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:
When quizzed about some of their best loved hikes in State Parks, our staff had to choose from amongst the hundreds of miles of hiking trails along shorelines, through mountains and open fields, overlooking lakes, rivers and gorges, and meandering through old growth forests.
Here are some of their favorites. (Note: trail maps can be found at each park’s website)
Mike’s favorite: Mine Kill State Park, located in the scenic and historic Schoharie Valley, is about an hour southwest of Albany. The park boasts almost 10 miles of trails, the most well-known being definitely the five-mile section of the Long Path. The Long Path (LP) is a 358 mile-long hiking trail running from New York City to John Boyd Thacher State Park just south of Albany. This particular section of the LP was designated as a National Recreation Trail by the Department of the Interior (National Park Service) in 2014 due to its unique flora and fauna, diverse history and incredible scenery. Along this stretch of trail, a hiker may wander past active bald eagle nests, the picturesque Mine Kill and Schoharie Creek, the historic Lansing Manor and its namesake, the 80-foot high Mine Kill Falls.
Nancy’s favorite: The Indian Ladder Trail (0.40 miles long) in Thacher State Park near Albany is like a hike through geological history. You get an up close look at the 1,200 foot high limestone escarpment as you climb metal staircases to start (and end) your hike along the bottom of the escarpment. Layers of limestone, sandstone, and shale, lifted and eroded by wind, water, and other elements, formed the escarpment over 100 million years ago. Prehistoric people used nearby areas as hunting camps, possibly as early as 6,000 B.C. Native Americans traversed the escarpment via footpaths and logs (acting as ladders) between the Mohawk/Hudson and Schoharie Valleys, hence the name ‘Indian Ladder’ Trail. Along the hike, you can see waterfalls (if it’s not too dry a season), marine fossils, small caves, and stand near the crowns of mature trees growing below the escarpment. Best of all are the views from the Indian Ladder Trail, and the Escarpment Trail above, of surrounding valleys, the urban landscape, and further in the distance, the Adirondack Mountains of New York and the Green Mountains of Vermont.
Nick’s favorite hikes at Minnewaska State Park Preserve in the Hudson Valley include the Lake Minnewaska Carriage Road, a two-mile gentle loop trail around the glacially formed Lake Minnewaska. It’s an historic carriage road left over from a Victorian Era mountain resort. This hike features many views of Lake Minnewaska, a peak at the Catskill Mountains from several spots, and views of the greater Hudson Valley. This hike is popular due to the lake (people love water!), the ease of access, and the rock perches and cliffs that overlook the lake and Hudson Valley.
Nick’s other favorite hike is Gertrude’s Nose Trail, an approximately seven mile hike on a mixture of historic carriage roads and footpaths traversing some of the most rugged terrain in Minnewaska State Park Preserve. These footpaths are loaded with evidence (signs) of the last glacial event, featuring glacial polish, glacial erratics (large rocks deposited by glaciers), chatter marks (any of a series of grooves, pits, and scratches on the surface of a rock, usually made by the movement of a glacier(from Dictionary.com)), sharp cliffs and massive talus blocks (rock debris below a cliff face). This hike is very popular mainly because this cliff edge trail gives panoramic views of the Shawangunk Mountains along the way.
Tom’s favorites: Green Lake and Round Lake Trails, located in Green Lakes State Park, are favorite hikes near Syracuse. They follow around the shores of these two glacial meromictic lakes. Meromictic lakes are lakes where there is no mixing of surface and bottom waters and they remain thermally (temperature) and chemically stratified (in layers) throughout the year. Other unique features of the lakes include their brilliant blue green appearance and the presence of “thrombolitic microbiolite marl reefs.” This basically means that a living organism is creating a rock out of material in the water. More specifically a cyanobacteria or algae is taking calcium compounds that entered the lake with groundwater seeping through the surrounding limestone bedrock and making it into a solid as part of cellular respiration. The United States Department of Interior designated Round Lake as a National Natural Landmark in 1975.
Green and Round Lake Trails are generally flat, 8-10 feet wide, and easy hiking trails. The full loop, including both trails, is approximately three miles long with benches located periodically for resting and enjoying the scenery. A swimming beach, playground and boat rentals are located at the north end of Green Lake. These trails are part of a 17-mile trail system in the park that also takes you through or to old growth forest, wetlands, grassland bird habitat, cliff edge overlooks, camping areas, a golf course, and connects to the 36-mile Old Erie Canal State Historic Park.
Nicole’s favorite: As the largest State Park in the Long Island region, hiking at Connetquot River State Park Preserve can feel secluded even in the middle of densely populated Long Island. The beautiful scenery and diversity of life within the park make it her favorite hiking spot. Starting from the parking lot, the Greenbelt Trail (indicated by the white and yellow blazes) takes you directly to the fish hatchery, where you can get up close and personal with trout being raised. From there, the Red Trail can take you back along the Connetquot River to Main Pond. The Red Trail merges with the Blue Trail at the pond and the hike ends at the historic Grist Mill and Main House. Then it’s a short distance down the road back to the parking lot. This loop is a little over two miles but flat and even throughout, making it perfect for all age groups. Don’t forget to check in with the Nature Center at the Main House on the way out to find out about all of the amazing programs they have there.
Molly recommends hiking at Wellesley Island State Park in the Thousand Islands Region. A favorite is to start at the Minna Anthony Common Nature Center and hike along the Eel Bay Trail (1.1 miles) to the Narrows Trail (0.45 miles). From there you can head back the same way or follow along another trail to loop back to the Nature Center. Sitting on the exposed granite outcroppings and watching the St. Lawrence River Eel Bay and passing glacial potholes are highlights of this hike. The Narrows is a narrow water passageway located between Wellesley Island and Murray Isle connecting South and Eel Bays. Along the Narrows Trail you can watch boats pass through the channel and see a variety of birds while picnicking on an open rock area. These trails are generally easy hiking but have some steeper rock climbing areas. Don’t forget to check out the Nature Center!
FORCES stewards Nick and Adriana recommend two hikes in the Finger Lakes Region.
Buttermilk Falls State Park is a located in the heart of the Finger Lakes to the south of Cayuga Lake and has much to offer avid hikers, families, and visitors to the area. Hike the Rim and Gorge Trails together for a 1.5-mile loop, or hike each separately. Starting either trail from the lower parking lot will require a strenuous uphill walk (Rim Trail) or climbing of a long staircase (Gorge Trail). The Gorge Trail has much to offer and you will encounter many waterfalls, and beautiful rock formations along the 0.65 mile trek up the gorge. Mosses, liverworts, and ferns coat entirety of the gorge, providing a vivid green walk that is topped by a hemlock hardwood forest along the ridge. As you come out of the gorge, you will cross a bridge to take the 0.82-mile Rim Trail back to the parking area. This walk takes you through a beautiful hemlock hardwood forest filled with eastern hemlock, chestnut oak, and witch hazel, along with many other species. This loop can be done in about an hour, but more time may be needed for taking in all the sights along the way. Hiking these two trails as a loop is a relatively easy hike after you complete the initial stairs, or uphill climb.
The Upper Loop in Robert H. Treman State Park is a one mile round trip on sections of the Gorge and Rim Trails. The trail is situated above Treman Gorge and offers spectacular views of the many waterfalls including the 115-foot Lucifer Falls. The trail begins at the upper section of the park (the Old Mill Parking area) at the entrance to the Gorge Trail and takes visitors through the upper gorge. The trail highlights the scenic beauty of the gorge, amazing rock formations, stone bridges, and the many water features along Enfield Creek through the ravine. The trail takes you to the top of Lucifer Falls and then down the side. At the bottom is a wooden bridge over the stream that will take you to the Rim Trail and the second portion of the hike. This begins with a climb up the “Cliff Staircase” – it is the most difficult section of the loop but it also offers some of the best views in the park. At the top is an overlook of Lucifer Falls and then a moderate downhill slope back to the upper parking lot. Multiple overlooks from high vantage points make the trail perfect for photo ops and for viewing the gorge below. Although the hike is short, some visitors may find to be strenuous due to the elevation change and the many staircases.
This weekend, try one of these hikes or find your own ‘best-loved hike’ in a park near you.
In winter, New York’s gorges and waterfalls turn into frozen ice sculptures that are no less beautiful than their summertime counterparts. These pictures of frozen waterfalls at Thacher State Park are iconic of New York’s natural beauty at any time of the year. Don’t let the cold and snow keep you cooped up inside all winter long. Thacher, and many of our other state parks in New York, offers wonderful opportunities for outdoor recreation, including hiking and snowshoeing.
Taughannock Falls State Park, in Ithaca, NY, is part of the historical territory of the Cayuga Nation, one of six nations that form the Iroquois Confederacy. In the period of European colonization of the Americas, the Iroquois controlled an expansive territory that included New York, Pennsylvania, and part of southeastern Canada.
There are two commonly repeated sources for the name of Taughannock Falls, the tallest waterfall in the state of New York
and a highlight of Taughannock Falls State Park. Both are explained in a travelogue from 1872 by Lewis Halsey, The Falls of Taughannock.
The first is a translation by William H. Bogart, who claims that Taughannock means “the great fall in the woods.” However, Bogart combines his understanding of Iroquoian root words with roots from the Algonquian language, a group with lived south of Iroquois territory.
Haley also cites George Copway–a well-known Christian-educated Ojibwe man who produced many writings in the late 19th century– as positing his own translation as, “the crevice which rises to the tops of the trees.”
The most exciting, if least plausible, origin story for the falls’ name comes from David Henry Hamilton, a Presbyterian minister born in Canjoharie, NY in 1813. Hamilton wrote that Taughannock was a chief’s title in the Delaware Nation.
The Delaware tribe lived in the region of the Delaware and Susquehanna rivers at the time of European colonization. Being so close to Iroquois territory, the Delaware were frequent victims of Iroquois raids, in which Iroquois warriors captured members of other tribes and adopted them into their own families in order to increase their numbers. According to Hamilton, a young Taughannock–a chief–was captured, but too strong-willed to be adopted into the Cayuga tribe. The chief gathered a group of followers and camped near the falls, only to be defeated in a dramatic last stand. The story ends with his body being tossed over the falls.
We can’t be sure how these writers came to their conclusions, and so we can’t ever be sure how the name Taughannock attached itself to falls or what this word really means. In the end, Taughannock remains as mysterious and beautiful as the falls themselves.
Source: Halsey. 1872. The Falls of Taughannock. New York: Cutter, Tower & Co., Printers and Stationers.
featured image from Taughannock Falls State Park, by Lilly Schelling. Post by Paris Harper.