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The hike/drive below is excerpted from Hikes,
Walks & Drives in the Saugerties/ Woodstock Area, with information gleaned from The History of Greene County.
Find descriptions of all the hiking & nature books here.
History of Greene County
Vedder, Jessie Van Vechten. Reprinted village by village "OFFICIAL" history of Greene County from 1651-1800 with an update to 1926 by the County Historian.
From the introduction - In compiling this History of Greene County it has been thought best, because of length of such history and the consequent expense, to touch only on the earliest events of importance in the settlement of each town in the county, adding to it from time to time, should it prove of enough consequence to warrant its continuance. . . . To this early history has been added the most importance events of 1925-26-27, together with a limited directory of each town.//.
with a 25 page NEW INDEX by Audrey Klinkenberg, and many b&w photos 6x9 207 pages Paper $14.95
But the falls are still there. They are the highest in New York State and spectacular! The Kaaterskill stream drops 180 feet to a small pool, where the view from a cabled walkway crossing under the falls was immortalized in a famous Thomas Cole painting. (This "safe" walkway no longer exists.) It then drops 80 feet more to the narrow gorge below. The old trail down from the falls is dangerous and should be avoided, according to the book "50 Hikes in the Hudson Valley" (Kick et.al. $15.00).
It seems as if every year some careless hiker ignores this and falls to his death attempting the descent. If you don't care about your own safety, think of the inconvenience you will cause all the rescue personnel and be patient. I'll show you where to walk in from the bottom in a moderate hike you will live to tell about.
But first, look around up here. The region seems much wilder than it did in the heyday of the late 1800s. While you still will see an occasional hiker, and many picnickers sprawled about the rocks, there are no buildings left. Gone are the mills, tanneries and hotels, carriage roads; the whole industry of the region. The only thing left is tourism. In the 1800s there was even a dam above the falls where the water could be turned off, and tourists were forced to pay for the privilege of viewing this "natural" wonder! Now visitors are only requested to carry-out any litter they bring in, a small price to pay to preserve this glorious location.
From here it is just a short drive back to Haines Falls. A right turn will take you towards Hunter Mt and the many Summer festivals held there. Country & Western, German, Native American and Celtic are the big events, held under circus tents at the foot of the slopes. Hunter Mt. is renowned for its excellent skiing in the winter, and dramatic ski lift rides all year round. It is even possible to ride up on the lift and hike down. Whatever the season, Hunter Mt. is definitely worth a visit when you are in the area. But I promised you a safe hike to Kaaterskill Falls. So, instead of going to Hunter Mt, take a left turn at the village of Haines Falls and start back down the mountain the way you came.
Part way down is a turn out to give your nerves and brakes a rest. Now vacant, it was once the site of Rip's Look Out, a tourist stand that overlooked on the left the fabled resting place of "Rip Van Winkle" (by Irving with Wyeth's drawings, $8.95). The view straight in front of you, down the clove to the Hudson Valley below, is magnificent. To your right, and back up the valley, you can see some of the buildings of the private community of Twilight Park perched on the cliffs of their eyrie. You saw the no trespassing signs at the entrance road just below Haines falls. This is a good place to leave your car and walk down the highway to where it crosses the Kaaterskill stream in the curve of Horseshoe bend. Here is the trail to the foot of Kaaterskill falls I told you about. Its not rugged at all, (I've seen children and senior citizens on it), and you can be in and out in about an hour, but why hurry? Kaaterskill Falls is higher than Niagara and hidden as a surprise at the end of this narrow clove.
As you walk in, think of the history that surrounds you and the famous people that have followed the same path. This was once a route the Indian raiding parties took fleeing the white settlers from the valley below. Here was the gateway into the wilderness, the Wall of Manitou that protected the Indians from reprisals, (by Ruttenber "Indian Tribes of Hudson's River" Vols I & II, $12.95 each). Writers, such as Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper, artists such as Thomas Cole and Frederick Church, and countless politicians and eminent citizens from all walks of life came before you (by Rockwell "The Catskill Mountains" $15.95; by Evers "The Catskills" $39.50). Yet standing on the trail you feel as if you could be the first human to tread here, or the last one left alive. Such is the magic and beauty of the Catskill Mountains.
Here is a bit of gossip as history . . . (probably true!):
In the early 1800s it was considered great sport to travel into the mountains for the sole purpose of hurling rocks from the highest peaks. Parties of young men would camp and try to out do one another with larger and larger stones. This practice culminated here, at Kaaterskill Falls, where a huge boulder nearly 170 feet in circumference (or diameter, depending on which story you believe), with an estimated weight of over 50 tons was balanced on the brink of the cliff. On July 4th, 1820, a group of rowdies managed to topple it over the falls. The tremendous noise is said to have rumbled out the gorge through to the valley below, rivaling that caused by Henry Hudson and his crew playing 9-pins! And it is claimed that the large amount of rubble and debris at the base are all the result of that one prank. Today it is considered kinder to the environment to leave the stones unturned in our hikes and wanderings. Saner rules apply: "Pack in what you need for comfort, and pack out everything you pack in." Hopefully, throughout the course of another 174 years, the only sign of man's trespass here will remain the shattered boulder at the base of the falls.
Well, that's it. You know where you are and you know the way home. I hope you enjoyed the tour. Don't forget: For the hiking maps ($11.95 Catskills 5 map pack), guides ("Hiking the Catskills" $14.95 and "Hudson Valley Tales and Trails" $21.95), and histories (The History of Greene County $14.95), as well as all the books mentioned see above . . .
for more Catskill Mt books or Hiking Guides
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Copyright © 1995 by Richard Frisbie -- All rights reserved.