Kaaterskill Creek is the crown jewel of Catskill creek boating. It has everything an expert paddler could hope for: read and run boulder gardens, several waterfalls, a tight gorge with overhanging walls and a couple of optional rapids for "big dogs" who don't mind potentially terminal consequences for a blown line.
We've always put in at the pull out on the left (as you drive upstream along 23) before the hairpin turn and Kaaterskill Falls, a tourist attaction, which is on a tributary of the Kaaterskill. There is potentially another mile or two of difficult whitewater further upstream of the standard three mile run, if you're willing to explore and the water level is right. The gradient for this upper section, which begins below Haines Falls, looks to be about 280 feet/mile. The standard run can be described in three parts, each about a mile in length.
To run the first part, you'll need to park at the aforementioned pull out and bushwhack you're way down to the creek. From there, you'll have consistent maneuvering through read-and-run Class IV boulder gardens. There is some wood to be weary of and you'll want to be on the look out for Fawn's Leap, a 25 footer that several very good boaters I know have passed on. After Fawn's Leap, there is a great boulder garden rapid that culminates in an 8 foot boof on the left. After the boof, there is about twenty feet of fast moving flat water before Red Rock Falls. Get out on the right and have a look at this sliding waterfall. It is probably the easiest of the three "big" drops, but the landing is very shallow, and it should be reserved for those who have rubber spines and/or very good health insurance. Walk on the right, under the bridge, but be careful not to stub your toe on some of the rusty rebar that blends in so well with the red rock.
Upon re-entering the river you will shortly enter the gorge, the second part of the run, and the most beautiful. The road disappears pretty quickly and several waterfalls cascade into the creek, creating the illusion that civilization is a lot farther away than it is. Here the boating isn't as continuous as above and the drops are more distinct. Three deserve mentioning:
1) Atom Bomb Falls: In his book, Dennis Squires calls this the most horrific undercut in the state of New York. I don't know about that, but it is a big drop and it feeds right into an undercut (according to Dennis there is new wood in the undercut as well), so we've always walked it.
2) There is a relatively benign looking rapid that has pin potential, especially at low water. The hazards are obvious so long as you do not float into it unwary. A clean line opens up with more water, but if you are unsure of the line at low flows, a very dainty portage is necessary on a narrow path along the cliff walls twenty feet above river level. Watch your step.
3) The last rapid in the gorge is a classic triple drop. The last hole could be terminal at high water and would be very difficult to portage. At lower levels though, it is not too bad, and the three ledges are fun boofs. The view back upstream of the triple drop framed by the grotto-like walls of the gorge is more reminiscent of a tropical paradise than a roadside creek run in the Catskills. But just downstream, a bridge comes into view and the gorge section is over.
Get out here if the water is low. The creek changes character dramatically here. It widens and takes on a pool drop character. There are maybe eight drops from here on down to the takeout. The first one is the most challenging. Get out on the left and inspect the twisting, narrow slot. We've always passed on the top move and just run the bottom ledge. There may be a line on the right that opens up with more water instead. The drops that follow will vary depending on water level, but they are all in the IV-V range. When you get to the takeout bridge, run the last 15 footer backwards, forwards, upside down or whatever, and then climb back up and do it again.
A quick word on difficulty: This is a fairly continuous creek with several significant hazards even if all the Class V drops are portaged. For a safe, controlled run, you should have Class V skills. This is not huck and tuck boating. I would say it's a step up from other creeks in the area I've run such as Fall Creek, Raymondskill, Beerkill, and more challenging in overall difficulty than Adirondack classics such as the Bottom Moose, the Raquette, and the Beaver. Putting in below Red Rock Falls would definitely make for a more manageable day for a Class IV paddler with a good guide at favorable water levels, but please use discretion.
I will try to get some pics up this spring. If anyone has any, please post them here. Enjoy.
Catskills Area Reaches
Basic Creek Batavia Kill Bear Kill
Beaver Kill (Delaware Trib) Beaver Kill (Hudson Trib) Beer Kill
Beer Kill, W. Branch Bowery Creek Bush Kill
Callicoon Creek, E. Branch Callicoon Creek, N. Branch Catskill Creek (1.)
Catskill Creek (2.) Catskill Creek (4.) Claverack Creek
Coxing Kill Delaware Delaware, E. Branch
Delaware, W. Branch Little Delaware Dry Brook
East Kill Esopus Creek (1) Esopus Creek (2)
Esopus Creek (3) Esopus Creek (4) Esopus Creek (5)
Hannacrois Creek Kaaterskill Creek (1.) Kaaterskill Creek (2.)
Kinderhook Creek (3.) Kiskatom Creek Mombaccus Creek
Mill Brook Neversink (1.) Neversink, E. Branch
Neversink, W. Branch Peters Kill Platte Kill
Plattekill Creek Potic Creek Roeliff Jansen Kill (1)
Roeliff Jansen Kill (2) Rochester Creek Rondout Creek (1)
Rondout Creek (2) Rondout Creek (3) Sandburg Creek
Saw Kill (1) Saw Kill (2) Saw Kill (3)
Schoharie Creek (1.) Schoharie Creek (2.) Shingle Kill Creek
Squirmer Creek Stony Clove Creek Ten Mile Creek
Thorp Creek Tremper Kill Wallkill
West Kill Woodland Creek Vly Creek
Google Map of New York Whitewater
New York Whitewater Paddlers Facebook Group
As of June 29, 2006, flood damage has closed Route 23a from Palenville to Haines Falls. You can still put in at the bridge above town (below the gorge and triple-drop) and run the mile or so through town, but access upstream, even on foot, will likely not happen for several months. As of now (July 1) it is closed to car, foot, and bike traffic above the bridge.
The flooding also changed the first rapid below the bridge. The gravel bar that separated the left (evil) and right (not so evil) channels has eroded, sending more water left. So, higher levels will be needed to make the right side go. The left side has some new wood as well.
Apparently the flood damage upstream is very significant, washing out big chunks of road. The first boaters who venture back should be wary.
A riverside homeowner in town said he'd never seen the river this high. He told me that his house interior was pretty torn up from the flood. Looking at the high water line, I'm sure other homes were damaged too.
Fawns Leap is rated a 5.3 This has been run quite a number of times over the years which means my crew is likely to give it a go. My buddy who had fired it up 5 years ago dropped in on it in Aug/2009. We knew the drop had changed since the historic highwater event and we were warned. the level was not high that day. The unexpected action on the boater about half way down Fawns was to just get uncontrollably thrown over on the right and he snapped the right blade right off his paddle in the action. He didn't hit any rock hard with his body while falling upsidedown. He Rolled up offside, ran back to the truck for a new paddled and we fired up all the rest of the drops at what I thought was a very managable flow. (btw we all walked fawns after that) Just look out for this one and post successful Fawns Leaping. Remember he stuck the line and got wrecked maybe a medium high healthy flow is what we need there?
2 years ago
by Ruben Martinez
Waterlevel is key for this run. It is very flashy, but
runs a lot. If the Esopus is 7.5 feet and rising, you
should have water. The
Sugarloaf gauge in the
Schoharie drainage is also a good indicator of water
levels in the area and will reflect ice whereas the
Esopus might not. Look for a minimum of 35 cfs and
rising, with flows in the 60-90 cfs range
ideal.If the Catskills are getting
an inch of rain, I'll head over and check out the
Kaaterskill. If it's too high, the Plattekill, 10 minutes
down the road, will be running.
There used to be a gauge on the first
bridge that crosses the creek as you're coming into
Palenville on 32A, but it was painted over in the Fall
2005. However, if the drops above the bridge and the
waterfall immediately below it are fluid, you're good to
go. If they look a little low, you may still have enough
water for the upper run. If the level looks high,
go to the Plattekill.
Permits are not required for this reach.
We have no additional detail on this route.
Use the map below to calculate how
to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.
Power line hazard
Halfway Down Triple Drop
Upstream View of Triple Drop
Ted Running Red Rock Falls
Spencer Running Red Rock Falls
Fawn's Leap Upstream View
Scouting Fawn's Leap
Above Red Rock Falls
Waterfall above Fawn's leap
Entrance to Gorge Section
Red Rock Falls
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