So much has changed in recent days as all of us in New York deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, But natural cycles are still continuing to mark the arrival of spring.
One of those cycles is the freshet – a term used to describe a thaw from snow and ice melt that then feeds a surge of fresh water into rivers and streams. Too large a freshet can cause spring flooding.
While much of the snow in New York is now gone, there is still snowpack remaining in the high country from the recent storm that will feed the freshet in the coming days. And while that surge is thankfully too small to cause flooding, it does mean that is a great time to see some of the beautiful waterfalls found in New York State Parks.
Use this map to locate a State Park with a waterfall.
In the eastern North America, annual freshets occur from the Canadian Taiga ranging along both sides of the Great Lakes, continuing through the heavily forested Appalachian mountain chain and St. Lawrence valley from northern Maine into barrier ranges in North Carolina and Tennessee.
In the western part of the continent, freshets occur throughout higher elevations of various west coast mountain ranges that extend southward down from Alaska as far as the northern reaches of Arizona and New Mexico.
This previous post from the NYS Parks Blog describes each waterfall in detail:
Did you know that Niagara Falls State Park is the oldest state park in the United States? Established in 1885 as Niagara Reservation, the breath-taking waterfalls at this park are considered some of America’s greatest natural wonders. Did you also know that the American Falls at Niagara Falls State Park, at around 100 feet tall, … Continue reading Fall in Love with New York State Parks’ Waterfalls→
Over the last 12,000 years, the landscape of the Finger Lakes region has undergone colossal change. Hidden in cracks and valleys throughout the region are wondrous geologic remnants of that change. So abundant is the splendor of these wonders that many locals have become numb to the consistent gurgling of waterfalls on their daily commute through, for example, the Village of Montour Falls, just south of Watkins Glen State Park, where residents often pass Aunt Sarah’s Falls on Route 14. Yet no two of the over 2,000 gorges that call the Finger Lakes home are the same; each has a different fingerprint with a different number of curves, caverns, and cascades.
The Finger Lakes themselves are a unique natural phenomenon. There are no other lakes quite like them in the world. Eleven north flowing lakes, varying in length and depth, span over 120 miles of the western section of New York. They range from Canadice Lake, at a mere 3 miles long, to Cayuga Lake, which stretches for 38.2 miles; and from the relatively shallow Honeoye Lake, at 30 feet deep to Seneca Lake, which plunges steeply for 634 feet.
About 2.5 million years ago dawned the age of ice. In this region, glaciers are thought to have been over 3,000 feet high, or about the size of two Empire State buildings stacked on top of each other! It is a result of these glaciers growing that we now have “finger lakes”; before we had “finger rivers.” All our U shaped lake basins were originally V shaped river valleys. As the glaciers bulldozed their way through the valleys, the unrelenting force gouged out the walls. About 12,000 years ago, a change in climate warmed the earth, ending the reign of the Ice Age.
As the glaciers started to recede, their melting ice filled the lakes and exposed steep U shaped valley walls. All around would have been hanging valleys comprised of massive waterfalls dropping straight into the lakes. Today, every gorge near the lakes, including those south of the lakes, began its story as one of those waterfalls and has since eroded back into the rock.
“Ithaca is Gorges” is an iconic phrase in Ithaca, referring to the numerous gorgeous gorges around this city at the base of Cayuga Lake. This clever pun, however, has a forgotten key third part. As the massive waterfalls started to erode back into the rock, the eroded sediment built up at the base of the lake. This erosion was so rapid that our lakes are miles shorter than they were originally. “Ithaca is Gorges” because it was formed by the gorges and would not exist without them!
The extremely fast rate of erosion in our gorges alludes to its rich ancient natural history dating back long before the Ice Age. The 380-million-year-old layers of rock in the gorge were each once the bottom of an expansive inland ocean that covered much of the eastern states. The earth, as we know it, was unrecognizable; life was just beginning to take a foothold on land. In the little town of Gilboa, NY, proof of this timeframe can be found in the oldest fossilized trees worldwide. The early roots of these Gilboa trees were pioneering the rocky, unforgiving earth on the edge of the Devonian sea.
This tropical inland sea – which was at that time located below the equator – was the result of a collision between the North American and European continents. When they collided, North America subducted, or went under Europe, and Europe crinkled up creating the Acadian Mountain range just off the coast of New York. These impressive mountains were estimated to have been as big, if not bigger, than the Himalayas are today!
Much of the sediment found in the inland sea would have come from the erosion of these mountains, but the depth of this water would have, over time, also affected the type of sediment found on this ocean bottom. Gradually, the buildup of layers would have caused enough pressure to solidify the underlying sediment into rock. This is known as compaction. This means that every layer of rock in our gorges, be it the more brittle rocks, such as shale, or the denser rocks, such as sandstone and limestone, were once at the bottom of an ocean!
The layers however are only half of the puzzle influencing the speed of erosion in the gorge. Breaking up the layers, in a stunning display of natural masonry, are countless straight line fractures. There are fractures or joints that follow the gorges east to west and those that span across the gorge north to south, intersecting at almost perfect right angles. Notice the unnatural looking straight lines and right angles in the photo of Robert H. Treman State Park.
These joints date back about 300 million years. At this time, all the continents were joining together to form one enormous supercontinent. Pangea, which translates directly to “all earth,” stretched from pole to pole. If you study a map of the world’s continents, you may notice that the western edge of Africa matches up with the eastern edge of the United States like a jig saw puzzle. The stress of this collision alone, however, was not the force required to create the fractures.
Instead, it caused straight line weak points in the rock perpendicular to the pressure. Meanwhile, a batch of methane gas had matured under pressure and heat and took advantage of the weak points to escape from the depths of earth. After this event, 30 million years quietly passed while Africa unassumingly rotated around North America. This quiet rotation was disturbed 270 million years ago when another batch of methane gas matured under heat and pressure, again utilizing the weakened rock to escape. The timing of this second release just so happened to occur when Africa was at about a 90 degree angle from where the first batch of methane gas escaped, forming joints that meet up at almost perfect right angles. Next time you find yourself in the Finger Lakes, keep an eye out for these natural right angles, they’re everywhere!
Considering all 380 million years of the gorges’ rich natural history;
the glaciers that created the U-shaped lakes and the hanging valleys
the joints that resulted from the release of methane gas through the weakened rock
and the layers of rock – shale, sandstone, and limestone, remnants of an ancient inland sea
an ingenious combination of forces all working together to form the gorges in only 12,000 years comes to light. In short, as the water easily erodes away the brittle shale and undercuts itself, the joints or fractures that break up the creek bed speed up the erosion process by causing chunks of the denser rocks – sandstone and limestone to fall at a time. The water, therefore, never has to take the time to erode away the denser types of rock. In consequence, we can affectionately say that “Although our gorges are 12,000 years old, their story can be told in no less than 380 million years.”
Post by Tamara Beal, Finger Lakes 2018 Student Conservation Association Intern
Whether it’s a much-needed elixir after a long holiday season or a first step in making (and keeping!) a resolution to be active in the new year, the 2019 First Day Hikes (FDH) are sure to draw thousands into New York’s great outdoors.
Each year on January 1, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (State Parks) and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) host these family-friendly events on public parkland across the State. This year’s line-up of 79 hikes includes some exciting new destinations in communities on the shores of Lake Ontario, Lake Champlain, and many more!
The popular, outdoor New Year’s Day tradition is in its 8th year. The first First Day Hikes were held in Massachusetts in 1992, but have since spread nationwide. This year marked the first time the FDH went ‘international’, with events held in neighboring Ontario, Canada.
Here in New York, the event has grown significantly since its inception. The 2019 First Day Hikes will be offered at more than 51 state parks and historic sites with some facilities offering multiple hikes for different age groups, skill level and locations. In addition, DEC will host 19 hikes at wildlife areas, trails and environmental education centers. Staff from State Parks and DEC, along with volunteers, will lead the walks and hikes, which range from one to five miles depending on the location and weather conditions.
For last year’s event, Mother Nature really tested people’s mettle. With frigid temperatures and snowy conditions across the state last New Year’s Day, a number of parks, sites, wildlife areas and nature centers cancelled or postponed their First Day Hike program, but many soldiered on and welcomed participants all bundled up who were looking forward to heralding in 2018 in the outdoors.
In fact, a pair of intrepid First Day Hikers braved the elements and joined not one, but two (!) First Day Hikes out in western New York. A Miami couple honeymooning in Niagara Falls attended the morning First Day Hike at DeVeaux Woods State Park, and had so much fun they decided to join the afternoon ice-covered FDH program at iconic Niagara Falls State Park (shown below).
Some host locations welcome dogs on leashes and several have flat, even surfaces for strollers. Participants are encouraged to contact the park for information and pre-registration where noted. A sample of this year’s programs feature a seal walk, walking history tour, snowshoe waterfall hike, pet-friendly treks, bird count gorge walks, military musicology, canal towpath walk, and other fun options.
If conditions permit, some First Day Hikes may include snowshoeing or cross-country skiing with equipment for rent if available, or participants can bring their own. Many host sites will be offering refreshments and giveaways. A map and details about hike locations, difficulty and length, terrain, registration requirements and additional information are listed at parks.ny.gov and dec.ny.gov.
This New Year’s Day, be inspired by the Florida newlyweds who attended two hikes in a single day in Niagara, or the hundreds of brave souls who joined the gorge walk at Taughannock Falls State Park in the Finger Lakes (shown above), or the families and friends who embrace the winter wonderland at state parks and DEC sites across our state… and start your own tradition today.
It is without question that Niagara Falls State Park is one of the most beautiful places our state and country has to offer, drawing an average of nine million tourists every year. People come from all over the world to experience the power and wonder that is Niagara Falls. Designated as a national historic site and the nation’s very first state park, it comes as no surprise the amount of attention it receives.
However, something most people miss out on is the endless beauty of Niagara Falls in the winter. Watching the cascading water crash through the pure white snow and ice creates a unique and memorable experience only attainable during the winter. Visiting the Falls in the wintertime offers tourists stunning views and the beauty of freezing mist covering the landscape.
The newly constructed Cave of the Winds pre-show attraction is now open year-round and offers audiences interactive and virtual exhibits as well as an escape from the chilly temperatures.
Although the Park has received some attention recently pertaining to the beautiful winter wonderland, some articles have mentioned the falls being “iced over” or “freezing over”. It is important to note that the only documented incident of the Falls being frozen completely came in March of 1848 when the Buffalo ExpressNewspaper stated the cause to be ice damming at the mouth of Lake Erie. The installation of an ice boom at the mouth of the Niagara River has made the likelihood of this event recurring very low if not impossible. Even during the infamous Polar Vortex of 2014 the Falls continued to flow.
This does not mean that it has not come very close to freezing since then. During the early 1900’s tourists would often walk out onto “ice bridges” forming across the top of the Falls. This activity proved to be very dangerous and was forbidden after February 1914.
All photos provided by State Parks Naturalist Nicole Czarnecki were taken during the Winter Wonder Photography hike. Look for other events at Niagara Falls and surrounding parks this winter on their Facebook page.
Did you know that Niagara Falls State Park is the oldest state park in the United States? Established in 1885 as Niagara Reservation, the breath-taking waterfalls at this park are considered some of America’s greatest natural wonders. Did you also know that the American Falls at Niagara Falls State Park, at around 100 feet tall, is not the tallest waterfall in New York? To find this peak waterfall, we must actually go to another New York State Park! From high plunges to rocky cascades, waterfalls are all over New York State Parks. In fact, there are 15 parks that have sizeable waterfalls. Few can deny the mesmerizing power and beauty of a waterfall, so why not try to add some of these destinations to a road trip this summer?
Niagara Falls State Park
Easily the most well-known of New York’s waterfalls, Niagara Falls is actually composed of three distinct waterfalls. The smallest is Bridal Veil Falls (the middle falls in the picture), which measures around 50 feet wide and 80 feet down to the rocky cascade below. Luna Island separates Bridal Veil Falls from the American Falls, both of which are on the American side of the Niagara River. American Falls (located on the far left of the picture) is around 100 feet tall (measured from the top to the rocky piles below) and around 830 feet wide. Horseshoe Falls (on the right in the picture), which runs between New York and Canada, averages 188 feet tall and 2,200 feet wide.
Letchworth State Park
Considered the “Grand Canyon of the East,” Letchworth State Park southwest of Rochester has three major cascading waterfalls – Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls – which range from 70 to 100 feet tall. There are also numerous smaller waterfalls as the Genesee River cuts through the gorge.
3. Stony Brook State Park
Stony Brook State Park, near Dansville, contains a large, rocky gorge common in the Finger Lakes. Visitors can hike along the Gorge Trail to see two of Stony Brooks’ three main waterfalls, as well as several smaller ones in between. Lower Falls, the largest of the three, cascades about 40 feet down to Stony Brook below.
4. Buttermilk Falls State Park
Buttermilk Falls State Park, near Ithaca in the Finger Lakes, contains a large cascading waterfall, 165 ft, right near the entrance to the park. If you hike up the Gorge Trail, you will find several other minor falls along Buttermilk Creek. There is even a natural swimming area at the base of these falls.
5. Watkins Glen State Park
At Watkins Glen State Park, located at the southern tip of Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes, you can walk through the gorge along the scenic Glen Creek. Within the two-mile glen there are 19 waterfalls that you are able to walk past, two of which you can even walk behind! Central Cascade is the park’s largest waterfall, plunging more than 60 feet.
6. Robert H. Treman State Park
Home to ten smaller and two major waterfalls, Robert H. Treman State Park is located in Ithaca in the Finger Lakes. In the Upper Gorge you can hike to Lucifer Falls, a 115-foot cascading waterfall. Another park highlight is the stream-fed pool right at the base of the cascading Lower Falls.
7. Taughannock Falls State Park
Taughannock Falls State Park, located in the Finger Lakes north of Ithaca, is home to the highest vertical single-drop waterfall in the eastern United States. Carved into 400-foot cliffs, water from Taughannock Creek plunges 215 feet over Taughannock Falls. Two smaller waterfalls, Upper and Lower Falls, can also be found at this park.
8. Fillmore Glen State Park
Another classic gorge of the Finger Lakes, Fillmore Glen State Park (about 20 miles northeast of Ithaca) is home to five waterfalls. These range from 5 feet in height to the largest in the park, Dalibarda Falls, which is around 85 feet tall. Dry Creek, which runs the length of the park, helps create a stream-fed swimming pool in the Lower Park area.
9. Chittenango Falls State Park
Chittenango Falls, a beautiful 167-foot staircase cascade, is the highlight of Chittenango Falls State Park, located in Central New York southeast of Syracuse. Enjoy the view from the picnic area above or from a wooden bridge over Chittenango Creek below. Chittenango Falls is also home to the world’s only population of the federally threatened Chittenango ovate amber snail!
10. Pixley Falls State Park
Pixley Falls State Park is named after its main attraction, the 50-foot waterfall on the Lansing Kill. There are also a few smaller falls in nearby streams. This park is in Central New York, about 20 miles north of Utica.
11. Mine Kill State Park
Located southwest of Albany, Mine Kill State Park features an 80-foot cascading waterfall that cuts through a narrow gorge. Hike down to the base or check out the separate parking area (1/4 mile south of the park’s main entrance) that provides access to the overlook viewing platform.
12. John Boyd Thacher State Park
John Boyd Thacher State Park, just west of Albany, contains numerous waterfalls which range from 5 feet to over 100 feet. Indian Ladder Falls (also called Minelot Falls) and Outlet Falls are two of the larger falls at this park, each plunging around 100 feet.
Peebles Island State Park is just north of Albany, located at the merging of the Mohawk River into the Hudson River. There is a waterfall here, about 15 feet high, in the Mohawk River near the southern end of the park.
14. Taconic State Park
Taconic State Park shares borders with Massachusetts and Connecticut. Many people flock to this park to see Bash Bish Falls, which is actually just a short hike across the New York border into Massachusetts. After a long cascade and a 60-foot drop, it is Massachusetts’ tallest single-drop waterfall.
15. Minnewaska State Park Preserve
Minnewaska State Park Preserve, located in the Hudson Valley near New Paltz, contains many waterfalls. Near the gate house, the Peters Kill plunges around 70 feet at Awosting Falls. Stony Kill is another plunging waterfall, reaching about 90 feet in height. Some other well-known falls include Rainbow Falls, Bogerman Falls, Peterskill Falls, Sheldon Falls, and Verkeerderkill Falls near the Sam’s Point Preserve area.
Please remember that waterfall conditions are dynamic, changing with weather and seasons. Stay on the trail and be cautious of your surroundings, like slippery or rocky terrain, fast moving water, or steep drops.
For more information, check out some of these great waterfall resources: