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Safety and Waterfalls – Tips for a Safe Hike

waterfalls, new york state waterfalls
Chittenango Falls

Chittenango Falls, a beautiful place, but also one where people constantly walk out past the signs that tell them not to. Most don’t realize this is a delicate ecosystem containing animals that can only be found here.

by John Haywood

Waterfall safety is an important, yet touchy subject. It’s no secret that accidents on trails and at waterfalls happen every year; ALMOST all of which could be avoided. We’ve put together a list of safety and preparation items that would be beneficial for people to follow.

Visiting waterfalls often involves hiking over various terrain and through differing environments. Whether it be a state park or a trail in the wilderness of the Adirondacks, certain precautions can be taken to help you get to and from your destination with lasting, happy memories rather than a tragedy.

NO FLIP FLOPS!

 

By following a few pointers, and exercising diligence, good judgement, and common sense, a trip to a waterfall can be a lasting, joyous memory rather than a tragedy.

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 and common sense, a trip to a waterfall can be a lasting memory rather than a tragedy.

  • 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.

    Warning Sign

    Warning signs, like this one at Kaaterskill Falls, often go ignored and lead to tragedy.

  • 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.
  • Do not get too close to the edge of the waterfall’s precipice. 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.
  • 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. NO FLIP FLOPS! NO FLIP FLOPS! NO FLIP FLOPS! 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.

    trail crampons

    Trail crampons, like these by Hillsound Equipment, make Winter hiking infinitely safer by giving grip on ice.

  • 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.

Waterfall safety starts with you. We cannot stress enough the importance of being prepared and cautious when near waterfalls. No matter what time of year it is, the danger is ever-present to those that chose to ignore these warnings. Remember, if you choose to ignore signs and hop fences, and enter places where you shouldn’t be, YOU ALONE ARE TO BLAME FOR WHAT HAPPENS.

Also see the article The Innocent Waterfall in the Age of Misplaced Blame.


Outdoor recreational activities are, by their very nature, potentially hazardous and contain risk. Locations, trails, and waterfalls listed on this site, and conditions, accuracy, and safety, cannot be guaranteed. You are hiking and visiting these locations at your own risk and at your own will.

Dig The Falls would like all site visitors to take the greatest precautions when visiting any location listed herein. Although there are some locations that fall within park systems, there are many more that do not and are considered very dangerous to visit. ALL outdoor locations can be considered dangerous. In visiting this website you are agreeing to release Dig The Falls of any liability from any visitations to any of the locations listed on the website as a whole.

PLEASE NOTE: All properties should be considered posted and/or private property unless you have specific knowledge otherwise. Access to any waterfall or natural area of any category is a privilege and can be revoked at any time for any reason. Respect landowner rights, speak out should you witness anyone doing otherwise and educate everyone willing to listen about good environmental stewardship and the Leave No Trace (LNT) ideology. Please use our New York State Waterfall Map responsibly.

 

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