Northern New York Waterfalls

What is Northern New York?

To anyone not living in New York State and to anyone who lives in New York City or Long Island, New York is pretty much divided into two regions, downstate and upstate.  Downstate is New York City and Long Island, and perhaps a part of Westchester County, if you stretch it.  Upstate is everything else.  To those of us in New York State proper, there are sub-regions within the state.  We recognize Western New York or the Greater Niagara Region, the Finger Lakes, Central New York, the Leatherstocking Region, the Catskills, the Hudson Valley, the Capital Region and Northern New York, also known as the North Country.  There may be other regions as well, but for the purpose of this website, Northern New York is that portion of the state bordered by Lake Ontario on the west, the St. Lawrence River and the border with Canada on the north and Lake Champlain and the Vermont border to the east.  We consider our southern border, from west to east, to be the combined waterways of the Oswego River, the Oneida River, Oneida Lake, the Erie Canal and the Mohawk River.  Where the Mohawk meets the Hudson north of Albany, we go upstream to where, just above the Hoosic River, the Washington/Rensselaer County line goes due east to the Vermont state line.  The New York State tourism community divides this area into the Adirondacks and the Thousand Islands-Seaway region.

The majority of this region contains the Adirondack State Park region, which contains all or part of eight counties: Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton, Herkimer, Lewis, St. Lawrence and Warren.  Jefferson County is obviously in Northern New York and we are also including Washington, Saratoga and Fulton Counties, and the northern parts of Oswego, Oneida, Montgomery and Schenectady Counties.  There might be an argument that some of these counties fall in Central New York or the Capital Region, but for the most part, the waterways in these counties flow into the eastern end of Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River, Lake Champlain, the Mohawk or Hudson Rivers.  For the most part, these waterways trace their source to the Adirondacks or its foothills.

To those who know the Adirondacks, whether they be residents, relocated natives or visitors to the region, this area is recognized as being as beautiful as any area  New York State, the U.S. or the world, for that matter, has to offer.  From it majestic high peaks, inland lakes, rivers and streams, to its many popular tourist destinations such as Lake Placid, Tupper Lake, Saranac Lake and Lake George, its natural beauty is unrivaled.  Outside of the Adirondacks, northern New York boasts the eastern shores of Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River Valley and Lake Champlain, some of the most gorgeous navigable waterways in the North American continent.

Our thanks to Scott Ensminger of falzguy.com for the map of New York State depicting our region.


What is a waterfall?

According to Webster's Dictionary, a waterfall is "a fall, or perpendicular descent of the water of a river or stream, or a descent nearly perpendicular; a cascade, a cataract."  Further definitions of cascade and cataract both use the word precipice, whose definition includes the term "headlong fall."  Accounts in the Encyclopedia Britannica support this definition.  Realistically, many people think of something like Niagara Falls or Bridal Veil Falls when they think "waterfall".  In reality, the concept of waterfall goes well beyond this.  Literally, a waterfall is "falling water".  How far and how fast is where the line is drawn.  When all of the definitions are considered, it appears that many of the waterfalls in Northern New York are actually rapids.

Having said that, for the purposes of this website, we are taking on a broader definition.  If it is a named waterfall in Northern New York, we will include it here.  If it is not a named waterfall, it will still be included if the vertical fall of its path is equal to or greater than its horizontal flow.  Furthermore, if there is a considerable vertical drop, even over a considerable horizontal flow, it will still be included.  It is interesting to note that many unnamed waterfalls are found on topographical maps and are indicated simply as "falls".  Many of these are smaller than a number of falls that aren't even listed.  There doesn't seem to be a standard as to how or why these were included on these maps when they were originally developed.

We don't mean to make light of this or to upset the diehard waterfall purist.  This website is more concerned with the aesthetics of falling water rather than the geological, engineering or technical aspect of the discussion.  For that reason, we are also including named rapids.  After all, rapids are falling water where the flow is not falling vertically as fast as it is running horizontally.


USGS/GNIS

The United States Geological Survey (USGS), which is a part of the US Department of the Interior, is responsible for the official naming of geographic locations in our nation.  Things like towns, cities, mountains, rivers and waterfalls are listed on the Geographic Names Information System (GNIS).  The GNIS is a database of all things officially named.  For our purposes, we will consider three categories of naming.

  • Official ... a waterfall that is listed on the GNIS
  • Common ... in the big picture, most waterfalls are not included in the GNIS database.  Many waterfalls that are not on this list do have a common name that is used, perhaps by those local to that area or perhaps on a wider base.
  • Unnamed ... Many waterfalls do not have a name, either by official standards or common reference.  In these cases, we have taken the liberty to give them a name, usually based on the waterway they are on, to facilitate cataloging them.  We have observed that, over the past few years that this website has been in existence, waterfalls that we have given informal names have turned up on other websites with that name.  This is one way that common names develop!

Waterfall page lay-out

Each waterfall page will show a directions side-bar on the top-left giving brief, but concise directions for getting to that waterfall.  Please understand that, in many cases, if you are approaching a location from a less traveled direction, there may be a shorter route than the one noted.  Our directions are usually based on the most commonly traveled approach.

Below the directions will be a data side-bar which includes several important pieces of information on the fall.  Specific details on that are in the next section.  Below that is a New York State map depicting a red star which shows the general location of the waterfall.

In the column at the right of these items is a narrative discussion of the specifics of the falls.  Below all of this will be an array of thumbnail photos.  Hovering on any of the photos will cause an enlargement to pop up on the right.


Using the data side-bar

On each waterfall page, there is a two-column data side-bar containing many pertinent items of information, as follows:

County: The county within which the waterfall is located
Town: The township of the waterfall location.  In New York State counties are divided into townships.  
USGS Map: The United States Geological Survey is a scientific agency of the US government.  Among other things, they publish several series of topographical maps that are considered to be a leading resource for locating items in the more remote areas of the nation.  In addition, this agency is charged with naming geographic entities such as mountains, rivers, lakes and waterfalls.
Waterway: The river, stream, creek or other waterway on which the waterfall is located.
Latitude: The geographic latitude of the waterfall's location.  Since all points in North America are north of the equator, all locations are positive readings.  For the sake of consistency, these are given as N followed by dms format, which is consistent with the USGS GNIS data base.
Longitude: The geographic longitude of the waterfall's location.  Since all points in North America are west of the prime meridian, all locations are technically negative readings.  For the sake of consistency, these are given as W followed by dms format, which is consistent with the USGS GNIS data base.  It is important to note that a negative longitude is the same as a positive west longitude.
Drop: The height of the waterfall, expressed in feet, often estimated.
Type: The type of waterfall, using a system developed by nnywaterfalls.com, explained in detail below.
Region: For the ease of our readers who are planning a trip to view more than one waterfall, this will be a way of locating the general area within the information previously given.
Parking: Parking facilities at the site, which may include 1) paved lot, 2) unpaved lot or 3) highway shoulder
Trail type: The composition of the trail leading to the waterfall site.  Some may be indicated as "roadside" which means no hiking is involved.
Length of hike: The distance/average time for reaching the site from the parking area.
Level of difficulty: Easy ... a stroll in the park; Moderate ... fairly easy walk but may include brief up or down hill sections or mild obstacles; Rigorous ... a bit more challenging either due to more involved obstacles, up or downhill sections, or longer distance; Intense ... a true hiking challenge; Bush-whack ... sections where the trail is missing or eroded or, in some cases, doesn't exist and never did! 
Accessibility: Public ... public land and openly accessible or privately owned with viewing permission granted; Private ... private land, posted or otherwise; Business ... private property but a business is being operated at the premises and viewing is allowed through the business.
Name: Official, Common or Unnamed, as per the discussion above about the USGS GNIS.

A note about latitude and longitude

We use a computer program that is a collection of topographical maps of New York State.  This program is based on the USGS quadrangles which were developed many years/decades ago.  We also use a modern hiking style GPS unit.  Based on several years of the use of these together, we have noted that we will frequently get discrepancies between the readings of where our waypoints are marked on the GPS unit and what the map might show.  For example, we have taken readings where we were literally in the water at the base of a waterfall, but when we spotted this point on the map, it was not on the waterway, but on land near it.  These discrepancies have never been huge so we do not feel that it is a significant issue.  We do, however, want to note that the coordinates listed on any of our pages are as close to accurate as possible but due to factors beyond our control, there may be a small margin of error.


Waterfall Types

Many waterfall websites and books use no less than a dozen terms to "type" waterfalls according to their physical attributes.  It is also common to classify waterfalls according to the average volume of water in the fall using a ten point logarithmic scale.  There are also references where the term classification was used to discuss the physical appearance of the falls.  We have been saying for years that there is no standard for classifying or typing waterfalls.  We will stick with that statement.  However, in recent years, and we don't know who to credit, several websites have adapted terms that are closing in on becoming standard.  There are still some variations but, because of these recent developements, we are in the process of introducing these new terms on this site.  Because of the sheer number of falls we have listed, this is going to take some time.  The following represents those terms we are adapting.

Plunge The water falls vertically in a headlong dive.  The water may drop in a smooth descent over the underlying surface of the cliff, or may fall free of the that surface, or may be a combination of these. High Falls
Curtain Water which usually falls from the entire width of a stream where the width at the crest of the falls is obviously greater than its height.
Classical Similar to a curtain style waterfall but where the height and width are roughly the same. Beaver Falls
Slide A relatively smooth descent, resembling a natural waterslide. Bear Slide Falls
Cascade Similar to a slide, but descending over a series of rocks and boulders rather than a smooth surface.
Tiered Falls that have more than one vertical drop or step.  We will usually sub-divide these into Ribbon (tall and narrow drops) or Step (wider than tall drops, resembling stair steps). Roaring Brook Falls
Segmented Characterized by more than one drop on the same level usually created by islands or protruding rock Split Rock Falls
Flume A section of waterway where the channel narrows, usually between steep walls, causing the flow to increase.
Rapids When the overall fall of the water level is noticeably less than the horizontal run of the section
Historical A waterfall that no longer exists.  This is usually due to the establishment of a power dam at that location that has eliminated the falls but is not limited to that reason.

More often than not, a waterfall demonstrates more than one of the above properties.  In those cases, efforts are made to classify the section based on the most obvious attribute.  When that is not possible, it will be noted that the waterfall is a combination of more than one type.  There are also some locations where more than one waterfall is present.  In these cases, we have noted that there are "multiple" waterfalls.


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