Waterfalls are an awe inspiring sight any time of year, however, when area creeks swell as the result of springtime showers, the waterfalls become even more spectacular sights. There are close to 1,000 documented waterfalls in the western and central regions of New York State, more than any other place in the eastern United States. However, less than a quarter of them are publicly accessible. This article will highlight a handful of waterfalls within an hour’s drive of metro Buffalo. All of the featured waterfalls are easy to get to; they can either be viewed right from the window of your car or a just a short walk from a parking lot.
What to bring with you
Number one; be sure to bring a camera, as you’ll want photos to remember your visit. Even though the waterfalls described here don’t require any long hikes, comfortable walking shoes should be worn, as there are hiking trails located close to many of the waterfalls that you may want to explore after viewing the falls.
You may want to bring along 200 Waterfalls in Central & Western New York by Rich and Sue Freeman. This book describes 104 locations where you can see over 250 waterfalls throughout the region. Before you go you should also look at the waterfall website maintained by Scott Ensminger, http://geocities.com/falzguy.geo , an interesting site which catalogs all the known waterfalls in the region. Ensminger is also the author of several books on waterfalls, which are out of print, but available in some of our local libraries.
A map is also helpful to have along, as a few of these waterfalls are off the beaten trail. You may want to visit waterfalls after a heavy rain, as the water flow in streams and rivers will be increased, causing more spectacular looking cascades.
Let the journey begin
Let’s begin at the best known waterfall in the world, Niagara Falls, which we are fortunate to have right in our own backyard. Over 14 million visitors from around the globe come here each year, yet I’m always amazed by the number of local people who say they have never visited the cataracts. If you are one of these people, what are you waiting for?
Tourists started arriving at the falls shortly after the War of 1812. In the early days, the falls were actually surrounded by factories, but fortunately Fredrick Law Olmsted and others intervened and made an effort to preserve the area and return it to its natural state. In fact, Niagara Falls State Park, which surrounds the falls on the American side, was the first state park in the United States.
Niagara Falls is actually comprised of three waterfalls: the 2,500 foot wide “Canadian” Horseshoe Falls, the 1,100 foot side American Falls and the narrow Bridal Veil Falls between Goat Island and Luna Island. There are many vantage points to view the falls: from the American or Canadian shorelines, from the Maid of the Mist Boat and from the walkway of the Cave of the Winds tour.
Orleans County waterfalls
While Niagara Falls maybe the area’s biggest and best-known waterfall, there are several others that I have enjoyed visiting over the years. If you head over to Orleans County, there are two notable waterfalls located near the Erie Canal.
Medina Falls is a 40-foot waterfall on Oak Orchard Creek near where the creek emerges from beneath the Erie Canal aqueduct, one of only four aqueducts along the canal. To view Medina Falls, you need to take a short walk along the Erie Canalway Trail, west of the Horan Rd. Bridge in Medina; look over the edge to see the creek and waterfall below the trail.
At the eastern end of Orleans County is a very pretty waterfall located in a park just off the village square in the village of Holley. This 35 foot falls seems to just flow out of the forest, however the falls is actually created by water spilling from the Erie Canal into the east branch of Sandy Creek. You get to the falls by following the service road off Frisbee Terrance. (Drive by the public works garage and follow the road down an incline into the parking area). I found the park to be a really peaceful spot to just sit and look at the falls. The creek is popular for fishing and the park has a nature trail.
A city waterfall
Until four years ago, I was unaware that there was a 100 foot high waterfall on the Genesee River right in downtown Rochester. High Falls, named one of the best city waterfalls in America, is located in an area that was once lined with mills and factories. Today, the area is home to several nightclubs and restaurants, as well as a museum and visitors center. A replica water raceway can be found along Browns Race Street. The best place to view the waterfall is from the 850 foot Pont-de-Rennes pedestrian bridge, which spans the Genesee River Gorge.
About 20 miles south of Rochester, in the town of Mendon, is the Village of Honeoye Falls, which has a picturesque 20 foot waterfall on Honeoye Creek, right next to Mendon Town Hall. You can view the waterfall from the observation area next to the town hall or from the East Street Bridge (Route 65). A much smaller waterfall is located just a short walk away, along the Zebulon Norton hiking trail in Harry Allen Park.
A favorite waterfall
One of my favorite places to visit is Letchworth State Park, which has three major waterfalls on the Genesee River, along with over two dozen smaller ones. The Upper Falls, with the Portage High Railroad Bridge in the background, is probably one of the most photographed sites in the park. The horseshoe shaped falls is 300 feet wide and 71 feet high.
Middle Falls, the most scenic of the park’s waterfalls, is 107 feet high, and can be viewed from several observation areas along the gorge. Sometimes, if the lighting is right, a rainbow can be seen arcing across the gorge. A great view of both Middle and Upper Falls can be seen from Inspiration Point, off Park Road, just a short drive north of Middle Falls. The Glen Iris Inn, open for dining and overnight accommodations, is located next to Middle Falls.
A little known gem
This next waterfall, Wiscoy Falls, is one that I was not aware of until a few months ago. Trudy Schwert from Camping at Mariposa Ponds in Houghton told me about this Allegany County hidden gem.
This five-tier waterfall, which totals 40 feet in height, is located on Wiscoy Creek, just north of Fillmore, NY. Viewed from a bridge, it is one of the prettiest waterfalls I’ve come across, yet not well known, as it is off the beaten trail. (From Letchworth State Park, take Route 19A south to Wiscoy Road (CR 27). Turn right and travel about two miles until you see the bridge crossing over the creek; Mill St. will be to your left.).
One more close to home
There is one more falls that I would like to mention which is located close to home. Glen Falls, a 27-foot falls located in Glen Park on Ellicott Creek, is a tranquil oasis located only a short distance from busy Main Street in the Village of Williamsville.
There are many other waterfalls located throughout the region, just waiting for you to explore. While I haven’t had the opportunity to visit the Ithaca area, I’ve heard that there are numerous waterfalls located near there, as well as a number of waterfalls located in the gorge near Watkins Glen.
200 Waterfalls in Central and Western New York by Rich and Sue Freeman (2005, Footprint Press) www.footprintpress.com
Western New York Waterfall Survey (Scott Ensminger’s site) http://geocities.com/falzguy.geo
Niagara Falls State Park (716-278-1770, www.niagarafallsstatepark.com).
Orleans County Tourism (800-724-0314, www.orleansny.com/tourism).
Center at High Falls (585-325-2030)
Letchworth State Park (585-493-3600)
Allegany County Tourism (585-268-7472, 800-836-1869, www.alleganyco.com)