Hiking the Kaaterskill Falls Lower Hiking Trail Loop in Catskills, NY
Kaaterskill Falls has been a landmark since the 1800s when several hotels and housing units built through the area held distinguished guests, presidents, and others who traveled far to revel in the beauty of the falls and surrounding area. Hiking Kaaterskill falls is an extremely popular destination, with over 200,000 people visiting each year.
Being one of the tallest waterfalls in NY, Kaaterskill falls, and the several surrounding overlooks of the Hudson valley are definitely worth seeing. But, being cautious and prepared is a must, as several people have died attempting to see the falls in the past. However, if you stay on the marked and recommended trails – seeing them is a beautiful experience and one that is entirely safe.
Before heading out though, definitely be prepared for your trip. Due to the trail conditions there are some considerations and planning you should do before heading out. Below I’ll explain the trail in detail and give you all you need to know about hiking Kaaterskill falls – the lower hiking trails.
Location: Greene County, NY
Distance: 1.5 miles for just the falls, 7.0 for the full loop with all the overlooks
Time: 3-5 hours
Cell-Phone Service: Decent. Some spots without and some spots with.
Features: Kaaterskill falls | Laymans monument | Sunset Rock, Inspiration Point, and Boulder Rock Overlooks
Hours: Open 30 minutes after sunrise to 30 minutes before sunset
Parking: Decent sized lot off of Laurel House Rd. DO NOT park on the street or you will be ticketed.
Bathrooms: 5 Portable toilets
Dog Friendly: On-leash only
Location, Bathrooms, and Parking for Kaaterskill Falls – Lower Hiking Trails
Hiking Kaaterskill Falls presents you with several parking areas to choose from, and some you should definitely avoid at all costs.
The main parking lot for the Kaaterskill Falls viewing platform and Lower Kaaterskill Falls viewpoint is the one on Laurel House Rd. This parking lot is free to use, and quite large compared to some of the other roadside-lots around the area. But, because of this is fills up quickly. It will be full by 10am on a weekend.
When the lot is full, a police officer blocks entry and lets cars in one-by-one as people leave. So, this isn’t a case of finding or making your own spot – you’ll be denied entry to this lot if it is full, so be prepared to arrive early and with everything you need to hike this area.
One parking area you should definitely avoid is the Molly Smith Lot on Route 23A. This lot is closed due to the danger of walking on the winding road. While it is closer to the falls, you will be ticketed and will be putting yourself in danger utilizing this lot. Don’t do it!
At the Laurel House Lot there are 5 portable toilets, including one that is handicapped accessible. The short walk to the viewing platform is accessible by wheelchairs, so having an accessible bathroom is an additional support as well for those who are less able to do longer or more strenuous hikes.
The cleanliness of the portable toilets are exactly what you’d expect. Not clean but definitely not the worst you’ve probably experienced.
Lower Escarpment Loop in for Hiking Kaaterskill Falls
From the parking lot, I’d recommend hiking Kaaterskill falls first. There is clear signage for the viewing platform and the lower falls juncture. After you have spent time at the falls, you’ll hike back up the steps and turn right at the main hiking juncture.
This will get you started on the escarpment loop. The escarpment trail is in total 22 miles, so you’ll only do a portion before looping onto Scutt Rd. Trail and connecting back to escarpment right next to the parking area.
What to Expect Hiking Kaaterskill Falls – Lower Hiking Loop
Outside of the falls, this loop continually comes across stunning outlooks that keep you in awe of the area’s beauty. Seriously, in a 7.0 mile loop you’ll not only see Kaaterskill Falls from two different outlooks, but you’ll come across a monument erected in 1900 and three separate lookout points.
On popular summer and fall weekends, there are hiking guides to help plan your hike and answer any questions you may have at the beginning of the trail head.
The guide I spoke with was incredibly helpful in assisting me with planning my hikes and trails for the day I spent at Kaaterskill. He showed me all the spots I wouldn’t want to miss and gave me time and elevation estimates for where I would be hiking. Definitely stop by their table before hitting the trails.
Kaaterskill Falls Viewing Platform – Wheelchair Accessible
When you first start on the trail, the very first feature you’ll come across is the Kaaterskill Falls Viewing platform. It’s only 0.2-0.3 miles from the entrance and has ramps or inclines the entire way down making it easily accessible.
With that said, this area isn’t paved – it’s gravel. So, if you are planning to take a wheelchair or stroller down to the viewing area be sure that it can navigate gravel.
The Kaaterskill viewing platform is a large wooden structure jutting out from the mountainside. You’ll get two views from here – one of the falls and another of a small lookout extending into the mountains. They’re both beautiful. But, you should know that this falls lookout point only allows you to see the top half of the falls and then, only from an angle. If you are able to make it down to the lower junction, you can see the entire falls face on-which is really something else.
This viewpoint is pretty, but doesn’t compare to the view below. If you’re only able to make it to this location then definitely enjoy it to the fullest – but for everyone else, be sure to plan the trip down to the lower junction.
Hiking Kaaterskill Falls – Lower Junction Viewpoint
After leaving the falls overlook point, you’ll head back to the main trail and follow the signs to the lower falls junction. Even though you’ll be headed down, eventually – you actually start by going uphill a bit before getting to the turn off point.
Once you reach the clearly marked turn off point, that separates you from the lower falls junction to the escarpment trail, you’ll start headed downhill. Heading downhill is the easy part – and at first you’ll have periodic stone steps helping you down. As you get closer to the falls, though, the stone steps turn into clearly defined clay/limestone steps that take you all the way to the bottom of the falls. There are dozens, if not hundreds of these steps – take your time and be prepared for a climb.
About halfway down there is a offshoot that takes you to the pool at the bottom of the first falls point (Katterskill falls has two pools – and upper and lower). I’d recommend heading all the way down to the bottom to start out just so you have a built in break point when you’re headed back up the stairs.
When you get to the bottom of the falls, you’ll have to make your way across several rocks to get a good head-on view of Kaaterskill falls. As this is a popular spot, be prepared to be around people. Everyone wants to take in the falls and get their own picture – so you’ll need to share the space with others.
But – check out the view – isn’t it incredible?
But, what comes down must go up – and all those steps you took down must be climbed again to get back up. The guide at the beginning of the trail gave me this advice – ” if you want to have a good time, have a slow time” meaning, take your time getting up these stairs. Theres a lot of them, and they can be slippery. Go. Slow.
About halfway up is the turn off point to the upper pool of the falls. This is where most of the danger lies, because there are some unmarked areas people like to hike around the upper areas and behind the falls. People can and do slip and fall to their deaths doing this. So, don’t be stupid – avoid walking behind the falls or in areas that are clearly not marked or allowed as trails. There’s no reason or use in dying to see these falls – it’s just not worth it.
If you stay in the marked area though, it’s a great way to see the falls from a different view point and quite beautiful as well.
Laymans Monument | Hiking Kaaterskill Falls Escarpment Trail
After making it all the way to the top of the falls trail – you’ll want to turn right at the trailhead and head onto the escarpment trail. Pretty soon after heading onto this trail (around 0.2-0.3 miles) you’ll reach Layman’s Monument. This monument was erected in honor of Frank Laymen, a fireman who fought a forest fire to protect residents of the area in 1900. The town built the Layman’s monument to honor his sacrifice.
The monument itself is beautiful, but the town also built it in a beautiful location – with a small lookout overlooking the mountain peeking out behind the trees. It’s a great sneak peek into the overlooks to come.
Sunset Rock | Lower Trail – Hiking Kaaterskill Falls
After Layman’s Point I was ready to get some views! And, it wasn’t long before I stumbled upon sunset rock, which completely exceeded my expectations.
There was a huge viewpoint allowing you to see for miles in either direction. The trees had just started to change colors and there are glimpses of orange, yellow, and red you could spot throughout the mountain.
Once you hit Sunset rock, you stayed walking along the edge for the next mile or so. This allowed you to catch peeks through the trees of the beautiful landscape as you walked on the trail. Note though that this trail isn’t for those afraid of heights. I never felt in danger – but you are walking very close to the edge for the next couple of miles for these views. Just be prepared for some heart racing steps in some places.
Inspiration Point | Lower Trail – Hiking Kaaterskill Falls
Not long after sunset rock, you’ll come across inspiration point. At this viewpoint there were several rocks and spots to sit, grab a snack, and just take in the beautiful day and views.
This was a great spot for hiking groups to stop as there is a large open rock formation where you can all sit together and enjoy the view. If you’re in a smaller group, or just prefer a less trafficked area or sitting spot keep walking just a bit down and there are several smaller areas to sit and take in the view away from others on the trail.
Boulder Rock | Lower Trail – Hiking Kaaterskill Falls
After you leave inspiration rock, you’ll need to hike a couple of miles before reaching boulder rock. You’ll head back into the woods for a while and make your way to a much less rocky and much more flat path on your way there.
When at boulder rock, this spot is less known for it’s views, although you can see them peeking out behind the trees at some spots. But, it is clearly a favorite lunch spot as there are several completely open rock faces for large groups to sit and enjoy the scenery.
The boulder is also quite large and a site to see on its own, even without the views. But, the views just make it all the better!
One thing you’ll want to note is when you come across boulder point – this is a loop. You can either continue north and loop back around south, or turn at the first spot and loop around north. My recommendation is to turn at the first offshoot and loop around north. The reason for this is because there’s a small rock scramble (which I always find easier when going up than down) and because you’ll head down a slight decline rather than up a slight incline. Just a preference though, as either path works well!
Ending the Hiking Trail Loop at Kaaterskill Falls – Lower Hiking Trails
After you loop back at boulder point you’ll find the trail much wider, and much flatter than any other part of the escarpment trail with the viewpoints. This will lead you to the Scutt Road trail. There is a parking area on Scutt Road, but if you used the Laurel House Parking lot I recommended above, then eventually you’ll head back to the escarpment trail for a short bit before getting back to your parking lot. The map above details each of the turns and trails to take.
While on this trail – soak in its own beauty. While it doesn’t have the views of the escarpment trail, this trail clearly has it’s own sights, especially in the leaves changing, and is beautiful in its own way.
Other Tips to Remember
Kaaterskill Falls is an incredibly expansive and beautiful park with sights for everyone. This post details only the southern trails, but the northern trails also have their own sites and places to visit – so exploring this park will take some time.
It’s also fairly remote, and in a bear area. Although on the weekend I went, it was very populated and I didn’t run across any wildlife (well minus a few small sunbathing snakes), if you go through the week or at a less popular day/time be prepared for bears.
The escarpment trail has some great views, but spends a good amount of time next to ledges. Fear of heights will not serve you well on this trail and proper footwear is absolutely essential. Not only can the trail be very muddy in parts, but it can also be rocky. This isn’t a trail you’ll enjoy if you’re just in tennis shoes.
Other than that, enjoy the beauty and history of this park – and make a plan to have the time to take it all in.
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