Ausable Chasm: Hiking the Grand Canyon of the Adirondacks

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The Adirondacks region is filled with many incredible spots, but no natural site is as historic and few are more beautiful than Ausable Chasm.

Ausable Chasm is located on the Essex County and Clinton County border along the Ausable River. Opened in 1870, the site claims to be one of the oldest natural attractions in the United States.

The Ausable Chasm is a two-mile stretch of the river located just a few miles before the waterway empties into Lake Champlain. The chasm is so impressive that it’s sometimes referred to as the Grand Canyon of the Adirondacks (Not to be confused with Letchworth State Park, the Grand Canyon of New York)

Hiking the Ausable Chasm in Clinton County New York
Looking down through the Ausable Chasm.

Wanting to experience this incredible natural wonder, I decided to visit during a tour of the Adirondacks in early October.

Visits to Ausable Chasm start at their visitor center on the opposite bank of the river from the main trail system. In addition to purchasing your tickets here, this building also includes a gift shop, a cafe, and a small museum about the history of the site.

The Grand Canyon of the Adirondacks
The scenery in Ausable Chasm is simply incredible.

There are a variety of tour options that are available depending on the day of the week and season that you visit.

My review of Ausable Chasm covers the park’s regular trails, which is the least expensive option for visiting the park. However, during the summer months, there is also the option to go rafting through part of the gorge or to complete the park’s ropes course.

Trail at Ausable Chasm in the Adirondacks
There are trails for almost every skill level at Ausable Chasm.

Trails at the site start from the visitor center and head a short distance along the Essex County banks of the river towards a view of Elephant Rock.

This is one of the most impressive rocks in the gorge and I definitely recommend taking this short spur trail to see it. Later in your hike, you’ll walk over the top of it, but seeing it from the opposite bank offers a great look at this unique formation.

After viewing Elephant Rock, you have to walk over the river using the road bridge that crosses high above it. While cars are allowed on this bridge, it features nice sidewalks so it’s a safe walk.

Rainbow Falls at Ausable Chasm in New York
Looking towards Rainbow Falls from the bridge over the Ausable River.

This bridge also offers one of the best views of the impressive Rainbow Falls, a 90-foot waterfall that flows from the top of the chasm. There is a power-generating plant adjacent to it that does take away from the beauty somewhat, but it still is a beautiful sight.

Unfortunately, on the day I visited, the bright sun and mist from the waterfall made views from the bridge difficult, but it’s still a great spot for a quick stop while walking across the bridge to the main trails of Ausable Chasm.

(It’s worth noting that while exploring Ausable Chasm is definitely worth it in my opinion, it’s possible to view Rainbow Falls from this bridge without paying admission to the site.)

Bridge over Ausable River in Au Sable New York
Another view of Rainbow Falls with the bridge over the river in the foreground.

After crossing the bridge, you pass through another gate (don’t throw away the wristband you got when you paid your admission) to get into the main trail system in the gorge.

On this side of the Ausable River, there are several trails that take you through this beautiful area. All trails start in the same spot and branch off a short distance down the trail. As you start your hike, don’t miss the viewing platforms set up just off the trail that provide some great views of the chasm and the river far below.

Inner Sanctum Trail at Ausable Chasm in New York
I highly recommend hiking the Inner Sanctum Trail.

Shortly after the hike starts, there’s a split in the trail. Heading to the right takes you down into the chasm on the Inner Sanctum Trail, while staying straight keeps you on the Rim Walk Trail above the chasm. Even though the views from above are great, I HIGHLY recommend doing the Inner Sanctum Trail.

This trail descends into the heart of Ausable Chasm and offers amazing views and the chance to really explore the area. While it does have a fair number of steps, it isn’t an overly challenging hike, though care does need to be taken in a few spots, and there are one or two places that might cause a bit of trepidation for those with a fear of heights.

Inner Sanctum Trail in the Grand Canyon of the Adirondacks
The Inner Sanctum Trail isn’t overly difficult and well worth the hike.

The Inner Sanctum Trail is one-mile long and heads through the chasm on a series of steps, paths carved out of the stone, and bridges over gaps in the rocks. It is down here that you truly can appreciate the beauty of Ausable Chasm and the river that runs through it as it descends through a series of small waterfalls and rapids.

After a mile of hiking, the Inner Sanctum Trail climbs a tall set of steps to head back up to the rim of the chasm. While you could turn back now, there’s a lot more worth seeing further downstream.

Trail markers at Ausable Chasm near Plattsburgh NY
There are several ways to go once you reach the lower portion of Ausable Chasm.

Continuing downstream, there is a pedestrian bridge that crosses the river and offers nice views of the lower part of Ausable Chasm.

Once across the bridge, you can continue hiking downstream or walk to the first of two trolley stops.

From Memorial Day Weekend through Columbus Day weekend, trolleys are available and included in your ticket to take you from two points along the trail back to the visitor center. This saves you from having to hike back out along the Rim Walk Trail or the Dry Chasm Trail and makes seeing the area a bit easier.

While you could pick up the trolley at this first spot, I recommend continuing to walk downstream along the green-blazed Rim Walk Trail. This takes you through a section of the river with dramatic rock walls. During the summer months, you might even see people rafting or tubing through this section of the river.

Lower part of Ausable Chasm in Essex County NY
The lower portion of Ausable Chasm is worth seeing.

After 10-15 minutes of hiking, there is a large viewing area next to a seemingly abandoned building. From here, it’s a short walk to the lower trolley pick up area.

Once back at the visitor center, the trolleys drop you off in the rear of the building. Following the trail back to the entrance and parking area offer the best views of Rainbow Falls. Take a few minutes to enjoy this view and to read the signs that offer a bit of history and information about the area.

Rainbow Falls in the Adirondacks of New York
The best views of Rainbow Falls can be had from behind the visitor center.

Ausable Chasm is one of the most popular tourist sites in the northeastern area of the Adirondacks and makes a great day trip from spots like Lake Placid and Plattsburgh.

Even if you’ve already visited the waterfalls of High Falls Gorge, which are located further upstream along the Ausable River, Ausable Chasm is still a great spot to visit to see another incredibly beautiful spot along this river.

Note: My visit to Ausable Chasm was hosted by the site. However, the opinions expressed are my own.

Looking for more places to visit in the area? Check out the Adirondack Experience and boat tours of Lake George.


Ausable Chasm

Hours: Daily 9a-4p
Open until 5p in the summer
Trails may close based on weather

Cost: Adults: $17.95, Kids: $9.95
Other tour options available at an additional cost

Website: AusableChasm.com

Address: 2144 Route 9
Ausable Chasm, NY 12911

Hiking the trails at Ausable Chasm in the Adirondacks of New York



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