Enjoying Frozen Waterfalls

‘It’s quiet, beautiful and thought-provoking to look at this grandeur,’ says local photographer.

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

The majesty of a waterfall is magnified during winter, when the glint of sunlight sparkles on the frozen water. The fanciful shapes and formations of frozen waterfalls lend an air of natural art to the view.

Weather permitting, you can view frozen waterfalls this winter at several spots around Upstate.

“I like them in particular because they’re so unusual,” said John Francis McCarthy, owner of Finger Lakes Photography in Skaneateles. “There’s not a lot of people out in the winter. It’s quiet, beautiful and thought-provoking to look at this grandeur.”

Taughannock Falls State Park (www.nysparks.com/parks/62/details.aspx) is one of his favorites. The park boasts a 215-foot waterfall. Hike the Gorge Trail to view the falls up-close or view it from the overlook area to skip the hike.

Frozen Waterfall in Long Lake by Sandra Shook
Frozen Waterfall in Long Lake by Sandra Shook

Taughannock is also a favorite of John Kucko, a nature photographer based in Penfield, near Rochester, who often shoots frozen waterfalls. He looks for them in any park where the trails are open.

“Frozen waterfalls are my favorite thing to shoot,” he said.

It’s an easy one-tenth of a mile walk to view Buttermilk Falls (https://mylonglake.com/what-2-do/hiking/buttermilk-falls). You can see it from the top; however, the gorge trail is closed for winter.

The world-renowned waterfall at Niagara Falls State Park (www.niagarafallsstatepark.com) does not completely freeze, but the large ice chunk formations at the base of the falls are dramatic.

Check the website for Niagara Falls’ fireworks schedule.

At 150 feet tall and 175 wide, Ithaca Falls (www.visitithaca.com/attractions/ithaca-falls-fall-creek), may be viewed from the bridge over Lake Street. Further Ithaca-area waterfalls are listed at www.visitithaca.com/attractions/waterfalls.

Although Cohoes Falls View Park (www.ci.cohoes.ny.us/314/Overlook-Park-Falls-View-Park) is closed from November until May, the 90-foot high, 1,000-wide falls are still visible from North Mohawk Street and from the Overlook Park off School Street.

Letchworth State Park (https://parks.ny.gov/parks/79/details.aspx) has been named as USA Today’s Readers’ Choice Award for Best State Park in 2015. It is also one of McCarthy and Kucko’s favorite venues for general photography and frozen waterfall shoots. The park includes three waterfalls: the Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls. Often called the “Grand Canyon of the East,” the park’s three waterfalls are fed by the Genesee River and range from 70 to 107 feet in height. Also don’t miss the park’s “ice volcano,” formed by a gravity fountain that in cold weather creates a formation reaching about five stories tall.

“It’s massive; I shoot it every year for my Facebook page,” Kucko said. “The fountain, once we have good, solid stretches of cold, ices up. Last year, it began freezing towards the end of December.

It thawed, and then it froze again and got up to about 30 to 40 feet.”

At Chestnut Ridge Park (www3.erie.gov/parks/chestnut-ridge), look for the Eternal Flame in a grotto on the lower portion of the waterfall. Natural gas feeds this phenomenon, which produces a flame of three to nine feet. Since part of the waterfall screens the flame, the effect is breathtaking.

McCarthy likes Watkins Glen State Park (https://parks.ny.gov/parks/watkinsglen/details.aspx), which boasts 19 waterfalls dotting a two-mile trail. Though winter closes some of the trails, the South Rim and Indian trails remain open to visitors. The trails closest to the waterfalls are closed but McCarthy said they’re visible from the trails that are open.

Three and a half miles from Watkins, Hector Falls (www.gowaterfalling.com/waterfalls/hector.shtml) is 165 feet tall and may be viewed from the roadside on Route 414.

High Falls Gorge (https://highfallsgorge.com) provides lots of winter beauty in one 30-minute walk. The 22-acre park features formations of ice on its granite cliffs, waterfalls and nature trails.

Middle Falls at Letchworth State Park, courtesy of John Kucko
Middle Falls at Letchworth State Park, courtesy of John Kucko

Chittenango Falls (https://parks.ny.gov/parks/130/details.aspx) offers stunning views of a 167-foot waterfall with multiple cascades from either the top or from the base.

“They close the walkway down, but you can get a good view at the top,” Kucko said.

A winter waterfall to not miss is Kaaterskill Falls (https://hikethehudsonvalley.com/hikes/kaaterskill-falls-ii-upper-trailhead) with its 260-foot height. Park on Laurel House Road. Take the hike down the yellow trail to the viewing platform for an excellent view of the falls.

To view the Salmon River Falls’ (www.dec.ny.gov/lands/63578.html) 110-foot waterfall, you can hike the 600-foot Gorge Trail to the bottom. The Salmon River Falls Unique Area also includes 112 acres of land.

“If the conditions are perfect, you can see ice crystals in the air,” Kucko said. “It’s one of my favorite places.”

Salmon River Falls, courtesy of Oswego County Tourism Office.
Salmon River Falls, courtesy of Oswego County Tourism Office.

Shequaga Falls, (https://montourfalls.com), also called Montour Falls after the name of its town, plunges an impressive 156 feet. The falls may be viewed at Main and Genesee streets. Look for a small park nearby.

“It’s beautiful and you just need to pull over on Genesee St. and it’s 30 steps from the car,” Kucko said.

Of course, whether a waterfall freezes this season is weather-dependent. If you plan to hike to see a waterfall, dress for the weather, taking care to keep your extremities warm. Don’t forget non-skid boots or boot spikes. For waterfalls that are part of public parks, visit the park website to ensure the park is still open. Trail conditions may close parts.

Featured Image: Taughannock Falls, courtesy of John Kucko