Would you believe it if I told you that New York has more than 2,000 waterfalls? I’m happy to tell you that it’s true and I’d like to introduce you to the world of waterfalls in New York.
How is this possible?
The area of land we know as New York State has undergone extreme changes in its geologic history. The Adirondack Mountains are a product of the Mesoproterozoic mountain-building event of colliding plates (which is still occurring today at a slow rate of 2mm per year). These mountains rose out of a shallow sea that once covered the area. (Lake George and Schroon Lake are still visible examples.) The Devonian period created the Catskills as the Acadian Mountains were uplifted and eroded leaving behind sediment deposits (today’s Catskills) that moved the Devonian Sea westward. Ice Sheets from the Wisconson Glaciation melted and retreated leaving behind lakes and rivers such as the Finger Lakes, creating generous water flow that produced beauties like Niagara Falls. This glacial recession in New York also widened valleys and rounded mountains uncovering over 90 species of precious stone and over 170 of the world’s minerals. (To be clear, this is one million years of history summed up in five sentences; not intended as a geology lesson.)
The diverse terrain, humid continental climate and varying elevations have made New York State a provenance of waterfalls. You will find waterfalls of every size from 5 feet to 230 feet tall. You can find every type of waterfall—ledge, plunge, cascade, tiered, frozen and more. If you’re paying attention you’ll even find fossilized rocks not found anywhere else.
Planning Your Adventure
Searching for the perfect waterfall can be a nice adventure. Many of these natural beauties can only be found deep in nature’s embrace and not all trails are the same.
- Always wear proper footwear for hiking, climbing, varying terrain, and changes in weather. Keep in mind that mud and clay can become unstable during or soon after heavy rainfall and rocks can be jagged and/or slippery along water routes.
- Check for wildlife found in the area so you are prepared if you encounter black bears, rattlesnakes, or other potential threats. These sightings are rare, but not impossible.
- Call ahead to make sure there are no trail closures, especially in the winter when the trails can become icy.
- There are some waterfalls that originate or have sections on private land. Enjoy the view from the road, bridge or other public location you can access. Do not trespass on private property. There are plenty of waterfalls you have full public access to.
- Most waterfalls don’t allow swimming so come prepared with an alternate source to cool down. These restrictions are for your own safety. Bring a water bottle.
- Avoid trying to be super cool for that amazing photo if the area has signs prohibiting entry to the edge of the falls, behind the falls, or even in the falls pool. Many people have died from these unstable and unsafe areas. (Kaaterskill Falls is a great example.) There are plenty of waterfalls that allow full access and even have lifeguards!
- The best times to see a waterfall are during the Spring (after the snow melt) and after a heavy rainfall when the water table will be the highest.
- You can find the most popular waterfalls in New York easily by checking out the state park website: https://parks.ny.gov/
Below is a compilation of New York’s waterfall highlights. They are divided into the different regions of New York State according to the diagram provided here to make it easier to find. This is not a complete list of the 2,000 waterfalls of New York; simply a modest introduction to some of the beautiful falls to put on your bucket list for your next New York adventure.
Western New York
Niagara Falls– Niagara Falls is the collection of three waterfalls; Horseshoe Falls (largest), American Falls (second largest), and Bridal Veil Falls (third largest). Horseshoe Falls is on the border of Canada and America and is the most powerful waterfall in North America. The American Falls and Bridal Veil are entirely on the American side. Niagara Falls is one of the world’s top 10 waterfalls and receives about 20 million visitors each year.
Eternal Flames Falls, Chestnut Ridge State Park, Erie County- This waterfall is small, but it boasts a naturally fueled eternal flame.
Letchworth Falls, Letchworth State Park, Livingston and Wyoming Counties- Three major waterfalls ranging from 70-100 feet tall call this state park home. USA Today Readers have voted this park Best Attraction and Best State Park; after all, it is renowned as “the Grand Canyon of the East.”
The Falls at Clarendon, Orleans County- A 26 foot picturesque cascading waterfall.
Watkins Glen State Park–Schuyler County- This Park is the most famous of all of the parks along the Finger Lakes. You will come across 19 waterfalls within the two mile course of the moderately easy gorge trail. These waterfalls are some of the most picturesque and famous on the internet. This park has been voted Best State Park by USA Today Readers and has been said to leave you “spellbound.”
Pratt’s Falls County Park- This small park is home to a 137 foot tall waterfall classified as a Ribbon Fall.
Buttermilk Falls, Ithaca—This spectacular fall descends 500 feet in a series of cascades and rapids that lead to a natural pool at the base. Swimming is allowed with a lifeguard on duty.
Ithaca Falls, Ithaca—The 150 foot drop and 175 foot width of these falls makes them the most powerful and impressive in the region.
Lick Brook Falls, Sweedler Preserve, Ithaca- This preserve has three major waterfalls at 25 feet tall, 47 feet tall and 93 feet tall.
Montour Falls– Don’t miss these three easy to reach falls! A 90 foot section of Aunt Sarah’s Falls can be seen roadside. Drive a little farther into town and you’ll easily spot She Qua Ga Falls towering 156 feet behind some quaint homes. (A painting of She Qua Ga Falls hangs in the Louvre!) If you’re up for slightly more adventure you can take a short hike and visit the 41 foot tall Eagle Cliff Falls. Bring the right outfit and you can enjoy cooling off in Eagle Cliff’s pool.
Falls at Filmore Glen State Park, Moravia, Cayuga County- There are five falls at this state park; most notably Cow Sheds Falls (37 feet tall) and Upper Falls (40 feet tall).
Taughannock Falls, Tompkins County- This is New York’s tallest single drop waterfall at 215 feet tall and the highest east of the Rocky Mountains.
Robert H Tremen State Park, Tompkins County- This park boasts 12 waterfalls including the 115 foot tall Lucifer Falls. You will also find one of the best waterfall swimming pools here with a lifeguard and diving board placed at the base of the falls.
Fellows Falls, Onondoga County- You can find four waterfalls here ranging from 10 feet to 65 feet tall with the cascading Fellows Fall being the largest.
Falls at Stony Brook State Park, Danville, Steuben County—This park has three major falls— Lower Falls (36 feet tall), Middle Falls (25 feet tall), and Upper Falls (42 feet tall).
High Falls, Genesee River, Rochester- Located in the industrial section of the city you will find the High Falls at 96 feet tall and a width greater than its height. (There are Two more falls on the Genesee River that flow through Rochester—the Lower Falls & Middle Falls)
Carpenter Falls-Bahar Nature Preserve- This preserve has four falls–Carpenter Falls (90 feet tall), a sloping cascade (20 feet tall), Angel Falls (62 feet tall), and a final cascade (11 feet tall).
Chittenango Falls State Park, Madison County- This park’s waterfall towers at 167 feet tall and flows over 400 million year old bedrock. You can access the top of the falls or get a view from the foot bridge in the gorge.
Oxbow Falls, Madison County- These cascading falls are 100 feet tall.
Salmon River Falls, Oswego- This waterfall plunges 110 feet in three parallel sections. Water flow is consistent throughout the year.
Ausable Chasm, Clinton County- This marvel is considered “The Grand Canyon of the Adirondacks.” The Ausable River flows through different formations of 500 million year old rock. Rainbow Falls is a powerful segmented waterfall of 91 feet. This fall can be viewed from a bridge on the road at no charge. (The business of Ausable Chasm will get you closer with many amenities, but the ticket prices are “tourist” high.)
High Falls Gorge, Wilmington- This waterfall resides on private property, but the owners have built a pretty nice trail with overlooks to help you enjoy its beauty. An entry fee is charged.
Split Rock Falls, Hammond Pond Wild Forest- This picturesque waterfall has three separate drops with the upper two separated from the third by a large pool. This scenic fall is located right off of the road, but hidden well behind the forest.
OK Slip Falls, Adirondack Park- This waterfall drops 200 feet into a gorge and is one of the most popular hikes in the area.
Burrville Falls, Watertown, Jefferson County- This popular cascading waterfall is located next to the Burrville Cider Mill (one of the oldest buildings in the country) and is locally known as Cider Mill Falls.
Cascade Lake Falls, North Elba/Keene- This waterfall is a 40 foot vertical drop in the middle of a beautiful forest setting.
High Falls, Chateaugay River- This beauty drops over 3-4 tiers for 120 feet and then fans out for a big finish. This fall is on private property, but the owners allow you to explore for a modest fee of about $2.
Shelving Rock Falls, Lake George-This 50 foot cascading waterfall is also a short 15 minute hike from Lake George which makes for a great summer adventure.
Roaring Brook Falls, St. Huberts-This 300 foot waterfall is the tallest in the Ausable River watershed, possibly Adirondack Park. The fall drops in three distinct steps with the largest being a 150 foot straight drop. You can view the falls from a distance on Route 73 or hike to its base and top. Visit more falls super close by in the Keene Valley: Beer Wall Falls, Chapel Pond Falls, Rock Garden Falls, Beede Brook Falls, & Twin Falls.
Great resource for the Area’s waterfalls: https://www.adirondack.net/things-to-do/parks-landmarks-nature/waterfalls/
The Capital District
Dionondahowa Falls, Greenwich, Washington County—This magnificent waterfall is on private land owned by a hydro plant that allows access to the public from dawn til dusk. These 60 foot falls drop three times before they plunge into a pool the local residents call “Hell’s Hole.”
Falls at Thatcher State Park, Albany County- This park’s three waterfalls range from 15 feet to 100 feet tall with Mine Lot Falls being the most dramatic (aka Big Falls or Indian Ladder Falls). Enjoy the Indian Ladder Trail to walk behind the falls. This park is also along the Helderberg Escarpment, one of the richest fossil-bearing formations in the world!
Cohoes Falls— This waterfall (aka The Great Falls of the Mohawk) is one of the biggest and most dynamic in the region at 1000 feet wide and a varying 75-90 feet high. It was once called the original “Niagara Falls.” You’ll get the best views if you visit when the park gives you full access May through October during daylight hours.
High Falls, Philmont- This cascading waterfall falls 150 feet into a large pool.
Plattekill Falls, Platte Cove- This free-falling waterfall plunges 51 feet after exploding off of a cliff. This is the most accessible fall in an area that is full of waterfalls (18!, including Old Mill Falls, Green Falls, Rainbow Falls, Pomeroy Falls, Bridal Veil Falls). With names like Devil’s Path and Devil’s Kitchen, exploring this area is for the more experienced hiker.
Mine Kill Falls State Park, Schoharie Valley- This park hosts an 80 foot waterfall that cascades through a narrow gorge. Parking access and overlook viewing platforms are available as well as a hiking trail to the Lower Falls.
Vernooy Kill Falls– This gentle waterfall has a series of falls that drop into multiple pools that are great spots to swim and view the historic ruins of the old Vernooy Mill.
Kaaterskill Falls, Greene County- This two tier waterfall is one of the tallest falls in the Eastern United States. It’s also the tallest cascading waterfall in New York at 260 feet with its longest tier at 180 feet tall. Trails within the park will take you to Buttermilk Falls, Bastion Falls and even Rip Van Winkle’s famous bed of “cloves” and his sandstone likeness.
Minnewaska State Park– This state park has major waterfalls that are accessible. Verkeerder Kill Falls in Sam’s Point Preserve is the highest waterfall in the Shawangunks at 187 feet tall. Awosting Falls pours down 60 feet into a clear wide pool. Stony Kill Falls is an 87 foot cascading fall with a popular pool at the top (beware, it’s known as the “nudist pool” as it is traditional to bathe and swim nude in the natural spring water). You will also find Rainbow Falls, Sheldon Falls (30 foot staircase falls), Peter’s Kill Falls (53 feet) and an unnamed falls near Sanders Kill.
New Croton Dam, Croton Gorge Park, Westchester County- Once the tallest dam in the world at 297 feet high and 296 feet wide, the Croton Dam is now a gorgeous man-made waterfall as the water spills over from the Croton Reservoir down the many steps of the dam wall. You can access the park area at the foot of the dam and cross over the top on a pedestrian bridge for some amazing photos.
Indian Brook Falls, Philipstown- This 30 foot waterfall is a quick hike into a small lush green gorge. It empties into a flat pool, but swimming is not permitted.
Metro New York & Long Island
You won’t find the most dramatic and powerful waterfalls in the boroughs of New York City or Long Island, but you will find them nonetheless. You can also get creative and enjoy the many man made falls hidden in New York City in gardens, hotels, and restaurants. Long Island is filled with rivers, streams, and lakes. You can find a small babbling waterfall in just about every county or state park that has a tributary.
New York Botanical Gardens– Running through New York’s old growth forest (“the largest existing remnant of the original forest which covered all of New York City before the arrival of European settlers in the 17th century”) is the Bronx River. This fresh water river offers a small waterfall just before the stone foot bridge, enhancing the beauty of the Botanical Gardens.
Most people don’t think of New York as an oasis of natural history with an abundance of waterfalls. Typically, Times Square is the image people associate New York with the most. To be fair, most New York residents don’t get out and explore their own backyard enough to know that their home state has over 2,000 waterfalls.
I have only covered 5% of the state’s waterfalls in this post, albeit I mention some of the most extraordinary ones. There are still at least 1900 more to discover on your own. Let me know your favorite New York waterfall, especially if it’s not on my list.