The North Country, pending on your own geographic perception of it, is a vast swath of land with not a whole lot going on. Or so it seems… Truth is, there is a lot to discover in New York State’s Northern most communities. The Thousand Islands region of the St. Lawrence River, for starters, has a fine collection of wineries and distilleries dotted across the farmlands from Cape Vincent to Alexandria Bay. There are boat tours that visit Boldt Castle, Rock Island Lighthouse, Millionaires Row, the International Rift, Singer Castle, and many other River treasures. Speaking of treasures, if you visit the Thousand Islands you’ll need to ask around to hear the folklore of pirates, hidden treasures, and gold in the Thousand Islands. Other North Country communities include the likes of: Canton, Massena, Potsdam Ogdensburg, Malone, and Plattsburgh. Until recently I had never been to the North Country College communities of Canton and Potsdam. Actually, I’ve never truly “visited” a North Country town that isn’t directly located on the St. Lawrence River. I have heard my fair share of stories over the years of the harsh winters, fierce college rivalries, and hockey fanatics, though. I took my first overnight trip to Potsdam the second weekend in May for my cousin’s graduation at Clarkson University. Whenever I take a roadtrip or visit somewhere new I always ask myself, “Johnny, how can you maximize your visit to this area, and where do you begin and end your journey?!"
Easy. When in doubt, I always search for “waterfalls,” “parks,” or "trails" nearby. You will be surprised by the amount of waterfalls that are publicly accessible in New York State. Our channel partners, Dig The Falls, have an interactive map dedicated to the waterfalls that call New York State home, you can check that out here ---> www.DigTheFalls.com. You can also purchase one of their waterfall guide books for additional details. I keep a copy of their book “Waterfalls of New York State” in my Subaru at all times! It was this book they used to jump start the #NYSwaterfallchallenge on social media, to which I actively participate. The book, “Waterfalls of New York State,” details a map of the North Country on page 156. A series of seven waterfalls South of Canton/Potsdam appear to form a perfect trail of waterfall stops on the map. With a few more not too far off of this trail. AND, the trail appeared to be just off of my path back home to Utica, happy days! Admittedly, I would have gone hours out of my way for a treasure troth of waterfalls like this. Windshield time behind the wheel of adventure is some of the most therapeutic time in my life.
Having planned to follow the long list of waterfalls mapped out by Dig The Falls, I set forth from Potsdam with a lust for roaring water! It had rained the entirety of the night before and much of the morning so I knew water conditions would be wild. Majority of the waterfalls planned out for this trip are on the Grasse River. Have you ever even heard of the Grasse River? Draw a line around the outside of a clock from 6 to 12 and that is the shape the Grasse River takes from its origins, a series of ponds in the Western foothills of the Adirondacks, to where it empties its waters in the St. Lawrence River at Massena Center. My first experience on the Grasse River did not disappoint. There is but one road you must remember if you so chose to follow your inner weekend warrior and brave this trip, TOOLEY POND ROAD. On this stretch of road you will find seven waterfalls within close proximity, no more than a few miles or so. Each accessible with a short walk on DEC land.
On the way to the collection of waterfalls on the Grasse River there are additional waterfall stops that can be made. East of Potsdam, off of Route 11B, you will find a small dirt parking circle. Across the street is an unmarked trail that will lead you to Allen Falls. Although unmarked, the trail is well trafficked and not that hard to follow. If the waters are high you may have to get your feet wet. There is a creek at the beginning of the trail that becomes hard to cross after a storm without directly walking through it. During the dry season it is easy to skip over a few rocks, however, with the amount of rain we had gotten I had to walk through calf high waters. You are first given a view of Allen Falls from the top, be careful there are no fences or signs. Respect natures boundaries and they will respect you. Continue down the hill alongside the falls and up the next hill to view the falls from the most straight on view you can get. Be wary of your footing on this part of the trail. Wet conditions will loosen up the soil along the edge of the ravine.
Hop back in your car and head West towards Canton where you can find both Rushton Falls and Hart Falls. The Grasse River Heritage Area Development Corporation has completed various projects in association with this area. Consider making a donation to help with their cause: www.grasseriverheritage.org, “to develop and promote cultural, economic, educational, and recreational opportunities, and to improve the aesthetic appearance and environmental quality within the Grasse River Corridor in the Village and Town of Canton.” After your visitation in Canton head South on Stone-School-Watermen Hill Road. This road will turn into Fine-Canton-Libson Road. Before this road change you can take a step just West off of the path and visit Jacksons Falls if you are so inclined. The first two falls you come across on Fine-Canton-Libson Road after that will be Harper Falls and Lampsons Falls. Take notice of signage. Be sure to avoid private property. Each waterfall is on DEC land, but a few may border private lands nearby. The stops for each waterfall can be easy or hard to find depending on who you ask. My best advice is to adventure with friends who can survey the road signs and allow you to focus on driving. Usually a dirt or gravel pull off on the road is a good indicator if you do not initially see a sign from the road. Continue down Fine-Canton-Libson Road until you reach Tooley Pond Road, it should be a left hand turn. If you pass DeGrasse church you’ve gone too far.
The first waterfall you come across on Tooley Pond Road is Basford Falls. Look for a white DEC sign on a tree labeled, "Basford Falls." Each of the falls on Tooley Pond Road have a similar white sign. These signs are not particularly large, nor fancy, so pay close attention to the trees on the side of the road. The next stop you will come across is Sinclair Falls. There is a neat little bridge visible above the falls, the road is called Lake George Road, and it follows a portion of the Grasse River opposite Tooley Pond (it is a dirt road). Hop back in your car from Sinclair Falls and continue past the turn for Lake George Road, remember to stay on Tooley Pond Road, that's where the seven close proximity waterfalls are accessible from. The next waterfall will catch your attention directly from Tooley Pond road… or at least half of it will. Our Third stop is at Twin Falls. Only one side of the falls are visible from the road. You must cross a small channel of water onto an island for the best possible view of both falls. There are a series of trails on the island that lead you to different viewing points, however, you will not find an angle to view both falls at the same time. To view both falls you would need to have a kayak or canoe to enter the river below the falls or be friends with the private property owners down river. Continue along Tooley Pond Road and discover the next series of waterfalls, Adrenaline Falls and Bulkhead Falls. These two waterfalls appear more like large rapids than waterfalls. Given the right water conditions, however, both will demonstrate their beauty as true waterfalls. Adrenaline Falls is not labeled with a DEC sign, however, you should be notice it from the road.
You Our sixth waterfall stop on Tooley Pond Road is Rainbow Falls. Perhaps the easiest stop to identify, the trail head for Rainbow Falls can be identified by a sign and a series of large rocks placed accordingly to prevent motor traffic down the trail. A short five minute trail walk brings you directly to the falls. Small paths after the bridge lead to various viewing areas along the side of Rainbow Falls. During my visit it was gloomy and the surge of excess water made Rainbow Falls look a lot more like Root Beer Falls! On a nice day, the sun connects with the mists released from the falls and creates the rainbow that gives theses falls their name. Don’t get confused about Rainbow Fall’s location, there are several Rainbow Falls that call Upstate New York home. Don’t trip up on Buttermilk Falls either! There are about a half dozen Buttermilk Falls located throughout New York. All words are made up, right? So that means there is an unlimited list of possibilities when naming something that has not been named yet. You would think people would get a little more clever naming things over time, apparently not though.
The seventh waterfall stop on Tooley Pond Road, and the thirteenth stop on this North Country Waterfall extravaganza, is Copper Rock Falls. When there is a slow stream this waterfall reveals its namesake. The colors of the rock beneath the falls reveal a glimmer of copper tones through the trickle of water. This was not the case during my Spring visit. The Grasse River was surging from recent rainfall and nearly every waterfall along Tooley Pond Road could have been mistaken for a root beer float pouring out over a series of rocks and ledges. That is perhaps what fascinates me the most about waterfalls, how different eachwaterfall can appear under different seasonal conditions. Consider this waterfall adventure for a full day trip during the late Spring, Summer, or early Fall. Fill up your gas tank, let someone know where and when you will be adventuring, and practice Leave No Trace, carry in carry out, and other common sense hiking practices. Let us know what you think of this North Country treasure trove of waterfalls!
***The North Country, as defined by The Upstate Experience: “The Northern most land in New York State that borders the St. Lawrence River and Canada. The Thousand Islands Region and the St. Lawrence Seaway are key components of this area. The North Country includes everything North of the Adirondack Park’s blue line and the Tug Hill Plateau (yes, we like to consider the Tug Hill to be its own region. It could also be wrapped into the North Country, but we'll let the snowmobiles figure that one out for us). “***