Kaaterskill Falls and Vroman’s Nose Hikes • Catskill Mountains • November 11, 2016
Our Veteran’s Day adventure was one full of little life lessons. We began our day with sleeping in — we have been just terrible at getting up early on hiking days. We’ve been remembering how when we lived in Arizona, we’d often get up before the sun so that we could begin 10-20(!!) mile hikes before sunrise and we’d literally hike all. Day. Long. (For example, refer to this post, this one, and this one — and that’s just a start.) Not only that, but those mountains were double the elevation of the highest ones out here. There are some days when we really miss that (especially when I compare our 7 day forecast with Southern AZ’s) but it’s also nice to do a hike or 2 in a day and still have time to relax or do other productive things.
However, getting a late start and still having to drive 2 hours ultimately forced us to forfeit our original plan for the day. Our initial plan was to drive down to the Catskills and hike Overlook Mountain, which is in the fire tower challenge. The road to the trailhead gains a lot of elevation — which makes the hike that much easier — and as soon as we arrived at the small parking lot at the top, it was completely full with other cars circling around and going back. We didn’t even hesitate to continue on to go to the next mountain — it was around 11:30, no way were we waiting for a spot to go hike will all these people! Here’s where we note the first “life lesson” for today: It’s good to have a backup plan. But better yet, you should be familiar with the area where you want to explore so that if your plans fall through, you don’t have cell reception, and you don’t have an atlas, you can easily find something else to do so that driving 2 hours isn’t all a waste. This is something I really appreciate about Curtis: He knows almost exactly where the other fire tower hikes can be found, so he didn’t even hesitate to move onto the next one, which happened to be within a half hour’s drive. We drove down the other side of the hill and continued on a highway that runs through the Catskills.
Unfortunately, sometimes for reasons beyond your control, plan B also falls through. As we turned on the highway, we noticed a sign that said “Bridge Closed 6 Miles”. We knew it’d be close, but were very hopeful we’d make it…and yet our hopes were crushed when we saw all the construction vehicles blocking off the road with no quick and easy way around to make it to the trailhead. We would have to make a huge loop around different mountains and highways, and it would be too late to start a 6 mile hike at that point. Bummer! We turned around and drove back to the first trailhead, just to see if the situation had changed. There weren’t other cars waiting, but there were still no spots. I think its popularity is due to its proximity to NYC and the relatively easy trail, and the trailhead parking lot is just a small area that fills up fast on weekends or holidays.
At this point, it was after noon and Curtis wasn’t sure we’d be able to get to another trailhead and do a hike before we lost the sun. He was discouraged and started driving back the way we came. I racked my mind trying to remember any possible hikes I had heard of in the area, then looked at my phone and found one helpful star saved on Google Maps. Well, I had a couple places saved, but we didn’t feel like going to a state park and paying fees when we knew they were even closer to NYC and undoubtedly also crowded. I directed Curtis to another short waterfall hike I had heard about, about 30 miles North of where we were. As he drove, I tried to use any moment that I had cell reception to pull up important details on this hike, such as does it cost anything, and if dogs are allowed.
We were very skeptical when we made it to the trailhead for Kaaterskill Falls. I had been reading things online about the trail being “heavily trafficked” and “dangerous”. But we were out of options and didn’t want to give up and go home. So we started on the trail, following a couple of parents herding a crowd of kids across the street and up the road to the trailhead. The parking lot for the trail is actually .2 miles away, making you walk along a narrow shoulder on a busy highway to get to the trail. Things weren’t looking too promising.
Thankfully, we passed the family before beginning on the actual trail. Besides some rocks and roots in the path, the trail to the base of the falls isn’t that difficult. I can see how it’d be more dangerous in different seasons though, especially with mud and ice since you’re walking alongside a creek. (Why would anyone hike this in winter, you ask? Because FROZEN WATERFALLS! I really hope we’re able to see some this winter!)
Kaaterskill Falls is the largest 2-tier waterfall in New York. The trail to get there is just over a mile out and back, but I recommend doing some research so that you know how to hike to the falls safely and avoid the injuries – some even fatal – that others have suffered. Curtis always researches hikes using AllTrails.com, but has found that the site isn’t always accurate so it’s always good to check a few different sources. For example, AllTrails said the trail was only open until late October, but I didn’t find any other sources in my short search that confirmed that. It was clearly not closed today — if it was, there were many hikers “breaking the rules”!
There are 3 different views of the falls once you arrive: there’s the initial view at the base, which takes no climbing to get to, then there’s a view in between the 2 tiers, and a lookout from the top. The higher you go, the less people there will be. To get to the second tier, you go up the staircase until you come to the first trail to your left, which takes you to the pool from the top waterfall. The stairs are the real struggle on this hike, it took all my strength to push through and not stop halfway! There are more stairs to get to the top, then the trail turns into switchbacks until it levels out and meets up with a road that takes you to a turn for the overlook. It’s just over a half mile to reach the base of the falls, and going to the top adds an extra mile or so. It’s definitely worth it to go all the way — you get both a view of the waterfall, and a great view of the mountains to the West. While the base and the second viewing point had several people hanging around, we were all alone at the top.
After we finished the whole hike, we decided to take a scenic drive through the mountains on 23a rather than return to the interstate and head straight home. As we drove, we came across a place that Curtis recognized from letterbox clues — a Ukrainian Catholic Church on the side of the road. We stopped to admire the beautiful architecture and Curtis found the box. He then remembered one other hike that we’d be passing by on our way home, so we agreed to end our day with that. When we drove into Middleburgh, we turned followed a green trail sign to a trailhead about a mile from highway 30. This one is a 3 mile loop trail that takes you up to Vroman’s Nose, a lookout over the Schoharie River Valley. We had driven through here about 2 months ago when we hiked Hunter Mountain and had loved the views, so we decided this would be a great place to enjoy more views of the valley from higher up.
When we arrived, it was around 3:30, and the sun was beginning to disappear from the valley. The trail was very easy though as it ascended steadily to the lookout, so we weren’t too concerned about potentially hiking in the dark on the way back. After passing the intersection with the loop trail, the trail went up a ways and then turned to the left, with the final uphill stretch. Here, we started to get vistas to the South, and were blown away by each one. I have about 60 pictures from the vistas on this hike, and while they all look about the same I can’t get over how great this view was! Of course, the ever-changing colors in the sky as the sun disappeared played a big part in that. We don’t do very many sunset hikes, so this was a real treat.
So what can we learn from today’s experiences? Well, you can do your best to plan things out, but when things outside your control fall through, all you can do is take what you have and what you know and make the most of it. We can’t go blaming the people who were doing construction on the bridge, or those who made the trailhead parking lot so small — let’s be real, if we’d been one of the few to get a parking spot, we’d be glad the lot was so small to keep the trail from being crowded. It also does no good to blame the hikers who were simply more proactive than we were. No, casting blame for our misfortune doesn’t fix our situation. What did help matters was staying positive and making the most of the things we do have control over.
We can also learn to not leave the atlas at home. It never hurts to have a couple maps when you’re out of cell service. Oh, and maybe “the early bird gets the worm”? …No, that can’t be it. 😉