New York's Hudson Valley has no shortage of exciting hikes to keep you satisfied. Between the marvelous mountains, roaring river, and waterfalls, hikers should do themselves a solid and plan a trip around New York state's best trails.
Kaaterskill Falls is a somewhat challenging hike for a beginner with new and improved features. Plus, the Kaaterskill trail is connected to a larger Hudson Valley trail system so you can fill your entire day exploring the other paths.
Here's what you need to know about the hike before you start packing your bag.
The History of Kaaterskill Falls
Not only have the Kaaterskill Falls has been a top destination for centuries, but the region is also filled with interesting history. Who doesn't love a good dose of history with their hiking and exploration?
Hundreds of years ago, these falls were lauded in poems and books as a place for experiencing rugged wilderness.
Although the local indigenous tribes knew of the falls and admired their power, they didn't have much use for them. After all, it's difficult to hunt and farm on the side of a mountain.
It's strange that the falls are named Kaaterskill while the nearby town is called Catskill. Historians believe "Kaaterskill" is a corruption of the word "catskill" which loosely translates to cat-stream in Dutch – likely due to the large population of mountain lions and bobcats throughout the area.
The early colonists considered the region around Kaaterskill as an indigenous-dominated territory until the time period following the war of 1812. At this point, their conquest pushed westward and settlers flooded the Hudson Valley region with agricultural projects.
The beauty of Kaaterskill even triggered a romantic art movement known as the Hudson River School. Artists flocked to the region to paint the falls, mountains, river, and incredible scenery.
During the 19th century, settlers constructed a tannery and hotel. The local hotel attempted to purchase the river water rights and charge admission to see the falls. Today, Kaaterskill is publicly owned by New York state.
According to local legend, "Bayard of Dogs," you can hear the sounds of barking spaniels on June 19th each year. It's said that a poor pooch haunts the falls after following his owner to death in 1868. Perhaps this should serve as a warning to anyone hiking with their furry friends.
What You Need to Know about the Kaaterskill Falls Hike
A major construction project has made the Kaaterskill Falls hike safer and all around better than ever. Keep these points in mind before you plan your day trip.
This beautiful hike delivers an incredible view of the cascading two-stage falls – the largest waterfalls in New York state and the U.S. Eastern seaboard. For centuries, writers and artists have looked to the falls and Hudson Valley mountains for inspiration.
Now, it's your turn to do the same.
> You Have Two Kaaterskill Falls Trail Options
You might have heard stories about the Kaaterskill hike being overcrowded, extremely short, and somewhat dangerous as you walk along the road – not anymore.
Well, that Kaaterskill hike is still accessible but there's also a new and improved version of the hike.
Yes, it's a lot longer than the previous trail but it's also safer and much more interesting. The old hike only took about 90 minutes to complete. You can wander along the new trail for almost five hours if you want to trek all the way to Inspiration Point and back.
Hint: you do.
The old Kaaterskill hike started at the bottom and had hikers walk upwards. With the new hike, you start at the upper trailhead and work your way down. Theoretically, you could walk to the falls fairly quickly and directly back to the car, but why miss out on the other amazing views?
> Much More than Kaaterskill Falls
Over-budget yourself some time for this hike. You're definitely going to want to explore a bit – just don't ever veer off the marked paths.
If you continue past the falls, you can explore the other lookout points along the path all the way down to Inspiration Point. The paths take you through awesome rock formations and towards a landmark called Layman's Monument in honor of Frank Layman who died fighting a disastrous fire there in 1900.
The portion of the hike that leads to Inspiration Point is a little more rugged than the rest of the trail. Don't worry: you're still on the right path – just mind the trail markers along the way. Some sections of the Kaaterskill Falls hike near Layman's Monument involve climbing over a few rocks and boulders but it's nothing like the Breakneck Ridge hike.
It's a little challenging but the rocks make it more interesting than difficult (at least for average able-bodied people).
> New and Updated Features
The new features make Kaaterskill Falls safer and easier to access than ever.
The new parking lot makes it endlessly easier to access the upper trailhead so you don't have to walk the narrow path along the busy road. In all honesty, the walk along the road was probably more dangerous than the hike along the falls.
The path is also very well defined now. You get to hike on wide gravel paths or well-made staircases in many places. Hopefully, you like hikes with staircases because Kaaterskill is filled with them.
Plus, the new path has railings and protective barriers to keep people safe. You can feel confident bringing your pet or kids on this hike provided they know how to listen and follow directions for safety purposes. Make sure you're wearing the proper shoes to have a comfortable hike.
> Always Stay on the Marked Trail
Please, please, please don't leave the marked trail – and you will feel tempted to in some places.
Before adding the safety features, it was very common for people to fall to their death – possibly because they didn't realize how important it was to stay on the marked trail.
Even with the safety features, people have still lost their lives or sustained serious injuries on a few separate occasions. You have nothing to worry about as long as you and the kids stay on the trail.
> Take the Season into Consideration
Take special precaution if you plan on hiking in the winter months. Although the frozen Kaaterskill Falls are a beautiful sight to see, the trail can become slick.
Keep in mind that you might not see the falls in their full glory during the dry summer and fall months. For the best experience, check out this hike in late spring to early summer – preferably right after a good rain.
> Choose a Good Day of the Week
Tourists have flocked to Kaaterskill for years upon years to see the falls – this was a top destination for many travelers for centuries and it still is to this day.
Think about this as you plan your trip. If you don't mind the large crowds, feel free to visit on the weekend. Anyone who prefers a laid-back hike would do themselves a favor by planning their trip on a weekday.
Parking isn't super abundant either. So even if you can brave the crowds, you might not be able to find a parking space.
> Bring your camera
Most people use their phone cameras these days but if you go big with photography, now's the time to bust out your camera.
First, you have the Kaaterskill Falls. This alone is a reason to snap some timeless shots (and some selfies of course). But you also have all the incredible views and rock formations along the trail.
You'll be kicking yourself if you don't get some good shots at Inspiration Point. So, dress in your hiking best and get ready for some photos.
Packing for your Hike to the Kaaterski Falls
The Kaaterskill hike used to be a relatively short 1.5-hour hike – not so much anymore. Sure, you could do that hike, but the other gives you a real taste of the New York state wilderness.
If you're thinking of attempting this hike, you should plan to be on your own for three to five hours. Again, always over-budget yourself time and pack supplies accordingly. You may or may not need a multipurpose tool or a pocket knife, but the following are definitely a must-have:
- Hydration: Lots of water and maybe a LifeStraw.
- Sustenance: Pack plenty of light-weight high-protein snacks.
- Layers: This hike is over 1,000-feet above sea level. Bring some hoodies and rain gear.
- Navigation: Grab your compass and a map at the trailhead – and learn how to use them.
Get Ready to Hit the Kaaterskill Falls Trail
Kaaterskill is an incredible hike but it's important to keep your wits about you: stay on the trail and watch your step. This hike is safer than ever thanks to the new construction and railings. Now, you can view the falls safely from an overlook. These improvements make the Kaaterskill Falls a perfect hike for kids (who can follow directions of course).
Although the trail is well marked, the hike can take quite some time to complete. Make sure to pack everything you'll need to stay comfortable for three to five hours like hydration, food, and protection from the elements.
Between the main hike and trek down to Inspiration Point, you'll have no shortage of sights to keep you busy for hours.
All in all, this is a must-see for every hiker's bucket list.
Featured Image: CC 3.0, Mwanner, via Wikimedia Commons