There’s something mesmerising about moving water; the sunlight glistening off a rippling surface, the enchanting thrill of a mountain stream and the impressive grandeur of a spectacular waterfall. If you are heading off on your New York holidays, you may well be thinking of the bright lights and the big city, but beyond the Big Apple, the Empire State is a huge area of mountains, rivers, canyons and lakes. The most famous of all must surely be Niagara, but there are a surprising number of other impressive waterfalls near New York City.
Here are our top 10 waterfalls near New York
In any look at waterfalls near New York, we have to start with the big one. Technically Niagara is three waterfalls; Horseshoe Falls is entirely in Canada, while Bridal Veil Falls and American Falls are in the USA. It is the widest and most powerful waterfall on the North American continent with an annual average of 2,400 cubic metres of water flow every second. The falls are located 17 miles north-west of Buffalo, on the Niagara River between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. There are a number of attractions and tours to see Niagara Falls in different ways as well as the many hiking trails.
A two-stage waterfall with a total height of 79 metres located in the Catskill Mountains downstream from the hamlet of Haines Falls. The “kill” part of the name comes from the Dutch word for a river. One of the oldest tourist attractions in the USA, it gained fame after being described in the 1819 short story Rip Van Winkle and has featured in paintings, books and films. The trail ends before the actual falls due to a number of fatalities over the years but the view is spectacular from the viewing points.
“From rise of morn till set of sun
I've seen the mighty Mohawk run;”
The opening lines from a poem about the Cohoes Falls, written in 1804. Just before the Mohawk River joins the Hudson with the city of Cohoes on the south-west bank, these falls are a popular tourist attraction as well as providing hydroelectric power since the early nineteenth century. There’s a small carpark on North Mohawk Street with a footbridge to Falls View Park, a small landscaped area with unobstructed views.
Stony Kill Falls
Of the waterfalls near New York that we are covering, this 26-metre waterfall is the closest to New York City itself. Stony Kill is a stream which runs down through the Minnewaska State Park Reserve and town of Wawarsing. The falls are located on the edge of the town and require a certain amount of navigational skills to locate since they are not signposted. The best time to visit is probably in spring as they dry up to a trickle in summer and can freeze solid in winter. Caution should be taken as the ground is crumbling and can be very slippery.
Falls of the Genesee River
Not just one waterfall but a series of cascades along a considerable length of the Genesee River which starts on the New York-Pennsylvania border and empties into Lake Ontario at Richmond, New York. As the river passes through Letchworth State Park there are a series of three falls over a total of 180 metres drop, and then again as the river cuts through Rochester there are three further falls. While the scenery is more impressive in Letchworth State Park, the falls in Rochester are more accessible.
Rainbow Falls (Ausable Chasm)
The Ausable River gets its name from the French for ‘sandy’ referring to the sandy delta where the river disgorges into Lake Champlain. It is hardly surprising there’s a lot of sand as the river cuts through sandstone bedrock to reach Lake Champlain. The gorge has been lengthening over hundreds of millions of years as Rainbow Falls erodes the rock behind it, moving slowly upstream. Just north of the town of Keeseville, there is a visitor centre. There are trails through the gorge for which you have to pay, however, if all you want is to see the falls, there is a good view from the public road bridge.
Watkins Glen State Park
Above the small town of Watkins Glen, New York is a small state park of the same name. It is just 3 square kilometres but Glen Creek, which runs right through the middle and disgorges into Seneca Lake (largest of the ‘Finger Lakes’) boasts no less than 19 waterfalls adding up to a total of 120 metres drop. There are three trails through the park; the gorge trail features bridges as well as 800 stone steps which take you past, over and under the falls for a spectacular forest walk.
Taughannock Falls is a spectacular 66-metre plunge waterfall (that is where the water flows out over the edge of the cliff and plunges down without touching the rock) located in Taughannock State Park near the town of Trumansburg, New York. Although very much narrower, it is 10 metres higher than Niagara. The creek of the same name continues through a spectacular gorge with walls up to 120 metres high before disgorging into Cayuga Lake (second largest of the ‘Finger Lakes’).
Also feeding into Cayuga Lake at the southern end, Ithaca Falls are highly accessible being in the middle of the city of Ithaca itself. Now owned by the town, a representation of the falls forms the letter “I” in the town’s logo featuring their promotional slogan “Ithaca Is Gorges”. There are public bridges where you can get a good view, both downstream and directly above the falls.
Eternal Flame Falls
Close your eyes, give me your hand… Now open them. There’s a flame in the waterfall. No, you’re not going crazy, it’s natural gas seeping up from shale deposits underground. The last of our waterfalls near New York, the Eternal Flame Falls may be small, but they are quite unique. There are other ‘eternal flames’ but nowhere else in the world can you see a bright orange flame glowing from beneath the veil of water. If you are after waterfalls on your New York holidays, then you clearly won’t be disappointed.