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Poet's Ledge, Falls, & Kaaterskill High Peak

Kaaterskill High Peak

Overview of this Hike:

Distance: 16.24 miles round trip from parking at bridge to Poet’s Ledge, Viola Falls, Wildcat Falls, Buttermilk Falls, Kaaterskill High Peak and back.
Time: 14.0 hours round trip - We recommend this hike as a 2-day hike
Elevation Gain: 3,075’ feet from parking lot
Best Time to Hike: Start EARLY
Difficulty: 0.61 Easy Road hike - 1.91 miles of steady moderate ascent - then 7.16 miles of level hiking - then 2 miles of moderate hiking - last mile is difficult - 1/10 mile of level hiking to Hurricane Ledge.
VO Map No: 19, 98, & 27
Catskill Highest: #22
Peak Elevation: 3,655'
Digital Mapper: Topo Terrain Satellite
Attractions: Absolutely Spectacular views from Poet’s Ledge & Hurricane Ledge.
Attractions: 3 very nice water falls. (50’ to 100’+ waterfalls).
Attractions: Beautiful Conifer forest after 1.91 mile ascent. Still many old growth trees (some 3 feet in diameter).
Attractions: Very remote. It is unlikely that you will encounter another person. On one hike I encountered a deer who viewed me as an oddity. It is possible that this deer had never seen a person. I was able to walk by (15 feet away) without it being spooked.
Unattractions: Difficult “Huff-and-Puff” 1,661’ vertical ascent (mile 0.62 to 2.52) at the beginning of this hike - Difficult final ascent to Kaaterskill High Peak.
Unattractions: Very hard to find and access the trail entrance.
Unattractions: While the views from the Waterfalls are beautiful, some are disappointed that they cannot see the grandure from the base of the waterfalls. Some have experienced and brave hikers have hiked down the steep slopes just west of Wildcat falls. Buttermilk Falls needs ropes and climbing gear.
Dangers: Falling off a one of the water falls. Do NOT attempt to cross the creeks after large storms. You can easily be swept over the falls. Do NOT walk across the water near the edge of the falls - they usually have very slippery algae.
Dangers: Rocks are often wet and mossy all year , and are deceptively slippery. Do NOT underestimate the slippery rocks. Most hikers fall 3-4 times during this hike. Getting injuried is easy. Being on the North side of a steep mountain, the sun doesn’t shine here often, so there is a lot of moss and wet rocks.
Dangers: If you are injuried you may be stuck there for days before someone comes by to help. This great trail is rarely used. Most travelers are passing thru via the Long Path.
Dangers: Black bears walk up and down this trail along the Falls almost continous. Watch for dig holes. The possibility of you encountering one is pretty high. Make sure that you are up-to-date on bear encounters. The trail along the Falls has the highest density of Black Bears in the Catskill Mountains.
Common Animals: Coyotes, bears, birds, Hawks, butterflies (whites & swallowtails), and deer.
Risky Animals: Rattlesnakes and Copperheads (none known), Bears (Very High), Mountain Lions (Low)
Access Methods: Foot & snowshoe.
Side Trips: Johnson's Point, Hawkeye Ledge, Twilight Park

Maps, Profile, and GPS files

Catskill Mountains Kaaterskill Poets Ledge GPS
Catskill Mountains Kaaterskill Poets Ledge
Click here to download the GPS file in gpx format
Click here to download the GPS file in gdb format (Garmin Version 3)
Click here to download the GPS file in TEXT format

Directions to Trail Head from New York State Thruway (Easist, not the shortest):

  • Take New York State Thruway to Exit 21 (Catskill).
  • Take a left out of the NYS Thruway entrance road.
  • Go approximately 1/2 mile
  • Take a right onto Route 23 West
  • Go approximately 5 miles on Route 23.
  • Take a left onto Rt 32 (McDonalds on corner).
  • Go approximately 7-8 miles on Route 32.
  • Take right onto Rt 23A.
  • Go approximately 7-8 miles on Rt 23A .
  • When you come out of Palenville, you can park in 3 different areas. (1) Park just before bridge (west bound lane); (2) Park 1/4 mile past bridge; (3) Park 4/10 mile before bridge in DEC parking lot.
  • You cannot park at the trail head!
  • Do NOT park by the red building next to the bridge.
  • Do NOT park on Malden Ave or in someone’s driveway on Malden Ave.
  • Do NOT drive up the dirt entrance road to the trail head - this is PRIVATE property - AND there is NO place to park or turn around once you get to the trail head.

  • Special Circumstances about this Hike

    The first 1.40 miles of this hike runs over public roads and private land. You will walk on public roads for 0.61 miles, and 0.79 miles on private land (dirt roads). The private lands provide the public with a “right-of-way”. Most of the people in the area really don’t want you to hike this trail, and present obstacles to make it as difficult as possible. You will also see numerous No Parking signs, No Trespassing signs, closed metal gates blocking the path, and guard rails to block you, overgrown paths, poison ivy, etc to discourage you. They go out of their way to make finding the trail head and accessing it as difficult as possible. But, if you follow our instructions, you have every legal right to hike this path. In spite of their actions, please respect the owners land, and do NOT leave the road, and be respectful to the owners. Sooner or later, the State will need to step in, and fix this situation. 30 years ago, Malden Ave was not blocked off at the Rt 23A end, and you could park on Malden Ave. When they closed sections of Malden Ave where people parked, this historic trail started to die. Now it is very rare that local people hike this trail. A very sad situation for such a great and historic hiking path.

    Mile Stone Chart

    Mile PointAltitudeNotes
    0.00680’Parking - From Route 23A turn onto Malden Ave - Walk past double guard rails (watch out for poison ivy on left side of road).
    0.62680’Walk up wide dirt driveway about 250’ ( look for green Long Path trail marker on tree - hard to see from Malden Ave) - Turn right and walk up narrow dirt driveway past metal gate (If gate is closed, walk around gate).
    1.01 Road branch - Go straight
    1.27 Road branch - Go Right
    1.331,255’Road Branch - Go Right - leave dirt road and continue onto the foot path
    1.40 Leave private land onto public land
    2.131,955’Level off for a while
    2.312,067’Giant steps
    2.342,102’Ledge #1 (views)
    2.522,325’Reach top of moderate ascent - Levels off after this for several miles. Total ascent of 1,661’.
    2.572,317’Start of Boreal Forest (Watch for black bears at this point)
    2.632,341’Trail Branch - go right to Poet’s Ledge (0.44 miles) - Yellow trail markers
    2.982,187’Mossy Notch
    3.072,145’POET’S LEDGE - Outstanding View! - Enjoy. Be careful of the opening between the rocks on the ledge. It is a 30’ fall. There are blueberry bushes around the ledge, which bears can be very possessive of (end of June - early July).
    3.742,183’Viola Falls
    4.292,212’Wildcat Falls
    4.842,186’Buttermilk Falls
    5.242,250’Trail Junction to Twilight Park *
    6.172,250’Return back from Twilight Park Dam/water tower
    6.522,622’Top of moderate climb - Junction of old Twilight Park Trail
    7.132,936’Trail Junction to Kaaterskill High Peak (RED Marker)
    7.253,030’Trail Junction for Snowmobile Trail - Take Right
    7.313,043'Trail Junction to Kaaterskill High Peak
    7.873,655'Kaaterskill High Peak Summit
    8.123,460'Trail to Hurricane Ledge
    16.24680’Return to Parking Lot

    Hike to Poet's Ledge

    Kaaterskill High Peak
    There are 3 places you can park to do this hike.
    (1) You can park where this picture was taken (Just before this bridge);
    (2) You can continue 1/4 mile and park on the right side of the road;
    (3) You can park in the DEC parking lot 4/10 of a mile before the red building. Some people have parked at the Fernwood Resturant (with permission).

    The mileage for this hike starts where this picture is taken. It is the closest place to the trail head.

    Walk over bridge and take a right onto Malden Ave (In front of the red building).

    Walk around the barrier. You will have to wade thru the brush at the beginning of this barrier. Then you can continue walking on the road until you reach the barrier on the other side of Malden Ave. Continue down Malden Ave. The distance to the dirt road that is the beginning of the trail is 0.62 miles.
    Kaaterskill High Peak
    Kaaterskill High Peak
    From the other side of Malden Ave, this is the entrance to the Long Path/trails into the Kaaterskill High Peak region.Walk up this driveway.

    Absolutely do NOT park here, or drive up this road. This road is private property, and you only have the rights to walk up the road to access the trail head. The trail head onto public land is 1.40 miles from where you parked your car next to the bridge. I can assure you that if you park here, your car will be towed.

    If you look very carefully from Malden Ave, you might see the green Long Path trail marker on the tree. You have to look very carefully.

    After walking 150 feet up this driveway, turn RIGHT onto a smaller driverway. You will see a DEC sign denoting that this is the way to the trail. 30 feet after turning right you will see a steel gate. You can walk around the gate and continue up the road.

    There is another metal gate further up the road. Walk around that one too, if it is closed.

    The picture on the right shows the sign denoting the direction to the trail. The first metal gate blocking the road is just past the sign denoting the trail.
    Kaaterskill High Peak
    Kaaterskill High Peak
    At mile marker 1.01 (from where you parked your car), you will come to a 3-way intersection. GO STRAIGHT.

    You will see trail markers, so follow them if you get confused.

    There is another road on the right of the picture (which you cannot see in the photo).
    Kaaterskill High Peak
    At mile post 1.27, you will encounter the second trail branch. You want to GO RIGHT. Again follow the trail markers.
    Kaaterskill High Peak
    At Mile post 1.33 (elevation 1,250’) the road will branch again. This time the branch will move off the road on to a foot path. If you were to continue further, you will run into the property owners house. So try not to disturb them.

    At Mile post 1.40, you will leave private land and will enter public land. At this point you can leave the path if you so choose.

    The path will continue on a steady moderate uphill ascent.

    At Mile post 2.13 (elevation 1955), it will level off for a little while. Maps from 50-60 years ago show a trail branch around 2,000’ to 2,100’ that will lead up to Hawkeye Ledge. We looked for the trail head, but didn’t see it. This trail is thousands of years old. It is sad that the DEC allowed Hawkeye Ledge Trail to disappear. Hawkeye Ledge is located on the eastern escarpment and is believed to have a 500’ vertical drop that allows a significant view of the Hudson Valley that is probably similar to Newman’s Ledge.

    Historic records talk about many Indian trails thru out the mountain range. Some are thousands of years old. Unfortunately, the DEC has not maintained many of these trails, and most of them are now gone.
    Kaaterskill High Peak
    At Mile post 2.31 (Elevation 2,067) you will encounter The Giant Steps at Heaven's Gate. These rocks are slippery to don’t be deceived by their appearance. Many experienced hikers have fallen around this area. There is one step in this area that has a rounded off tread (been ground smooth by thousands of years of hiking), which has causes many injuries. This caution seems overstated, but many experienced hikers have been fooled. Most are injuried on the way down.

    SAFETY NOTE: There is one step in this area that has a rounded off tread (been ground smooth by thousands of years of hiking), which has causes many injuries. Most injuries happen on the way back down the mountain.
    Kaaterskill High Peak
    At Mile post 2.34 (elevation 2,102) you will encounter the first ledge with a view. From this ledge you can clearly see Indian Head Ledge, Palenville Overlook Ledge, and Boulder Rock. You will also be able to see down into Palenville and the Hudson Valley.

    At Mile post 2.44 (elevation 2,264) you will encounter “Rock-in-the-Path”.

    At Mile post 2.52 (elevation 2,325) you will come to the end of the long ascent. (At this point you have completed the 1,645’ vertical ascent. At this point, the trail will continue on a level path all the way to Twilight Park.

    At Mile post 2.57 (elevation 2,317) you will enter the beautiful Boreal Forest that has many magnificent old growth trees. Some are 3+ feet in diameter. The forest has a nice thick canopy, and is exceedingly enjoyable to walk thru.

    SAFETY NOTE: At this point you need to start being hyper vigilent to the presence of Black Bears. There is a very high population of Black Bears in the area. The probability of a bear encounter is pretty high. If you are unaware of how to hike in high bear population areas, and what to do if you encounter a bear, I would recommend that you visit our Animal section of our web site.
    Kaaterskill High Peak
    At Mile post 2.63 (elevation 2,341) you will encounter a Trail branch. If you go right it will lead to Poet’s Ledge. The trail is marked with Yellow Trail Markers. The detour to Poet’s Ledge is 0.44 miles one way or 0.88 miles round trip. Poet’s Ledge is the shining star of this hike, and shouldn’t be skipped. It has one of the most magnificent views in the Catskill Mountains. If this is the end of your hike, your round trip mileage will be 6.14 miles. The trail will be a 196’ drop in elevation from the trail branch down to Poet’s Ledge.

    SAFETY NOTE: It should be noted that there are blueberry bushes near the ledge, and at the end of June and early July, they become ripe. Bears absolutely love blueberrys and will defend their feeding ground.
    Kaaterskill High Peak
    Kaaterskill High Peak
    About 2/3 of the way down to Poet’s Ledge, you will encounter two ledges (pictures on the right and left). These are NOT Poet’s Ledge. There are blueberry bushes around both of these ledges, so be aware of Bears around this area.

    Continue on the path until the path absolutely ends. Then you will be at Poet’s Ledge.
    Kaaterskill High Peak
    Kaaterskill High Peak
    After the two ledges, you will come to a beautiful mossy notch. Continue down and around the notch.

    Shortly after exiting the notch, you will enter a beautiful Boreal forest. At the end of the short forest is Poet’s Ledge.
    Kaaterskill High Peak
    Kaaterskill High Peak
    This is the view of Poet’s Ledge. While the photo is beautiful, it really doesn’t do justice to the view you will get. On a clear crisp day, the vistas are awe inspiring.

    Safety Note: There is a benign looking crack in the ledge. If you look carefully, there is a 30’ drop into a cave. If you fall thru the crack, I don’t know if you can get out, or if you will encounter a sleeping bear. So, use caution.

    The best time to arrive at Poet’s Ledge is around noon time to 2 PM in the afternoon. Late in the afternoon is the worst time. The photo above was taken at 10 AM. Arriving too early in the morning increases the probability of a bear encounter. It takes 2 hours and 15 minutes to get there.

    The mileage from the Long Path to Poet’s ledge is 0.44 miles, and the elevation at Poet’s Ledge is 2,145’. There is a 197’ drop in elevation.

    Reverse course to return back to the Long Path. Since this path is not used a lot, it is easy to walk off the trail, so keep this in mind.
    Kaaterskill High Peak
    At mile 3.74 you will encounter Viola Falls. Elevation 2,183. The larger Viola Falls are downhill slightly. Actually, just below Poet's Ledge.
    Kaaterskill High Peak
    At mile 4.29 you will encounter Wildcat Falls. Elevation 2,212. There are another 5 water falls downstream from this one. Climbing gear is recommended.
    Kaaterskill High Peak
    At mile 4.84 you will encounter Buttermilk Falls. Elevation 2,186. There are another 5 water falls downstream from this one. Climbing gear is required. This is a popular ice climbing Falls.

    About 750-1,000' past Buttermilk Falls is a non-DEC trail (on the RIGHT) that will take you to Johnson's Point. You will go downhill a little ways, and come to a flat ledge.

    The trail will then start to turn south and upward. You will come to a trail junction on the right. This trail will take you to Twilight Park (private land). After the trail junction, the traill will start to go up in elevation.
    Kaaterskill High Peak
    The picture on the LEFT is the sign at the bottom of the Crossover Path. Take a RIGHT and head UPHILL. The crossover path was created when they put in the Snowmobile Loop Trail. The crossover path used to continued from the North Access Trail Junction down to the Long Path. Not sure why they changed it.

    The picture on the LEFT is the crossover path from the Snowmobile Loop Trail to the Long Path. This crossover path is just east of the North Access Trail to Kaaterskill High Peak. Take a RIGHT here and follow the Snowmobile Trail.
    Kaaterskill High Peak
    Kaaterskill High Peak
    Not only is the snowmobile trail muddy, but it has a lot of vegetation as you can see in the LEFT picture.

    The trail junction for the North Access to Kaaterskill High Peak is marked with a small rock Cairn. Take a LEFT and head UPHILL.
    Kaaterskill High Peak
    Kaaterskill High Peak
    The north access trail has three difficult sections. The picture on the left shows one of those sections. The section is not as difficult as it looks.

    The picture on the RIGHT shows the top of a steep climb. When you approach this section, the obvious path is on the right of this picture. It is a steep mossy rock ledge. The best path is actually the mud path on the left of this picture. Then walk across the top of the root base of the tree.
    Kaaterskill High Peak
    Kaaterskill High Peak
    After the third ledge, the trail will level off. The picture on the left is is the nice mossy trail above the third ledge.

    The picture on the RIGHT shows another picture of the beautiful path near the top of the mountain.
    Kaaterskill High Peak
    Kaaterskill High Peak
    This is the peak of Kaaterskill High Peak Mountain. There are no longer any views from the very top. But, you will have spectacular views from Hurricane Ledge. Hurricane Ledge is 1/4 mile past the peak (south).

    There are two USGS markers about 30 feet from the peak. The trail to the left (from the north access) will take you to plane crash #2 and USGS marker #2. The trail to the right will take you to USGS marker #1, and Hurricane Ledge.

    If you look around, you can see that there was a building at the summit. The building was a 2-story building that was built in the late 1800's. It was taken down around 1921 when New York State purchased the Kaaterskill Mountain Range. About an acre of land was cleared for the building.

    While the Mohawk Indians used KHP for thousands of years, the first European to ascend KHP was Peter delaBigarre (and a companion) on July 26, 1793. Up to the 1870's KHP was believed to be the highest peak in the Catskills. Princeton geography professor Arnold Henry Guyot brought equipment up to the Catskills and started to measure the peaks. He determined that KHP was actually the 23rd highest. His finding upset the hotels in the Kaaterskill Clove who used this fact to attract visitors.
    Kaaterskill High Peak
    The picture on the LEFT is a picture of the trail to Hurricane Ledge.

    The picture on the RIGHT shows the summit. The trail to the left (east) will take you to a plane crash The plane is 495 feet east of the peak. The GPS of the plane crash is reported to be at GPS position: N 42 9.734 W 74 4.829. On it is "Air Crash 3". The plane crash occured on May 26, 1983. It killed a Watertown man named Rex Miller. He flew his Piper-28-140 into the mountain at about 3,400 feet in bad weather while attempting to return home from Poughkeepsie. Again, he was flying NVR. The crankshaft to the plane laid next to one of the trails (about 100' from the peak) from 1983 to 2008. Then in the Fall of 2008 someone removed it.

    There is also a faint trail that heads west of the peak. This trail will take you down a gentle slope on the North side of Round Top Mountain, and will come out near the Snowmobile trail near Cortina Ski Center. This trail was used for hundreds of years as the primary path to the top of Kaaterskill High Peak. It is actually the easist path to the top, but is rarely used. We believe that the trail fell out a favor when the DEC built the snowmobile trail. We also believe that the access to the western trail entrance got cut off at Clum Hill Road. Now that the DEP has put in parking on Clum Hill Road, this trail might become very popular again.
    Kaaterskill High Peak
    Kaaterskill High Peak
    The picture on the LEFT is USGS marker #1. It is about 30 feet south of the peak on the path to Hurricane Ledge.

    The picture on the RIGHT is USGS marker #2. It is about 30 feet east (and slightly south) of the peak. It is location on top of a dome shaped rock. When you approach the peak from the north access route, take a left. Then take a right. The marker is about 10-15 feet inside the trees.
    Kaaterskill High Peak
    Kaaterskill High Peak
    The path to Hurricane Ledge has a number of side trails that will give you nice view. But, Hurricane Ledge will give you the best views.

    This is Hurricane Ledge. It is 0.25 miles from the peak. There are several places on Hurricane Ledge that will provide you with spectacular views. The trail to the South Ascent is on the left side of this picture. This ledge was caused by a storm on or about November 28, 1950, which had winds in excess of 100 mph. Ironically, there was another Hurricane Ledge created on the north eastern side of the peak at the beginning of the 1900's. It may have been created by one of the storms on November 8-10, 1913 or October 22-25, 1923.

    If you want to take the very steep and dangerous south access route back down to the Loop trail, you just need to move to the very left side of this ledge to find the trail.
    Kaaterskill High Peak
    This is another part of Hurricane Ledge. On this ledge is several places you can get spectacular view. This picture is of the Hudon Valley. You can see the Hudson River in the valley.
    Kaaterskill High Peak
    This is Hurricane Ledge. On this ledge is several places you can get spectacular view. This picture is of the Indian Head Mountain Range.

    Reverse your course back to the KHP peak and go back down the North Access path
    Links and References: Forum - Ask questions or tell us about your experience with this hike
    Plane Crashes in the Catskill Mountains

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