With more than 6,000 miles of rivers and streams, there are sparkling waterfalls throughout the Adirondacks. The play of light on brilliantly colored foliage and cascading waters makes this an unforgettable autumn tour. Plan to spend two days, or longer if you can. You might choose to start early and spend a few hours at each stop or take a leisurely trip to one waterfall each day.
Self-guided walking tours on lush nature trails will lead you to wild waterfalls that tumble between 150-foot cliffs. Walk from Rainbow Falls to Grand Flume on the Promenade Trail, with views from scenic overlooks and bridges. For another perspective, take a scenic raft ride through the maze of rock formations sculpted over thousands of years by the river's currents. There’s also camping, with great facilities for families. Located just south of Plattsburgh, this is one of the oldest and most beautiful natural attractions in the US.
The Jay Rocks
You can admire the cascading waters of the Ausable River just outside the hamlet of Jay, with its quaint churches, village green and art galleries. The large flat rocks beside the river provide a perfect setting for a picnic. Take in the scenic view of the old covered bridge, with a backdrop of blazing autumn colors on the surrounding mountains. In summer, this area offers several secluded swimming holes. For safety, please park well off the road.
Continue into Wilmington and through the Wilmington Notch. You’ll wind along the Ausable River, passing late-season fly fishermen and mighty Whiteface, the Olympic mountain. Just beyond the entrance to the Whiteface Mountain Ski Center
is High Falls Gorge, where you can feel the spray from a waterfall that cascades for 700 feet as you hike along the gorge’s paths and catwalks.
Less than 10 miles from High Falls Gorge, the historic Olympic village of Lake Placid is a great place to dine and spend the night.
If you’re a hearty hiker, consider the rugged 13.4-mile round-trip hike that leads to the sparkling Wanika Falls, a series of cascading drops on the northernmost stretch of the Northville-Lake Placid Trail, maintained by the NYS Department of Conservation. There’s parking at the trailhead on Averyville Road. This option will take most of your day, about six hours.
An easier hike begins just south of Lake Placid near the Adirondak Loj, where you’ll find splendid views of the high peaks and Heart Lake. Follow the Indian Pass Trail for about two miles to Rocky Falls (also a favorite swimming hole in summer). From the nearby lean-to, you’ll enjoy lovely views of Indian Pass Brook. This short hike will leave you time to stop in Keene Valley at the Noon Mark Diner, famous for home-made apple pies.
Shingle Mill Falls
Another option is a visit to the Adirondack Park Visitor Interpretive Center at Paul Smiths, a natural history center that features programs and exhibits inside and a self-guided trail system outside. It’s a pretty half-mile walk beneath scarlet and yellow-leafed hardwoods to the bridge over Shingle Mill Falls.
To complete a day of leaf peeping and waterfall-watching, take a scenic half-hour drive north from the Adirondack Visitor Interpretive Center to the village of Chateaugay. One mile west, High Falls Park is open for camping or day-use. Nature trails lead to the beautiful High Falls that plunge a spectacular 120 feet.