to nature is necessary for human development and evolution and this is one place you can immerse yourself in it. Check out Great Northern Catskills
Combination– Depending on which direction you are coming from, you can always find something to enjoy in or on the way to this area. We enjoyed some apple picking and lunch at a farm on our way to the falls. Once in the Catskills region, the activities and adventures are endless. You are nearby so many terrific towns each with their own je ne sais quois! Here’s a list of things we’ve already added to our Adventure To-Do List…
- Hunter Mountain’s Scenic Skyride
- Zip Line Canopy Tour
- Rail Explorers of Phoenicia
- Exploring Woodstock
- Hiking from the top of Kaaterskill Falls
- Rip Van Winkle
- Windham Mountain Bike Trail