Hike to and Discover Kaaterskill Falls

View from behind Kaaterskill Falls in the Catskill Mountains.
Nick Pedersen/Getty Images

A hike to Kaaterskill Falls in the Catskill Mountains of New York State makes for a great day trip. Kaaterskill Falls, the tallest double-tiered waterfall in New York, has inspired artists such as Thomas Cole and Frederic Church, and you can behold its beauty at the end of a moderate, half-mile hike.

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Directions to Kaaterskill Falls

the hike to kaaterskill Falls

TripSavvy / Anna Haines

The entrance to the trail that leads to Kaaterskill Falls is located on Route 23A west of the town of Palenville, New York. You can access Route 23A from the New York State Thruway at exit 21.

You'll find a small parking area on the left or south side of Route 23A about 3.5 miles west of Palenville. The photo above is actually of Bastion Falls, a much smaller waterfall that is visible on the north side of Route 23A at a bend in the road just a short distance from the parking area as you travel west. Once you have parked (and be forewarned that the parking lot is often full, necessitating parking along the road), walk downhill back toward Bastion Falls, where you will find the trailhead for Kaaterskill Falls.

It's just a five-minute walk from the parking area, but Route 23A is narrow and winding here, so be alert as you begin your waterfall journey.

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Prelude to a Waterfall

Bastion Falls Photo - NY Waterfall

Kim Knox Beckius

Although it is much smaller than Kaaterskill Falls, Bastion Falls is a lovely prelude to the dramatic cascade that lies deeper within the forested Catskills. Be sure you're not so anxious to reach Kaaterskill Falls that you fail to stop for a moment to appreciate Bastion Falls, shown in this photo.

Keep in mind, as well, that if some of your travel companions will not be able to make the hike to Kaaterskill Falls, they can still enjoy Bastion Falls, as it is visible from Route 23A.

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The Hike to Kaaterskill Falls

A lookout point on the Kaaterskill Falls hike

TripSavvy / Anna Haines

The hike to Kaaterskill Falls has been described as "easy" for some, but "moderate" is probably a more accurate description. Granted, it's only a half-mile each way, so it's not a terribly difficult distance. That said, the hike is quite steep, and the trail is fairly tough terrain with rocks to scale, tree roots the circumference of my arm to watch out for, and some slick patches, especially in the spring and fall when ice lingers later and forms earlier up in the Catskills.

We hiked to Kaaterskill Falls in the spring, and my husband commented that he didn't enjoy the scenery along the trail because he was too busy looking at his feet! We encountered one tree down across the trail that we had to climb over, and with no leaf cover yet on the trees, the sun was quite intense.

The key, really, is to know your own abilities and to plan and dress accordingly. The hike is not appropriate for small children, although we did see a few people toting infants. There were quite a few dogs out for a walk to the falls, and we watched the woman ahead of us do the climb in flip-flops, which seemed rather foolish, but she made it.

We'd highly recommend sturdy footwear, sunscreen, bug spray, water, and a cell phone. And, of course, don't forget your camera so that you can capture photos like this one when you reach Kaaterskill Falls!

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A Double Delight

A man swimming under Kaaterskill Falls

TripSavvy / Anna Haines

In this picture, I've zoomed in on the upper portion of Kaaterskill Falls. Part of the waterfall's enduring attraction is the fact that it is the highest two-tiered waterfall in New York State.

The double drama created by the upper 175-foot falls and the lower 85-foot cascade is truly a spectacle to behold. Keep in mind that spring is often the best time to view waterfalls. Hot, dry summers can reduce the flow of water substantially.

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For the Daring...

Kaaterskill Falls Hike Picture

Kim Knox Beckius

If you look very closely at this Kaaterskill Falls photo, you will see that there is a person up there on the ledge above the lower falls. While the best views truly are from the base of the falls, where you can see and appreciate the waterfall in its entirety, if you still have some stamina, and if you're cautious, you can climb the steep trail to the base of the upper falls.

Accidents have befallen climbers who pushed their luck here, so it's not a good idea to press upward beyond this ledge. Instead, appreciate this stunning waterfall from a safe vantage point, then, like the famous Hudson River School painters who traveled this path and captured this scene before you, return to share your memories and photos with others who will be inspired to visit Kaaterskill Falls.