Kaaterskill Falls Hike: Take Care and Don't Fall Off

Now I’ve had the time of my liiiiifffe…  doing the Kaaterskill Falls Hike.  Oh wait, I may have oversold it.  But if you’re visiting the Catskills, be sure to stop by - it’s the tallest two-tiered waterfall in New York and well worth a visit.

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Dirty Dancing was my one true movie love when I was about 15, and to this day I know every word.  Starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, it’s about risqué dancing and unlikely love between the staff and guests at a resort in the Catskill Mountains in Upstate New York.

18 years later, and I’m finally experiencing the Catskills for myself.  Sadly, I didn’t get to visit the fictional Kellerman’s Resort.  I’m also not a teenager falling for the handsome dancer from the wrong side of the tracks.  

Instead I happily packed our minivan with my husband of 12 years, our 3 kids, and my in-laws and drove into the mountains for a fabulous meal and a Kaaterskill Falls Hike.  The Hudson River Valley is still really new to me (my first foray being the Walkway Over the Hudson) and so far it definitely hasn't disappointed.

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Are you interested in heading there soon?  Here’s the essential info:

Kaaterskill Falls Hike: The Basics

  • Go for:  Scenery!  And a relatively short hike that little kids can manage.
  • Location: Hunter, NY Right along Route 23A between Hunter and Haines Falls
  • Trail Length: 1/2 mile each way, elevation of 527 feet
  • What to bring:  good shoes, drinking water, and a camera
  • Safety:  pay close attention to signs, and don’t go off of the marked trail.  People die at Kaaterskill Falls on a horrifyingly regular basis.
  • Downsides: Very popular (read: busy), limited parking, problematic walk from the parking lot to the trailhead.
  • Extra perk: You’ll find a second waterfall, Bastian Falls, right at the trailhead
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Kaaterskill Falls Hike: Our Experience

We pulled into the way-too-small lot at exactly the right moment, as a car full of hikers was leaving and opening up their parking space.  I’m sure we won’t be so fortunate in the future! 

So, if you’re headed there, just be prepared to wait for a spot to open up.

From the parking lot we walked down the road to the trailhead.  This was hardly an ideal setup either, because Route 23A is one of those windy two-lane jobs with a limited shoulder.  But we grabbed the kids firmly by the hand and made our way down the hill.  

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We were all excited to find a smaller waterfall, Bastian Falls, right at the trailhead - an encouraging sign of even more beautiful scenery to come.  

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We found the 1/2 mile trail to be challenging but doable for our bigger kids, aged 6 and 4, who scrambled over boulders and around bends with increasing confidence.  We parents took turns carrying our 2-year-old son on our backs in an Ergo carrier.   The trail follows Spruce Creek adding to the charm of the hiking trail.  The climb is 527 feet up, which is pretty significant over half a mile.  It’s more or less akin to climbing a large staircase.  Totally worth it.

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Toward the end of the trail is a long stairway headed up to the base of the lower falls.  Three from our party made the ascent, including our 6-year-old, and while it was beautiful I was nervous about the possibility of falling. There’s no guard rail and it would be easy to fall off.  To do it again, I wouldn’t have brought our daughter up there.  But we had a firm grip on her, and she just grinned at the spray on her face and hopped a happy dance.  

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Safety at the falls is indeed a concern - many hikers have disregarded trail warning signs, hiked in improper footwear, climbed further up than they should have, and have fallen to their deaths.  There were two deaths in 2016, actually, and many before then.  So if you’re planning a trip, please use good sense and stay on the trail, and keep far away from the edge.  

We came prepared with our hiking shoes and bottled water, but failed in the department of bathing suits.  Many of our fellow hikers had gotten the memo on the warm June day, and sat in the rushing water at the base of the falls.  Our children would have especially enjoyed the opportunity to take a dip, but had to make do with pulling off their shoes and putting their toes into the cool stream.

The trail is a simple back-and-forth, not a loop, but we enjoyed another stop at the base of Bastion Falls, wading in and climbing around on rocks before we took off.  (Note: This wouldn’t have been safe after a rain storm, but the water was slow and gentle while we were there.)

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After fearing for our lives yet again on Route 23A, we made it back to the parking lot unscathed and found that find that three cars were parked in by a fourth vehicle, whose owner was apparently unwilling to wait for an open parking spot.  Gratefully our car wasn't affected, so just had to give a sympathetic shrug to the grouchy, stranded hikers as we headed down to the road to our next destination.

When you go on your own Kaaterskill Falls Hike: Please be careful.  Bring your camera.  And don’t be a jerk.

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