Spring is a time of renewal in the Adirondacks. After a long winter buried in snow and ice, the land slowly comes back to life—and we begin a restorative process of our own, too. But it takes something stronger than raking lawns and turning over gardens to shake the remnants of cabin fever. For that, I needed an adventure. So I turned to the true harbinger of spring in the Adirondacks: waterfalls.
As snow melts off mountains and ice disappears from lakes, runoff pours into rivers and streams, creating powerful waterfalls. You can feel their thunder in your chest as the torrents, simultaneously intimidating and invigorating, drown out all other sound. It’s peaceful chaos, nature’s white noise machine, and my favorite way to wash away the last of the winter blues.
To find what my soul needed I headed to the Heart of the Adirondacks, Hamilton County. It’s home to dozens of waterfalls, including many that are just a short hike from the road. That’s convenient, because the same snowmelt that creates perfect waterfall conditions can also make for very muddy trails (they don’t call it mud season for nothing).
A word of caution: Waterfalls can be very slippery at any time of the year. Always be careful near them.
I began my day five miles southwest of Long Lake at Buttermilk Falls on North Point Road. A short dirt path quickly gives way to flat, rocky slabs leading to the Raquette River and the falls, which span the river’s entire 40-foot width. While impressive in any season, the surging Raquette put on an especially impressive show today. Rocks I’d normally sit on in midsummer were completely submerged. I found a dry spot, sat with my morning coffee, and felt my stress start to subside. I could have remained there all day, but I had more waterfalls to find, so I drained my cup and headed toward Raquette Lake.
Alongside Route 28, just 3.2 miles east of the Village of Raquette Lake, is a small trailhead leading to this 70-foot-tall waterfall. The parking area is big enough for two small cars, but paid spots are available across the road at Golden Beach State Campground. From the trailhead, I hiked a flat, 0.2-mile trail through a field and beautiful forest to the cascade, also known as Secret Falls. These falls aren’t as powerful as Buttermilk, but they make up for it in spectacle: Their height and stair-like descent make quite an impression as you approach. It’s shallow downstream from the falls, so I pulled on my trusty rain boots and walked right down the streambed to their base. The cold spray jolted me awake far more effectively than my coffee had, but watching the gently cascading veil slowly lulled me into a trance. I was alone, perfectly at peace, without another soul in sight.
Located downstream from a hydropower dam on the Sacandaga River, you can find Christine Falls just east of Speculator along Route 30. There are two small waterfalls, the lower of which descends into a popular local swimming hole. Too cold to swim, I picked the first, more powerful tier. You’ll have to look closely for the parking area, which looks like an overgrown driveway. A small path leads down a rocky embankment to an overlook of the higher falls. As I dangled my feet above the churning waters 20 feet below me, I felt exhilarated – this was exactly the kind of adventure my winter-weary soul needed.
This long, sliding waterfall is not far from Christine Falls on Old Route 30, a once-paved road that nature has slowly reclaimed. As I gazed at the placidly flowing stretch of the Sacandaga River, I imagined the falls would be equally calm and subdued. Was I wrong! As soon as I got out of the car, I could hear the earth-shaking thunder and knew something greater was in store. What I found was raging rapids, tumbling 40 feet to the river below. As the deluge descended, it crashed into giant boulders, sending plumes of water shooting into the sky. It was a display of nature’s power that made me acutely aware of my mortality. I kept my distance from the slippery edge and gazed with wonder at my unexpected find.
Whiskey Brook Falls
With the day waning, I made my way back down bumpy Old Route 30 to the main road. I passed through Speculator once more and headed north to find my final hidden gem. Visible from Route 30 and easily accessible via a short path, these falls are only five or six feet tall, but they are surrounded by large boulders, mossy logs, and emerald green ferns. It’s a hidden haven, a bit mysterious, and you quickly forget the rest of civilization whizzing past just 50 feet behind you. It was a peaceful conclusion to a perfect waterfall day.
Far too often, spring is seen as a transitional season. No longer winter, not yet summer. Instead of focusing all of your energy on packing up snow gear and preparing for warm-weather recreation, take some time to appreciate spring as a beautiful, powerful opportunity of its own to enjoy the outdoors. Waterfalls are spring’s greatest attraction, the main event, the grand finale. Embrace spring by seeking out these one-of-a-kind displays of nature’s beauty.