GPS/Locations: Norton’s Falls: (N 43.19059 / W 77.62018)
Directions: From the West: Follow Ridgeway Ave east to the St. Paul exit. Turn left onto St. Paul St. Turn right onto Seth Green Dr. Park at the public fishing access parking lot.
From the East: Take 104 west to the Clinton Ave N Exit. Go south and turn right on Norton Street. Take Norton St across St Paul St, where it becomes Seth Green Dr.
Or use Google Directions.
Parking: Park at the public fishing access parking lot off of Seth Green Dr. or along the road. Do not park in the apartment complex across the street.
Number of falls: 1
Size/Types: Roughly 50 ft tall. Starts out dropping 15 ft from a limestone tunnel then cascading another 15 ft over shale as it turns 45 degrees and tumbles the rest of the way over large limestone rocks into the Genesee River.
Best time to visit: Year round.
Flow: Low (can be spectacular in high rain)
Waterway: Norton’s Creek, a tributary to the Genesee River.
Time: 15 minutes.
Seasons/Hours: Open year-round, 24-hours/day.
Handicap accessibility: No.
Pets: Allowed (on leash).
Accommodations: Fishing; historical sign.
Monroe County Parks Department
Norton’s Falls is one of those hidden gems within the heart of Rochester, filled with myth and lore, and witness to the history of the city that mills built. Norton’s Falls is tucked away in a residential setting, sheltered by the steep Genesee Gorge into which it pours. The creek itself has long since been developed over, and now flows from some unknown location (although it is most likely integrated into the rain sewer). It emerges from a deep cave in the red sandstone gorge cliff and bounces over large rocks from the crumbling face. This area of the gorge seems to have a long history of landslides, which has decreased the slope, allowing people to descend to the river more easily.
Norton’s Falls is at some times an ugly falls. It can suffer in dry weather. We have visited at times where rusty car parts, trashed bicycles, and hundreds of plastic containers littered the falls’ path. At one point a small community of homeless folk camped out in the woods nearby. They would fish the river for food during the day. The creek bed always has some sign of activity. Fishing line, lures, and old fire pits.
At other times, particularly in spring, when the water level is high, Norton’s Falls is a worthy stop. Taking only a few minutes to see the falls, there’s really no excuse not to. It’s simply one of the easiest and most beautiful to see in the region. The zig-zagging trail passes the falls half-way down and from there you hardly remember the busy streets and packed apartments just above it. It is just as isolated as any Finger Lakes gorge. With good flow and overcast skies, it is an excellent spot for local photographers to practice slow-shutter photography. NYFalls.com founder and lead photographer, Matthew Conheady, practiced here on several occasions before starting this website.
Difficulty: Easy to moderate.
Markings: A wood sign at the trail-head and red circles nailed on trees, labeled “Switchback Trail.”
Distance: Less than 300 feet to get to the bottom of the gorge.
Description: This dirt trail winds down the side of the gorge and ends at the river. About a third of the way down the trail, there is a perfect view of the falls. The trail and the falls are littered with debris, both natural and man-made. At the tail end of the trail, you may have to scramble over rocks. The trail ends at the Genesee River.
View Norton’s Falls in a larger map
This winding trail was used thousands of years ago by native Americans as a means of accessing the river for fishing or portage. Pioneer settlers founded the village of Carthage just up on the ridge in 1817. They expanded the trail and built several mills on the site. The bank of the river here was one of the more inland ports, although small, on the Genesee, and was commonly used for passenger craft and light shipping vessels. It was commonly referred to as Brewer’s Landing. By the late 1800’s Carthage was gone and the city of Rochester was developing rapidly around the gorge. In 1888, the thriving community of Genesee existed here above the gorge and Seneca Park was commissioned to be built along the eastern gorge. Norton’s Creek was dammed at St. Paul Blvd, forming a pond that stretched all the way back to Hollenbeck St. In winter, ice was harvested in the pond and stored in a massive ice house at the dam. On hot summer days guests of Seneca Park were treated to free water and ice.
Seth Green was a famous fish conservationist known as “The Father of Fish Culture.” In this area he cataloged fish, studied their breeding habits and ran a successful fish market, known for its chowder. He founded the Caledonia Fish Hatchery, which now stocks the Genesee River with salmon. Seth Green Blvd, and the Island in the Genesee just south of here are named in his honor.
Take the DEC fishing access path nearby down to see Lower Falls. Along the way see all the layers to the Genesee Gorge as well.
The more gradual slope present in the gorge here is due in part to Norton’s Creek, which eroded away the gorge cliff over thousands of years. Although small, it made enough impact and left enough debris to allow people to use this area to get to the bank of the Genesee for fishing or boating.
Silky water effect
Writing / Photography