New Trail To the Falls
Humans are inextricably drawn to water in all its forms. We are particularly captivated by falling water. The sights and sounds of waterfalls are mesmerizing. One of the highest, and certainly one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the Adirondacks, OK Slip Falls, became accessible to the public on a newly opened hiking trail this past summer. It will no doubt become one of the most popular trails in the Central Adirondack Region.
A Crisp September Morning
I set out for OK Slip Falls and the Hudson River at 7:30 a.m. on a chilly September morning with the eerie fog still rising from lakes, ponds, brooks, and rivers. The 37 degree air quickly warmed into the high 50s as the sun burned off the fog. I took my time examining the flora and fauna along the trail and tallying nearly 400 photos by the end of the day!
Flora and Fauna
I encountered 30 bird species. At this time of year, birding brings an interesting mix of year-round species, breeding birds that have yet to depart on migration, and some northern migrants passing through. An Eastern Wood-Pewee was singing away at the trailhead. Mixed species flocks were numerous, including Black-capped Chickadees, White and Red-breasted Nuthatches, Brown Creepers, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Hairy Woodpeckers, Red-eyed and Blue-headed Vireos, and several lovely warbler species including, Common Yellowthroat, Black-throated Blue, Yellow-rumped, and Black-throated Green Warblers. Feisty, adorable Winter Wrens, being a late-to-depart migrant species, as their name would suggest, were still numerous.
The forests along the trail were mostly deciduous and mixed deciduous-coniferous, with many large trees, including Red Maple, Beech, Birches, Aspens, White Pine, and Eastern Hemlock. It would be hard not to notice the colorful White Baneberry at this time of year!
This is also a wonderful time of year to observe the wide variety and colors of fungus in the Adirondack wilderness.
A Garter Snake tried to warm up on the trail until my presence frightened it off.
A fascinating, 4-inch long slug with bright blue antenna (their eyes are at the ends of these antennas) was slowly making its way across the trail. "Slug" is the common name for a shell-less terrestrial gastropod mollusc.
There are vast wetlands in the vicinity of the OK Slip Falls trail, located between Indian Lake and North River. In the early evening on December 15, 2013, after picking up my older son at the Albany Airport for his college break, we encountered a blinding snowstorm in this area on our drive back to Long Lake. Visibility was terrible and the roads were extremely slippery. The car began slipping off the road, so I came to a controlled stop. Just as we stopped, my son called out, "MOOSE, MOOSE!" In the headlights of the car stood a towering cow and large calf! My son and I locked eyes in stunned silence that such strange fate saved us; if the snow had not stopped us at that precise moment in time, it would have been a terrible accident. The moose headed down the steep bank into the dark, blinding snow. We drove on and after about another mile, yet another cow and large calf were standing along the road! Finding four moose in one night was quite memorable. So it wasn't surprising to find moose tracks across the OK Slip Falls trail (found in the last mile section before the falls).
More Photos Along the Trail
The first half-mile of the trail follows the existing route to Ross, Whortleberry, and Big Bad Luck Ponds. After a half-mile, the trail to OK Slip Falls branches right.
After an additional 1.5 miles, a dirt road is encountered. The trail continues left on the dirt road for a couple hundred feet before branching off to the right.
The last mile is along what appears to be the remnants of an old dirt road and this section of the trail was in great shape.
The Magnificent Waterfall
I arrived at OK Slip Falls at 10:30 a.m., which turned out to be perfect timing. The viewing area is on the east side of a deep gorge with the waterfall across to the west. There is a hill behind you as you gaze across. The sun had just reached a point that bathed the entire falls in sunlight as I arrived! I stood awestruck for quite some time before taking photographs and video of this breathtaking sight before me. The falls drop 250 feet to rocks at the bottom of this gorge resulting in a lovely mist. It is hard to capture the spectacular beauty of the falls in photographs.
A Small Companion
I had the place to myself, or so I thought. Out of the corner of my eye I kept seeing something moving quickly about. I thought maybe it was a sparrow, but I finally paid attention and a very clever Eastern Chipmunk looked up at me. It had a look that said, "What did you bring me?" I told the chipmunk that I'd share my almonds. It filled its cheeks with my nuts, and kept running off to cache the food. It climbed on my binoculars, camera, backpack, and tried to get into the almond container. I drew the line when it appeared ready to climb my leg. I imagined all the people food stashed away in a hidden area near the viewing location and how quickly this creature learned how to capitalize on the kindness of hikers.
I spent 45 minutes at the viewing area with my chipmunk companion before reluctantly leaving that captivating place. I continued on the path around the gorge that leads to the trail's end at the Hudson River. As I left the falls, a Barred Owl hooted, which they often do during the day.
Across the Gorge to OK Slip Brook
A short distance along the trail, you drop down to the old wooden bridge over OK Slip Brook.
From the bridge you can see where the brook drops off the edge into the falls – of course this is an allure that is too much to ignore! I briefly left the trail and hiked on a well-worn path along the brook toward the beginning of the falls.
Acrophobia kept me from getting too close to the edge! But I did cross the brook on rocks to see if the view was different on the other side. There is a placid pool of water at the top of the falls, inviting enough for a dip had it been earlier in the summer, and it belies the raging, un-placid drop off of the waterfall just a few feet away!
OK, yes, on my rock hop back across OK Slip Brook, I slipped. I found myself in cold water nearly to my knees. So I finished the hike in spongy boots.
Onward to the Hudson River
Continuing across the old bridge, the trail climbs back up to the top of the gorge. It follows the western side of the OK Slip Brook gorge. The roar of the Hudson River can be heard as you near the end of the trail. As the name implies, "Hudson Gorge Wilderness", it was a very steep descent to the river. As I stood at the top of the gorge listening to the raging water way below, my mind recalled the moment when our family stood at the southern rim of the Grand Canyon 15 years earlier. We decided it would be fun to hike to the bottom and see the Colorado River. It was a 5,000 foot drop and all the signs warned against doing it, but we did it anyway! Of course you have to get back up and our 4 year old wasn't up to it, so he rode up on my husband's shoulders. My husband claims his neck has never been the same since. The trail to the Hudson River ahead dropped off steeply and you need to have enough stamina to climb back out. Fortunately, this drop is only 400 feet. The roar of the Hudson beckoned me onward. The new trail uses switchbacks, which was helpful. Although, near the bottom it was straight down. The trail ends where OK Slip Brook empties into the Hudson River.
connecting to nature
The Hudson River was beautiful and the sound of the rapids was lulling. Heading left, there are some rocks jutting into the river to sit on. Turkey Vultures soared overhead in the thermals along the gorge. A Red-tailed Hawk was also circling above. A flat rock to lie on provided a wonderful vantage point to stare up at the soaring birds. I find these moments to be some of the most memorable in my life – quiet times in the wilderness, either alone or with my family and friends, away from phones, cars, machines, and all the other distracting human inventions. Time in the wilderness can help restore a balance to existence that can be overwhelmed by our hectic modern life.
Hiking Back Out
After the huff and puff of getting back out of the Hudson Gorge, voices could be heard echoing across OK Slip Gorge of people at the waterfall viewing area. There were several groups of hikers found gazing at the falls. I asked if they met the chipmunk and they said, "Oh yeah!" A young couple had hiked to the bottom of the falls by going around the "Closed" sign to the right of the viewing area. (Obviously, the State feels this is dangerous and many of the other people said it looked scary and opted not to do it.) The groups lamented the fact that the waterfall was completely shaded – it was 2 p.m. TIP: There is a window of time to photograph the falls in sunshine and at this time of year, it is mid-to-late morning. So make sure you have an early start!
Hiking out with several different couples we had wonderful conversations. At one point, a man asked me what "bird" we were hearing. I answered that it was a Gray Tree Frog! (They can sound like birds!)
Back at the trailhead, the register showed that twenty-nine people had hiked to OK Slip Falls on this mid-week day, and it was attracting larger numbers of people on the weekends. I was fortunate that I had complete solitude for nearly the entire day. Only 3 people hiked to the Hudson River, so it appears that most hikers will likely just hike to the falls and back. Hiking the segment to the Hudson River adds quite a bit of ascent and descent, and of course extra mileage.
I look forward to visiting this enchanting Adirondack destination again soon!