Hiking to Kaaterskill Falls

kaaterskill falls

Kaaterskill Falls near Hunter, NY, located on the ancestral land of the Lenape, is the tallest waterfall in the state of New York at 260 feet. Yes, even taller than the world-famous Niagara Falls.

There are two paths to get to the waterfall. 1st option: Drive all the way to the Kaaterskill Falls Viewing Platform parking lot and make your way from the top of the falls to the bottom of the falls. 2nd option: Drive to the parking lot off of 23A and make your way up from the lower trailhead starting at the base of Bastion Falls. It doesn’t take more than 20 minutes each way to get a view of the waterfall. My favorite way is to hike up from the lower trailhead to get the view of BOTH tiers in all their splendor. And this is precisely what we did for the first Latinas Who Hike meetup I organized with Joy from Part Time Exploradora and Susie from Latinx Project. See more photos from the event below!

Parking & Lower Trailhead

Here is a map of the area where we parked (Point A). You must cross the road and walk 5 minutes to get to the start of the trail (Point B). Watch out for oncoming cars. When you get to the lower trailhead you will see Bastion Falls and signs indicating that it will take .50 miles to get to the waterfall. Based on your speed, this means the hike to the falls will be between 15-25 minutes. Short and sweet.

 

The start of the trail at Bastion Falls:

 

The Dangers of Kaaterskill Falls

Once the falls comes into full view, you can make your way to the bottom pool. There are rocks and loose pebbles along the way. It can be very slippery, even when it hasn’t rained. Be extremely careful if you decide to do this. A safer alternative is to take the stairs and go directly to the middle tier/pool. In 2017, the Department of Environmental Conservation of NY State finished $800,000 worth of improvements to the area. The paths are clearly marked, there are new stairs, a cable hand rail and a viewing platform. All of this was done, unfortunately, as the result of many injuries and deaths. About 4 deaths occurred between 2013 and 2017. By taking the stairs directly to the middle pool and walking along the cable hand rail, you can avoid scaling on rocks, slipping or sustaining an injury.

Does this mean that you shouldn’t go to Kaaterskill Falls? Of course not. Hundreds of people, and I mean hundreds, go to Kaaterskill Falls every day. You have to bear in mind basic security measures: wearing hiking shoes, not wandering off the trail, knowing your limits. Safety always comes first.

kaaterskill falls

On this spring day, the middle pool was much larger than the bottom pool and enough to convince some hikers to take a dip. There is a short path leading behind the falls and you can bask in the sun on the rocks. Please note that the pool can be bigger or smaller depending on recent weather. There are days when there is a lot of water and it’s not safe to cross over the rocks in order to get to the right of the falls.

 

Path to the Kaaterskill Falls Viewing Platform

At this point you can either decide to take a dip in the pool and then go back to the starting point at the lower trailhead or continue up to the viewing platform. Like I mentioned, there are many signs and trail markers and it’s very easy to follow once you’re there. Also, there is usually a ranger or two in the area and they are happy to answer any questions. The stairs continues for a few yards and then the trail becomes a dirt path. Soon, there will be a small bridge and a sign that shows you the path to the viewing platform.

A clear fall day:

The view from the middle tier of the falls:

There used to be a path from the viewing platform that would lead you to the very top of the falls, but this path is no longer exists. I’m guessing that this is also due to new safety measures put in place. Kaaterskill Falls has changed a lot in a few years! This is a photo from October 2016 at the very top of the falls:

 

Tips for Hiking to Kaaterskill Falls

1 – Get there early if you’ll be doing the hike from the bottom of the falls. This parking lot is much smaller than the one at the viewing platform and fills up quickly.

2 – This hike is packed during the weekends, especially during the summer and peak fall foliage. Go early to avoid crowds or, better yet, go during the weekday.

3 – Wear appropriate footwear. Years ago, a woman tried to hike to the falls with sandals on and passed away when she slipped and fell. Remember, safety first. Check out this gear guide for tips on appropriate gear for hiking!

4 – Bring a bathing suit and water shoes. If you’re going in the summer and want to take a dip, the rocks in the pool are slippery so I would bring a pair!

5 – Do not wander off the trail. Just don’t. A lot of people have tried to hike up from the right side of the waterfall (if you’re walking from the lower trailhead) and have also slipped and gotten severely injured or died. Stick to the trail and follow the markings.

6 – Yes, you can bring your dog on the trail!

7- If it’s raining the stairs will be extremely slippery so hike at your own risk.

8 – Check the weather in the days leading up to the hike or look up the location on Instagram to see the latest photos. Why, you ask? If you go just a few days after its rained, you’ll see a robust waterfall and can enjoy a swim in the pool. If it hasn’t rained in weeks, you’ll barely see a trickle. I got the receipts, see photo below.

9 – This is a great hike for first-timers. It leads to a unique view in a short time. If you want to convince someone to go hiking with and it’s their first time, this is the perfect initiation hike.

10 – In the winter you can go ice climbing on the falls. Hopefully I can do this soon, and that will be for a separate blog post.

 

View of the falls in a drought back in 2016. Can you see the tiny trickle?:

A video hiking to the falls:

Latinas Who Hike

On June 16, 2018, with Part Time Exploradora & the founder of Latinx Project, we led a hike to Kaaterskill Falls. For more information on outdoor & Latinx events in the tri-state area, please check out their websites and be sure to follow Latinas Who Hike for information on future hikes!

 

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Victoria Alicia

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