Kaaterskill Falls is a two-stage waterfall on Spruce Creek in the eastern Catskill Mountains of New York, in the Kaaterskill Wild Forest. Kaaterskill Falls is one of the country’s oldest tourist attractions and has been depicted in many paintings, poems, and books since the 1800s.
The popular hike out to see the falls from Laurel House Road is an easy 1.7 miles, and it’s also easy to see why it’s so popular — Kaaterskill Falls is a dramatic, two-stage waterfalls that drops 261 feet and is one of the tallest waterfalls in New York.
It’s a quick out and back to the viewing platform (two-thirds of a mile there and back), and then, if you choose — and you should if you can — you can hike an additional 3/4 of a mile down to the lower viewing platform to see the lower part of the falls, but beware — you’ll be heading down 181 steps (someone counted so you wouldn’t have to), which means you’ll be coming back up those same 181 steps.
But you’ll be rewarded with a great view of the falls, which tumble over the escarpment through a narrow break in the forest. We went on a very rainy day at the peak of the fall foliage — so it was all but deserted, but the fall foliage was still incredibly gorgeous despite the rain.
The climb back up is pretty steep and can leave you breathless for a bit, but take your time, plant your feet carefully, and you can do it.
The 7,620-acre Kaaterskill Wild Forest, located in the Catskill Forest Preserve, is a popular destination, due to the variety of excellent hiking trails, including the short hike out to see dramatic Kaaterskill Falls. In fact, a once popular resort, called Laurel House, once sat along the Laurel House Road.
With the decline of the popularity of the Catskills resorts, Laurel House, like almost all of the other resorts, went belly up. In fact, few of the hotel buildings even remain.
The terrain within Kaaterskill Wild Forest varies significantly, with sprawling mountains, dramatic cliffs, scenic waterfalls, and deep valleys. The drive up to the trailhead was gorgeous in and of itself.
|The quite stunning Bastion Falls, visible from Route 23A — with no traffic
behind us, we slowed down to quickly grab a photo from the car window (it was also raining).
But a word of warning: Go on a weekend, and you may have to wait a long time to park — some folks have reported waiting as long as 1 hour, just to get a parking space. So go early. Or go very late in the day. And then folks have reported having to wait just to get onto the platform to see the falls. It can be very frustrating!
But that wasn’t our experience on that rainy Tuesday morning, although we weren’t the only ones braving the pouring rain. We went back on a sunny afternoon, also on a weekday and also during peak viewing for autumn foliage.
The parking lot was full at 4:30 p.m. but there wasn’t a wait to find parking, and there was only a 10-minute wait to get on the viewing platform. (Because of Covid-19, only family groups were allowed on the platform at the same time.)
Worth noting: The trail to the upper viewing platform is a firm gravel trail, with minimal elevation change, and is theoretically wheelchair accessible, although I’d want a sturdy set of brakes since the trail’s average grade is 7%.
Because we visited the falls on a very rainy day, we opted NOT to head down to the lowest point on the trail, so we unfortunately missed out on the lower falls, but we did view the upper falls from its base; the water splashing into the pool created a startling wind! The upper falls drops a breath-taking 175 feet. Simply gorgeous!
(On our return visit, we’d visited AFTER we’d completed the hike up to Overlook Mountain summit, and were really tired and frankly, not up to climbing up those 181 steps!)
Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to further explore the Katterskill Wilderness Area. For more information about the falls and nearby hikes, check out the NY State Dept of Environmental Conservation website here.
Know before you go: Go early in the morning or late afternoon/evening to avoid the worst of the crowds, even on a weekday. If you go during the peak of autumn foliage, just resign yourself to the crowds, be respectful of others, and bring a bag with you to pick up any litter that you might see.
Getting there: 103 Laurel House Road, Palenville, NY