Albany County, New York, United States
With a crest width of about 1,000 linear feet and a vertical drop of 65 feet, Cohoes Falls is the second largest waterfall in the state of New York - after Niagara - and is one of the largest waterfalls in the eastern United States based on both width and volume. The falls are produced by the Mohawk River, the largest tributary to the Hudson River, where the Mohawk intersects the Sand Hill Shale formation which has been exposed along the margins of the Hudson River valley. While the cliffs adjacent to the falls are stripped down at jagged angles, the immense volume of the Mohawk has scoured the bedrock to a very noticeable rounded shape, which sees the river roll off the ledge and slide over the falls at a very steep angle rather than falling in a truly vertical fashion such as Niagara does.
Unfortunately, as it is situated just a stone's throw away from downtown Albany, Cohoes Falls has long been tamed by the reach of man. The first dam was constructed upstream of the falls in 1831 to provide power to the booming textile industry in the area, but by the 1920s the factories had mostly shuttered and the falls were relegated to simply turned over to the private hydro industry.
Until 2008 the falls were purely at the mercy of the capacity of the hydro system and would only flow when the power house reached its intake capacity (based off of USGS streamflow data this would be, on average, for about 2 months out of the year). Following a re-licensing deal with Brookfield Renewable Power for the Cohoes Falls project, a mandatory minimum aesthetic flow of 500 cubic feet per second will now be allowed over the falls during daylight hours between May 15 and October 15 on the weekends and federal holidays, 245 cubic feet per second during summer weekdays, and 120 cubic feet per second during the winter. This is still only about 10% of the river's average natural volume at the falls however, so it represents a far cry from its natural splendor as the first European visitors to the area would have seen it. Between November and May, however, the Mohawk River does regularly exceed the capacity of the power plant, and in doing so the falls see as much as 5700 cubic feet of water per second.
In addition to requiring the minimum aesthetic flow, Brookfield Power has constructed a very nice park along the rim of the gorge which now provides easy access to multiple unobstructed views of the falls, as well as a staircase leading to rocky beaches along the river below the falls for a much closer vista than what was previously possible over the last 200 years.
History and Naming
Cohoes Falls is the Official name of this waterfall.
It is unlikely we will ever know for sure who first discovered the falls, and when. Undoubtedly the falls were known to the Mohawk people long before Europeans arrived. According to Russell Dunn's "Mohawk Region Waterfall Guide", one of the earliest documented accounts of the falls was by one Domine Megapolensis, the first minister to the early colony of Rensselaer (which was established before the creation of the Province of New York, prior to the formal establishment of the original British Colonies in North America).
When flowing, there is no doubt that Cohoes Falls is one of the most impressive waterfalls in New York, if not the whole eastern half of the United States. The key is simply visiting at the right time, and while that's a whole lot easier to do now, if you happen to time your visits during the summer chances are you'll see a much less interesting and impressive waterfall than you could during other times of the year. However, if you happen to be in the Albany area, do not hesitate to swing by and take a look at it, since access is so easy.
With the recent addition of Falls View Park along the gorge adjacent to the falls it has become a whole lot easier and more tempting to spend some time being serious about photography at Cohoes Falls. Perspectives from the shore of the river will allow the falls to be portrayed without any man-made elements encroaching, and likewise from some perspectives from the rim of the gorge. During high water period access to the river bed is closed, and because of the huge volume of spray generated this is probably a good thing. The falls face east and will see direct, very bright sunlight in the morning hours.
Location & Directions
Coordinates: 42.787966, -73.708533 Elevation: 114 feet
Take Highway 787 to Cohoes, and where the highway officially ends at the intersection with Route 32 (Saratoga Ave), continue straight through the light along New Courland Street. Continue for one mile to Falls View Park, with the small parking lot on the left. A network of trails which access multiple viewpoints of the falls is accessed from a large footbridge spanning the canal immediately adjacent to the parking lot.View this location in Google Earth Cohoes Falls is marked with the large icon in the center of the map. Up to ten additional waterfalls (if any) may be marked as well, with links below.
Other Nearby Waterfalls
By The Numbers
The information presented in this table is meant to help identify and clarify the physical aspects of the waterfall for comparative purposes. While we try to ensure this information is as accurate as possible, sometimes it will prove necessary to either estimate or flat out guess at certain characteristics where either enough information isn't readily available, is not known, or we were not able to confirm a given trait upon surveying. This information may be changed at any given time to ensure accuracy.
The Total Height listed for the waterfall represents the difference in elevation from the top of the uppermost drop, to the bottom of the lowermost drop of the waterfall, including all stretches of interstitial stream in between. Stream between two tiers of a waterfall is counted in its overall height regardless of whether or not that section of the stream would be legitimately considered a waterfall on its own right, were it to be isolated. Waterfalls with only one drop will of have the height of only the single drop listed here.
The Tallest Drop figure represents the height of the largest single drop within a multi-stepped waterfall. Waterfalls with only one drop will have the total height of the waterfall repeated here.
Num of Drops
The Number of Drops in a waterfall is a tally of the total number of distinct drops which make up the waterfall. Stretches of interstitial stream in between two or more distinct drops of a single waterfall are NOT considered to be distinct drops of the waterfall unless the section of stream in question would otherwise qualify as a waterfall were it to be isolated.
The Average Width of the waterfall represents the breadth of the waterfall from bank to bank under typical flow conditions, or if the waterfall has been Cataloged, under the conditions which it was most thoroughly surveyed. Often this number will be approximated because of a lack of approachability to many waterfalls. We often utilize Google Earth to measure the width (where imagery is of sufficient quality and resolution to allow it.
Maximum Width represents a hypothetical measurement of roughly how wide a waterfall could get during peak streamflow or flood conditions. For smaller waterfalls, this figure will generally not differ much from the Average Width measurement, but for broader waterfalls - especially those that feature a crest that isn't constricted - this figure can at times be consideraby larger. Like the Average Width measurement, this measurement will take into account the difference in width at the top and bottom of the waterfall as much as possible, but will often be made based on the width of the crest of th falls alone.
The Pitch of a waterfall is an estimated - often very roughly - measure of the average slope or steepness of a waterfall. The Pitch figure only takes into account sections of stream which are actively falling. Pools or stretches of level stream in between two or more successive drops of the falls will not factor in this figure. As an example, a waterfall which features two truly free-falling leaps separated by several dozen yards of flat stream will have a Pitch of 90 degrees. Similarly, a waterfall with two drops separated by a pool, one with a true free-falling drop, and one with a Horsetail type fall will average the two, so while the Plunging drop has a Pitch of 90 degrees, if the Horsetail drop has a Pitch of 45 degrees, the total Pitch will be roughly 67 degrees.
The Run of a waterfall is a measurement representing the total linear distance on the ground between the top and bottom of a waterfall. This figure is not often easy to establish with a high degree of precision and as such will often be estimated. Waterfalls with a longer Run will usually either be less steep, often cascading type waterfalls, or will feature multiple steps separated by shorter stretches of a more gradual gradient streambed.
The system of classification of waterfall forms we use is a heavily modified derivative of the classifications outlined by Greg Plumb in his "Waterfall Lover's Guide to the Pacific Northwest" books. While plumb uses eight distnct forms, we wanted further granularity and opted to break down the hierarchy twofold: first based on the overall pitch of the waterfall, and then based on what shape the fall takes as it makes its descent. There are five primary Categories of falls in this system: Plunge, Horsetail, Steep Cascades, Shallow Cascades, and Rapids. Additional deliniation is then applied depending on characteristics such as the breadth of the falls, whether it splits into two or more channels, whether it falls in multiple successive drops, etc. For more information on our waterfall form classifications, see the Help page.
The watershed which a waterfall occurs within, if it is specified, will be based on the ultimate distributary watercourse to the ocean. For example, Washington's Palouse Falls occurs along the Palouse River - which is a tributary to the Snake River, which is itself a tributary to the Columbia River, which ultimately enters the Pacific Ocean, so Palouse Falls would then fall within the Columbia River watershed. Streams which empty directly into the ocean, or into a minor basin which then empties to the ocean will often have this field left blank.
The name of the watercourse which the waterfall occurs along. If the watercourse is not known to have an officially or colloquially recognized name, this field is left blank.
The volume of water present in the stream at the location of the waterfall. This is often the most difficult figure to pin down because accurately measuring streamflow is not a simple process. We will rely on USGS data as much as possible, and attempt to take into account seasonal fluctuations in stream levels if possible. There is no guarantee that this figure will be accurate, and in cases where there is no USGS data to use, it may be a very, very rough estimate at best.
If known, the primary source of the watercourse which produces the waterfall will be listed here. This is helpful in determining whether a waterfall may flow more consistently during certain periods of the year - streams which originate in Springs, Lakes, or Glaciers will often flow more consistently throughout the year than those fueled by simply Runoff. The source of the stream may also be either unknown or undetermined.
A rough estimation of how many months out of the year the stream which produces the waterfall will actually hold water. The vast majority of waterfalls featured on this website will technically be truly perennial waterfalls (those that flow all year long), but some may see their flow dwindle greatly in the late summer months. This figure will not take into account the winter months when the waterfall may freeze, because in such cases the waterfall will very often be inaccessible. Entries which specify a Flow Consistncy of 12 Months should in general have an acceptable flow at any time of year (but may be better during certain periods - see below).
A general estimate of the best period of the year during which time the falls will be considered at optimal conditions, or flowing at their best. There may be variance within the range specified where the flow will be better or worse, but visiting at any time in the range specified (if available) will generally present the waterfall in its best light.Close
CatalogedWaterfalls which are Cataloged we have visited and surveyed in person. Statistical information should be quite accurate (for the most part), and exact measurements will often be available (information is not guaranteed to always be up to date). Detailed information, directions, and photographs will almost always be available.
ConfirmedConfirmed Waterfalls are known to exist, should be relatively accurately mapped and geotagged, and the statistical information available will often be dependable. If height information is presented, it may be estimated but should be accurate. Directions will not likely be available.
UnconfirmedUnconfirmed Waterfalls are often marked on a published map, but we have yet to confirm the exact location and / or whether or not its stature is significant enough to qualify for listing in the database. Statistical information may be estimated and may be inaccurate. No directions.
UnknownWaterfalls marked as Unknown are either suspected to exist based on heresay or a hunch, or we have received unverified information suggesting a waterfall may exist near the location provided but cannot corroborate it in any way. Geodata may not be accurate, the location may not be known at all, and statistical information will be estimated and highly inaccurate.
InundatedInundated Waterfalls have been submerged beneath lakes or reservoirs, usually a result of impoundment of a river behind a dam, and most often no longer functionally exist (there may be rare exceptions). We maintain records for these features out of historical importance.
SubterraneanThough not common, some waterfalls can be found entirely underground within cave systems. Access to subterranean waterfalls can vary from easy via developed walkways to requiring a high level of extremely technical spelunking skill, including familiarity with ropework and a distinct lack of claustrophobia.
DisqualifiedWaterfalls which have been marked as Disqualified do not have the necessary stature or features to qualify as a legitimate waterfall according to our criteria. We will maintain records for entries with this status where the feature is well known and / or may have been historically referred to as a waterfall at some point in time.
PostedPosted Waterfalls are known to exist, and we may have a large amount of information associated with them, but are located on private property and are not legally accessible to the general public. Accessing waterfalls with this status should not be attempted without first being explicitly granted permission of the property owner.