Located only a few miles west of downtown Albany, you’ll find one of the best state parks in the Capital Region: John Boyd Thacher State Park. And, this park is home to one of the region’s best hikes: the Indian Ladder Trail.
The Indian Ladder Trail in Thacher State Park is only about half a mile in length, but it features two incredible waterfalls in this stretch. This trail passes underneath the imposing walls of the Helderberg Escarpment, a prominent feature towering over the valley created by the Hudson River. These combine together to make one of the most impressive short hikes in New York.
Continue reading to find out everything you need to know to hike the Indian Ladder Trail Loop at Thacher State Park.
Where is the Indian Ladder Trail
The Indian Ladder Trail is located on the northeastern edge of John Boyd Thacher State Park in Albany County, New York.
John Boyd Thacher State Park was created in 1914 and is named after a former mayor of Albany. The park’s 2,000 acres of land sit high atop the Helderberg Escarpment and feature several beautiful waterfalls and caves.
The trailhead for the Indian Ladder Trail is located just north of the park’s visitor center, so the parking lot there is the best place to park. This parking lot can be found at the following coordinates: 42.655101, -74.018009.
If you are visiting when the visitor center is open, it’s worth popping in as there are some neat displays on the history and geology of the area inside.
In the past, many have left their cars at the park’s nearby overlook. However, that lot is now reserved for 30-minute parking, so don’t leave your car there when hiking the trail.
Note that there is a $6 fee per car that is is collected from May through October.
Also, note that the Indian Ladder Trail is open from roughly the beginning of May through mid-November each year. However, it can sometimes be closed at other times of the year due to unsafe conditions. Make sure to check the park’s website before heading out to make sure the trail is open.
[Click here for information on how to use the coordinates in this article to find your destination.]
Hiking the Indian Ladder Trail at Thacher State Park.
The trailhead for the Indian Ladder Trail is located just north of the visitor center and within view of the building (to the left of the building if you are standing facing it).
The trail starts by heading down to the base of the cliffs. What’s nice is that the downhill and uphill portions of this hike are both done via metal staircases, which makes the trail a bit easier than it would be if you had to tackle switchbacks down to the main part of the trail.
Once at the base of the cliffs, the trail turns right and follows along the rock wall towards the first of the two waterfalls along this trail.
Within just a couple of minutes, you’ll come to the first waterfall.
As best as I can tell, this waterfall doesn’t appear to have an official name, which is somewhat of a surprise given its massive size and location along a popular trail. However, I’ve seen some places refer to this as Outlet Falls, so I’ll continue that naming convention here.
This waterfall is called Outlet Falls because it is located along the stream that flows out of Thompson Lake. This lake is located several miles away and is also part of Thacher State Park.
Interestingly, this stream loses much of its water underground as it makes its way to the edge of the escarpment. If water levels are decent, you may notice water seeping out of the rock walls near the waterfall. This underground water is said to have also come from Thompson Lake.
Outlet Falls drops roughly 100 feet from the top of the cliffs down to a rocky channel along the trail. The Indian Ladder Trail actually passes behind the waterfall and below the cliffs, offering great views of the valley far below.
It’s worth noting that Outlet Falls seems to run dry before Minelot Falls does. As with most waterfalls in New York, it’s best to visit this spot when water levels are higher. That being said, when I visited, water in the area wasn’t overly high and the waterfalls were still flowing nicely.
Once you’ve had your fill of Outlet Falls, continue following the trail along the cliffs towards Minelot Falls.
Minelot Falls is very similar looking to Outlet Falls. In fact, you’d be forgiven for having a bit of deja vu when you reach this waterfall as they look strikingly similar.
That being said, Minelot Falls is a few feet taller than Outlet Falls, carries more water, and features a more impressive overhang at its base. This gives the waterfall a bit more grand of an appearance than its neighboring waterfall.
The view from behind Minelot Falls is also incredibly stunning, so definitely take a minute to enjoy it.
Beyond Minelot Falls, the Indian Ladder Trail continues for a short distance before reaching a low overhang. With the exception of children, nearly everyone else will need to duck to pass below this short portion of the trail.
Just beyond this spot, you’ll find the end of the Indian Ladder Trail and a metal staircase to take you back up to the top of the Helderberg Escarpment.
Once you reach the top, complete the loop and return back to the your car in the visitor center parking lot by heading to the right.
Known as the Escarpment Trail, this trail is also the final northern reaches of the Long Path, a 347-mile trail that runs from the George Washington Bridge in New York City to Thacher State Park.
The Escarpment Trail follows the edge of the cliffs and is wide and easy to follow as you make your way the roughly half-mile back to your car. The entire length of this trail features wooden fencing along the edge of the cliff. Make sure to stay on the trail side of this fence and be careful with any younger children along this portion of the trail.
Shortly after the metal staircase, you’ll come to an open viewing area that offers incredible views overlooking the escarpment, the valley, and Minelot Falls. This is definitely one of the most beautiful spots you’ll find on this hike.
The trail also passes over the tiny feeder streams for both of the waterfalls you walked under earlier. It’s interesting to peer towards the edge of the cliff and see what these waterfalls look like from above.
While the views continue to be magnificent, there are no other specific highlights along the Escarpment Trail beyond the two streams as you make your way back to your vehicle. While this trail does continue further beyond the visitor center, you’ll complete your approximately one-mile loop once you get back to this spot.
Overall, the Indian Ladder Trail loop definitely ranks as one of my favorites in eastern New York. While it’s not long or overly difficult, the views from this hike are truly incredible and make this one of the most-do hikes in the Albany area.
So, if you are looking for a great way to enjoy the outdoors while in the Capital Region, make sure this is a spot that you check out.