Best Adirondack Waterfall Hikes
by John Haywood
There certainly is no shortage of waterfalls in the Adirondacks! Thousands can be found among the streams, brooks, and rivers that flow throughout the over six-million acres that comprise the Adirondacks. We have compiled a list of our favorite, and what we consider to be the best, Adirondack waterfall hikes. These hikes include some of he most notable Adirondack waterfalls that you can visit without having to hike great distances or grueling trails.
Click the name of each waterfall to be taken to its own page with more information and a map.
OK Slip Falls – The tallest single-drop waterfall in the Adirondacks, OK Slip Falls stands at an estimated 250-feet. This waterfall forms on OK Slip Brook, a tributary to the Hudson River. The 3-mile, one way trail leads through the forest and to two viewing points for the fall.
Mossy Cascade – This 1.6 mile round-trip hike leads you through the forest and along Mossy Cascade Brook, which definitely lives up to its name. Moss-covered rocks and logs line the brook as it leads to the 40-foot cascade. The rock walls flanking the fall are green with moss and vegetation, no doubt how it got its name. Just before the main waterfall, there is an 8-foot fall that forms, dropping into a small pool. Reaching the base of the main falls can be tricky as the trail has been washed out and you must scramble and rock-hop up the brook. If you prefer to avoid that, you can follow the trail up the right side and view the fall from above.
Auger Falls – The half-mile hike to this 40-foot waterfall brings you through picturesque forest along the Sacandaga River in Wells. The unique shape of this waterfall has led to its being named Auger Falls many years ago. The chasm in which the falls form, give the appearance of being drilled out by a large auger.
Death Brook Falls – Also known as Secret Falls, Death Brook Falls is a hidden gem not far off the road in Raquette Lake. The 70-foot waterfall stands prominently as you turn into an open area that is lined with trees. The waterfall resembles Beaver Meadow Falls in Keene with its many small lips and shelves that bounce water back and forth. This gives the fall a really nice appearance.
Cascade Falls – Eagle Bay – This 40-foot cascade can be found along the loop trail that circles Cascade Lake in Eagle Bay. The trail to get the fall is 2.6 miles one way with spots to look out across the lake. As you arrive at the far end of the lake, the fall will be off to the right on an unnamed tributary to the lake.
Stag Brook – While this hike is only a one-mile round-trip, the fifteen waterfalls you will encounter will keep you plenty occupied! Stag Brook forms on the shoulder of Whiteface Mountain and flows down to join the West Branch of the Ausable River.
Following the trail up, you will first encounter Stag Brook Falls, the star attraction. However, many people who visit here don’t realize that the trail continues up for a waterfall-packed half-mile! Picnic Table Falls, the Block Cascade, and Footbridge Falls (all as named in the Keene Valley Region Waterfall Guide by Russell Dunn) await, surrounded by scenic views from the ski slopes.
Rocky Falls – This 2.2 mile hike to Indian Pass Brook follows a rolling trail into the High Peaks Wilderness where you’ll find Rocky Falls. This 8-foot waterfall forms on a large slab of bedrock where a boulder has come to rest in a crevice, splitting the flow of water. At the base of the falls are two large and deep pools; perfect for cooling off!
Shelving Rock Falls – The brief hike takes you to the popular spot along a tributary to Lake George. Shelving Rock Falls is a destination for many who want to either hang out at the 70-foot waterfall or stop by before or after hiking Shelving Rock Mountain.
Gill Brook – Gill Brook is a favorite waterfall hike due to the number of falls that form on this tributary to the East Branch of the Ausable River. Artists Falls and the Flume on Gill Brook are the two named falls along the 7-mile round-trip hike. At least another half-dozen other unnamed falls that form as the trail continues along the brook.
Rainbow Falls on the Adirondack Mountain Reserve – You can make this 3 3/4 mile hike to one of the most popular waterfalls in the Adirondacks one of three ways; by following Lake Road or by taking the East or West River Trail. While Lake Road is a nice and easy walk, the East River Trail is a beautiful hike along the East Branch of the Ausable River, as is the West River Trail. The West River Trail however, will bring you past several waterfalls such as Wedge Brook Falls and Beaver Meadow Falls.
With so many to visit, it can be hard to pin down a few to plan a trip. We also recommend checking out our Adirondack Waterfall Roadtrip series, including our Ultimate Adirondack Waterfall Roadtrip, for information to plan a trip!
Some waterfalls have a reputation for being dangerous. While terrain and trail conditions can make any waterfall hazardous, ALMOST every accident at waterfalls can be avoided.
By following a few pointers and exercising diligence, caution, and most importantly… common sense, a trip to a waterfall can be a lasting memory rather than a tragedy.
- FIRST AND FOREMOST – Do not get too close to the edge of a waterfall. Too many people have fallen to their deaths by trying to get a better look or by getting that photo or selfie. NO PHOTOGRAPH OR “SELFIE” IS WORTH YOUR LIFE. If signs are posted, pay close attention and do not go where they tell you not to. They are there for a reason. Just because you may see others doing things that they shouldn’t be doing doesn’t mean it’s allowed. Instagram stardom doesn’t count if you’re dead.
- Waterfalls, by their very nature, are a draw for people to climb on, swim near, or jump from. If you decide to jump (please—never dive!) into an inviting pool at a waterfall, it is imperative that you first check out the water for unseen objects. Trees, branches, and other debris can wash downstream and become lodged under the water’s surface, creating an unseen and deadly hazard. Large trees, boulders, and even debris like rope or netting can ensnare someone, with disastrous consequences.
- When water levels are high and waterfalls really get going, there will be not only be an increase in the power of the current, but an increase in foam and aeration (air bubbles in the water) as the water shoots down into the pool from above. This aerated water does not afford the same resistance that swimmers are used to when they try to pull themselves up or out. Increased water circulation and the force of the onrushing current can also push swimmers into or under underwater ledges, giving no chance for escape. Many swimmers have perished because they underestimated the power of moving water. Do not swim when conditions even look dangerous. Chances are, they are.
- Be mindful of your surroundings. If you are in a gorge or area with high walls, look around for potentially hazardous objects that might fall. Nothing should be discounted here. Boulders, trees, and blocks of ice can break loose from above and come crashing down. When in doubt, make the safe call.
- Crossing high and/or turbulent water should only be done if you are properly equipped to do so and have an exit plan if you should get swept off your feet.
- Wear proper footwear; something with good traction and support that will help prevent slipping. If visiting a waterfall in the winter, wear micro-spikes or other traction devices to keep you from slipping on ice.
- Wear proper clothing at all times. When wet, cotton and denim will remain damp for prolonged periods, potentially leading to hypothermia (a dangerous cooling down of the body), even in moderate weather.
- Always carry a flashlight, headlamp, or other form of lighting in case your hike goes on longer than you had planned and it gets dark. Don’t rely on a cell phone flashlight.
- Always respect posted and private property, and practice “carry in, carry out” with any trash you may have made from wrappers or bottles.
- Take note that many of these hikes would be considered “difficult” or “moderate” to the average hiker. Participants should be aware of their own abilities, and of the risks associated with outdoor activities. Preparation is vital.
- Those who plan on hiking to any of these waterfalls should make the necessary preparations and consult the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) website at www.dec.ny.gov for bulletins, weather alerts, and other important information.
- Using drugs and/or alcohol is not recommended when visiting waterfalls, as impaired abilities can lead to accidents.
For more information on New York waterfalls, please visit our New York State waterfall map.
A number of these waterfalls can be found in Russell Dunn’s Keene Valley Region Waterfall Guide.
Click here to for more information on our Paul Smiths College Scholarship fund and how you can help a student realize their dream.