New York Hudson Valley Autumn Hiking- Kaaterskill Falls

 

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Last fall when I visited New York’s Hudson Valley, I planned on doing as much hiking as possible. Since the Hudson Valley is so beautiful in the autumn, I wanted to maximize my communing with nature time. The hardest part actually was choosing which hikes to do. I wanted hikes that gave me the most bang for my buck leaf peeping-wise, but I also didn’t want to JUST hike all weekend. I only had four days, and my travel list was long, and the more I read about the Hudson Valley, the longer it got.

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I found a really great website that laid out most, if not all, of the available hikes in the Hudson Valley. From there it was deciding which ones were closest to where I was staying-particularly in relation to all my other planned activities, which ones were relatively easy, and which ones offered great views. While I enjoy hiking, I was looking to keep MOST of my hikes to no more than two miles, which would allow me to complete multiple hikes and do all the other autumn activity I love so much.

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I chose to do the Kaaterskill Falls hike, because it was only 2.o miles round trip, not THAT far off my beaten path, and the website teased a huge waterfall. I am a sucker for waterfalls, so off I went.

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Kaaterskill Falls is off Route 23A, and it was a bit of a drive from the interstate. The road is two lane and well paved, though rather curvy out to the waterfall site. This particular hike is very popular, so it is a bit surprising there isn’t more convenient parking. There is a parking lot about .3 miles past the trailhead. Of course that means you need to walk along the road to get to the trailhead, though the drivers seemed to be used to all the hikers.

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So much about this hike reminded me of autumn hiking in Korea. The trail isn’t the best, though it is easy to follow. Basically you just walk from the trailhead  one half mile until you hit the falls. It really can’t be any simpler than that. However, the trail isn’t just some flat stroll in the park, but it is rather steep in parts and rocky in other parts. Definitely make sure you have some comfortable, sturdy shoes.

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But other aspects of this hike made me think I was in Korea. The whole valley, the waterfall, the autumn foliage, all of it looks very much like many of the places I hiked in Korea. It was almost uncanny in spots.

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Once you get to the falls, you will see a yellow sign telling you to go no further. While people in the past have climbed up to the top of the falls, it is definitely not recommended, because it can be very dangerous and people have fallen to their deaths over the years. In response to that, new fencing has been put up to prevent people from hiking past the yellow sign.

 

While I can be a risk taker in some aspects of my life, I tend to be pretty safety conscious and try not to risk my life and limb on stuff like this, particularly since falling and breaking a limb (or dying) would have put a serious crimp into the rest of my autumn weekend plans. So I enjoyed the view of the falls from the bottom, and turned around and walked back to the trailhead. Again impossible to get lost.

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The entire hike only took me around 1.5 hours and that included time to relax and enjoy the view at the bottom of the falls. Like I said, the hike to the falls from the trailhead is only .5 miles, though that length is a bit deceptive due to the challenging nature of the trail in parts. But if you are used to any sort of hiking and in moderate fitness, it really shouldn’t be a problem. Definitely expect crowds, particularly in the fall. I went later on a weekend afternoon, and while the falls weren’t overrun with people, I certainly did not have the place to myself. But if you like beautiful nature, particularly in autumn, and love waterfalls, this is a good hike for you.

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Jiuzhai Valley- Huanglong Scenic Area

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My final day in the Jiuzhaigou area was a full one since my flight out of China wasn’t until 2130. I decided to hold off on seeing the Huanglong Scenic Area for this day. Huanglong is located about a three hours’ drive from Jiuzhaigou, and you actually pass the airport on the way to the area. Considering how long, tedious, and at times harrowing, the drive from Jiuzhaigou can be, I didn’t want to make it a day trip on my third day, and spend around six hours on the road.

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So the very helpful front desk manager at my hotel booked another day taxi for me. The cost for a day trip to Huanglong with a drop off at the airport on the way back cost me 600 yuan. Yeah, that is pretty pricey, but ultimately it was worth it for me, because it allowed me to go at my own pace and set my own independent schedule and stop off at the airport when I was done.

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Like I mentioned, the drive there was a bit tedious and at times, gut checking. The main roads in this part of the country are wide enough for two vehicles, maybe a bit wider. But the curves on this roads are numerous and at times, very windy. There also seems to be a very free wheeling attitude toward rules of the road. Truthfully, I don’t know what the rules of the road are in China, but judging what I experienced through a Western driving prism, I was often tense and at times afraid for my life. Passing on all sides of the road seemed de rigeur, passing on tight curves happened all the time, along with passing on narrow, mountain roads with a very steep drop off on one side, so more than once I imagined myself dying or being seriously injured on this trip. I hoped that my driver was skilled enough to avoid all that (even if his driving often scared the crap out of me), and thankfully he was.

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We left Jiuzhaigou around 0700 so we arrived at Huanglong around 1000. Thanks to him passing every bus and slow moving vehicle we found ourselves behind, I beat the tour groups. Sure there were people on site already, but the lines were very minimal. Admission fee for Huanglong is 210 yuan, plus an additional 80 yuan for the cable car up. Purchasing a ticket for the cable car is purely optional, though I elected to do so, and am glad I did. Sure you can walk up and down the Huanglong Valley, and I saw many groups do so. However, I wasn’t really in the mood to walk up 3.6 kilometers in the valley in that altitude, so I took the cable car up the mountain.

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To get to the cable car, you take a shuttle bus about 10 minutes away. Since it was still early in the morning, the line for the cable was nil, and I was able to immediately ascend the mountain. The cable car lets you off about 2.2 kilometers  from the Huanglong Valley, and it is an easy walk from the cable car station. Like everything else in the national parks in this area, the trails are well benched with wood planks and the trails are easy to walk. It makes for a very pleasant stroll to a beautiful lookout of the Huanglong Valley and the surrounding mountains.

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Once I arrived at Huanglong, I walked further up the path to the apex of the trail which overlooks the Multi-Colored Pond. This was another set of travertine pools, very similar to what I saw at Fairy Pond Scenic Area. The water were shades of blue and green set among the golden travertines. The clouds were gray and overhead this day (though thankfully no rain), so the colors weren’t as bright as they would be on a sunny day, but they were still beautiful nonetheless.

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The trail down the valley is 3.6 kilometers and is another wood planked trail. The path heads downward and it passes some local temples and even more travertine pools. The trail is filled with viewpoints to stop and stare at the nature around you.

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The calcium deposits built up more and more as you descend the valley, and towards the bottom, it starts to resemble the Gold and Silver Beach at Fairy Pond.

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Waterfalls also become more numerous, with the most unusual looking waterfall to be Flying Waterfall very near the bottom. The waterfall reminded me of some of the waterfalls I saw in Jiuzhaigou National Park, such as Shu Zheng Waterfall .

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I took my time walking down the valley, since I had plenty of time and I was on my own schedule (the benefit of paying for independent travel rather than going with a tour group). Even then I had so much time at the end. My taxi driver dropped me off at the airport on the return journey, and the airport is about an hour’s drive from Huanglong.

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I think Huanglong is a must do when visiting the Jiuzhaigou area. If forced to choose between Fairy Pond and Huanglong, I recommend Huanglong, just because there is a bit more to see. If you choose to travel to Jiuzhaigou, I recommend staying no less than three days, which will allow you two full days in Jiuzhaigou National Park, and a trip to Huanglong. This will give you the greatest opportunity to see the astoundingly beautiful and unique nature in the area at a leisurely pace.  Also if possible, I recommend taking a late flight out of Jiuzhaigou, and there are plenty of opportunities, since there are about 23 flights a day to various Chinese cities during high season (basically spring through fall). This will allow you to visit Huanglong on your leaving day and go to airport on your way out. But if you love beautiful nature, this place is not to be missed.

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