October 2017 - HIKING
Photos © Dave Kraus / krausgrafik.com
OK Slip Falls
By Dave Kraus
If you’re looking for an autumn foliage season adventure that will show you two of the most outstanding scenic spots in the Adirondacks, it’s hard to go wrong seeking out OK Slip Falls and the Hudson River Gorge. Both are part of the Hudson Gorge Wilderness area, composed mostly of land the state purchased from the Nature Conservancy in 2013 after they had bought it from Finch, Pruyn & Co. in 2007.
The gorge itself will be familiar to anyone who has taken a rafting trip down the Hudson River in the area. But OK Slip Falls and its spectacular drop of over 100 feet was off limits to the public for over a century, visible only from the summit of Kettle Mountain on the north side of the river, and that vantage point could only be reached by a long bushwhack.
But in July of 2014 the DEC opened a new trail to an overlook that gives a stunning view of OK Slip Falls as it plunges into the gorge. The falls is named for the phrase that loggers used to yell to warn that logs were about to come over the dam and slide down the slip to the Hudson to move down stream... “OK, Slip!”
Your expedition could hardly begin with less excitement. The small, nondescript parking area on NY Route 28 is marked only with a brown DEC sign. It’s just shy of ten miles west of the Route 28/28N intersection in North Creek, and 7.5 miles east of the Route 30/28 junction in Indian Lake.
To reach the trail, walk 0.2-mile west on Route 28 and cross the road to the trail marked by another brown sign, where you can register and start into the woods. This trail marked with red DEC discs may start out muddy, but wooden boardwalks traverse the worst spots. After a half-mile you will turn right onto the similarly marked blue trail that will take you the remaining 2.5 miles to the falls overlook.
These woods are deep, and marked with a spectacular palette during the few weeks of peak fall color. Red maple, beech, birches, aspens, white pine, and eastern hemlock all fill the forest, and the underbrush adds its own fall display. The trail rolls gently up and down as it passes a marshy pond drained by a small stream. Farther along, a fallen tree is almost completely covered with giant tan mushrooms that make it resemble a buffet of roasted potato chips.
After 1.4 miles on this blue trail, you will come to a dirt road that leads to the Northern Frontier boy’s camp on private land near OK Slip Pond, which is also private. Turn left on the road and go several hundred feet to another sign that will direct you to the right and back into the woods on an old forest road. After a half-mile or so it again narrows into a trail.
Eventually you will come to another intersection, and you will start to hear the roaring of the falls across the deep ravine, still hidden behind the trees. Stay to the right, descend for a bit, and you will reach the several ledges and breaks in the forest cover that will finally show you what you’ve come to see. As you arrive, keep in mind that you are on the edge of a cliff, and keep a sharp lookout if you have brought small children or pets with you!
The falls across the gorge from you are a stunning sight, framed with the reds and golds of autumn, contrasted with the dark green of the pines. The cascade drops over 100 feet in a single giant shower of spray onto a base made of giant boulders. Many are six to eight feet tall, but look tiny compared to the towering cliff above them. The falls face east, so if photography is your goal, start your hike early in the morning so the falls will be lit by the morning sun.
The trail continues down into the ravine below the falls, but it becomes extremely steep and hazardous. In the summer of 2015 this trail bore a “closed” sign, and while this had disappeared by October of 2016, make no mistake – this is a dangerous climb down and back up, and should not be attempted with children and/or without proper equipment.
Turn back the way you came, and at the intersection you passed earlier, turn right to make the 0.8-mile side trip down into the gorge to the banks of the Hudson. The trail descends and crosses a wooden footbridge, where you can look downstream, and see the rushing waters flowing over the brink of the falls. If you want to venture closer, keep in mind again that this is a sheer cliff dropping 100 feet onto jagged rocks below. Use extreme care!
Continue down the descending trail and you will reach the shallow, sandy beach of the banks of the Hudson River, as it plunges down the gorge. Here, too, the brilliant colors of fall frame the river in a mantle of gold. You may meet a rafting group pulled up on the beach for lunch. But if you are lucky, you will have the place to yourself, and be able to savor the solitude, listen to the flowing rapids, and contemplate the rounded boulders that create them. How many thousands, or even millions, of years has it taken for the river to wear them into the sleek, oval shapes you’re seeing now?
This is where your adventure ends, aside from whatever new sights you may see as you return to the parking lot. So turn and climb back up from the river and return the way you came. As you cross the footbridge again above the falls, think again of how many millennia it has taken for this stream to create the gorge that you have had the opportunity to gaze into.
Dave Kraus (firstname.lastname@example.org) of Schenectady is a longtime area cyclist, photographer and writer. Visit his website at krausgrafik.com.