GORGEOUS Kaaterskill Falls Hike: Everything You Need to Know (Tips & Guide)

Looking to do the Kaaterskill Falls Hike in the Catskills? We got you! This is without a doubt, not only one of the best waterfalls in the Catskills, but also one the most famous and beautiful in the state of New York dropping 260 feet from the top of the falls to the base of the bottom tier.

And yes, we have visited ALOT of waterfalls in New York. Kaaterskill Falls is truly a gem in the heart of the Catskills, located near the town of Haines Falls and Palenville.

We’ve visited in the winter, which only gave us access to the viewing area to see the upper falls and again in the fall where we got to complete this stunning hike! (and it did not disappoint).

This is without a doubt, one of the most popular things to do in the Catskills, so to help your visit to Kaaterskill Falls go as smoothly as possible, we’ve provided everything you need to know about the Kaaterskill Falls hike.

Our most recent visit was in October 2023, I mention this because the information that’s out there about the falls can vary as some parking areas that were previously available are no longer available. And since we frequent the area so often living in New York City, we will update this guide each time we visit.

As of now, the only parking area that’s possible is the Laurel House Parking Area, which is what we are going to use to base our directions for how to do the Kaaterskill Falls hike whether you want to do the entire hike or just to the viewing deck area.

About Kaaterskill Falls in the Catskills

Megan and Scott at the bottom tier of Kaaterskill Falls in the Fall

Every year, it’s estimated that around 200,000 people take the Kaaterskill Falls hike. The 260-foot 2-tier waterfall set in the Catskill Park Forest Preserve has been a popular destination for nature enthusiasts and an inspiration for artists and writers for almost 200 years!

The first mention of the falls by explorers was documented in the 1700s. But Kaaterskill Falls in the Catskills only really got a spotlight in the United States after Washington Irving mentioned the falls in “Rip Van Winkle” in 1819!

Then, throughout the 1800s, the falls were a popular subject for students of landscape painting at the Hudson River School and became immortalized in countless works of art. For example, the falls were the setting of Winslow Homer’s 1872 engraving piece, titled “Under the Falls.”

In 1885, New York established the Forest Preserve, which protected much of the sprawling Catskill Mountain region from logging and other commercial developments.

Since then, generations of people from all over the world have enjoyed public access to the stunning Kaaterskill Falls and the scenic hiking trail to get there.

When to Visit Kaaterskill Falls

Frozen Kaaterskill Falls in winter from the viewing platform

When you take on the Kaaterskill Falls hike, you’ll understand the beauty that has inspired countless works of art! If you want to do the full Kaaterskill Falls hike to the base of the falls, the best time of year to do this is from March through November (unless there are icy conditions!).

Alternatively, you can do the short hike to the viewing platform all year long.

In the summer, feeling the cool mist from the waterfall is rewarding during the hottest summer days! And this is the busiest time to visit the falls but be warned that lower water levels during the late summer can also make Kaaterskill Falls less showy.

If you come during the summer, the trail can get pretty hot, so just make sure to bring plenty of water!

For those who love the perfect fall foliage hike, fall is also a very popular time to visit the falls and the entire Kaaterskill Wild Forest. For peak foliage, plan your visit during October! We visited about halfway through the month and it was at peak fall foliage!

For fans of snowy winter walks, the Kaaterskill Falls hike is also one of the great places to visit in the Catskills in winter!

Keep in mind, you won’t go to the base of the lower tier of the falls in the winter, it’s far too dangerous due to ice and steep/narrow trails. But you can access the viewing platform at the top of the falls in winter for a gorgeous, frozen landscape!

There is a slight elevation difference, so if there’s snow you may want snow grips for your boots.

Tip: If you’re visiting during popular times to see the falls like summer and fall, you’ll want to try to arrive before 10 AM unless you don’t mind the possibility of waiting for parking! But more on parking at Kaaterskill Falls later in this guide!

Where is the Kaaterskill Falls Trail?


Kaaterskill Falls is tucked away in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York. Specifically, it’s located in between the towns of Haines Falls and Palenville.

Traditionally, the main way to reach the falls was via Route 23A, a scenic highway that winds through the mountains. And if you’re coming from nearby Hunter or Tannersville, the falls are just a short drive away.

However, it’s important to note that the parking lot to the Kaaterskill Falls hike on off 23A has closed in recent years. But there are a few different trailheads that can take you to the falls, depending on your hiking preference (we’ll go over all those details next!).

You’ll need to park at the Laurel House Parking Area.

Who Can Hike to Kaaterskill Falls?


A hike to Kaaterskill Falls is perfect for moderate-level hikers, it requires hiking down 300 feet of elevation (that you’ll have to do coming back up) with the last portion of the trail to the base of the falls having steep steps!

We saw people of all ages enjoying this hike, you can always take breaks as you need. The out-and-back trail is less than 2 miles.

It’s enjoyable for families with older kids who have experience hiking, but it has some steep sections. So, it’s probably not a good idea to take on if you have younger children.

The main trail features some rock scrambles and lots of stairs, and it gets muddy after it rains, so sturdy hiking shoes are a must, don’t wear flip flops or shoes not meant for hiking. There are also areas where there are loose rocks.

Also, dogs are welcome to join you as long as they are leashed on the Kaaterskill Falls trail. Just be sure to bring enough water for both you and your furry friend.

It’s advised to stay 6 feet away from any cliff edge as people have fatally fallen here. Not to mention it’s illegal.

The main route option is the Laurel House Trailhead, there are a few other options also considered moderate and a bit longer we will cover later in this guide.

Do You Need to Hike to See Kaaterskill Falls?

view of Kaaterskill Falls from the viewing platform

Yes, you need to hike to see Kaaterskill Falls. The main trails, including Kaaterskill Falls Rail Trail and Laurel House Trailhead, provide access to the viewing platform observation point and then you can continue to the base of the falls.

The main Kaaterskill Falls hike from the Laurel House Trailhead is about half a mile to the viewing platform and offers breathtaking views from the top of the falls.

There are alternative trailheads to get you to Kaaterskill Falls too, which are mentioned after the Laurel House Trailhead instructions below.

Can you swim at Kaaterskill Falls?

Yes and no. The official rule is that you cannot enter the stream or water less than 150 feet from the falls.

However, some people do swim in the pools at their own risk, depending on water levels. Rescues to the area are hard to come by and take a while. We saw signs warning of this, too.

So, if you have a dream of marking Kaaterskill Falls swimming off your bucket list, consider the risks! Maybe just enjoy the feel of the mist on your face and head to a nearby swimming hole instead.

People have lost their lives at Kaaterskill Falls. Be smart and use your best judgment.

Kaaterskill Falls Parking


There used to be a main parking area for the Kaaterskill Falls trailhead right off Route 23A, just west of the bridge at Spruce Creek. The trailhead here was popular because it gave you easy access to Bastion Falls, as well as an observation area that offered amazing views of Kaaterskill Falls.

But the 23A lot closed a few years ago because it was dangerous and overcrowded on a hairpin-turn road. 

Now, the main Kaaterskill Falls parking area is at the Laurel House Trailhead, off North Lake Road (County Road 18).

This trailhead takes you to the viewing platform, the upper falls, the lower falls, and the option to continue on other trails.

There are around 20 spots for free Kaaterskill Falls parking here, but it can be crowded on the weekends. Also, if the parking lot is full, you’re out of luck.

During peak times (in the summer and on the weekends in the fall), try to come early. We happened to luck out both times we visited.

Also, there are signs on the road that say no parking, so be sure to go in the lot! They will ticket or tow you here, so don’t risk it!

Kaaterskill Falls Trailhead & Hike

Since there’s still information out there about the old Kaaterskill Falls trailhead starting at 23A, we wanted to reiterate that the parking lot along 23A is closed.

Instead, you’ll want to stick to the Laurel House trailhead, which is the best place to find Kaaterskill Falls parking closest to the falls and gives you access to the main Kaaterskill Falls trail.

The Laurel House Trailhead is the main trail we will cover and suggest. We will mention a few other options that are longer routes after, some of which may add on a mile or two and have more parking options.

Laurel House Trailhead

view of the upper falls from the viewing platform

The trailhead at Laurel House Road is currently the main Kaaterskill Falls trail since it starts at the main parking area.

It’s also called the Upper Trail. This is your best chance for parking, too. Overall, it’s a moderate, out-and-back hike to the upper falls.

It’s 1.6 miles in total and will probably take you between 90 minutes and 2 hours to complete giving yourself time to enjoy the falls before coming back.

The first section of the trail takes you to the Upper Kaaterskill viewing platform that gives you great views of the upper falls. This is about a 10 minute walk to the viewing platform.

This is the only part of the trail you’ll want to attempt in the winter months too as this path isn’t as steep and doesn’t traverse past any exposed cliffs that are too dangerous to attempt in the winter.

The blue trail to lower falls is on the left, the yellow trail to the viewing platform is to the right

After taking in the views from the viewing platform, you can continue to the lower falls, which is another .5 miles. This is where you drop 300 feet in elevation and this portion of the trail is pretty exposed as it loops around to the top of the falls.

You’ll have some rock scrambles along the way, as well as options to connect to the longer Escarpment Trail.

You’ll spot a sign that directs you to the Escarpment Trail & Lower Falls (Blue Trail) and Falls Viewing Platform (Yellow Trail).

Follow the blue trail to the left down to the lower falls. Just keep in mind that the descent to the lower falls includes a steep stone staircase that you’ll have to climb down and then back up.

You’ll cross a bridge and follow some wooded portions of the trails before getting to the rocky, steep area that will first take you to the base of the upper tier of the falls.


The upper tier of the falls is where people sometimes go behind Kaaterskill Falls for photos. It was way too slippery that we didn’t even attempt this. We actually saw someone wipe out here slipping and falling down wet rocks into the water attempting this. So there’s that.

After viewing the base of the upper falls, you can continue back out the short trail you came in on to continue down the stone steps to the base of the lower tier of the falls. The base of the lower falls is more relaxing in my opinion!


This is where you can find a spot to sit back and relax and enjoy the view along the stream. And it’s a good idea to spend some time down here before climbing up those steep, stone stairs.

This trail also gives you the option to continue to Inspiration Point. Just follow the signs if you want to continue on the blue trail.

Tips for Laurel House Trailhead


There are photos from the cave at Kaaterskill Falls, and you can go behind the upper falls to get some amazing shots!

It was a little too wet and slippery during our visit and we didn’t even attempt after seeing someone fall and slip on the rocks right here and fall into the pool. This is really only recommended if the falls are drier.

Especially in the later fall (or after it rains), the upper trail can get muddy, so be prepared and wear waterproof boots or gaiters with good traction.

By early November, the lower trail and stairs down can get icy if the temps are cool enough. When it gets like this, we only recommend going to the viewing platform as the lower falls portion of the trail is far too dangerous when there’s ice.


Just really make sure you know your limitations! There are several signs warning you of the steep stone stairs. Overall, you’ll descend 300 feet from the falls! It’s not that bad if you’re in good shape, but it will wind you climbing back to the top! Take a break if needed.

Kaaterskill Falls Rail Trail


Another great option for the Kaaterskill Falls hike is the Kaaterskill Falls Rail Trail! This popular route is rated moderate, being about 1.5 miles each way, for a total of 3 miles out and back.

While it’s longer than the main trail from Laurel House, it’s a nice, straight stretch through woodlands.

The Kaaterskill Falls Rail Trail starts at the Mountain Top Historical Society (MTHS) taking you to Laurel House Road, just above Kaaterskill Falls. The trail follows along Kaaterskill Clove which gives hikers multiple views of Kaaterskill Falls.

You can also connect to the Escarpment Trail from this route.

Some parts of the trail are flat and clear, while others have exposed rail ties, so it’s not the best option for wheelchairs, strollers, or kids on bikes.

One end of the trail is at the Laurel House Road parking lot, so you can continue to to viewing deck or down to lower falls if you wish.

This is a great option if you don’t mind hiking a longer route and can’t find parking at Laurel House Trail. Not only will you get more alternative views of Kaaterskill Falls along the way, but the parking area is larger here.

Although, you may have to pay a small fee for parking!

Escarpment Trailhead

If the Laurel House parking lot is full in the summer or fall, the Escarpment Trailhead is a great alternative. The trail begins at a parking lot at South Lake to the east of the falls. It’s 2.3 miles out and back, and it’s rated easy, but I think that really depends on the time of year you go.

There’s not much of an incline, but it can get pretty muddy and rocky after it rains. This can make things slippery, so if this is a concern for you, plan a hike here when it’s drier.

For those interested in some Kaaterskill Falls swimming, this is as close as you’ll get! The Escarpment Trailhead begins at South Lake, inside the North South Lake Campground. There’s a beach here that’s open with lifeguards in the summer for swimming, which would be great after a 2-mile hike.

This trail is excellent for a variety of hikers. It takes you directly to the observation point, and you can decide if you want to take the trail to the lower falls from here. You’ll also have access to the longer, moderately-rated Escarpment Loop Trail, which also includes a stop at Inspiration Point.

Scutt Road to Inspiration Point Loop

The other parking lot with access to Kaaterskill Falls is the Scutt Road lot. The trailhead here also gives hikers a variety of trail options, especially if you’re looking for a longer trek.

This trail is rated moderate, not only for the 4-mile length of the full loop, but also for the steep incline and lots of rock scrambles along the escarpment.

If you want to take the loop, you’ll get to enjoy some amazing Catskill views, including a stretch along South Lake, a stop at Inspiration Point, and a swing by Layman’s Monument. The entire loop will take you half a day. At the end of the loop, you can head to Kaaterskill Falls.

For a shorter hike, you can take the first rocky stretch of the Escarpment Trail from Scutt Road, which is only about a mile long each way. From here, you’ll connect with the Kaaterskill Falls trail, which takes you to the viewing platform and then to the lower falls.

Alternative: Layman’s Monument Loop

If you want to take a loop trail that’s not so long, you could also cut through along the Yellow Horse Trail from the Scutt Road Trail. This will connect you back to the Escarpment Trail, around to Layman’s Monument, and then give you time to check out the falls. Overall, it’s a 2.2-mile, moderate loop trail with great views.

Kaaterskill Falls Hike Tips


Before you hike to Kaaterskill Falls in the Catskills, here are my top tips to make your adventure enjoyable and safe:

  • Remember that the main Kaaterskill Falls trailhead is now at Laurel House trail, or the Upper Trail. It’s the best way to get access to the lower falls and the observation point along the main trail.
  • Wear proper shoes for the trail. After it rains, the trail gets muddy, and rocks can be slippery when wet or icy.
  • Be VERY careful, because people have been severely injured and killed here. STAY on the trail! It’s illegal to be closer than 6 feet from the cliff edge.
  • Dogs are permitted if leashed but be careful. We saw a few careless owners who didn’t have their dogs leashed, and they were letting them close to the base of the upper tier of the falls.
  • Be careful around the rocks closest to the falls because they’re wet and slippery. We saw a guy take a pretty nasty tumble into the water when he was walking too close to the pool at the base of the falls! His foot slipped on the wet rock and he slammed down on the rocks in the pool (he was okay, thankfully).
  • Bring plenty of water and food for a day on the trail. If it’s summer, also bring plenty of sun protection. Especially if you take the longer routes, you’ll be more exposed to the elements which can wear on you!
  • If you’re visiting Kaaterskill Falls in the winter, you can only go to the viewing platform. The falls freeze and it’s so pretty! But be prepared that you don’t get the full experience this time of year.
  • During peak fall foliage is very busy (usually around the middle of October and the few weeks before and after). Try to get here early on the weekends to get a parking spot.
  • When you’re looking for Kaaterskill Falls parking, get there early! The Laurel House Road, Scutt Road, and South Lake parking lots generally fill up by 10 am on weekends and even earlier on holidays. Then, they’ll be full or overfull until the evening. Consider either arriving earlier or going during the middle of the week to get a parking spot.
  • If you have trash during your hike, carry it out. There aren’t any trash cans along the trail. Every year, hikers leaving trash and doggie bags along the trail becomes a big problem during peak season. Carry in and carry out!
  • Prepare yourself before arriving at the trailheads. There aren’t any bathrooms and only porta potties in the parking lot at Laurel House Road.
  • KAATERSKILL FALL SWIMMING: If you’re looking for Kaaterskill Falls swimming spots, you won’t find any. Visitors do try to swim in the water at their own risk, but you can’t get in less than 150 feet from the falls. However, there are swimming holes and lakeside beaches throughout the forest preserve that have lifeguards during the summer, offering a safer experience.

When is the best time to do the Kaaterskill Falls hike?

The best time of year to do the Kaaterskill Falls hike is from March through early November. Keep in mind if the weather is cool enough for ice, you will want to skip the lower falls as it’s too icy. The best month to see the falls is late September through October when there’s fall foliage.

How long of a hike is Kaaterskill Falls?

The Kaaterskill Falls hike is 1.4 miles round trip from the Laurel House Parking Area. The hike can take anywhere from 60 to 120 minutes depending on fitness levels and how much time you spend at the falls.

Where do you park for the Kaaterskill Falls hike?

Parking for Kaaterskill Falls is at the Laurel House Parking Area to access the Upper Trail that takes you to the viewing platform, Upper Falls, and the Lower Falls.

Is Kaaterskill Falls a difficult hike?

Kaaterskill Falls is a moderate hike that has a 300-foot elevation difference with a very steep decline from the upper to lower falls. The stone steps are steep and there are warnings posted along this section of the trail. There are also areas of the trail with exposed and loose rocks near the cliffs edge.

Are dogs allowed on the Kaaterskill Falls hike?

Dogs are allowed on the Kaaterskill Falls hike if they are leashed.

Are there bathrooms at Kaaterskill Falls?

There are porta potties at Kaaterskill Falls only available at the trailhead parking lot on Laurel House Road.

Can you swim at Kaaterskill Falls?

It’s prohibited to swim 150 feet within Kaaterskill Falls.

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