By Salmon River Steward Luke Connor
Altmar, NY — As summer days continue, there is a steady flow of visitors, tourists from out of state and New York residents, at the Salmon River Falls Unique Area in Altmar, NY. The beauty of “The Falls” is hard to resist and recent changes to the Salmon River Falls Unique Area have made it even more inviting.
In 2003 the Falls Trail became compliant with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). The hard gravel trail allows people with various levels of physical abilities to use its flat surface. This includes people in wheelchairs and parents with strollers.
Two separate “Overlooks” along the Falls Trail offer visitors a distant view of the falls at the First Overlook and a closer look at the Second Overlook.
Many visitors are content with the easy-to-walk .2 mile (1,100-foot) Falls Trail. For the more serious hikers, Gorge Trail is a steep trail dropping more than 100 feet in elevation and measuring 600 feet long.
The Adirondack (ADK) Mountain Club created the Gorge Trail in 2000 and made improvements to the drainage and accessibility in 2008 under a contract with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC). As the Gorge Trail winds visitors down to the base of the falls over large boulder steps and dirt/gravel switchbacks, one can’t help but be impressed by the Club’s work. At the base of the trail, hikers take in a unique view of the water rushing over the falls. The minimum flow rates are 20 cubic feet per second (cfs) from July 1st to September 30th; 7 cfs from October 1st to June 31st.
Before hiking the strenuous Gorge Trail, review the regulations and identify restricted areas at the entrance kiosk. Poison ivy grows alongside the trail so stay on the path to avoid contact. Because of unstable rock formations and possible falling rocks, visitors are not permitted to swim in the plunge pool or to be in “the bowl” –the gorge walls around the plunge pool and the face of the falls–at the bottom of the Gorge Trail.
New for summer 2008, the ADK Mountain Club upgraded the Riverbed Trail that leads from the Falls Trail to the top of the falls. To maintain the natural look of the Salmon River Falls Unique Area, there are no guardrails at the fall’s edge. Visitors must remain at least 15 feet from the edge at all times for their safety. The rocks are unstable due to the two types of bedrock that form the falls. The bedrock found along the cliffs of the falls is Oswego Sandstone, which is usually hard and difficult to erode, while the softer bedrock below is Pulaski Shale made of silt and mud. Due to the shale’s weaker composition, it has over time eroded away faster and caused the 110-foot falls to form.
Historically, the Salmon River Falls area has interested many people. The first people recorded to have used the falls were the Cayuga, Onondaga, and Oneida tribes of the Iroquois Indians. Because the falls served as a natural barrier to Atlantic Salmon, these native people, and likely Euro-American settlers, used this location for harvesting fish.
During most of the 1900s the falls were owned by a hydroelectric power facility called the Salmon River Power Company, which eventually became Niagara Mohawk, now National Grid. In 1993 the NYSDEC bought the property with support from other organizations. Minimum flow rates established in 1996 when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission renewed Niagara Mohawk’s operating license now help give the falls its beauty for its many modern-day visitors.
When enjoying the Salmon River Falls Unique Area, please follow the safety regulations posted on kiosks at the entrance and along Falls Trail. Bring your camera to capture a special memory of your visit!
To reach the Salmon River Falls Unique Area, follow County Route 2 east from Pulaski to Orwell, take County Route 22 south, make a sharp left on Falls Road, park in the lot at the top of the hill on the right.