New York is filled with many towering waterfalls and incredibly impressive trails, but sometimes I enjoy the small and intimate spots just as much. One such spot that I quite enjoyed was the Owen D. Young Nature Trail in Herkimer County.
The Owen D. Young Nature Trail is located adjacent to the Owen D. Young Central School in Van Hornesville, New York. This trail is actually located on the school’s property and it appears that all of the parking is in their lots.
Because of this, I want to state upfront that you’ll almost certainly want to hike this trail when school is not in session (either in the summer, on the weekend, or after school hours). However, you are allowed to be on the trail during school hours if you can find parking.
The trail here isn’t long or overly difficult. In fact, doing the entire out-and-back trail is around a mile and a quarter in length. However, in that length, you’ll pass several beautiful waterfalls, some interesting ruins, and a really cool cave.
As I said above, the trail starts off adjacent to the Owen D. Young Central School. There are several parking areas at the school that you can use (when it is not in session), with the lower parking lot to the left of the school (when facing it) being the closest to the trailhead.
This lot and the trailhead for the hike can be found at the following coordinates: 42.897139, -74.825024. You can also use the school’s address: 2316 NY-80, Van Hornesville, New York 13475.
The Owen D. Youn Nature Trail starts off from the parking lot, immediately crossing Otsquago Creek on a metal bridge before heading into a clearing. This area is known as the Robert Woodruff Outdoor Learning Center, but it appears that there are no public activities here other than the hiking trail.
While walking through this clearing, make note of the trail map located here as it gives a nice overview of the area.
That being said, the trail is quite easy to follow, with only one trail split that creates a potential loop for part of the trail. You can also do what I did and simply follow the trail along the creek until it ends, and then return the same way that you came.
After passing through the clearing near the bridge, the trail quickly enters the woods and reaches the creek at the site of a historic sawmill. It’s also here that you’ll see the first of several small waterfalls on the creek.
At this spot, you’ll not only see the foundations of the historic sawmill and a six-foot waterfall, but you’ll also see some old equipment that has been left to rust away in the woods.
Once you’ve enjoyed this spot, continue heading downstream.
The Owen D. Young Nature Trail is a wide and easy walk through the woods, making the trail good for nearly any ability level. That being said, there are a few short side trails that you can take down towards the stream to get a closer look at some of the features of the waterway that are a bit more challenging
One such spot is at Van Hornesville Falls, the second waterfall that you’ll come to on the trail.
This waterfall is about 15 feet in height and, when water levels are lower, as they were during my visit, the waterfall features four different streams cascading over moss-covered rocks.
While it is possible to see this waterfall from the trail, if you want a closer look, there is a fairly well-established side trail that heads close to its base. This is also a good spot to appreciate how beautiful and clear the water is in Otsquago Stream.
After enjoying Van Hornesville Falls, continue a short distance further down the trail to the next point of interest.
While the previous waterfall is a beautiful spot, the caves, as well as Creamery Falls which sits next to them, are clearly the stars of this trail.
The caves appear almost out of nowhere along a pot-marked limestone cliff. There are several spots where you can walk or crawl into the rock, though none of the spaces are larger than a small room.
Still, this is a really neat spot to explore, especially for kids. And even I had fun climbing into a couple of these neat spaces.
Adjacent to the limestone cliffs, you’ll find Creamery Falls.
Creamery Falls isn’t very tall at only about eight feet in height. However, this is another very unique waterfall.
That’s because Creamery Falls looks a bit like a natural waterslide with a drop at the end. This creates a beautiful spot where the water slides down a chute and then cascades into a small pool at the base of the cliffs.
Many visitors to the trail simply turn around after checking out the caves and Creamery Falls, but it’s worth continuing the hike down the trail a bit further. However, it’s worth noting that the trail gets a bit more difficult past this point. That’s not to say that it’s hard, but the trail to the caves is so easy that even a few rocks and roots are worth noting.
Beyond the limestone caves, the Owen D. Young Nature Trail moves a bit further from the creek as it passes through a beautiful woodland. If water levels are high, you might see a few seasonal waterfalls off to the side as you hike through here.
Just after crossing over a small wooden footbridge, you’ll come to a trail split. I opted to stay to the left to hike to the end of a trail and the tallest waterfall in this forest, but you could also turn right here to loop back around towards your vehicle on the Plank Road via Janet’s Lane (which are both trails, not roads).
That being said, even if you decide to take this different route back, it’s worth hiking a quarter mile or so more to get to the end of this beautiful trail.
Only a short distance beyond the bridge, to your right, you’ll see a rather tall waterfall that I estimate is about 100 feet tall. While this waterfall is only impressive when water levels are high, it was flowing decently during my visit when water levels were relatively low. It was a nice surprise that I wasn’t expecting to see during my visit.
From the park’s map, I believe that this waterfall might mark the end of the official trail. However, there is a very well-worn path that continues a few yards more to the banks of the Otsquago Creek.
This is a very peaceful and secluded spot that is worth hiking to see.
Whether you turn around at the caves, the 100-foot slide waterfall, or at the far end of the trail by the creek, simply retrace your steps to return to your car. Of course, if you want to take a different path, you could always hike the short little loop mentioned above. However, I found the hike along the creek to be so beautiful that I opted to hike it again to see these great spots one more time.
Without a doubt, the Owen D. Young Nature Trail is an incredible hidden gem of Herkimer County and Central New York. If you are looking for a hiking spot that’s off the beaten path and features some really great beauty, don’t miss this fantastic spot.
I know it’s somewhere that I can’t wait to visit again.