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Two stops on this out-and-back: viewing platform and base of falls.
Hiking Trail Description
Kaaterskill Falls is a majestic natural wonder. This iconic, cascading two-stage waterfall has drawn nature lovers to the Catskills for almost 200 years. This Kaaterskill Falls hike makes for an unforgettable experience.
Nestled within the Eastern Catskill Mountains of New York, between the charming hamlets of Haines Falls and Palenville in Greene County, lies a natural wonder that has captivated the hearts and imaginations of generations—Kaaterskill Falls.
This two-stage waterfall, with its combined height of 260 feet (79 meters), stands proudly as one of the highest waterfalls in New York and among the Eastern United States’ tallest cascades.
But Kaaterskill Falls is more than just a geological marvel; it’s a place steeped in history, artistry, and reverence for Nature.
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Kaaterskill Falls Hike
The falls’ magnificence unfolds in two stages, with the upper cascade accounting for most of the vertical drop. A natural shelf divides the twin falls, creating a large, tranquil pool that adds to the location’s dramatic beauty. This geological marvel owes its distinctiveness to the transition from sandstone formed in the middle Devonian period, to a sandstone-shale mixture formed in the late Devonian period.
The Kaaterskill Falls hike include…
- Excellent parking at three locations
- Easy hiking trails to the top of the falls
- A stunning viewing platform
- A steep descent to the lower falls
- An absolutely stunning nature experience
Allow 1-2 hours for this hike, depending on the route you take, as there are several ways to enjoy the Kaaterskill Falls hike. See below.
Kaaterskill Falls is an incredible destination. However, be warned: its close proximity to excellent public parking belies the fact that this is a wilderness location. 100% wilderness. As soon as you step off the main trails near the top of the falls, you are entering steep, rugged and dangerous terrain.
While Kaaterskill Falls beckon with their beauty, safety remains paramount. Stick to designated trails, avoid venturing off-path, and never approach the edge of cliffs. The landscape here consists of loose and exposed rocks, so maintain a safe distance from cliff edges to avoid accidents.
People are rescued often during a Kaaterskill Falls hike. Unfortunately, and with with some regularity, people do die at this location. Please heed this warning—and the many warning signs in the vicinity.
The 3 best ways to stay safe on a Kaaterskill Falls hike…
- Do NOT take any risks near the top or edges of the falls—no selfie is worth tumbling to your death (which has happened);
- Do NOT come to the falls without proper footwear: in the warm months, this means hiking boots or shoes with excellent traction and, in the cold months, you should add microspikes;
- Do NOT f-around and find out.
Leave your flip-flops and sandals behind, as the terrain is uneven and often slippery. Safety should always come first.
Parking for the Kaaterskill Falls Hike
To ensure an enjoyable visit, arrive early or during mid-week to secure parking. Parking lots fill up quickly on weekends and holidays—and especially so during the Catskills fall foliage season. Please adhere to parking regulations, as parking on NY Route 23A is prohibited for safety reasons. As there are no trash cans at Kaaterskill Falls, practice “carry-in, carry-out” to help preserve this pristine environment.
Kaaterskill Falls Hike Trails
Currently, there are three safe routes to the falls. A fourth route is currently closed.
- From Laurel House Road — 1.6 miles round trip to the base of the falls with apx. 400 feet of elevation loss and gain
- From Scutt Road — see the GPS track and trail notes on this page — 2.6 miles with apx. 630 feet of elevation loss/gain
- Via the Kaaterskill Rail Trail — 3.5 miles round trip with apx. 150 feet of elevation gain
The public parking area on Route 23A is currently CLOSED. The road walk is just too problematic and dangerous. Access from Bastion Falls at the hairpin turn at this location is highly discouraged.
Kaaterskill Falls Hike Gallery & Notes
A full breakdown is provided in the trail notes below, with 15 jaw-dropping photos—including shots taken in deep winter, when the falls are decked out in mind-boggling icicles.
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History of Kaaterskill Falls
Long before the arrival of European settlers, indigenous peoples of the Hudson Valley knew of the falls but paid them little heed, as the rugged Catskill Mountains offered limited agricultural opportunities. It wasn’t until the early 18th century that English-speaking colonists, in their typical fashion, mispronounced the native name for the area, likely meaning “Bobcat Stream” as “Catskill”. The falls’ name, much like the landscape surrounding it, underwent a transformation.
Washington Irving and the Birth of American Scenic Appreciation
The falls remained in relative obscurity until the early 19th century when they were thrust into the American consciousness by none other than Washington Irving. His iconic story, “Rip Van Winkle,” published in 1819, mentioned the falls and played a pivotal role in shifting attitudes toward the Catskills. Prior to this, the region was seen as a wild and perilous frontier. Irving’s tale marked a turning point when the Catskills began to be viewed as a place of scenic beauty rather than a foreboding wilderness. [You can visit Rip’s Rock which also boasts a spectacular view.]
The Hudson River School of Art: A New Canvas
The real transformation of Kaaterskill Falls came when the renowned American painter Thomas Cole visited the area in 1825. Cole’s paintings of the falls, along with those of other Hudson River School artists, catapulted the Catskills and Kaaterskill Falls into the national spotlight. Their art, inspired by the falls and the surrounding wilderness, made the region a prominent tourist destination in the rapidly expanding United States.
A Site of Industry and Innovation
At some point during the 19th century, the falls even powered a tannery. The Laurel House, a nearby hotel, harnessed the water’s force to create a spectacle for tourists. Visitors were charged to watch as the waters were unleashed, activating the waterfall. Yet, like many structures of the time, the Laurel House met its fate at the hands of progress and was razed by the state.
The Kaaterskill Falls hike stands as a testament to the enduring allure of America’s wilderness, a place where history and nature converge. As you embark on this journey, remember the importance of safety, respect for nature, and the preservation of this cherished Catskills treasure.
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The parent mountain for this hike is South Mountain.
If you do this hike, LMK how it went…
Trailhead Info for this Hike
Large double lot.
Google Maps Location: 42.200672, -74.058222
The map below shows the exact topographic location of the trailhead
Patchy cell service up high, none in the clove. My network is Verizon. YMMV.