How to celebrate a birthday on a chilly, rainy, late autumn day during Covid-19? Visit the waterfalls on the Grass River in the Tooley Pond Tract, of course.
It was not raining when Bruce and I left our house in Keene that mid-October day. A drizzling rain began falling after arriving in Saranac Lake, becoming more intense at Cranberry Lake. The rain had let-up some by the time we reached the trail to the first waterfall, Copper Rock.
The Tooley Pond Tract includes a Forest Preserve parcel of 6,000 acres, including 20 miles along the South Branch of the Grass River in the northwestern Adirondacks. Our goal was to explore the six waterfalls along the route, an area an Adirondack Explorer article called “A cascade of riches,” noting that most of the falls cannot be viewed from the road. I first visited the falls shortly after reading this 2004 article written by Mark Bowie that welcomed readers on a waterfall hopping venture. Going again after all these years was on my bucket list.
The Department of Environmental Conservation offers a brochure describing the falls and the trails that lead to them. Online resources are available including a local town website.
In addition to the Forest Preserve parcel, a 24,000-acre conservation easement provides fishing opportunities on several ponds and streams plus roads and trails for a variety of non-motorized activities. We drove through the conservation easement lands for a number of miles, wondering if we would ever reach the waterfall section, passing a number of trails and what appeared to be old logging roads. The surface of Tooley Pond Road changed from macadam – to gravel – back to macadam. Our drive was taking much longer than expected so I questioned how many waterfalls we’d be able to see.
By the time we reached the trail to Copper Rock it was after 1pm, and still drizzling. We looked at the description of the trails to the six waterfalls on Tooley Pond Road and decided we needed to be selective of our choice. So we decided to forgo going to Copper Rock Falls, choosing Rainbow Falls as a possibility. The town website describes Rainbow Falls as one of the highlights, stating that the .6-mile roundtrip hike to the falls was “accessible for just about everyone.” We are in our 80s and that sounded doable.
The trail was lovely as we traversed less than .3 miles through the hardwood forest, with few leaves remaining on the trees. Reaching a small footbridge over a fork in the river, we hesitated. The wooden boards looked slippery and there were no railings to keep us steady if we slipped. So we sat on a rock near the bridge, admiring the cascading water, knowing, however, that we were missing the falls themselves. We choose caution over the potential of taking a dip in the cold running water.
I was disappointed, remembering the excursion a number of years ago when I went with seasoned Adirondackers from the Northwoods Chapter of the Mountain Club. We were gone all day then, and it was not raining. The falls were spectacular.
Bruce and I choose to drive to Sinclair Falls, what was described as a “Road-side attraction” because the falls are visible from a bridge. A wonderful site but we wanted to see the falls from below. We walked the short trail along the river and were rewarded with the water rushing down rocks and boulders near our feet.
We drove home in the late afternoon – ready to return for a full day of exploration on a sunny, warmer day. Bruce’s birthday is mid-April. Should be plenty of water then.
Photos courtesy of Lorraine Duvall