Friday, February 27, 2009

Kaaterskill Falls, NY (with photos)

Here is an excerpt of a description of Kaaterskill Falls from the

"Kaaterskill Falls is one of those rare, glorious, big pay-off hikes that doesn't require too much time or sweat. The 260 ft. double-tiered waterfall between Haines Falls and Palenville in Greene County New York is an awe-inspiring body of shale and rushing creek water. The water drops 175 ft. from the top, past a natural amphitheater created by the overhang of the upper falls cap rock. The lower falls then drop another 85 ft., spraying mist against the sides of rock, wetting the nearby craggy greys and dark browns. At the bottom, the massive fountain of water calms as it flattens into a rocky Kaaterskill Creek bed that flows alongside the .4 mile trail back to the road".

The description above is precisely what intrigued me enough to want to take the family on a drive up to the area around Hunter, NY to take this hike and see the Falls. We were not disappointed. What a great day!

We arrived at the Molly Smith parking area on Route 23A just up the hill from the Kaaterskill Falls trailhead around mid morning on a summer day, and the parking was already tight. The lot is small and can't fit many cars so the next choice is to try parking on the narrow shoulder of 23A itself. I would have thought you wouldn't be permitted to do that, but every time I drive by there cars are always parked on the side of the road with no tickets.

The fun began once we walked down the hill from the parking lot to the trail head. At the bottom of the hill you cross a small bridge under which the bottom of the Falls stream rushes. If it's been raining a lot in the days leading up to your visit, the water will be rushing all around you. The sound of it is great. It sounds powerful!

The hike up the mountain alongside the rushing Kaaterskill Creek to the main Falls is a gentle slope up most of the way, only getting steep in a few brief spots. The tricky thing is that the steeper sections are rocky and/or covered with fallen trees, branches, and puddles. It takes some doing to get around these sections and the ground is often wet, so careful stepping is necessary.

Once you get closer to the top and start to hear the roar of the main Falls, you know you're almost there. When you finally reach the pools below the lower Falls and see them for the first time, you just stop and stare to take it all in. If it's been raining and the Falls are full, it's an impressive sight and sound, especially since there are not many waterfalls of this size anywhere near here.

Note that I did talk to a friend who made this same hike in the middle of a very dry summer and he said the Falls were merely a trickle. Plan your trip accordingly....Make this hike after a few days of heavy rain to ensure a good viewing experience.

Once at the base of the lower Falls, you can wade into the cool water, watch it stream around you, and enjoy sitting a while to look at the sights centered around this large double waterfall. We saw many photographers and painters on the hike up making their renderings of the scenes.

For the extra adventurous, you can hike up the very steep hill to either side of the Falls to get to the natural amphitheater at the base of the main Falls. This extra section of hiking is discouraged on many websites that discuss Kaaterskill Falls due to the complexity and steepness. I didn't try it because we had our kids with us, but I saw several people who did. I would imagine that it's quite impressive to stand at the base of the main Falls, so I will try this hike one day with an abundance of caution.

For the ultra-extra adventurous, you can continue past the base of the main Falls and its amphitheater and continue up this very steep hill to get to the top of the Falls to look down on the whole scene from above. Again, this is something that I would never try with the family, but I'll give it a try on my own with a good pair of boots some day.

When we were done wading around and viewing at the top, it was time to head back down. Careful stepping was required on the way down. It's easy to pick up speed! Once at the bottom, we proceeded to head back up the hill to the parking area where we hopped in our car and headed into Hunter Mountain village to grab a good dinner.

If you decide to head into the village (a few miles down the road from the Falls) and you like Mexican food, pay a visit to Pancho Villa's Mexican Restaurant. The food is good, the drinks are good, and there's always a lively crowd inside. If Mexican is not your thing, there are other restaurants on the same street as well...

This was a great way to spend a day outdoors with the family. If you're in this region and you're looking for something fun to do, this is the just the ticket.  If you combine this hike with a visit to one of Hunter Mountain's many festivals, the day will be even more complete.

Click the image below to see some more pictures from this hike...Enjoy!


  1. I took this hike too. I agree about it being slippery after rain. I fell and hurt my ass, but the hike was still worth it. No kids, but my dog loved it. I didn't go to the top either.

  2. Your comment about going after rain is right on. I did this hike twice; once after rain and once in the summer after no rain and the difference was crazy. After rain it was gushing all over and in the summer is was barely flowing. Go after rains!

  3. Post-rain info is correct. Went 7/5/11, two days after rain and got eqivalent of what you got. We went on to the amphitheater above the bottom of upper falls. Best route from bottom of lower falls is to stay far right, away from stream, until you come to a wide almost vertical wall. Turn left along the base of this wall and come to a great viewing spot about 35' above pool at base of upper falls. From there you can walk along interior ledge of amphitheater to under the falls. Son went the day after an all day rain of 7/3 and it was much more slippery overall. But, he ws enthused enough to take us down the next day, a 1.5 hour drive.

  4. Thanks Jackrbike...I will definitely check out this route for better views the next time we go....with camera in hand!