Northern New York Waterfalls 
Northern New York Waterfalls ... Ausable Chasm

Ausable Chasm ... comprised of Rainbow, Horseshoe and Lower Horseshoe Falls

Directions

The Ausable Chasm area is located on NYS Route 9 between Plattsburgh and Keeseville.  It is a heavily commercialized scenic attraction that you will have no trouble finding.  

County: Clinton/Essex
Town: Ausable/Chesterfield
USGS Map: Keeseville
Waterway: Ausable River
Latitude: N 44o 31' 25"
Longitude: W 73o 27' 37"
Type: Multiple
Drop: 91'
Region:  Northeast Essex County
Parking: Paved parking area
Trail type: Mixed
Length of hike: 1 - 1.5 hours
Difficulty: Moderate
Accessibility: Business
Name: Some official, some common

 

This attraction is actually on the Clinton/Essex County Line.  We have opted to list it on our county list in Essex County because the visitors' center and the best views of Rainbow Falls are on that side of the river.


On a side note, Ausable Chasm was formerly known as Birmingham Falls and before that, Adgate Falls.  Several sources state these names.   Although not much detail is given as to when these names were used, it is known that the attraction at Ausable Chasm was established in 1870, and sources have been found referring to Birmingham Falls in 1851 and as early as 1792.  Adgate Falls predated these.

Rainbow FallsThe promotional flyers bill it as "the oldest and largest natural attraction in the Adirondacks" and it has been called the "Grand Canyon of the east".  It is a beautiful scenic area, well maintained and demonstrating the effects of millions of years of erosion.  Although the area does offer a lot, to the waterfall lover, it may be a disappointment.

When you enter the welcome center, you will find the counter where you pay for the options you wish to see.  This is one of very few locations that we know of in the Adirondacks where you will pay to see the waterfalls, certainly the most costly.  There is also a large gift shop, a cafe and maps of the area. The basic admission was $16.00 per adult in 2011.  For that price you get to hike any of  three trails.  We chose the Inner Sanctum trail which took you along the sides of the gorge, closest to the river level for these three trails.  At the end of any of the options, a shuttle bus returns you to the area above the gift shop by  Rainbow Falls for a closer view.

There is also a "Cave and Falls Hike" available.  In addition to the basic $16 charge, this is $10 more per person.  It is our understanding that this takes you down to the river level and you do get to view six of the seven falls.  Most waterfalls aficionados enjoy hiking natural trails to view waterfalls.  It is an individual decision as to whether you want to pay $26 per person for this privilege.  We chose not to do this, not because of the cost but because of the timing.  This is a guided hike and only available at select times of the day.  We arrived late morning just after the last morning tour had departed.  The next one was almost 2-1/2 hours later.  Between the wait and the fact that we had five other falls and about 150 miles to drive on our agenda that afternoon, we opted out.

The trail map available at the welcome center notes seven (7) waterfalls, only two (2) of them named, Rainbow and Horseshoe.  A large table relief map on display there also names Lower Horseshoe Falls.  We asked a clerk at the registration desk which one this was on the trail map and she didn't seem to know it existed.  She asked a second clerk who likewise was clueless.  Neither of them seemed to know how many falls were at the site or where they were.

We were only interested in the waterfalls and none of the other attractions here.  Since you can see Rainbow, Horseshoe and Lower Horseshow from the Route 9 bridge, paying the fee will only moderately enhance your views.  The other four falls are not marked on the trail and we didn't view them even from the trail.  In addition, since the staff couldn't answer some pretty basic questions, we were left wondering about the effectiveness of their training program.

Our original pictures of Rainbow Falls, the biggest waterfall attraction there had water coming from the hydro facility but not over the falls themselves.  We called the facility to inquire about this a couple of months after our visit and it was explained that there is a dam upstream operated by the New York State Gas and Electric Company.  They basically control the river.  Since we had just left Alice Falls where there was a significant amount of water flowing over it, we can only assume that they were diverting water to the hydro plant for production.  Given the reduced flow due to summer conditions, there apparently wasn't enough water to support both the hydro production and the waterfall!  We did return the spring after our first visit and got pictures from the bridge of water coming over Rainbow Falls.

Our timing, both relative to the river level tour and the lack of water at Rainbow Falls, caused us to leave this facility quite disappointed.  If you go there to see waterfalls, time it better than we did!  If you want to see the falls from ground level, pay the $26.  If you don't, simply view them from the bridge.

On a side note, Scott E. Brown, in his "New York Waterfalls, A Guide for Hikers & Photographers" makes the claim that the area we have identified as Rainbow Falls is actually Main Falls and Rainbow is is the small ribbon falls on its right as you view it from the bridge.  We originally thought that these two drops came from opposite sides of an island, but our local sources there have now clarified that Rainbow Falls is the main waterfall on the left as you view it from the bridge (river right).  The other side isn't a waterfall at all.  It is actually the bypass from the racks at the hydro-plant.  A penstock feeds this side.

The West Branch of the Ausable River merges with the east branch a few miles uptream from here in Au Sable Forks.  The combined Ausable River empties into Lake Champlain in the town of Peru.

Last update:  April 29, 2017

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