A tour de falls

Adventure along the Cranberry Lake Waterfall Tour

Shaun Kittle

Exploring. As much as I love visiting my favorite places — secret cliffs, slides, and summits — nothing takes the place of seeing something new, something unexpected. I always get a feeling of excited anticipation when I travel, and I'm lucky to live here because life in the Adirondacks provides that on a regular basis. I have no doubt that I’ll never see all of the hidden beauty that’s just beyond the forested edges of our roads, but that doesn't mean I’m not going to try.

To that end, I recently embarked on a trip to see half a dozen waterfalls just outside of Tupper Lake, a region that’s packed with surprises that are waiting to be discovered. My adventure started under a sunny sky containing fluffy clouds that floated slowly by like enormous river barges. With the onset of spring the snow in the mountains was quickly melting, filling our waterways with an incomprehensible amount of whitewater. This is the best time of year to see waterfalls in the mountains, and I was excited.

Heading west on Route 3 from downtown Tupper Lake, I soon passed through Cranberry Lake and turned right on Tooley Pond Road. All but one of the waterfalls on the tour are along this road. I followed the twisting route through a beautiful hardwood forest, carefully consulting my odometer and a map as I went. The falls are easy to find if you know where to look, and I’ve done the work so you don't have to. This blog post describes a detailed description on how to find each waterfall along the Cranberry Lake Waterfall Tour.

Copper Rock Falls

It pays to explore the Grass River past Copper Rock Falls.

Tooley Pond Road goes from pavement to gravel, then returns to pavement before passing the trailhead to Tooley Pond Mountain, a short, easy climb to a nice view. Parking for Copper Rock Falls is not far past that.

The trail goes easily past hemlock and balsam fir and reaches the Grass River in no time. I turned right to head upstream and the falls appeared almost immediately. This is not a sharp plunge but rather a long, broad section of river with enough incline to create an impressively turbulent stretch of water. 

Each waterfall on this tour has its own character; with Copper Rock Falls, it’s how much the area lends itself to exploring. Sure, you can stop at the main attraction, but continuing upstream rewards you with a small gorge and a couple more nice-sized falls. It’s a lovely, rugged stretch of river and the trail is easy to follow, so I spent about an hour soaking in the various sites and sounds here.

Rainbow Falls

Living on the edge near Rainbow Falls.

Returning to my car, I drove a short distance and parked at the trailhead for Rainbow Falls. This one is easy to find — look for a dirt road on the left that’s blocked by three boulders. The walk to the falls passes a small field that I’m guessing is filled with berries in late summer. The forest here is mostly hardwood and quite open as it drops gently into the hemlocks bordering the river. 

A wooden bridge makes getting to the island easy.

The river forks here, forming an island. I crossed the wooden bridge and was immediately struck by the roar of Rainbow Falls. Several steps later and I saw what all the fuss was about. The river picks up steam and throws itself off a 40-foot drop, sending up a cloud of mist that hit my face before I could see what was causing it. I rainbow arced off a nearby cliff, assuring me this place was aptly named. If you can only visit one waterfall on this tour, make it Rainbow Falls. It’s a stunning spot to spend an afternoon.

Twin and Sinclair falls

The top of Twin Falls.

The next two waterfalls on the tour are close to the road. Twin Falls is a rager that crashes past a broad island, and it’s impossible to miss while driving. Parking for this one is limited, and I recommend passing the first spot on the left and instead parking on the shoulder of the road at the bottom of the hill. 

Sinclair Falls is a short walk from the road.

Sinclair Falls, on the other hand, has two parking spots — a large parking area on Tooley Road and a smaller one that can be found by taking a left on Lake George Road. Either way, you’ll see the falls through the trees. This waterfall occurs at a sweeping bend in the river, giving it an interesting boomerang shape. It’s the mellowest falls on the tour, but what it lacks in dramatic flair it makes up for by providing ample spots to hang out.

Basford Falls

Enjoying the rocks next to Brasford Falls.

There were two stops left on the tour: Basford Falls and Lampson Falls. The hike to Basford Falls was the longest of the bunch, but that’s not saying much; all of these falls are easy to get to. 

I walked past the worn, wooden sign that marks the trailhead and followed the path as it gently ascended through an open hardwood forest. After that it swung left, away from the road, and dipped into a depression before climbing up and over a small hill. From there it was an easy downhill stroll Basford Falls. This spot might be the best on the tour for lounging on a summer day. There’s a gorgeous stand of hemlock and white pine guarding the top of the falls, and an expansive slab of rock borders the water, providing enough space for a dozen people to enjoy the scenery.

I hung out here for a little while, taking pictures and marveling at the boulder “island” near the crest of the falls. Clinging to the top of the rock is a large white pine, a being that no doubt has stood firm against the river’s seasonally temperamental nature. The pine’s neighbor, a tree void of its top half, is probably a sign of things to come.

Lampson Falls

Lampson Falls from the cove.

Back in my car, I drove to the T-intersection that marks the end of Tooley Pond Road and took a right. After about 5 miles I parked in the large DEC parking lot on the left and started down the wide, level road that serves as a trail to Lampson Falls. 

This wheelchair accessible waterfall has a lot of things going for it. The path is smooth and loses little elevation as it arrives at the top of the falls, which are huge and truly the grand finale of the tour. A wheelchair ramp gently switchbacks to a viewing platform while a narrow footpath continues to a cove, where there’s a sandy beach and an excellent view of the waterfall.

The ramp to the viewing platform.

I lingered here for a little while, wishing I had brought a lunch. Just past the cove there’s a broad expanse of open rock that would be fun to explore — but I was hungry, so I packed up and headed back to Tupper Lake. I hear Larkins would have been a good choice if I’d thought to buy a sandwich for the trip. At this point I needed something more substantial, so I went to Raquette River Brewing and sipped on a pint of their mango wheat beer while I waited for Donnie's on the Road BBQ to fulfill their end of the $10 pint and burger deal. 

I learned that the owners of the brewery are building an outdoor seating area complete with a stage, so I’ll be back soon to enjoy live music, barbecue, and some of the best craft beer around.

These are a few of my favorite things.

This week in related ADK news:

Fave first ride

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Wet and wild

Chasing waterfalls

Cool fishing gear

Hikes with tykes