Kaaterskill Falls

Scenery: 4 cameras out of 5

Difficulty: 5 out of 10 (steep, rocky, short hike)

Highlights: Tallest two-tier waterfall in New York

Distance: 2.0 miles, up-and-back

Total ascent: 527 ft

Max elevation: 1,946 ft above sea level

Approximate roundtrip time: 1.5 hours

This hike is for you if: You want to take a short (but steep) hike to a huge waterfall.  Also, you don’t mind when your nature comes served with large crowds.

Background you can feel free to skip: If you’re the kind of person who likes a good waterfall and you haven’t visited Kaaterskill Falls yet, you really should get in the car right now and just start driving toward the trailhead.

This is one of the most popular hikes in the area, in part because everyone likes waterfalls, and in part because it’s a relatively short hike to a huge, 260-foot payoff, divided over two drops.

Another highlight along the way is the smaller-but-still-awesome Bastion Falls, which flows past the trailhead and is easily visible from the road.

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A major lowlight for this hike is that it encompasses perhaps my least favorite trail section in the entire Hudson Valley, which is the 5-minute walk from the parking area to the trailhead along Route 23A.  There’s no good shoulder to walk along, and this road can be very busy.  The last time I did this hike was with my wife and son, late on a Friday afternoon in November, and it was like I-95 out there.  We hustled to get off the road as quick as we could, slightly harried and very surprised at the volume of traffic in a pretty remote area.  Drivers here are generally respectful, and they expect to see hikers along this section, but to me, it’s not an ideal way to start and end a hike.  Please be very careful here.

While you may feel like you’re starring in a live-action version of Frogger to get from the parking area to the trailhead, once you’re there, this hike is pure awesomeness, hugging the energetic Spruce Creek the entire way as it cascades down the hill.  (If you visit in late summer, you might find things not nearly as energetic.  The falls can slow to a trickle, so you’d be best to come here in a different season, or after there’s been some decent rain.)

People often underestimate this hike since it’s officially only a half-mile to the falls from the trailhead.  But it is steep and rocky, and if you feel like you’re climbing a staircase along some of the sections, it’s probably because you are.


This is a quick hike, but it is not an easy one.  Leave the flip-flops at home.  But definitely bring the camera.


Trail guide:

**UPDATE July 2015**  The DEC is making improvements to Kaaterskill Falls this summer, adding a spur trail with a stone staircase to give access beyond the current trail’s end, and also adding more safety features.  Cool!  While construction is in progress, the hike detailed below will still be open, but access will be restricted beyond the end of the trail (which sounds like business as usual to me, since you were never supposed to go past that point anyway).  The parking area above the falls (detailed in a footnote at the bottom of this trail guide) on Laurel House road will be closed this summer.  See this article for more details, and happy adventuring!

1.  From the parking area, carefully walk downhill along Route 23A, making sure traffic can easily see you.  Cars will be expecting you to walk along the left side of the road, so that’s where you should try to be.

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2.  Walk over Spruce Creek on the Route 23A bridge, then find the trailhead kiosk on your left, at the base of Bastion Falls.

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3.  Follow the Yellow Trail as it ascends steeply, with the creek off to your left.


4.  Whammo!  In about 20 minutes, there it is.  Or there they are?  In any event, thar be Kaaterskill Falls: 260 feet of two-tiered awesomeness.

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Important note: Perhaps the most-ignored sign in the universe is the one that advises visitors to stop hiking past the bottom of Kaaterskill Falls, where the Yellow Trail ends.

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If you’re here on a warm weekend afternoon, you’ll see dozens of people ignoring that sign, clambering up the hill to get a better look at the upper falls.

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You can’t entirely blame them – this is one of the more beautiful spots in the world, and it’s only natural that you’d want to get the best possible look at it.

Still, the best place to view these falls is from the bottom, right where the Yellow Trail ends.  It seems like the trail should continue on to a higher viewing point, but it doesn’t, and continuing to climb past the end of the trail sends cascades of dirt and rocks down the hill.  Erosion is a tough issue for most people to get too worked up about, but you can really see the damage that people’s footprints are doing here.  Trees cling to the hillside with half of their roots exposed, showing you how much more hill there used to be here, before careless visitors kicked it all away.

More importantly, though, it’s extremely dangerous to go past the end of the Yellow Trail.  Lest you get tempted by the siren call of the upper falls, before you go, please read this story and its comments, or the warnings in the final two paragraphs of this trail guide from an experienced Catskill mountaineer, or this forum thread (and Chicago Tribune article) about a death there in 2010, or this Albany Times Union story and its many comments about the deaths that seem to occur at Kaaterskill Falls every year.

  • **UPDATE, July 2014:** Sadly, two more deaths here in 2014.  So tragic.
  • **UPDATE, July 2016** This title unfortunately says it all: Despite safety improvements, another death at Kaaterskill Falls.  I really hope this is the last time I have to update this section.
  • **UPDATE, August 2016** Tragically, another death this year in the exact same spot.  PLEASE be careful here.
  • **UPDATE, January 2017** Another death on November 13, 2016, and another fall with injuries on January 27, 2017.  The new safety improvements here only protect hikers who stay on the trail.  If you wander off the trail, all bets are off.  Please, STAY ON THE TRAIL!  

Please, please, please, stay on the very safe Yellow Trail, and when I read about you in the paper, let it be because you won the Nobel Prize, not because you visited Kaaterskill Falls.  The signs at the end of the Yellow Trail should do a better job of warning visitors about the peril of continuing to climb, but they don’t, and if you decide to give it a go anyway, you will be endangering your own life, the lives of anyone in your party and the lives of the people who may have to rescue you.  Please don’t do it.  **Update, October 16 2014:** Looks like new fencing and signs are going up, and a new viewing platform at the top of the falls.  Some people might complain about them, but something had to be done, and hopefully these additions will help.  (Update: They only help if you stay on the trail.  Otherwise, you can most certainly die here.  Please stay on the trail.)

5.  Whew, that was heavy.  Sorry for being such a downer.

6.  When you’re done basking in the mist of the falls from the awesome vantage point at the end of the Yellow Trail, retrace your steps back to your car, once again exercising caution on the section along Route 23A.

7.  After you get back to your car, don’t even bother looking for a taller two-tier waterfall in New York.  You just visited the awesomest one of all.


Directions to the trailhead: From Palenville, take Route 23A west as it climbs into the Catskills beside Kaaterskill Creek.  In about 3.5 miles, you’ll come around a hairpin turn with Bastion Falls and the trailhead to your right.  Continue up the hill another .3 miles to find the large parking area on your left.

You can also get directions by checking out the Kaaterskill Falls entry on the HiketheHudsonValley.com Google map.

Sorta nearby address for your GPS: The intersection of Wingate Road and Route 23A in Haines Falls, New York, is about a mile west of the trailhead parking.  My old-ish Garmin Nuvi lets me put in an intersection as a destination, so hopefully yours does, too.

GPS coordinates of parking area: 42.18983, -74.07401 (Clicking will open in Google Maps or the Apple Maps app, depending on your browser/device.)


Additional information: There is another less-than-half-mile-roundtrip hike that visits the top of the falls, requiring a 3-mile drive to get to the trailhead from the hike described above.  It is extremely dangerous, and requires you to stand right on the edge of a precipice (with no railings) to get a view of the upper falls.  I wouldn’t recommend it, and you’d be insane to bring young kids to this spot.  The view is nice, but the view/danger ratio is very poor.


From the bottom of the falls, I always used to see people up at the top, and I wondered how they got there.  The answer is the parking area at the end of Laurel House Road (from the lower trailhead, just keep climbing Route 23A west towards Haines Falls – make a right onto County Route 18 (North Lake Road), then follow it to Laurel House Road on your right in about two miles).  At the end of Laurel House Road, you’ll come to a gate.  Just stroll down the road from there and you can’t miss the falls off to your right in just a few minutes.  **UPDATE July 2015** In case you missed it above, the access via Laurel House Road will be closed during 2015 as the DEC makes improvements to the trail system at Kaaterskill Falls.  See this article for details.

If you do check this place out, please be very, very careful.  My buddy Jered was crouching to take a picture here, and as I stood next to him to take my own picture, I realized that if he stood up and bumped into me, I was a dead man.  You have to stand right next to the edge to get a good look at the falls, and just thinking about leaning out so close to that huge drop – where other people have fallen – still gives me the heebie jeebies.

Please give this area the respect it deserves, and make good decisions if you pay a visit.


Related resources: If you’re looking for actual facts and/or useful information, visit these excellent resources:

And some links regarding the danger that abounds if you wander off the trail:

More Kaaterskill Falls pictures from the hike’s Picasa album:

Was this trail guide useful to you?  Please leave a comment!

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39 thoughts on “Kaaterskill Falls

  1. Pingback: NYC Escapes: Your Ultimate Catskills Weekend - Jessie on a Journey

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  3. Does anyone know how many miles it is from the base enterence up the overlook and back? Today a friend and I did the entire thing and would love to know ..

    • Hi, Amanda! Mirek’s comment below (which I believe was meant to be a reply to you) pegs it at 2.63 miles from the parking lot to the platform and back.

      I’m overdue to get back out there and update this trail guide with all the new construction. Hope you enjoyed your trip!

  4. Does anyone have still images or video clips of the Historical Carvings on the rocks? Specifically famous ones like one from Ulysses S Grant? If so, please contact me @ footage@citizenpictures.com . We are interested in using some shots of the Historical Carvings in a new TV series.

  5. Has anyone been here recently? I know it’s been dry lately so I wanted to know if the falls were worth going to right now

  6. We visited on July 23 and the platform is completed at the top of the falls. The parking area leads to a short trail to the overlook. A very nice vantage point, especially for families with smaller children. It’s a very safe spot for panoramic photos of the mountains. The waterfall is running at a trickle right now since we haven’t had much rain.

      • There does not appear to be any construction going on at the overlook by the falls. The new overlook deck is open for viewing. If there is other construction somewhere else near the falls, I have no idea about that.

  7. Wonderful writing! I am planning to visit the falls in July…hopefully! I was born not far from there but moved away as a child. Now I’m bringing two of my adult kids to see the sight I always wanted to, and I’ll see it myself, too. Finally!

  8. my wife and I have visited the fall years ago and now we like to take our one year old baby girl and family to visit again. Is it safe to carry her with us to revisit? I can’t recall how the trail was like and not sure if bringing our one year old is possible. thank you.

    • Hi Albert — I have lugged my own child on my back up this trail, and it was great, but I certainly wouldn’t make a blanket recommendation for everyone to do the same. That will depend on individual comfort level and preparedness — there are tough/steep stretches that can be tricky and slippery. For anyone attempting it while lugging a child, I’d strongly recommend trekking poles to help make sure you keep your balance. And if you give it a go, I hope you all have a great time!

  9. The falls are amazing! Especially after the rainfall we had on the previous day.
    A piece of advice for anyone traveling a distance and would like to do a little more hiking in the area. Going to the Falls was great but it’s a short up and back that left us wanting more. Also, I had just driven an hour and a half and wasn’t ready to go home yet! Luckily, the North-South Lake Preserve is 3 miles from the falls. There is a huge system of trails offering multiple payoffs.
    There is a write up on this website for it. So keep it in mind for an added bonus to your day!

  10. I dunno who wrote this (the Kaaterskill Falls review), but it’s a BRILLIANT piece of nature writing. I just couldn’t leave writing of this quality without a comment! Great lesson in: write what you feel.

  11. I think the closure of this popular trail for the installation of railing, stairways and signs intended to make the area safer are going to do just the opposite. As a longtime hiker who has hiked all over the US, I can attest to the fact that people ignore warning signs all the time and set off into the wilderness woefully unprepared. The same hubris that leads them to hike in flip-flops makes them ignore safety warnings – “It won’t happen to me” or “That doesn’t apply to me” is the mindset. All the railings, stairways and WARNING! signs in the world are not going to make some people more cognizant of the dangers inherent in hiking. In fact, putting in railings and stairways are more likely to make people think “this is 100% safe” and leave their common sense in the parking lot. The Kaaterskill Falls area is beautiful, but you have to respect the wilderness. Cliff ledges, steep rocky trails and rocks made slippery from a nearby waterfall’s spray are dangerous. This hike’s location and length makes it popular, and it may seem like an easy, “safe” hike. There is no “safe” mountain hike when you are wearing flip flops, flats, most sandals, and most tennis shoes. Always wear proper footwear, and use caution near ledges.

  12. Just came across an article ( http://www.watershedpost.com/2015/kaaterskill-falls-closed-summer-2015 ) that says the DEC is restricting public access to the falls from July 6th, 2015 through the summer as they will be upgrading the trails and improving safety around the falls. “Access to the falls will only be allowed from the Kaaterskill Falls trailhead located on NY Route 23A. DEC will prohibit public access past the wooden fences at the base of the falls. The Laurel House Road parking area near the top of the falls will be closed and visitors will not have access to Kaaterskill Falls from the parking area for the remainder of the hiking season.”

  13. Quick Note: When you park, if you have to park along the road, stay to the right of the white line. If your tire goes a centimeter over that line you will be towed. I understand why they have to do it because it is a narrow road. However it did get under my skin when I had to get a ride up into town and found that the booming business in town is these tow truck places. Had to pay $200 plus the $50 ticket, BEWARE.

  14. Retired art teacher, always loved the Hudson River painters. First visited the Falls in 2001,incredible experience. Took the trail to the base of the Falls, and decided to try and scale the slope on the right, to reach the middle ridge. This was a week day, no other hikers around. I got maybe halfway up, and the shale started to give way. Realizing I had made a stupid move, turned around and started to gently slide down on my butt while grabbing every sapling available. Very dangerous, coming down was more difficult than going up. From there, went back to my vehicle and drove around to the top of the Falls. WHAT A VIEW!! I have included that setting in one of my paintings-“The Land of the Mohican”. I did venture to the edge,very carefully, going sideways-outstanding view. Enjoyed all the peoples initials and dates-including a couple of old artists.One more item, 2 teens were sitting on the edge,to the right of the stream,legs dangling, just “shootin’ the breeze”-crazy, crazy!

  15. The Catskill mountains are beautiful in all season’s and can keep you coming back year after year. I can tell you having grown up here, I am always amazed and in awe of this area. I come to fish, swim and most of all do nothing. But the danger is real, I have seem first hand how weather affects the area. I come back year after year and will never stop being amazed.

  16. I”ve hiked the Catskills for the past 40 years and live about 30 minutes from the falls. Although the tragedies that occur each year at Kaaterskill seem to garner the headlines, there is no shortage every year of the mountains claiming the lives of the unwary or unprepared. I’ve seen people who seem to believe that the wilderness is a form of video game that can be safely enjoyed in comfort; but, it takes a lot of preparation and a healthy respect for the environment. Yes, there are joys to behold: I remember watching sunrise over Slide Mtn. from the Balsam Lake fire towe, or the winter scene of the Ashokan from Wittenberg. I urge anyione with a senser of awe and adevntulre to come here and have awesome memories iof their stay; but please, prepare yourself and gailn experience before you tackle the terrain that awailts you.

  17. my dad has been coming to the falls since the 70s i first saw and experienced the falls when i was around 16 and we ignored the main trail head at the bottom of the falls and went strait to lorrel house rd and walked around the top of the falls i dont rema=ember iif we climbed down that day or not but we have done it on at least 2 occasions and i have led groups to every point between the top and bottom i love to float in the pond in the middle of the 2nd tier not all that deep but 8 foot in the middle also have seen the memorial carved in the rock on the way down on the left side of the falls if you are looking up its is NOT advisable to look for it it is very hard to find and VERY dangerous to get to but it is incredible to see it carved there by members of a mans union after he jumped to his death at the turn of the last century it is a butiful site and i love to camp at the top at the small camp sites provided and spend days during the summer here enjoying the site and unwinding

  18. Hey Mike,
    Thanks for the awesome guide. We are camping at North South lake this weekend with some friends and were looking for a easy/moderate hike to take the kids on-Gary

    • Nice! I think the falls around here are a little low at the moment (they could probably tell you at the guard shack to North-South Lake), but it’s a gorgeous spot even when they’re not roaring. Hope you guys have a great trip!

  19. A friend of mine just posted this and I was happy to come across it. Beautiful pictures and great info. I’ve done this hike myself many times. Thanks so much for sharing! Will check out the other hikes listed.
    Happy Trails.


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