13 Most Beautiful Waterfalls in Western New York to Explore

If you’re looking for a refreshing New York adventure, here are some of the most stunning waterfalls in Western New York to explore. From thundering cascades to serene streams, this region is home to some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world.

In this list, we’ll have both natural trails for seasoned hikers and easy-to-get-to spots for those looking for a more accessible escape. Whichever you decide, these unique waterfalls should have you feeling rejuvenated and inspired.

Did we miss a cool waterfall in Western NY? Do you recommend any local small businesses in the area that we should check out? Let us know in the comments!

Western New York and Its Waterfalls

Over 380 million years ago, most of Western New York was covered by a shallow ocean. Marine life, like brachiopods, crinoids, and trilobites, thrived in this ancient ocean environment. As time passed, sediment settled at the bottom of the ocean, forming layers of clay, silt, and sand. These layers eventually hardened into the bedrock that makes up most of the Western New York region today (such as shale, siltstone, and sandstone). Over time, natural erosion and continental collisions shaped the landscape (and wet climate). The erosions carried downstream into other parts of New York State, too.

All of that, plus (1) the greater amounts of precipitation thanks to the Great Lakes close by, (2) the topography created by the Appalachian Plateau, and (3) the history of glaciation cutting out gorges and valleys, and we’ve got the perfect combination of features for dozens of beautiful waterfalls.

Today, the cascading waterfalls of Western NY are remnants of our region’s geological history.

Beautiful Waterfalls in Western NY

1. Zoar Valley Waterfalls ★

This rugged wilderness area, popular with hikers and white water rafting, boasts several cascades and waterfalls that trickle and flow over cliffs and rocky outcroppings. The most famous waterfall in Zoar Valley is the 40-foot-high Zoar Valley Falls, which flows into a deep pool surrounded by dramatic rock formations. Other notable falls out of the over 20 in the area include Ross Falls, Balanced Rock Falls, Holcomb Pond Falls, and Devil’s Hole Falls.

The Zoar Valley Gorge Hike in Western New York offers a challenging and scenic trek through a rugged wilderness (labeled a Multiple Use and Unique area, not a park). Descending into the gorge, hikers are rewarded with breathtaking views of towering cliffs, lush forests, and the rushing waters of Cattaraugus Creek, making it a memorable adventure for nature enthusiasts.

Valentine Flats in Zoar Valley is a picturesque area known for its tranquil meadows, gentle streams, and diverse wildlife, offering hikers a serene escape to nature.

  • Difficulty: easy to strenuous over multiple trails
  • Length: the canyon is 11 miles long and trails average 2 to 3 miles
  • Entrance Fee: none
  • Trail Type: varies

2. Warsaw Falls ★

If you want picturesque falls nestled amidst lush greenery, a truly tranquil and serene image, then it’s time to drive to the small town of Warsaw. The falls cascade gracefully most of the year over layered rock formations, creating a really mesmerizing sight after a short, but rocky hiking trail. It’s a great spot for a picnic and to escape from the trials of city life and enjoy nature at its finest. 

Warsaw Falls is not in a park, and there is mixed information on whether the creek and falls are on private land or part of the adjacent village park. Either way, the land is open to respectful and safe hikers; just respect any signs regarding private property.

  • Difficulty: moderately challenging
  • Length 1.8 miles out-and-back
  • Entrance Fee: none
  • Trail Type: dirt, rock, stream

3. Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls is one of the greatest waterfalls in the USA. This magnificent waterfall system consists of three distinct falls: the American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and the mighty Horseshoe Falls. 

Sprawling across the border between the United States (in New York) and Ontario, Canada, Niagara Falls attracts millions of visitors yearly. The Niagara Falls State Park in New York offers truly breathtaking viewpoints and more nature-inspired trails that are easy on the legs and feet compared to the Canadian sidewalks. Check out our guide to 30+ uniquely fun things to do in Niagara Falls!

I recommend staying here for a few days at one of the many cute boutique hotels in Niagara Falls. If you’re not sure which side of Niagara Falls to visit, I say both! But the Canadian side offers more for less and offers more interesting day trips from Niagara Falls.

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Length: n/a
  • Entrance Fee: $10 for parking
  • Trail Type: pavement and stairs

4. Watkins Glen State Park

Watkins Glen State Park, located in New York’s Finger Lakes region, is a true natural wonder that never fails to impress. This renowned park is famous for its stunning gorge, carved by Glen Creek over thousands of years. A great Day Trip from Buffalo hikers can embark on the Gorge Trail, a picturesque pathway that winds through the gorge, passing by enchanting waterfalls, moss-covered cliffs, and lush vegetation. 

The park’s highlight is the breathtaking Rainbow Falls, where sunlight refracts through the mist, creating a vibrant display of colors. With its dramatic rock formations, serene pools, and captivating scenery, Watkins Glen State Park is best, in my opinion, during the autumn color, the foliage along the trail is absolutely stunning.

There are many other waterfalls in the Finger Lakes to check out; this is one of our favorite regions of Upstate New York!

  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Location: Watkins Glen, Finger Lakes, NY
  • Length: 2 trails – 2.4 miles and 2.6 miles
  • Entrance Fee: parking $8
  • Trail Type: dirt, stone, pavement out and back trails

5. Eternal Flame Falls

Eternal Flame Falls, nestled within Chestnut Ridge Park in New York, is a truly unique and captivating natural phenomenon. This hidden gem is famous for its gentle waterfall that conceals a hidden natural gas flame behind its cascading waters. Fueled by escaping methane gas, the eternal flame is a rare sight, casting a warm glow amidst the surrounding lush forest. 

Hikers can follow the trail through the scenic park, immersing themselves in the serene beauty of the woodlands before reaching the waterfall. It’s quite an experience to witness the eternal flame flicker and dance behind the cascades, creating a rather captivating juxtaposition of fire and water.

  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Length: 1.4 miles
  • Entrance Fee: none
  • Trail Type: dirt and creek bed out and back

6. Barcelona Waterfalls ★

In Chautauqua County, the heart of Lake Erie Wine Country, you’ll find the hidden gem that’s Barcelona Falls. Located in the quaint lakeside town of Barcelona, these waterfalls offer a peaceful landscape along a scenic creek. Enjoy the soothing sounds of water along the area hiking trails and create a great escape that maybe can end in a fine glass of wine. Depending on water levels, these waters fall directly into Lake Erie. Just steps from the Barcelona Lighthouse and Barcelona Harbor (not in an official park), they can be found at the far end of the Westlake Public Beach. Keep in mind it only flows in the spring and after heavy rainfall. 

  • Difficulty: easy, with a chance of getting wet
  • Length:
  • Entrance Fee: none
  • Trail Type: beach

7. Letchworth State Park

Letchworth State Park, often referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” is one of the most remarkable state parks in New York. Spanning over 14,000 acres along the Genesee River, this scenic park offers a breathtaking display of natural beauty, including majestic waterfalls. 

The park boasts three major waterfalls: Upper Falls, Middle Falls, and Lower Falls. Each waterfall cascades over the dramatic cliffs, creating the best views and misty rainbows. Hikers can explore the park’s extensive trail system, immersing themselves in the stunning landscapes and enjoying panoramic views of the waterfalls that have earned Letchworth State Park its reputation as one of the most magnificent state parks in New York.

  • Difficulty: 29 trails with easy to moderate difficulty
  • Length: 1 mile to 11 miles depending on trail
  • Entrance Fee: $10 per vehicle
  • Trail Type: varies

8. Skinny Dip Falls

The name hints at the seclusion of this lesser known falls in Westfield, NY. Nestled in the Chautauqua Gorge, this small but picturesque waterfall offers a refreshing and serene swimming hole for visitors. The falls cascade over rocks into a pool, surrounded by lush greenery and older trees. The name may derive from the tradition of swimming au naturel in the pristine waters (be warned there is a nudist area). It’s a peaceful and secluded spot where you can cool off and enjoy the absolutely stunning beauty of Chautauqua County. Chautauqua is also one of the cutest towns in Western New York, so consider grabbing lunch in town afterward!

This falls and the nearby First Falls, are accessed by a single trail on private property. The property owners allow use of the trail, but ask everybone to stay on the trail.

  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Length: 0.9 mile with small, off-road parking area
  • Entrance Fee: none
  • Trail Type: out and back dirt

9. Akron Falls

The centerpiece of a park in Akron, NY is the impressive Akron Falls, a 40-foot cascade that plunges powerfully into a gorge and is surrounded by lush greenery and towering trees. The 284-acre park maintains really nice trails that offer scenic viewpoints and peaceful spots for a picnic. The falls are particularly breathtaking during the spring and after heavy rainfall when the water flows more vigorously. 

Akron Falls Park provides a truly tranquil setting for nature lovers, hikers, and photographers to appreciate the wonder of falling water and the natural environment.

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Length: 0.8 miles out and back
  • Entrance Fee: none
  • Trail Type: packed dirt out and back trail

10. Wiscoy Waterfalls

Wiscoy Falls, located in the town of Wiscoy in Western New York (South of Letchworth State Park), is a charming and lesser-known natural attraction south of Letchworth. This picturesque waterfall is nestled amidst a serene and forested area with many low traffic times. This area is simply a small parking area leading to a dirt trail.

Wiscoy Falls features a series of cascades and rocky ledges that create a beautiful and soothing sight as the water flows gracefully through the landscape. While not as widely recognized as other waterfalls in the region, Wiscoy Falls provides a hidden gem for nature lovers and photographers seeking a more secluded and intimate experience with Western New York’s natural beauty.

  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Length: 0.6 mile
  • Entrance Fee: none
  • Trail Type: out and back, rocky

11. Toenniessen Falls

A tiny falls located on a tributary of 18-mile creek in Lockport, this falls is located with the Lockport Nature Trail home to two oak trees that are over a century old (one of them two centuries). The small and peaceful falls flow when the creek is high, so this isn’t one to visit in the peak of summer when it’s been dry. The small park is only 100 acres but offers nice trails with the small seasonal creek. 

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Location: Lockport, NY
  • Length: 1-mile round trip
  • Entrance Fee: none
  • Trail Type: dirt out and back

12. Buttermilk Falls (in Erie County)

Buttermilk Falls, located in North Evans (as there are several waterfalls in New York with this name), is a tiered ribbon waterfall with two major drops frothing up the cascading water providing the inspiration for its name. The water appears milky white as it tumbles over the rocks. With a total drop of 15 feet on the first tier and 54 feet on the second, it’s not the largest or most majestic of the falls on this list, but still a wonder to see and worth the short walk. A parking area is provided for fishing access to 18-mile creek, but you can hike to the falls from there. This area of 18-mile creek is technically on private property, but the land access is provided as a courtesy. Everyone is asked to be respectful of that and keep their visits short to maintain this amicable relationship. 

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Location: North Evans, NY
  • Entrance Fee: none
  • Trail Type: out & back dirt and creek trail.

13. High Falls (Genesee)

These falls were formed by the Genesee River as it cuts through the city of Rochester. The falls plunge 96 feet into a deep gorge filled with caves that used to be used by Genesee Brewing to keep their stock. This area offers breathtaking views alongside a glimpse of the area’s rich history and industrial past.

Over the years, the falls have been used as a source of hydropower, contributing to the growth and development of the area. Today, High Falls (not to be confused with High Falls Gorge in the Adirondacks), and its surrounds have been transformed into a popular tourist destination, with observation decks, walking trails, and educational exhibits that allow visitors to really appreciate the natural marvel while also learning about its significant past.

  • Difficulty: there are several walks that range from easy to moderate
  • Location: Rochester, NY
  • Length: varies, one 9-mile trail
  • Entrance Fee: No
  • Trail Type: sidewalks, stairs, paved, dirt

About the Author

Heather Menz has called the Buffalo area home for over 35 years. With a degree in archaeology and a keen interest in history, she has explored sites that are both easy to find and those hidden deep in Buffalo and Rochester’s history. As part of an active and outdoors-oriented family, she has traveled and hiked much and learned more about all that the Western New York area has to offer.

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1 thoughts on “13 Most Beautiful Waterfalls in Western New York to Explore

  1. Anonymous says:

    Ever been to taughannock falls north of Ithaca? It’s an easy hike but beautiful, high falls. A good distance from buffalo, though.

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