Did you know that thousands of waterfalls rush through New York State? The sight of these natural wonders can take your breath away along with the experience of exploring their unique settings. Most of us New Yorkers don’t explore our own backyard, and thus lose out on experiencing these natural hidden gems. If you’re a local New Yorker like me, consider taking a break from the hustle and bustle of city living to check out these uniquely beautiful New York waterfalls.
A Note On Racism in Upstate New York & Gatekeeping
Gatekeeping is when someone or some people limit others from certain spaces, information, hobbies, or activities. These gatekeepers take it upon themselves to decide who has access to certain rights, identities, or communities. You’ll see this is particularly rampant in much of New York from upstate New York to pockets of Long Island.
A lot of places in the New York State outdoors have intentionally been kept secret so that others do not gain access to these natural wonders and spaces. It sounds innocuous at first, but there is a real disdain that many of us experience from locals who do not want “outsiders” in these public parks. Yes– you read that right. They do not want us in the public spaces for which we New Yorkers all pay taxes towards.
The prejudice is worse if you’re from New York City; but if you’re a person of color? Forget it. The disdain and nasty comments on my Tik Tok videos, Facebook posts, and New York blog articles that I’ve received from racist residents of Upstate New York telling me “you’re not welcome here” or “GO AWAY!” or “Dominicans are [insert something racist and unwelcoming].” It’s pretty upsetting given the history we’ve been trying to overcome. And particularly jarring to hear after a joyous day embracing the healing properties of nature.
Since we all deserve access to the outdoors and as a constructive response to the racist vitriol I’ve received, I have taken it upon myself to continue promoting my state’s natural wonders so that it can continue to become more accessible to everyone.
Read more: Five Reasons Why You Should Keep Geotagging
Planning Your Visit to These New York Waterfalls
If you’ve just begun hiking in the outdoors – congratulations! And welcome to this beautiful lifestyle of becoming more active in nature. Here are some important things to know:
- Carry out every single thing you carry in with you. Please do not leave any garbage anywhere. Leave no trace.
- Consider bringing a bag to pick up any plastic trash you may see. Unfortunately, this is becoming a huge problem in many spaces so let’s please do our part to clean up so these spaces remain open and cared for.
- If the garbage bins are overflowing, take the garbage with you and dispose of it elsewhere. Unlike the street corners of New York City, these parks do not have garbage removal every day.
- Please do not play loud music. Not everyone likes your music. Most people are in the outdoors to escape the sounds of society and embrace nature’s tunes.
- Stay on the trails. Veering off designated trails is not just dangerous, it also damages the terrain and natural ecosystem.
- Have compassion if you see someone not doing something listed above. A lot of us are new to hiking in the outdoors and didn’t have the privilege of growing up with access to it. So please extend some empathy for others who are still learning.
- Tick checking 101: – Be mindful of ticks in Upstate New York and check yourselves/your dogs for ticks afterward! Take ticks very seriously as they can transmit incurable Lyme Disease to humans.
- Do not park illegally or you may either get a hefty ticket or your car may be towed.
- Reconnect and refresh and try to let go of that phone!
Prepping & Packing List for Waterfall Explorations
SLEEP & EAT: Always try to get a full night’s sleep and have a full meal before embarking on a waterfall hike.
DOWNLOAD ALL TRAILS: This app provides offline maps (which come in handy if you lose signal), interactive trail maps (not on conventional maps like Google’s), can record your trail (so you know how many steps you took, how long you hiked for and exactly what kind of loop you made on the map), and up-to-date trail information.
And here is a basic packing list of the things to bring on your day hike:
|Bear spray||Water (lots of it)|
|Hiking boots (make sure to go half a size up for hiking down slopes)||–Travel towel|
|Snacks (including protein)||Swimsuit|
|ECO sun screen||Hiking poles|
|Sun umbrella||Battery pack|
|Day pack||First-aid kit|
|Poncho (for rain)||ECO bug spray|
|Tissues||Tampons/pads (just in case)|
Some of the Best New York Waterfalls You’ll Love to Explore
Bish Bash Falls
Hidden near the Taconic Mountains on the border of Massachusetts and New York State, Bash Bish Falls is one of the best waterfalls in New York. The falls cascade in two, almost mirror images.
To view the falls, visitors may begin their journey from the lower parking lot, positioned across the state line in New York. From this parking lot, a rugged 2.1 mile out and backtrail follows the Bash Bish Brook slowly uphill to the Falls. A beautiful forest engulfs the path, along with roots, boulders, wooden steps, and also stone stairs.
The park does not allow swimming for safety reasons but you’ll see this is universally ignored. You can view the falls from a distance or from one of the many picnic areas. The falls make the highest single-drop waterfall in Massachusetts, so you won’t be disappointed simply viewing this natural marvel.
Letchworth State Park (Upper & Middle Falls)
Letchworth State Park, located about an hour from Buffalo in Castile, New York, expands across 14,350 acres of land. Along with some of the best Upstate New York waterfalls, the park has 66 miles of hiking trails. In addition, the park boasts a number of additional recreational activities throughout the year such as:
- Horseback riding
- Cross-country skiing
- Whitewater rafting
- Hot air ballooning
There are also a number of guided tours, lecture series, and performing arts programs at Letchworth State Park. You can even visit the William Pryor Letchworth Museum, built inside the park itself.
Ultimately, Upper and Middle Falls are the treasure of the park. The Upper Falls of the Gennessee River rush beneath an old railroad bridge. The bridge is arched, which makes for a very beautiful view. Trains still cross the bridge, so be sure to catch the moment on camera.
One of the best ways to view these waterfalls in upstate New York is to enjoy dinner at the Glen Iris Inn. Overlooking Middle Falls, visitors can dine on various small plates or a delicious Filet Mignon. You can also book a room or cottage here, but plan ahead. Fellow travelers should also plan enough time to explore the many other things to do in the Finger Lakes.
Just driving by? View the falls easily from a nearby parking area too.
Ithaca Falls (Finger Lakes)
Ithaca Falls tumble down a heavy-knit wall of shale rock, forming a pool and creek below its waters. The falls can be seen from a nearby bridge all year long, but the best views occur after the leaves fall. If you’d like to get closer, the hike to the falls is under a half-mile. Once there, you can enjoy a soak in the cool waters of Fall Creek or try your hand at fly fishing near the base of the falls.
The falls are a part of Cayuga Lake in the Finger Lakes region of New York, located four hours from NYC. So, you may want to consider staying the night nearby. The next day, be sure to grab your morning brew at the sweet Botanist Coffeehouse. Here you can pick up your coffee, baked goods, and gorgeous plants and flower arrangements- a special experience to remember your visit.
Eagle’s Cliff Falls (Havana Glen Park)
The next of our featured New York waterfalls is Eagle Cliff Falls in Havana Glen Park. The park opens from mid-May to mid-October. Already traveling to popular Watkins Glen? Havana Glen Park is also nearby. Additionally, since private owners operate the park, you won’t have to pay much for admission!
Taking the half-mile hike to the falls involves some stairs, but is otherwise flat. Bring your swimsuit along, and enjoy the water when you arrive. You will love the views, too! Eagle Cliff Falls cascade from a 40-foot height, cutting a rectangular shaft in the middle of towering rock walls.
Additionally, campers have a place to stay at Eagle Cliff Falls. Should you decide to camp, be sure to explore the diverse area surrounding you.
Taughannock Falls State Park
The park offers campsites, cabins, and also many miles of trails. In the summer, the beach and swimming area come to life; in winter, ice skaters twirl on the skating pond, and tubers hit the sledding hill.
Of course, the top attraction at Taughannock Falls State Park is the falls themselves. Water rushes down from a height of 215 feet here, cutting through rocky cliffs of almost 400 feet.
You can hike to the falls, and also see it easily from an upper viewing area. If you do choose to get up close to the falls, be careful. Don’t enter the water or a park ranger will come out and scorn you publically (I saw this happen with my own eyes; it was pretty funny). This is due to the falling rocks. But there are areas where we saw people swimming in peace along the riverbed.
In addition, during the wet season, the rocks- made of slick shale, limestone, and crumbly sandstone- can be quite slippery. So enjoy the scenery, but be sure to take along your best grippy water shoes.
Rainbow Falls, Ausable Chasm (Adirondacks)
Rainbow Falls in Ausable Chasm, tucked into the Adirondacks, is one of the most photographed waterfalls in the Adirondacks. The 91-foot-tall upstate New York waterfall tumbles over a series of segments, nestled against a historic hydro house. Visitors driving along Route 9 can see the falls from the road, where a bridge crosses the churning waters below. Walking paths follow along the bridge, so visitors can park and walk across the bridge to take pictures of the view. Follow the road a bit further, and you’ll find yourself near a visitor center, and closer to the falls. While the park is open year-round, be sure to check any Covid-19 restrictions at this visitor center before entering the visitor center.
As if this amazing waterfall wasn’t enough, Ausable Chasm offers a number of unique recreational activities. Although pricey, many of these experiences may be worth the extra cash. Inside Ausable Chasm, you can:
- Experience the Adventure Trail, a guided ropes course above the falls.
- Take a Lantern Tour deep into the chasm at night, and celebrate afterwards with a campfire and marshmallows.
- Ride the waters yourself by rafting or tubing.
- Climb or rappel the walls of the chasm with experienced guides.
Finally, these fantastic seasonal activities earn the chasm its nickname “the Grand Canyon of the Adirondacks”.
Chittenango Falls, in Cazenovia Lake, is one of our favorite waterfalls in upstate NY. The 167 foot waterfall is the center point of 194 acre Chittenango Falls State Park. The cascading waters of the falls against mossy rock look more like something out of a fantasy novel than New York. Thus, the best way to see the falls is to hike the trail from top to bottom, which provides views from many different angles.
While exploring, keep an eye out for unique wildlife, like the Chittenango ovate amber snail. This creature is only found here; and nowhere else in the world.
Buttermilk Falls State Park (Finger Lakes)
The falls can be seen from the entrance road into the park, and are a short walk from your vehicle. The water flows 500 feet, leading to a swimming hole.
Follow one of four relatively short hikes to view different areas of the gorge, open April through October. During your stay, you may want to tent camp, rent a cabin, or tow in your RV. Lake Tremain sits upstream from the falls, so plan to rent a canoe and paddle through this beautiful region.
Rainbow Falls (Watkins Glen State Park)
Watkins Glen is an upstate New York waterfalls masterpiece. Settled into the glen, Rainbow Falls looks like something plucked from a fairy tale- especially in autumn. The bright water flows smoothly down dark rock, with an old, arched stone bridge in the background. Visitors can see this and 19 other waterfalls along the intricate gorge trail, including:
- Cavern Cascade,
- Central Cascade,
- Pluto Falls, and more.
The trail winds in and around waterfalls, up and downstairs. Paths follow the glen below and the rims above. Additionally, trolleys shuttle guests from different ends of the trail. Camp inside the park for a rustic experience, or at the nearby KOA for a resort feel.
Kaaterskill Falls (Catskills)
At a majestic 260 feet over two massive plunges, Kaaterskill Falls towers in the Great Northern Catskills. Kaaterskill Falls is very popular- so popular in fact, that the trail to the falls is sometimes closed to the public. During these instances, you can see the falls from a parking area. However, be sure to get there early and follow any parking guidelines provided by city signage.
Remember- to respect beautiful places like this you must:
- Never leave any garbage.
- Stay on the trail.
- Take nothing but gorgeous pictures.
We wouldn’t have a comprehensive list of best waterfalls New York without including Niagara Falls. This ultimate waterfall experience shares its border with New York and Canada. A series of paved paths and wooded hiking trails wind throughout the area. Also, fantastic paid excursions take visitors even closer to the water’s spray, and educate visitors on the history of Niagara Falls.
When visiting, catch views from both the American and Canadian sides, but check current Covid-19 guidelines before visiting. With different and possibly changing rules in place, you will want to be prepared for anything.
Salmon River Falls (Oswego County)
Part of the Salmon River Falls Unique Area in the Oswego region of New York, Salmon River Falls towers at 110 feet. It cascades in three separate drops, when the water levels are typical.
There is a large parking area for those wishing to visit, and the trail is totally accessible for all ability levels. This is a great place to visit in the summer; however, the best views occur after the leaves fall. Additionally, the frigid winter forms thick, frozen falls- perfect for ice climbing.
Verkeerderkills Falls (Minnewaska State Park)
Sam’s Point Area of Minnewaska State Park is located in the Shawangunk Mountain Ridge. The area has multiple waterfalls. Most notably, Verkeerderkill Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls of New York at almost 200 feet. The rock walls on either side provide interesting climbing conditions. In addition, when winter comes, chilly ice caves form that are unique and well worth the visit. Due to the cave’s unique properties, sometimes you can still see some of that ice in the summertime!
Indian Brook Falls (Hudson Valley)
Indian Brook Falls in the Hudson Valley is a smaller cascading waterfall. To reach it, hike just over a half-mile through Constitution Marsh, a protected bird area. Afterward, enjoy the scenic marsh boardwalk nearby. The marsh is best used from April through September, so be sure to bring bug spray along on your trip.
Eternal Flames Falls ( Orchard Park)
Eternal Flames Falls has one of the most unusual phenomena in New York. This small waterfall in Orchard Park has a small grotto behind its waters. In this grotto, natural gas escapes the rock. As a result, the gas can be lit, forming a flame about four to eight inches in height.
Originally, visitors could reach the falls by hiking along the gorge. However, Eternal Flames has recently become much more popular, resulting in the closure of the gorge trail. Hikers can now park on Route 277 and walk from their cars. The trail is about 1.5 miles long, and twists and turns through thick pine groves. The best time to visit is in early spring, when the normally muddy ground has dried, making good hiking conditions.
Mine Kill Falls (Northern Catskills)
Mine Kill Falls, in Mine Kill Falls State Park, is a treasure sitting on the edge of central New York and the Catskills. The falls consist of three distinctly different drops, and cascade about 80 feet.
To view the falls, park just off the highway and take a 5-10 minutes walk to the park’s viewing area. Or, hike a series of connecting trails to the southeastern portion of the park. Don’t expect to take a dip, however; there’s no swimming allowed here. If you do want to cool off, stop by the state park’s free swimming pool.
Fawn’s Leap (Catskills)
Near Woodstock, Fawn’s Leap Falls dance over Fawn’s Leap, a high cliff above a rustic swimming hole. The area is very popular, especially for families. Be sure to arrive early in the day to find your parking spot because the town does maintain parking rules to combat overcrowding this beautiful gem. Pack a picnic brunch from a local cafe, and soak in the waters of Kaaterskill Creek.
Vernooy Kill Falls
Another must-see waterfalls in upstate New York, Vernooykill Falls is a blast. A rocky trail with a steady incline for 3.5 miles leads to the falls. A shorter path also exists, following just over 2 miles. Once you arrive, you’ll notice no trails along the falls themselves, just slick stairs. It’s easy to fall, so be careful while you explore.
Awosting Falls (Mohonk Mountain House)
Awosting Falls in New Paltz, NY is also a part of Minnewaska State Park. The falls take a 60 foot plunge into the natural pool below. The main trailhead to Awosting is just inside the state park. A one mile hike will take you down an old carriage road, across streams and around switchbacks. The area is accessible in winter as well as warmer months, but be sure to wear spikes on your shoes and bring a hiking stick. The trail gets quite icy.
Mohonk Mountain House
The best place to stay when visiting the New York State waterfalls in the Hudson Valley is the Mohonk Mountain House. This Victorian castle style resort is a National Historic Landmark, and is only an hour and a half from New York City. Guests can take advantage of many recreational activities and outdoor events, like:
- Hiking through 85 miles of trails
- Summer at Mohonk season-long event
- Rock Climbing
- Mountain Biking
- Brewmaster’s Weekend Event
- Yoga and Mediation
Stay in clean, bed-and-breakfast style rooms or book an entire mountain lodge for you and your family. In addition to cozy accommodations, enjoy the farm-to-table local cuisine included in the price of your stay.
Plattekill Falls (Catskills)
The trail to Plattekill Falls is half a mile but steep. This is also the perfect spot to cool down after hiking Huckleberry Point Trail. You can count at least 15 waterfalls by the time you reach private land signs at the bottom of the cove. Please note: The rocks can be slippery and sharp on the way to the falls so bring proper footwear.
Beacon Falls (Beacon, New York)
Looking for something closer to New York City? One of the closest waterfalls near NYC is only 60 miles away at Beacon Falls. The town of Beacon Falls, set against Mt. Beacon, was once a major industrial area in the 20th century. Since then it has blossomed into an artsy town with a cool vibe and lots to do for the perfect weekend or day trip from NYC. Art lovers: don’t miss is the DIA Beacon Museum. And reserve those tickets ahead of time!
The Beacon Waterfall plunges about ten feet and offers beautiful views year-round. However, the best way to view the falls is from the Roundhouse Restaurant. This historic property and the gorgeous hotel overlooks Beacon Falls and has:
- Unique indoor dining in a lounge setting
- Picturesque outdoor door against the falls (perfect for a lovely brunch)
- Cozy hotel rooms, with exposed room ceilings and special features, like rolling barn doors and round stand-alone tubs for soaking
- A large event space with a historic-meets-modern feel, for up to 200 guests.
Diamond Notch Falls (Catskills, New York)
Situated near Lanesville, NY, Diamond Notch Falls is just over a two and a half hour drive from New York City. The trail to Diamond Notch Falls will take you on a journey deep into lush Catskill State Park. There are multiple routes to the falls. First, Diamond Notch road follows a 4 mile out and back trail. Alternatively, take the shorter hike on Spruceton Road, and enjoy 2 miles of exploration. Ultimately, the entire loop begins off State Highway 214 and is a total of 12 miles.
The trail features a few wooden bridges, and is very old. Its first known use was by the Mohawk Indians. Visitors use the trail for hiking, dog walking, running, and also snowshoeing in winter months. Once you arrive at the falls, you’ll notice two twin falls, about 15 feet high. Cool off in their waters, or climb to the small viewing bridge above the falls.
Carpenter Falls (Skaneateles, New York)
Carpenter Falls, one of the most breathtaking waterfalls in New York, lies in Bahar Nature Preserve near Skaneateles. The falls have a really unique look to them. Imagine a high, half-moon cliff, jutting out over the deep and somewhat treacherous Bear Swamp Creek Ravine.
The main trail through Bahar Nature Preserve leads not only to Carpenter Falls, but also a few other waterfalls and the lakeshore of Skaneateles Lake. After a hike to view the waterfalls, rent a kayak, canoe, or paddleboard and enjoy the lake as well.
Philmont Falls & High Falls (Philmont, New York)
Philmont Falls in High Falls Conservation Area is the highlight of visiting Philmont, NY. The county’s highest waterfall weaves intricately down a rocky gorge. To reach this beautiful place, visitors follow a 1.3-mile loop trail through dense vegetation. Unfortunately, no swimming is allowed in the waters below the falls.
High Falls Conservation Area
High Falls Conservation Area is most visited from March through November. This beautiful parcel of land has over 47 acres worth of hiking trails. While exploring along Agawamuck Creek, visitors can spy a second waterfall, Agawamuck Falls.
Fishing and bird-watching are popular activities here. There is also interesting history among the trees; a dam above the falls once provided enough power for industry here in the 19th century. Remnants of historical buildings pay tribute along the creek’s northern slopes.
Whether searching for a rejuvenating afternoon away from the city, or an epic Adirondack adventure, the waterfalls of New York provide all you need. Explore all that upstate New York waterfalls have to offer, and leave relaxed and focused. You’ll be glad you left your own backyard!