En route to Lake Placid, we cleverly planned a detour off the Northway to visit Ausable Chasm, in New York State's north country.
Ausable Chasm is reportedly the oldest and largest natural attraction in the Adirondacks and the one of the oldest natural attractions in the country, dating back to 1870 (probably one of the reasons that tourists started coming to Lake Placid). Since then, more than 10 million visitors have explored the chasm.
The thrill is to walk along towering cliff walks alongside a primeval forest and look into the chasm from many scenic overlooks and vistas. there are nearly five miles of trails.
You need at least 1 ½ hours to properly experience Ausable Chasm. By the time we drop up from Long Island, we only had one hour before it closed at 4 pm (because of darkness), so were advised to cut off the beginning of the walk from the visitor center and drive across the road to the gatehouse where the hike picks up (Note: in winter, ticket sales stop at 3 pm, the trails close at 4 pm).
We start on the Rim Walk (the easiest trail), which brings us to a ledge and get our first breathtaking view of the rushing river from where it bursts over the falls and under a bridge.
Where the trails split, we descend 150 feet to walk along the exquisite (and famous) Inner Sanctum trail (considered intermediate) that has amazed travelers for 138 years. You walk along the rock edge alongside the river. You are so close and the rock walls so sheer, it is tremendously dramatic and exciting. You walk onto overlooks. and over metal bridges that cross the rushing water, and go between stone columns. It is all very Indiana Jones. It is quite amazing to see the force of water and contemplate how it probably is continuing to cut its path through the rock. In this season, you also get to see icicles hanging from the higher rocks. If you come in winter after a longer cold spell, you will even see the falls frozen.
They have an excellent system of hand rails, and informative signage.
The Dry Chasm Trail (More Difficult) was opened in 2011, and is recommended for hikers who have already done the Inner Sanctum. This trail features steep natural terrain and is a great introduction to Adirondack wilderness style hiking.
The most challenging is the Cave and Falls Hike, accessed only as a guided program. This section of trail was maintained from 1870 until devastating floods of 1996 wiped out the railings and bridges in a dramatic section of the chasm. tours today explore the ruins of the original trail and guides lead you into the Devils Oven Cave and into the mist of Rainbow Falls (participants have to be at least 10 years old, physically fit and able to scramble over boulders and a steep climb up the 150-foot staircase).
Ausable Chasm is quite amazing to see in winter; I can imagine how spectacular and how different it is in summer, fall and spring. In summer, they offer float trips on rafts and tubes; adventure.... and camping.
In summer, you can raft or tube down the “Grand Flume” past the “Broken Needle” and cruise through the rapids of “Whirlpool Basin”. At night there is a “Lantern Tour” which is the only guided tour. The tour starts at dusk; you enter at the chasm rim, descend 150 feet and walk along the gushing Ausable River.
New experiences include an Adventure tour (rappelling and cable traversing),
The campground, cabins, and motel reopen for the season on May 17, 2013 (Reservations: 866-RV-CHASM or 518-834-9990).
Ausable Chasm, PO Box 390, 2144 Route 9, Ausable Chasm, NY 12911, Chasm Phone: 518-834-7454, www.ausablechasm.com.
North Star Underground Railroad Museum
Just last year, a new historic attraction opened up at Ausable Chasm.
The North Star Underground Railroad Museum, located in the Town of Chesterfield Heritage Center, which opened May 2011, reveals the relatively unknown history of the Champlain Line of the Underground Railroad. Poignant exhibits portray compelling stories of fugitives from slavery who passed through Northeastern New York and the Champlain Valley on their way to Québec and Ontario, Canada.
Among the innovative displays are a multimedia production of the heartrending and triumphant story of John Thomas who escaped the cruelties of slavery in Maryland and settled on his own Adirondack mountain farm.
Dsplays depict the debate over slavery and how it divided churches. A leg iron found hidden in a nearby Quaker home is the centerpiece. A regional exhibit identifies safe-houses and illuminates the lives of men and women who represented every stage of the antislavery struggle—from petitions to war.
The Champlain Line of the Underground Railroad encompassed the Upper Hudson River, the Champlain Canal, and Lake Champlain. Runaway slaves who reached these waterways took steamboats, barges and canal boats as part of their northward journey. Stagecoach and railroad lines from New York City and New England provided land routes into the region. Lake Champlain was a Gateway to Freedom.
Open daily Memorial Day to Columbus Day (other days by appointment)
Karen Rubin, National Eclectic Travel Examiner
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