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Kaaterskill Falls

I don't know about you, but when I think of old forests and ancient mountains I conjure up a picture in my head. That picture has a babbling stream cascading over boulders down a secret and quiet little valley. The sides of the valley are covered in dense forests hiding the near distance in floating vapors and shadows. It's a little damp and everything is covered in mosses and ferns. Mists drift along as I scramble along a simple path heading into something I know is wonderful, but that I also know I don't know. Legends and fables from my childhood are conjured up and from beneath the cool boulders and from under the layers of leaves I can see the fanciful beasts of my early imagination. Fairies and elves sprite amongst the shadows in a magical forest where the reality of the world has been banned. And sparkling in the distance is a waterfall spilling from a towering high cliff showering this hidden world with an effervescent and glittering rainbow of light. I take off my shoes and dangle my weary feet in the pool of the waterfall lazing in the dappled sunlight filtering in from overhead.

Well, guess what? Its real!

Kaaterskill Falls is a place of legend and a location of mystery. Long known, the falls were honored by Native Americans for their spiritual energy and as a place of the ethereal and mystical world. The very atmosphere of the place is evocative of magical possibilities. American tourists have flocked to the falls for over a hundred years, recognizing in them the splendor that is nature. In the 19th century, hotels and guest houses were erected atop the falls drawing tourists to their mystic spell.

Now, the falls have been allowed to turn themselves back into the primeval forests and dappled sunlight that is their true reality. The hike up the clove to New York's highest falls is an excursion back into the wilds of the early Catskills. Although not a very challenging trail, certain consideration must be given before casually approaching the walk. The trail is developed and maintained, but is an experience of cambering over roots and boulders, up and down steep slopes and coping with rough and uneven footings. It's a short adventure with a promise at each end.

To approach the trail to the falls, you must first reach the small parking area on Route 23A. Head west out of Palenville on 23A and start climbing up into the Catskills. A couple of miles in you will come to a very sharp hair-pin turn, the trailhead is now just behind you. Continue up the road and very quickly you will see a small parking area on the left, south side, of the road. Pull in being careful as the parking areas is on a turn in the road. LOCK YOUR CAR and carefully walk back down Route 23A to the trail head.

The trail to the falls is about a mile and a half long. Take your time, pack a picnic and have your camera loaded. Don't rush along the trail, take your time, sit on a table rock, dangle your feet and watch for the elves. In high summer, Kaaterskill Falls is a fairly popular trail and destination, so expect people. You'll see all kinds of people in season, youth scrambling along, older people carefully walking, whole families of adults and children chatting and laughing, and as they pass, it grows silent again, very fast, and the splendor and magic of the place invades in again.

Once you get to the falls, there are a number of very large table rocks that you can sit on and enjoy the view. The falls is actually two cascades, the upper and lower. Between the two is a pool carved out that you can wade in and sit in, although the water is colder than a you know what. When you are sitting enjoying the sunlight remember where you are. This is the place, this is the actual place of Rip Van Winkle's slumbers. This is the bowl carved out of the mountain where the elves bowled the night away under the flickering lights of their fires. It is on the mossy slopes of this very little valley that time stopped for Rip and the world passed him by. Allow yourself the chance to join him, even if for a brief moment. You might be surprised when you wake up!

On your hike back down to the road, almost as you reach the road the steam flattens out and plummets over the edge of a small escarpment down to the road. Walk out into the stream over the flat rock. Careful as you near the edge, but try and get as close as you can. On a good warm summer afternoon with the breeze just right, the mists come back up over the falls and quench the heat. If you haven't already, sit and have your picnic. On these rocks from this place the view is extraordinary.

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