GPS/Locations: Waterfalls (approx.): N 42.99188 / W 76.01201
Directions: Heading towards the village of Manlius from either direction, get onto Rt 173 (East Seneca Turnpk.) and heads towards its intersection with Sweet Rd. There are numerous ways to get to the waterfalls from here. One trailhead is located north on Sweet Rd about half a mile from the intersection with Rt 173. It will be on your right hand side with a small parking area. Heading back east on Rt 173 towards Manlius there is an area where one of the streams passes under the road. A small parking area on the left will lead you to a very short walk to the falls. Further down towards Manlius you can turn left onto Cascade Dr and continue until you come to the intersection of Northfield Ln (you will be in a housing development). Continue on Northfield and make a left onto Glencliffe Rd. You will see parking on your left-hand side. Use the links in the GPS section above to get Google directions to the trail-heads.
Parking: Numerous small pull-overs and parking areas. See the GPS/Locations section above.
Number of falls: 3. Viewing the falls head on, from left to right, they are Staircase Falls, Tall Twins, and Cascade Falls.
Size/Types: Tiered cascaded falls. The falls flow over a limestone bed (part of the Onondaga Escarpment) and have bases that are littered with eroded limestone block. The falls have straight drops of about 20 ft and continue to tumble down another 30-40 ft the rest of the way.
Best time to visit: Spring and fall; after heavy or prolonged rain.
Flow: Highly variable. Very dependent on rainfall. The falls can be basically dry in summer or when there has been a prolonged period without heavy rains.
Waterway: Two small unnamed tributaries of Limestone Creek, which then flows into Chittenango Creek and eventually Oneida Lake.
Time: 45 minutes for the waterfalls. You can spend the better part of the day exploring the 175 acre area that is crisscrossed with numerous trails and archaeological sites.
Seasons/Hours: Year round; day and night.
Handicap accessibility: No.
Pets: Unknown policy.
Manlius Greenspace Coalition
Three Falls Woods is the largest remaining tract of undeveloped land in an area known for its rapid growth and luxury sub-developments. A little over 175 acres of forest with sections of old growth, watershed with limestone aquifers, and three gorgeous waterfalls are bordered on all sides by numerous highways and housing developments.
The water from a number of small streams tumbles over the limestone of the Onondaga Escarpment at Three Falls Woods, carving out a notch in the rock and forming the three namesake waterfalls. This action is probably very similar to the early formation of Chittenango Falls, also on the Onondaga Escarpment, to the east. The soluble limestone along the scarp is filled with numerous sinkholes, caves, and a complex underground drainage network, forming what is known as karst topology – a unique canvas upon which the beautiful Three Falls Woods ecosystem is built. The NY State DEC categorized portions of Three Falls Woods as a State Critical Environmental Areas in 2005 and 2009, paving the way for it to become protected land.
Although Three Falls Woods is privately owned, a compact between the owner and the town allows for multiple uses of the land for the public, at least for the time being. A few years ago, the owner submitted plans to the town and village of Manlius to subdivide the entire lot and add 180 houses, with a commerce center and senior living areas directly above the waterfalls.
A group of concerned citizens has formed the Manlius Greenspace Coalition, a 501(c)3 tax-deductible nonprofit organization in an attempt to stop the development of this unique area that will be forever destroyed if these plans are allowed to go forward. We urge you to get involved in any way you can in making your voice heard about protecting this beautiful area. You can help with a quick, tax-deductible donation or by helping to create awareness.
Beyond the coalition, there is a push towards making wooded expanse from Three Falls Woods to Clark Reservation State Park a new “Onondaga Escarpment Nature Corridor” which would connect the areas and allow hiking from one place straight through to the other. More information about it can be obtained here.
Difficulty: Easy to moderate.
Distance: Less than a mile to get to the falls.
Description: The trails that are directly off of Rt 173 and Sweet Rd are very short, easy and provide a quick view of the falls from above the escarpment. The trails at the end of Northfield Rd are what to hit if you want unobstructed views from the base of the falls.. To get to the waterfall, cross the bridge where the creek flows under and walk through the cleared out area following a well worn track for about ¾ of a mile. Keep to your left. You will pass houses on the hill up to your left and be following the cliff the entire way. Soon you will come to the end and all three waterfalls come into view.
More moderate and longer trails, that wind through the woods and climb to the top of the escarpment, are available by walking directly into the woods from where you parked your car. There are beautiful trails that crisscross the entire area and can be used for mountain biking as well. You could easily spend a day in here going through grasslands, secondary forests, and numerous ravines.
Map: No map yet.
No map yet… we are working on it.
The area around Three Falls Woods has both a unique geological and historical significance stretching back millions of years. The area is best known for its excellent example of karst and limestone geology; best described as a rocky and porous terrain where streams flow over the limestone bedrock and aquifers surge below. The area was once home to a Devonian-era seafloor and is littered with marine fossils.
Over the years, erosion has opened up fissures in the limestone bedrock, creating what geologists call clints and grikes (large blocks and sizable cracks in layman’s terms). The large blocks of limestone tumble from the escarpment cliffs and litter the gully below the escarpment. Pieces of the limestone have been quickly colonized by many beautiful mineral-loving mosses and ferns, of which there have been over 65 species identified.
The area was used in the 1800s as a rock quarry to build the Erie Canal. Many firing kilns that were used to make the necessary materials for the canal are still there today. Not too far from the area in Chittenango, Andrew Bartow came across a natural limestone cement rock that became instrumental in waterproofing and mortaring the canal walls and locks to prevent degrading. Today, massive limestone quarries can be found to the west of Three Falls Woods towards Jamesville.
Many of the trails in the area are all bridle paths for horses that were used to train the newly created State Police force in the early 1900s. There are also numerous moss covered stone walls that are remnants from a time when the place was used as a pastured and mixed farming area.
Chittenango Falls State Par shares similar geology to the falls here although on a grander scale. This state park may have a more massive waterfall, but it doesn’t have nearly as much undeveloped woodland.
Silky water effect
Writing / Photography