Explore the 19 Best Hikes in the Catskills! From waterfall trails to family adventures and scenic overlooks. Tips and wildlife info included.
The Catskills, located in New York State, have long been a magnet for hikers seeking an authentic experience. It’s a region that balances untouched natural beauty with well-maintained trails, catering to both seasoned hikers and families.
Whether you’re drawn to the melodic sound of cascading waterfalls or the breathtaking panoramas from scenic overlooks, the Catskills won’t disappoint. In this article, you’ll find a curated list of the best waterfall hikes, each presenting its own unique spectacle.
For those keen on vistas, we delve into overlooks offering unparalleled views, some even stretching across five states. Families aren’t left out either, with trails that are short yet enriching, perfect for young adventurers and older trekkers alike.
Planning a hiking trip to the Catskills? Dive in, and find the trails that resonate with your hiking spirit.
7 BEST WATERFALL HIKES In The Catskills
The Catskills are home to some of the most captivating waterfalls in New York State. These natural spectacles range from towering cascades to serene flows tucked away in lush forests.
Ideal for hikers who appreciate the refreshing ambiance of water features, each trail listed below leads to a distinct waterfall experience.
Whether you’re after a short trek to a picturesque spot or a longer journey into nature’s embrace, you’ll find a waterfall hike that fits the bill. Dive into our selection and let the sound of rushing water beckon you.
Diamond Notch Falls
Diamond Notch Falls offers an accessible yet rewarding hiking experience. For those pressed for time or new to hiking, the 2-mile round trip via Spruceton Road is ideal, providing a straightforward path that leads directly to the falls.
If you’re looking for a more comprehensive journey, the 4-mile round trip via Diamond Notch Road delves deeper into the region’s lush woodland, exposing hikers to a variety of flora and fauna along the way.
Upon reaching the destination, the 15-foot waterfall awaits, a captivating spectacle of nature. Its clear waters and rhythmic sound provide a perfect setting for both reflective solitude and memorable photographs.
For the best experience, consider visiting after a rain when the falls are at their most vibrant, and don’t forget to pack a picnic — the base of the falls offers a serene spot to relax and soak in the surroundings.
Conveniently located on the Route 23A trail, Bastion Falls is a delightful detour for those en route to the renowned Kaaterskill Falls.
With just a 0.5-mile round trip, it’s a short yet fulfilling excursion perfect for those with limited time or seeking a less strenuous outing. The falls are characterized by their three distinct drops, each cascading with its own unique rhythm, creating a harmonious symphony of water sounds.
The multiple layers offer various angles and perspectives for photography, making it a favorite spot for both amateur and professional photographers.
Given its proximity to the main trail and its breathtaking visuals, Bastion Falls stands out as a must-visit for anyone looking to experience the essence of the Catskills’ waterfalls in a condensed form. For added convenience, there’s roadside parking available nearby, ensuring easy access for all.
Kaaterskill Falls is a two-tiered waterfall that stands as one of the highest in New York State. With its combined drops totaling an impressive 260 feet, it’s a sight that has captured the hearts and imaginations of countless visitors over the years.
Accessible via the Route 23A trail, the hike to the falls is as rewarding as the destination itself, winding through dense forests and offering glimpses of the region’s diverse wildlife. While the trail is relatively short, the terrain can be rugged in parts, so appropriate footwear is recommended.
Upon reaching the falls, visitors are greeted with a breathtaking view that has inspired artists, poets, and nature lovers for generations. Platforms and viewing areas have been set up to ensure safety while providing optimal angles to appreciate the falls’ grandeur.
Whether you’re looking to capture its beauty through a lens or simply sit and listen to the powerful rush of water, Kaaterskill Falls is a must-visit when in the Catskills, encapsulating the area’s natural wonder in all its glory.
A gentle escape into the heart of the Catskills, Ashley Falls stands as a testament to the subtle beauty the region has to offer. Just a 0.6-mile round trip via the Mary Glen Trail, it’s an ideal destination for those looking for a shorter hike without compromising on the scenic rewards.
The trail itself is relatively flat, making it suitable for hikers of all levels, including families with children. As you approach the falls, the sound of cascading water gradually grows louder, guiding you towards its source.
Once there, Ashley Falls reveals itself, surrounded by a lush tapestry of greenery that provides a serene backdrop. Its calm waters and the tranquil environment make it a perfect spot for meditation, relaxation, or simply enjoying nature’s artistry.
For those who love to picnic, the surrounding area offers plenty of spots to lay down a blanket and enjoy a meal amidst the gentle ambiance of the falls. All in all, Ashley Falls is a delightful hidden gem, waiting to be explored.
Hidden within the confines of the Platte Clove Preserve, Plattekill Falls is a treasure waiting to be uncovered. This 70-foot waterfall is not just about its height but also the pristine setting in which it resides.
Requiring a moderate 1-mile round trip hike, the journey to the falls is an adventure in itself. The trail, dotted with diverse flora, offers hikers an immersive experience as they tread the path towards the falls.
Upon arrival, the waterfall’s gentle cascade and its surrounding tranquility envelop visitors in an almost meditative state. Its relative seclusion means fewer crowds, making it a prime location for those seeking a peaceful and uninterrupted communion with nature.
Whether you’re an avid photographer searching for that untouched shot or a nature lover looking for a serene nook, Plattekill Falls fits the bill.
High Falls Conservation Area
The High Falls Conservation Area is home to a mesmerizing 150-foot waterfall that has become a favorite amongst both locals and visitors. Accessible through a 1.5-mile loop trail, the hike is pleasant, with occasional viewpoints offering teasers of the grand spectacle ahead.
The trail culminates in a vantage point that showcases the cascading beauty in all its grandeur. The rhythmic sound of water, combined with the surrounding lush landscape, makes it a popular spot for picnics.
Set up a blanket, enjoy a meal, and let the soothing ambiance wash over you. It’s a place that effortlessly blends the joys of hiking with the relaxation of nature-watching.
Rusk Mountain Falls
For those looking to step away from the well-trodden paths, Rusk Mountain Falls offers a delightful deviation. This waterfall, accessed via a 3-mile round trip trail, is a visual treat with its multi-tiered cascades over layered rocks.
The journey is as enchanting as the destination, with the trail meandering through dense woodlands and offering sporadic glimpses of local wildlife.
The falls themselves stand as a testament to nature’s artistic prowess, with each layer presenting a different cascade style. Its lesser-known status means fewer visitors, granting a sense of tranquility often missing in more popular spots.
Here, one can truly disconnect, letting the harmonious sounds of flowing water and chirping birds provide a much-needed break from the hustle and bustle.
Whether you’re a seasoned hiker looking for a new challenge or someone seeking a quiet spot to reflect, Rusk Mountain Falls is a worthy choice.
7 Short Family Hikes in the Catskills
The Catskills is a haven for families looking to introduce their young ones to the joys of hiking without committing to long, strenuous trails. These shorter hikes are designed with family in mind, ensuring that both kids and adults can relish the experience.
From meandering through lush meadows and dense forests to reaching viewpoints that offer instant gratification, these trails are a blend of ease and enchantment.
Dive into our handpicked list, where each trail promises an adventure short in distance but rich in memories, making them perfect for families eager to explore the great outdoors together.
RamsHorn Livingston Sanctuary
Covering a distance of 3 miles, the trails at RamsHorn Livingston Sanctuary offer an immersive experience into the Hudson’s vast tidal swamp. This expansive wetland ecosystem is both a visual treat and a learning opportunity.
As families navigate the trails, they can witness a variety of birds, amphibians, and plant species that thrive in this unique environment.
Boardwalk sections provide stable footing over marshy areas, ensuring safety for all ages. Informational signs along the way shed light on the importance of wetland conservation and the roles these habitats play in the broader ecosystem.
This sanctuary provides families a chance to not only enjoy a leisurely hike but also deepen their understanding of nature’s intricate balance.
Mountain Top Arboretum
Boasting 4 distinct trail networks, the Mountain Top Arboretum invites families to explore a diverse range of environments. Whether it’s the rustle of leaves in the forest, the open expanse of meadows, or the secluded charm of glens, there’s something here for everyone.
As you walk, you’ll be introduced to a variety of plant species, each labeled with informational plaques for those curious about botany. Birds chirping overhead and the occasional sight of local wildlife add to the experience.
Designed with families in mind, the trails are well-maintained and clearly marked, making it easy for even young hikers to navigate. A visit here offers a delightful mix of leisure and learning amidst nature’s beauty.
Just a modest 1.4-mile round trip hike away, Sunset Rock awaits with a vista that has long been a source of inspiration for artists. The viewpoint offers a panorama that has captivated many, especially the renowned Hudson River School painters such as Cole, Cropsey, and Gifford.
Their paintings, inspired by this very landscape, have immortalized the beauty of the region. As families hike to this spot, they can share in the same awe that these artists felt, looking out over the undulating terrain and shimmering waters.
It’s not just a hike; it’s a step into a landscape painting, allowing visitors to appreciate the natural beauty that has moved artists for generations.
Hunter Mountain presents a distinct adventure for families. Instead of a traditional hike, visitors can opt for the Scenic Skyride, a cable car that effortlessly lifts you to the mountain’s summit.
Upon arrival, the landscape unfolds in all its grandeur, but there’s another treat in store. Just a brief walk from the summit station, families will find the carving of Rip Van Winkle.
This legendary figure, known for his two-decade-long slumber, is etched into the rock, serving as a tangible connection to local folklore.
Combining breathtaking views with a touch of cultural storytelling, Hunter Mountain promises an outing that’s both fun and enriching for visitors of all ages.
Frick Pond Loop
Spanning 2.2 miles, the Frick Pond Loop trail is an inviting option for families keen on experiencing the Catskills without taking on an overly challenging path. The trail boasts a variety of terrains, giving hikers a taste of the region’s diverse landscape.
Whether it’s navigating gentle inclines, treading along soft forest floors, or crossing small wooden bridges, the journey remains engaging from start to finish. Central to the loop is Frick Pond, a tranquil body of water surrounded by nature’s tapestry.
The pond’s serene setting makes it an ideal spot for families to pause, enjoy a picnic, or simply relax while soaking in the picturesque surroundings. With its balanced mix of adventure and relaxation, the Frick Pond Loop ensures a memorable outing for families looking to bond over nature’s wonders.
Mongaup Pond Campground
For families eager to experience the natural beauty of the Catskills in a more relaxed setting, the trail around Mongaup Pond Campground is a top pick.
Spanning 1.5 miles, this trail gently encircles the largest lake in the Catskills, offering breathtaking views at every turn. The calm waters of the pond often mirror the surrounding forests, creating picture-perfect moments that are a delight for both amateur photographers and nature enthusiasts.
As families traverse the trail, the area’s abundant birdlife becomes evident. From melodious songbirds to majestic raptors, the variety is impressive, making it a haven for bird watchers.
Additionally, the surrounding woods are home to diverse wildlife, so keep an eye out for deer, squirrels, and other forest inhabitants.
With its combination of scenic beauty and opportunities for wildlife spotting, the Mongaup Pond Campground trail is an ideal choice for a laid-back, yet enriching, family hiking experience.
Giant Ledge Trail
For families with a penchant for a bit more thrill, the Giant Ledge Trail is an excellent choice. Spanning a total of 3.2 miles for the round trip, the trail might present a few challenges, but the rewards are well worth the effort.
As hikers make their ascent, the path offers changing landscapes, from dense woodlands to rocky outcrops. The real treat, however, comes upon reaching the Giant Ledge itself.
This natural platform offers unobstructed, panoramic views of the surrounding Catskill Mountains and valleys, providing a sense of accomplishment and wonder. It’s a spot where families can take a moment to soak in the vistas, capture photos, and relish the shared achievement.
Given its slightly demanding nature, the trail is particularly suited for families with older kids who are keen to test their hiking prowess. It strikes the right balance between adventure and awe, making it a memorable trail for those looking to up the ante on their Catskills hiking experience.
5 BEST SCENIC OVERLOOKS to hike to in the Catskills
The Catskills are not just about intricate trails and cascading waterfalls. They’re also home to some of the most panoramic overlooks that offer sweeping vistas of the region’s diverse landscape.
From mountaintop views that let you gaze across state lines to closer, intimate perspectives of valleys and waterways, these scenic points are a dream for photographers and nature enthusiasts alike.
Each overlook tells a story, a unique blend of history, geology, and natural artistry. Dive into our curated list to find out where you can stand atop the Catskills and feel on top of the world.
Catskill Mountain House
Nestled just a stone’s throw away from the North-South Lake State Campground’s beach, the Catskill Mountain House site offers one of the most iconic views in the region.
A gentle stroll from the beach area, and you’ll soon find yourself standing on a vantage point that presents a grand panorama of the winding Hudson River set against the backdrop of the vast Catskill wilderness.
Historically, this spot once hosted the famous Catskill Mountain House hotel, a beacon of luxury in the 19th century. While the hotel no longer stands, its legacy remains in the breathtaking view, making it a favorite for sunset watchers, photographers, and anyone looking to soak in the essence of the Catskills in one sweeping glance.
Kaaterskill Clove Lookout
Immerse yourself in both natural beauty and history with the Kaaterskill Clove Lookout. The 1.8-mile round trip is more than just a trek; it’s a journey through time.
As you hike, you’re treading paths that have been walked for centuries, with the lookout serving as a silent witness to the region’s evolving story. Once you reach the top, you’re greeted with dramatic vistas that span across the deep valley of Kaaterskill Clove.
But beyond its natural allure, the lookout holds historical significance, serving as a muse for artists, writers, and thinkers of the past. A trip here offers not just visual delights but also a connection to the rich cultural heritage of the Catskills.
Five State Lookout:
For an unparalleled panoramic experience, the Five State Lookout stands unmatched. Positioned strategically off Route 23, along the Mohican Trail, this overlook truly lives up to its name.
On a day when the skies are clear, one can witness the boundaries of geography blur, presenting views of five states: New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. This vast expanse gives a sense of the immense beauty and diversity of the northeastern United States.
The elevated platform provides unhindered views, making it a hotspot for photographers looking to capture the expansive landscapes.
A visit here is akin to standing at nature’s grand balcony, taking in the vastness and beauty of the world beyond. Whether you’re a local or a visitor, the Five State Lookout is a testament to the majestic beauty the Catskills region commands.
For those seeking an adventure that melds natural beauty with a touch of historical intrigue, Pratt Rock is an unmissable destination. Spanning a manageable 3.1-mile round trip, the hike offers varying terrains that challenge and engage, with a particularly steep section that tests the mettle of its trekkers. But the true reward lies just beyond this ascent.
Etched into the very bones of the Catskills, the cliffside at Pratt Rock showcases a series of carvings, each narrating a unique story from yesteryears. These aren’t just random etchings; they’re deliberate, crafted artworks that offer a window into the region’s past.
From depictions of significant events to portrayals of everyday life, these carvings are like pages from a visual history book.
Visitors often find themselves pausing, not just to catch their breath but to truly absorb the tales these rocks whisper. Alongside the historical allure, the vantage point also offers sweeping views of the Schoharie Valley below, making it a dual attraction for both history buffs and nature lovers.
A trek to Pratt Rock is not merely a hike; it’s a journey through time, with the Catskills serving as a magnificent backdrop to tales of old.
Situated near the town of Woodstock, Overlook Mountain is one of the Catskills‘ revered treasures. While its name might give away the kind of experience to expect, nothing truly prepares you for the panoramic splendor that awaits at its summit.
The hike itself is approximately 5 miles round trip, and while it might be a bit longer than some other short hikes, the well-trodden path is relatively straightforward, making it accessible for hikers of varying skill levels.
As you ascend, remnants of old hotel ruins serve as historical markers, hinting at the mountain’s storied past and its allure for visitors over the ages.
Upon reaching the top, you’re rewarded with expansive views of the Hudson River Valley, the Ashokan Reservoir, and, on clear days, the distant peaks of several neighboring states.
An old fire tower stands sentinel at the summit, and those who climb it are treated to an even more elevated view of the surrounding beauty.
Ideal for a half-day excursion, Overlook Mountain ensures that every drop of sweat shed on the ascent is worth the visual treat at its pinnacle. It’s a reminder of the majestic beauty the Catskills region offers to every intrepid explorer.
Wildlife Sightings While Hiking in the Catskills
The Catskills is not just about picturesque landscapes and challenging trails. It’s also a biodiverse region, teeming with wildlife that enhances the hiking experience. Whether you’re trekking along a serene pond, traversing dense forests, or ascending a rocky peak, there’s a good chance you’ll encounter some of the region’s native inhabitants.
- Mammals: Common sightings include white-tailed deer gracefully moving through the woods, playful squirrels scurrying about, and the occasional black bear (though it’s crucial to exercise caution and give them space). If you’re lucky, you might even spot a bobcat or a fisher, two of the more elusive residents of the Catskills.
- Birds: Birdwatchers will be in paradise. The Catskills is home to a myriad of bird species. Songbirds fill the forests with their melodies, while raptors like hawks and eagles can often be seen soaring overhead. Woodpeckers, herons, and turkeys are also common sights.
- Amphibians and Reptiles: Near wetlands, you might come across frogs, toads, and salamanders. Keep an eye out for turtles basking in the sun near ponds and streams. Snakes, including the harmless garter snake, are also part of the Catskills ecosystem.
- Insects: While some might find them pesky, the diverse array of insects in the Catskills plays a crucial role in the ecosystem. Butterflies, dragonflies, and various pollinators can be seen, especially in meadow areas.
When encountering wildlife, it’s essential to remember that we are visitors in their home. Always maintain a safe distance, avoid feeding wild animals, and tread lightly. Not only does this ensure your safety, but it also protects these creatures and their natural habitat. With a mix of preparation and respect, wildlife sightings can be one of the most rewarding aspects of hiking in the Catskills.
10 Tips to Follow While Hiking in the Catskills
- Prepare for Variable Weather: The Catskills weather can be unpredictable. Even if it’s sunny at the trailhead, mountain conditions can change rapidly. Always bring layers, a waterproof jacket, and be prepared for sudden temperature drops or rain showers.
- Mind the Altitude: Some of the Catskills peaks reach elevations above 3,500 feet. If you’re not used to higher altitudes, take it slow, stay hydrated, and be aware of symptoms of altitude sickness.
- Beware of Black Bears: The Catskills are home to a population of black bears. While they generally avoid humans, it’s vital to store food securely, avoid leaving trash, and know what to do if you encounter one.
- Stick to Marked Trails: To protect the delicate ecosystem and ensure your safety, always stick to marked trails. Going off-path can lead to erosion, disturb wildlife, and increase your risk of getting lost.
- Check Trail Conditions: Before heading out, check the latest trail conditions. The Catskills’ higher elevations can retain snow and ice longer than lower areas, and some trails might be closed due to maintenance or natural events.
- Pack the Essentials: Beyond food and water, make sure you have a map, compass, first-aid kit, flashlight, and extra batteries. Cell service can be spotty in many areas of the Catskills.
- Leave No Trace: The Catskills are a treasure, and it’s up to every hiker to keep them pristine. Pack out all trash, avoid picking plants, and use established campfire rings or better yet, portable camp stoves.
- Be Cautious Near Waterfalls and Streams: Many Catskills trails feature waterfalls and streams. While they are beautiful, they can also be slippery and dangerous. Always exercise caution, especially after rain.
- Respect Wildlife: From white-tailed deer to various bird species, the Catskills abound with wildlife. Observe from a distance, do not feed them, and ensure your actions don’t disturb their natural behaviors.
- Plan Ahead: Especially during peak seasons, popular Catskills trails can get crowded. Start early in the day, consider weekdays for hiking, and always let someone know your hiking plan and expected return time.
Following these tips ensures not only a safer hiking experience in the Catskills but also one that is respectful of the environment and its inhabitants.
- Diverse Hiking Options: The Catskills offer a range of hiking experiences, from waterfall treks to scenic overlooks and family-friendly trails. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a beginner, there’s a trail tailored to your preference.
- Rich in Natural Beauty: Beyond the trails, the Catskills is a treasure trove of natural wonders, from cascading waterfalls like Diamond Notch and Bastion Falls to panoramic views from spots like Kaaterskill Clove Lookout and the Five State Lookout.
- Family-Friendly Adventures: For families with kids, options like the RamsHorn Livingston Sanctuary and the Mountain Top Arboretum provide both educational and recreational opportunities, making hiking enjoyable for all ages.
- Historical and Cultural Significance: Several trails, like the path leading to Pratt Rock, intertwine with the rich history of the region, offering a unique blend of natural beauty and historical insight.
- Wildlife Encounters: The Catskills is home to an array of wildlife, from white-tailed deer to various bird species. With proper precautions and respect, these encounters can elevate the hiking experience.
- Safety First: The unpredictable weather, presence of wildlife like black bears, and challenging terrains emphasize the importance of preparation and caution while hiking in the Catskills.
- Environmental Stewardship: The principle of “Leave No Trace” is paramount. Preservation of the Catskills’ pristine nature ensures that future generations can also enjoy its wonders.
- Community and Respect: While the trails might sometimes be crowded, it’s essential to remember that every hiker is there for a shared love of nature. Respect for others on the trail enhances the experience for everyone.
The Catskills offer a holistic hiking experience, rich in natural beauty, history, and adventure opportunities. By being prepared, respectful, and open to what the mountains have to offer, visitors can ensure a memorable and fulfilling journey.
We’d love to hear about your Catskills hiking experiences, tips, and favorite trails. Have a photo from atop a scenic overlook or a special moment by a waterfall? Share it with us! Drop your stories and images in the comments below or tag us on social media using #CatskillsHikingJourney. Let’s celebrate the beauty and adventures the Catskills have to offer, together. Remember, every shared tip or story can inspire and guide fellow hikers looking to experience the authentic charm of the Catskills. Dive in and become a part of our vibrant hiking community!