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Rainbow Falls (NY)

1999 Jon Binder


Ratings (ratings explained)
Power: 5/10
Beauty: 6/10
Ease of Access: 2/10

Rainbow Falls is located in the Adirondack Mountain Reserve, about 1.25 miles up the West River Trail from Beaver Meadow Falls. It is a beautiful 150 foot high waterfall, and requires a hike of one and a half to two and a half hours in order to reach. It is best appreciated as part of the "Waterfalls Hike"


East Branch Ausable River
Rainbow Falls in moderate water (1999)
Rainbow Falls in high water (2000)


Begin the hike to Rainbow Falls as you would begin the hike to Beaver Meadow Falls. The directions to the trailhead are the same:

Take NY 9/73 for 2.4 miles from Northway (I-87) exit 30. Continue through the "Spaghetti Intersection" North on NY 73 towards Lake Placid. 5.6 miles north of this intersecton, turn left at the gravel road of the Ausable Club (0.5 miles further along NY 73 is main access road for the Ausable Club). The public parking area is found here. Walk along the gravel road to the inn, take a left, pass between two tennis courts, and arive, in about 15 minutes, at the gatehouse.


To reach Rainbow Falls, you have three options.

The first, and most beautiful, is to follow the West River Trail to Beaver Meadow Falls. From here, continue a little over a mile, or about 25 minutes, to a junction at the foot of Lower Ausable Lake. This portion of the walk is flat, but slow going in some places because of rocks and mud. At one point, a beautiful portion of the Ausable River is passed. At the junction, a bridge leads left across the Ausable River below the dam that creates the lake. Continue straight, then bear right at the next two forks. This will bring you, 0.2 miles and about 5 minutes from the bridge, to Rainbow Falls.

The second option involves a hike along the East River Trail. The distance hiked is about the same as for the West River trail, as is the time necessary for the hike. While it offers some interesting scenery, it is more often out of sight of the beautiful Ausable River then its western counterpart, and is thus, in my opinion, not the best option. To reach the start of the East River Trail, walk along the gravel road for 0.3 miles past the gatehouse. After about 3.7 miles, roughly an hour and forty five mintues, you reach the same bridge mentioned above, but on the opposite side of the river. Cross it, take a left, then the two right forks to reach Rainbow Falls.

The third option is the quickest, but also the most boring and least attractive. It involves an almost 4 mile walk down the gravel road - the lake road - to the East River Trail. From hear, follow the signs to Rainbow Falls, or the directions above. Only choose this option if time is limited and you do not wish to see any other waterfalls. If you do chose to reach Rainbow Falls this way, it takes about an hour and fifteen minutes to walk there, as the rate of walking on the road is much faster than on the trail. Remember, there is not much to see along the road!

Rainbow Falls is one of the highest waterfalls in the Adirondacks, at almost 150 feet. The water falls into a beatiful, deep, short gorge. It is difficult to see the falls head on as they fall along the side of the gorge walls, rather than at the head of it. Also making this difficult is the fact that the amazing amount of mist around the falls, especially in spring, causes the area beneath it to be very slippery. Rainbow Falls can be practically a tricle in late summer, or a raging torent during spring snow melts. The difference is amazing. The picture at the top of the page was in fairly high water (September 28, 1999). However, the force was so great, and the mist so thick, that it was impossible to get a clear picture of Rainbow Falls during the spring snow melt.

"Waterfalls Hike"

The "Waterfalls Hike" is probably the best waterfall trip that exists in New York State. It is a roughly 10 mile hike, passing at least a half a dozen falls, with many options and side trips available. The May/June 1998 edition of Adirondac magazine features a great article on the hike.

It begins as does a hike to Beaver Meadow Falls or Rainbow Falls via the West River Trail. At Pyramid Brook, you may want to follow the trail to the right for about a quarter of a mile. This brings you to the first falls of the hike, Pyramid Falls. It is small and simple, but worth the side trip if you're anxious.

Between Pyramid Falls and Wedge Brook is a powerful 20 foot falls on the Ausable River. At Wedge Brook, the West River Trail crosses a bridge between a pretty 20 foot falls, and an exquisite little 8 foot falls. Both are worthy of exploration. After the bridge, follow the side trail to the right for about a hundred yards to another waterfall on Wedge Brook. This one is 30 feet high, and very beautiful.

Next is Beaver Meadow Falls, followed by Rainbow Falls.

Turn around at Rainbow Falls, and cross the bridge over the Ausable River below the dam. At this point, you can return over the East River Trail or the Lake Road. Or, if you wish to see more waterfalls, you can take a hike along Gill Brook.

To do this, you have a couple of options. One is to hike up to Indian Head, then down to the Gill Brook Trail. The other is to take the Bypass Trail which also leads to the Gill Brook Trail. Either way, you will take a left towards the Lake Road, and hike down the Gill Brook Trail for about 1.5 miles. This trail follows along Gill Brook for all its length, and although there are no big waterfalls, there are several beautiful small ones. Plus, the whole stream is a wonderful cascade.

Fairy Ladder Falls, a 90 foot falls upstream on Gill Brook reached only by bushwack, is one that has eluded me thus far. If you desire adventure, turn right instead of left when you reach the Gill Brook Trail. If the water is high enough, you should be able to hear the falls from the trail, as it is only a quarter of a mile from the trail. However the bushwack is difficult, and takes about a half an hour.

Once the Lake Road is reached, take a right, and continue back to your car. Along the way, though, be sure to take in the Gill Brook Flume. It is reached by taking a right onto the side trail marked "Flume."

Overall, the "Waterfalls Hike" is well worth the effort expended, and is not very strenuous. For more detailed information of mileages and trails, see ADK's Guide to Adirondack Trails: High Peaks Region, or Barbara McMartin's Discover the Adirondacks: High Peaks Region.

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Page Last Revised: February 10, 2002