Three Falls Woods, Manlius

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Location / Directions / Maps

Location: Directly off of Route 173. Three miles south/east of Syracuse; town of Manlius, Onondaga County

Maps: Google Map, Multi map (topo), Bing Maps, Yahoo Map

GPS/Locations: Waterfalls (approx.): N 42.99188 / W 76.01201
Trailhead closest to falls: N 42.99086 / W 76.01136
Trailhead on Sweet Rd.: N 42.99723 / W 76.01365 (Posted as of 8/2011)
Trailhead on Glencliffe Rd.: N 42.99728 / W 75.99954

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.

Information / Accessibility / Accommodations

Latest Manlius, New York, weather conditions and forecast

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.

There is some controversy about the accessibility of this property. It is privately owned, and as of September 15, 2016, we know that the current owner will NOT allow access and violators’ cars will be towed and police will be called without warning. Please obey all POSTED and warning signs. Check our message board for updated info.

Seasons/Hours: Year round; day and night.

Admission: Free.

Handicap accessibility: No.

Pets: Unknown policy.

Accommodations: None.

Contact Information


Three Falls WoodsThree 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.

Three Falls Woods Videos

None yet.

Hiking / Walking Trails

Difficulty: Easy to moderate.

Distance: Less than a mile to get to the falls.

Markings: None.

As of 8/2011, the trail leading from Sweet Rd has been posted. Do not trespass.

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.

3 Falls Woods Interactive Map

Drag the map or click the arrows to move around and use the +/- to zoom in or out. Click on the icons for more information. This map is not accurate. Caution and common sense should be used when hiking.

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.

Interesting Stuff

Chittenango Falls

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.

Photography Tips

Shoot wide

  • This is a unique area where you can photograph three waterfalls in one frame. When you first come into view of the waterfalls, you can take a picture straight on of all three through the trees.

Get wet

  • Wear waterproof boots so you can hop the small tributaries and get to the base of each of the waterfalls for close-up shots. There are a lot of fallen logs, trees, stumps, and exposed limestone rocks so be careful. Trying framing your shot so you have a picture of some of the moss covered rocks in the foreground.

Mossy Falls

  • Cascade Falls on the far right has the lowest water flow. Try to keep the shutter open as long as possible in order to get the water in the shot to appear whiter. It also has the higher concentration of beautiful moss covered logs. Try to include them for a splash of color.

Staircase Falls

  • Staircase Falls on the left is set the furthest back and has many trees and rock falls blocking the way. Try taking shots of it where the stream meets up with the other two and forms a deep pool. You can get interesting ‘whirlpool’ effects on your shots.

Silky water effect

  • To get that smooth cotton-candy look to the falls, you need to use a Neutral Density (ND) filter on your lens. The ND filter will block some of the light from entering the lens without altering the color, and thus allow your shutter to stay open longer. This blurs the water and creates a soft white gloss to the foamy areas of the falls. You can pick up a Neutral Density (ND) filter relatively cheap on Amazon.
  • Cut down on reflections and help reduce the light entering the lens by utilizing a Circular Polarizer filter. Most of the waterfall scenes shown on this website are captured with this type of filter. It reduces glare and helps us obtain more even exposures.You can pick up a Circular Polarizer filter relatively cheap on Amazon.
  • When shooting slow shutter speeds a sturdy Tripod is a must. Don’t settle for a cheap tripod that wobbles in the wind or can be vibrated by water currents. Amazon has a nice selection of quality Tripods.

More tips

Related Links

Recent Waterfall Discussion Topics

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