5 Secret Hiking Trails Revealed in The Catskill Mountains

The Catskill Mountains have a lot of beautiful areas to check out. Today I want to share 5 adventures in this area to check out, some of which are secret hikes most people don’t know about.

Here’s a preview of these 5 hiking trails in the Catskills:

  1. Start atop Kaaterskill Falls.
  2. Visit North South Lake and the amazing overlook there.
  3. Visit Minekill Falls.
  4. Revisit Kaaterskill Falls, but hike it from the bottom up for an incredible hiking experience.
  5. Explore Fawn’s Leap, a secret waterfall, amazing gorge and Rat’s Hole Park (all close to each other) and do cliff jumping to finish the hike.

All together, you can do these 5 hikes in one day in the Catskills and have an incredible time in the process. In fact, I’m going to make a challenge out of it and show you how I do it whenever I go up here.

Here’s one of the secret spots in the Catskills I’ll reveal to you (among others):

5 things to do in the catskill mountains

It’s one of the secret waterfalls I’ll show you.

Quick info about the Catskills:

The Catskill Mountains are in New York State, and NY as a whole isn’t exactly known for it’s nature, and that’s because most people think of the actual city, but a simple 2-3 hour ride up north outside of it will have you pass through the Catskills (and here are other scenic things to do in New York State).

And if you have the chance to visit this area, you will never forget it, provided you do some of the things I am going to recommend.

Now I will warn you that some of the areas I am going to tell you about that I personally visit are NOT easy to navigate through and in some cases can be dangerous.

But they are recommended for athletic and relatively physically fit people who enjoy nature and an adventure and trust me, if you fit one of more of these requirements, you are going to have an unforgettable trip. 

And I stand by that word, because every single person I have ever taken across this path, they were absolutely raving about it, wanting to do it again and the pictures I put up after each trip keep attracting more and more enthusiasts!

Shortly put, the reviews for this trip are easily 5 stars and I might even start tours through it in the future (let me know if you want to join below!).

Now when it comes to the secret locations on this list, I mean places that VERY few people know about to visit in the Catskills, but I’m going to share them with you today.

Here’s how this adventure/challenge through the Catskill Mountains works:

1) There are 5 areas that I visit on my trips to the Catskills (the 5 you read about above, in the order it’s shown).

2) This hiking trip happens during the spring and summer seasons.

3) These 5 areas make for 1, very intensive, yet extremely fun day hike, about 8 miles in total and most of these locations are places you won’t see too many people on, especially on weekdays because many of them aren’t known about.

4) If you plan on visiting all the 5 areas, even if it isn’t in the same order as I visit them, make sure you arrive to at least one of the destinations around 8-9 am. And that’s because given the time it’ll take for you to hike, get in the car, and go the next destination and so on, it will really take up most of the day and ideally you will want to finish everything before 6 pm.

This is because after that time, it gets pretty cold up in the mountains and you’re probably going to be quite tired, by which time I will recommend a very delicious restaurant to you below.

Here are 5 things you will be doing in one or more of these areas in the Catskills:

Note: You don’t have to do all of these activities, but if you’re athletic, adventurous and want a challenge, you can try to complete them all in a single day to really get the most out of this experience:

1) Hiking trails.

what to do in catskills

Well obviously, but not your typical hikes. There will be some very challenging and exciting places you’re going to be checking out.

Like I said, I recommend you be in at least some decent shape, not have knee issues or other major injuries. If you plan to do this with friends, make sure they are also fit.

2) Plenty of things to take pictures and videos of.

Not only will you remember an incredible trip, but you’ll have ample opportunities to document it on camera and videos, which I always take with me as I always seem to capture some new, breathtaking moments.

3) Cliff jumping, swimming holes and more.

There are going to be at least 3 areas on this trip where you can jump off rocks into water. One of them is about 30 feet high, another is about 10 and the last one is 15 feet. There is also a rope swing on the last one which makes for some exciting jumps!

Now with cliff jumps, also comes hiking through water and rocks. Some of the hikes will not be dry at all. You’re going to be going through water, getting wet, coming back out, drying up, continuing the hike, going back into the water and even swimming through this place: 

Prepare to get wet and enjoy it!

4) Trail running, parkour and more!

Hopping rocks can be risky, but here you’ll have plenty of options to do this. While I don’t recommend you go full Parkour crazy here and go for flips, it will make for some crazy fun jumps and adventures. So be careful here, take your time with the hopping around and you should be fine.

Note: Do not do these activities when it’s raining or if the rocks are wet!

5) Swimming!

The water there is quite cold, freezing even, but if you do these activities when it’s warm, I assure you, by the time you start and go through some of the areas, you’re going to be begging to go for a swim to cool off and it’s going to feel like a rebirth when you do!

Alright, so here are the 5 hiking trails to check out in the Catskills (in detail):

Now some of these spots are hidden, secret locations very few people know about and some are more of the popular, mainstream trails.

1) Start with exploring the Kaaterskill Falls overlook:

Whenever I go to the Catskills to do this challenge, it begins here. Kaaterskills falls is one of the most unforgettable and largest waterfalls in the United States happens to be here.

It is over 200 feet high and with the way it’s shaped and all the access that’s available, you will really be able to experience some great adventures and take some awesome pictures!

Here is where it is:

Kaaterskill Falls is not a secret spot on this list, but it’s so beautiful that you should check it out if you are in the Catskills. However, this part of the trip is just a warm up! But it’s going to be a breathtaking warm up.

2 ways to see Kaaterskill Falls:

1) There’s the outlook area which I’ll show you shortly.

2) And then there’s one which used to be open to the public where you can get to the edge of the waterfall itself. I don’t recommend doing that these days, but here’s a video of my friend and I checking out that spot years ago when there were no gates blocking the entry there:

Note: Going to the overlook is the safe and recommended path:

kaaterskill falls images

2) Explore North/South Lake and it’s amazing, “Secret Overlook”. Here’s info:

Once I finish enjoying the view of Kaaterskill Falls, it’s onto the next destination, and it’s only about 5-10 minutes away. It’s a combination of a beautiful double lake area known as North South Lake, and amazing hikes surrounding it, one of which I do everytime I go up there, and it has an “overlooked” viewing area many people don’t actually know about!

Here is how to get to North South Lake:

Now getting there is easy and the views and activities are also fun. Here is how North South Lake looks:

north lake south lake views

However, what we’re trying to accomplish here is visiting the secret overlook that’s near North South Lake. To get there, follow these directions:

1) Enter into North South Lake. Normally the price for a single car to visit this area is $10 for the day.

2) Once you enter, stay to the left. We’re going to be visiting one of the lakes out of the 2 up there.

You can actually go right and hit the other and still visit the same outlook, but I’d rather you follow one of the road so it’s easier for me to give you the directions.

3) So as I said, stay on the left and keep following the main road until you hit a parking lot. It’s quite large and located right next to the lake.

Things such as barbecue, kayaking, canoeing, swimming and picnicking are available, but what I recommend doing is parking the car and heading up the trail to the area where you can see 5 states. 

4) Now to get there, from the parking lot, you will see 2 trails, one will follow the lake to the other lake, and one will be seen behind a stop sign about 500 feet away from the parking lot. Just walk towards the area where there is a lot of gravel, then towards the trees to spot it.

5) Follow the trail (it’ll loop around and up), and it’ll take you to the outlook. 

6) Now you can technically take a break here and head back, but I would rather you see a much better view of what’s up there. Right next to this huge outlook (where again, you can see 5 states), there is a BLUE trail. Follow it up.

7) It’ll take you about 20 minutes to reach the top, but once you do, seek out this place:

It’s hard to miss, as long as you follow the blue trail, you will see an opening that looks like the picture above. Now in this, the person that you see is my friend who decided to put up a hammock right at the top, but from here, the view is mesmerizing (and dangerous), so watch your step!

Take some time to enjoy this place, because it isn’t just beautiful up there, it’s very peaceful and quiet! People have picnic’s here sometimes as well.

Now you can choose to head back down to the parking lot and head to place 3 or if you choose, continue along the blue trail until you reach what is known as “Boulder Rock”. It is also an outlook, but it has a lot of trees covering the actual outlook.

The only good thing about this outlook is that there’s a huge boulder on it. I typically do not go there and stick to the above outlook since it provides the best views.

3) Explore Minekill Falls:

Minekill Falls

Once I finish up this hike, the next destination on this challenge is to visit a place called Minekill Falls and it’s about 30-40 minutes away.

Driving to see this area will take you through a beautiful road that shows you the beauty of the Catskills and will help you recharge for the next hike.

The beauty of Minekill Falls is that it can be explored 2 different ways (and I do both):

1) The first way is the more easier one that just about anyone can do. It’ll take you to the base of the falls and you can see a picture of what it looks like to the right.

If you want to experience an easier, less dangerous hike than others on this list, this is a good option to try.

2) The other is a bit secret but is located close to the overlook of Minekill Falls. It’s dangerous, narrow and not recommended. But it will take you to the top of Minekill Falls from another end, and have you basically go under the bridge that you’ll see as you are on that overlook.

I won’t be giving instructions on how to find this secret hike because of it’s dangers, and I don’t want to encourage people to do it.

Like I said, I will do both options to get the most out of my time at Minekill Falls. If I visit this area with beginner level hikers, I’ll go for option 1 most of the time.

Here’s where you can find Minekill Falls:

What the secret trail to the back of Minekill Falls looks like:

hidden spot in minekill falls

Like I said, it’s dangerous and I don’t recommend it, but when you stand at the overlook, you can get a pretty good view of what it looks like.

So that should be enough for most people.

To hike down will require a short but extremely steep and narrow hike.

But if you want to see a preview of what this place looks like when you get there, see the photo to the right.

If you’re wondering if this is illegal, I honestly don’t think so because I never saw any signs for that.

I just recommend taking the beginner level trail to the bottom of Minekill Falls and enjoying that.

It’s a beautiful, short walk down to it and you can take many good photos there. Once you finish this hike and part of the trip, then it’s onto the next part:

4) Backtrack back to Kaaterskill Falls, but now you‘re hiking up to it:

bastion falls picture

Instead of going back up to the top of the falls, we’ll head to the bottom and make our way up.

Retrace your steps from Minekill Falls back to road 23A, make your way back through the little towns and sights until you reach a huge parking area on your right. 

This is where you will find the parking lot to the trail up Kaaterskill Falls. Park there (usually on weekends, this place gets pretty busy, if so, there is another parking lot further down 23A, and not too far away). 

You can’t really miss the trail, but just in case, walk down the road until you reach a bridge. It is only a few hundred feet away from the parking lot. You will see Bastion Falls:

Kaaterskill Falls Catskills

This falls represents the beginning of the trail up to Kaaterskill falls. Make your way up the trail to the base of Kaaterskill falls (it’s about a 1/2 mile hike).

Once there, you should see this iconic view of the falls:

Every season, this waterfall is beautiful and well worth looking at! But I think the one in the spring is more beautiful.

Either way, this waterfall’s height is between 200-300 feet. and you can explore most of it from the bottom up (which you will for this challenge).

1) Starting from the bottom (where you see the picture being taken from):

2) You can walk up to the water and take a small dip if you wish, but there is another level to this falls which you can reach by simply walking up the stone steps to the right of the picture above (you can’t miss them).

They purposely made these to help people get from the first level of the falls to the second.

Personally I am not a fan of this as it has been bringing a huge crowd to this place, but it’s there and I have no say.

3) Anyway, you can take these steps to reach the second level of the falls or even take them all the way up to the top (There is a trail which loops around the falls and takes you to the top).

4) I personally prefer to be at the second level and relax there, especially on warm days.

There’s good places to tan and a small pool you can swim in. Although I would caution NOT to stand underneath the actual waterfall as you may never know what could fall from the top!

Here is a picture from the second level of Kaaterskill falls:

kaaterskill falls hike

The second image to the right is actually a small “cave” inside the waterfall if you hike up just a little bit. It is going to require that you squat through this area, but it’s amazing to view it!

Now when you’re satisfied with the views and activities here, you can make your way back down to the parking lot, BUT here’s a cool “alternate route” you can take which I often do with my friends.

Here is where the secret trail of location 4 begins:

secret hiking trail catskills at kaaterskill falls

Instead of taking the regular trail back down which you originally took up to Kaaterskill, head downstream via hopping the rocks that run parallel to the trail.

This is an awesome experience if you love parkour and challenging yourself and the scenery is even more beautiful on this parallel trail than the official one next to it (marked in yellow).

  • You’re going to be hopping rocks.
  • Going into the water.
  • Walking over and under downed trees.
  • And much more.
  • Here’s a preview of the views of this secret trail:

It is a bit dangerous so don’t do this if you’re not flexible or used to hopping rocks (and stay from the wet ones, they are slippery!). And please wear water shoes for this.

5) Fawn’s Leap, a secret waterfall, Rat’s Hole Park and more adventures to finish the day!

The last stage of my trip in the Catskills ends pretty much where I started my drive into the actual Catskill Park and it happens to be the place that holds the most epic activities in my opinion on this list. We’re talking:

  • More rock hopping.
  • Cliff diving.
  • Swimming.
  • Cool natural jacuzzi’s.
  • Rope swings.
  • And more.

There are 4 specific places to explore in this area:

  1. Fawn’s Leap (cliff diving area, but it’s dangerous).
  2. The secret waterfall further east (downriver).
  3. The beautiful gorge area that feels like a tunnel.
  4. Rat’s Hole Park where more cliff diving and rope swings are available.

Here is a map of the locations and which activities I do (from 1-4). It begins at spot 2 (Fawn’s Leap, and ends at Rat’s Hole Park, which is spot 5).

kaaterskill creek

1) It begins in the parking area:

To reach spot 1, you first need to head back the parking lot that took you to Kaaterskill Falls. Once you are there, get in the car and drive back down the road. On it, you will cross another bridge (location 3 above). But your goal is to head to location 1 on 23A.

Location 1 is a small parking lot. You will want to stop there, and prepare for the next hike:

Put on water shoes, take only the essential belongings, and walk UP the road BACK to location 2 on the map.

2) Secret location in the Catskills (Fawn’s Leap):

It’s a popular diving spot (It’s very dangerous, but beautiful):

fawn's leap catskills

I’ve never dived there (but I did swim in the swimming area close to the waterfall).

It’s a very nice place to look at and enjoy a hike back down to the parking lot, but the hike will involve going through Kaaterskill Creek, NOT the road you came up!

Being in that spot is actually quite beautiful and in the photo you see to the right, my friend and I dove into the water in the fall season! This is why I’m literally rocketing myself out of that water.

There’s actually several jumps from Fawn’s Leap available, with the most popular being from the top of the falls you see. The height of the possible areas to dive into the water from range from 20-40 feet high.

Again, I stress how dangerous it can be, so if you’re not into cliff diving, don’t do this. And if you are, be very careful and check the depth of the water first.

3) That secret waterfall that’s underneath the bridge on road 32A:

waterfall in catskill mountains

As you head east (again downriver) from Fawn’s Leap, you will encounter beautiful landscapes of the Catskills and even be able to sit in a natural Jacuzzi.

It’s usually very cold, but during the summer and after doing all the other hikes, a cool off in this area is very welcomed!

Anyway, as you get to the Jacuzzi area, you’ll see a bridge (that you drive over). Under that bridge is where you’ll find the secret waterfall (right).

You can hike down to it and enjoy some swimming, and cliff diving there.

But it’s from this area that the adventure changes and is almost always going to be in water. So get those water shoes on and get ready!

4) Hop into the water, exit out onto the rocks and head down hill (down stream).

This will take you about 40 minutes to an hour to pass and it will take you to one of my favorite and secret locations in the Catskills, this beautiful gorge:

And you will have to swim through it, but it’s extremely exciting! The depth of that water can change from 3-6 feet, so if you are carrying backpacks, carry them over your head and in your hands because the depth can change very quickly depending on different circumstances.

This gorge feels surreal to be in whenever I pass through it and while it’s short, it’s an experience you’ll love!

Once out the other end, continue to make your way downstream. You will then eventually reach the final part of your trip:

5) Rat’s Hole Park (cliff jumping, waterfalls and rope swings!):

This is the last area which has a big pool, a rope swing and plenty of places to jump from the rocks into the water! Sometimes you’ll find the rope to be missing or untangled. If that is the case, or your grip isn’t strong, don’t do the road swings, just enjoy this small park and have a swim (be careful as it has many rocks).

This is where my friends and I end our trip and take about an hour relaxing, cliff jumping and rope swinging over and over until we get tired. It’s a lot safer than Fawn’s Leap but obviously be very careful when you do these things, but rest assured you will be very happy you did all of this! 

Exiting out of Rat’s Hole Park, and ending your Catskill adventure:

Rat’s Hole Park is right near the parking area where you originally began this trip, so you only need to do one last uphill climb to reach it. From there, you can head out of Catskill Park and head back home, or if you have time.

And if you’re hungry, stop here:

After finishing such an exhausting hike, I would imagine you’d probably be VERY tired and seeking to eat something good. If you’re into fancy meals, try a French restaurant called the Chateau Bellview back up road 23A. It’s a bit back n forth with these trips, but you’ll be happy you stopped there because it’s extremely delicious:

I personally always order the duck, 2 actually! 

And that is the Hunter Trail I take. 5 destinations, and an overall challenging experience that is highly recommended to any hiker/adventure seeker! 

If you try this path out, let me know how you enjoyed it!

Update: Want to see more places? 6 more recommendations:

These following 5 places are out of the Catskill area, BUT are also equally (if not more) beautiful to explore:

  1. Lake George. It’s about 1-2 hours away from the Catskill region.
  2. Adirondacks. This mountain region is also 1-2 hours north of the Catskills, and is even bigger with more mountain ranges! 
  3. Finger Lakes & Watkins Glen State Park. This is almost directly west of the Catskills (About 4 hours).
  4. Ausable Chasm. If you can travel to the Adirondacks, then this spot is only about 30 minutes away from it.
  5. Smugglers in Vermont. 3 hours northeast of the Catskills, this area has beautiful scenic drives and hikes I would say are better!
  6. Green Mountain National Forest. It’s about 2 hours north east of the Catskill Mountains and also has amazing adventures!

And if you’re into things like scenic drives, then New York State itself has many scenic drives you can do, which I added a link to 🙂

8 thoughts on “5 Secret Hiking Trails Revealed in The Catskill Mountains”

  1. So so beautiful there!! I have an uncle that got married on a mountain in the Catskills and it was fantastic. Talk about burning off wedding calories haha! Minekill falls looks stunning, definitely somewhere I’d like to travel to for a long weekend and go hiking around. Thank you for all these ideas of places to go there, I usually get to the Catskills once a year and now I can add these to my agenda 🙂

    Reply
    • You absolutely should Mallory! The Catskills from what I know span to nearly a million acres of beautiful land and that provides a ton of adventurous opportunities like these.

      Reply
  2. Wow. I absolutely appreciate this blog and will be referring to it all this summer. I love hiking but find myself heading back to the same places I’ve gone as a child or ones that friends have shown me over the years. The views are always beautiful but I’m almost getting board of them without a proper balance of places to visit.

    Also! it’s so great of you to give in-depth directions, this really helps when you find a place you’d like to go (problem 1 solved) but then you don know how to get there or the little gems that they posses (problem 2) i.e. the rope swing and pool area of Place 5 that visitors need to head down stream for.

    Thanks so much! I’ll be staying tuned.

    Reply
  3. Hi,

    Loved this website, I have heard of the Catskill Mountains but never seen them! I liked all the pictures of where to go.

    I liked the activities you suggested but I think I would draw the line at Cliff Jumping! I think that the Kaaterskill Falls are worth a definite visit!

    I am lot less fit than you are so I appreciated the detailed descriptions and how to get to where you want to go.

    What kind of special clothing or boots would I need?

    Reply
    • Regular hiking shoes (trail running) will work fine here. If you go into the water, wear regular, cheap water shoes.

      Reply
  4. I love the Catskill Mountains. I went there many times as a kid and took my kids there too. I have to say that these are great things to do in the Catskills. I wish I could still do them.

    You have really gone into detail about what to do and where to go and even how to get there. Hiking and swimming in the most beautiful mountains are so exciting!

    What time of the year do you suggest is the best time to go if any?

    Nice article Vitaliy!

    Reply
    • Any season is good, considering the activities best fit during each season suite you Rob. Anything involving cross country, skiing, and other snow activities would be best suited for winter time. Any other season would be good for hiking. As for things like swimming and enjoying warm weather, obviously, summer and spring would be best.

      Reply

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