Zoo Falls & Zoo Cascade, Seneca Park

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Location / Directions / Maps

Location: Within Seneca Park; in the city of RochesterMonroe County, New York.

Maps: Google Map (Zoo Falls) (Zoo Cascade)Multi-map (topo); Park map; Park brochureInteractive map.

GPS/Locations: Zoo Falls: (N43.21416 / W 77.61849)
Zoo Cascade: (N 43.21358 / W 77.61954)
Trail-head: (N 43.21285 / W 77.62054)

Directions: From the West: Follow Ridgeway Ave east to the St. Paul exit.  Turn right onto St. Paul St. Proceed on St Paul until you reach the park entrance on your left. Follow the park road through the park past the zoo into the lower park. Drive around Trout Pond and park in available lot.

From the East: Take 104 west to the Clinton Ave N Exit. Go south and turn right on Norton Street. Take Norton St to St Paul St and make a right. Proceed on St Paul until you reach the park entrance on your left. Follow the park road through the park past the zoo into the lower park. Drive around Trout Pond and park in available lot.

Or use Google Directions.

Parking: Park in the many available lots surrounding Trout Lake. The best lot is the one on the far end of the lake near the Genesee Gorge.

Information / Accessibility / Accommodations

Latest Rochester, New York, weather conditions and forecast

Number of falls: 2.

Size/Types: Zoo Cascade is a winding, narrow and dirty cascade hardly worth the trip, but is on the way to Zoo Falls, which is larger and more defined. Each of the waterfalls reaches over 90 ft high as they fall the complete length of the gorge wall, but the upper sections are often ignored. Most classify them as around 30 ft tall. Without ample flow, they are not as grand as their sizes would allude to.

Best time to visit: Spring, especially after heavy rain.

Flow: Very low. Can be better in high rain, but the rising water in the river will make viewing them from the base very difficult.

Waterway: Unnamed tributaries into the Genesee River. The Genesee River flows north through Rochester and into Lake Ontario.

Time: 15 minutes to hike to each waterfall. Up to an hour to see each from the bottom (if the water level of the Genesee allows for it).

Seasons/Hours: Open year-round. April 1 until October 31 the park is open from 7:00 AM until 11:00 PM. November 1 until March 31 the park is open from 7:00 AM until 4:00 PM. The lower park closes at sunset October 15 through May 15 .

Admission: Free.

Handicap accessibility: Some of the park facilities are, but not this trail.

Pets: Allowed, on leash.

Swimming: Don’t swim in Trout Pond or the Genesee River.

Accommodations: Picnic tables; grills; pavilions; meeting lodge; restrooms; playgrounds; fishing; zoo.

Contact Information

Description

Lining the north-eastern shore of the Genesee River, Seneca Park offers visitors spectacular views of the river gorge. Along the way, you’ll see two tall, slender cascades that empty into the Genesee. Although less than spectacular, the setting more than makes up for the lackluster falls. If you happen to be in the vicinity of the park in spring, or after an extended bout of rain, these tall cascades are easy to see, and the beautiful Seneca Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, is a great place for a leisurely walk or picnic, making it definitely worth a stop.

Seneca Park Falls

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Hiking / Walking Trails

To the falls

Difficulty: Easy.

Distance: About 900 ft from the parking area near Trout Pond.

Markings: None.

Description: From Trout Pond head north towards the gorge and the Wegmans Lodge and take the North Olmsted trail. Underneath the second boardwalk you will cross is Zoo Cascade. View it from the top.

The next boardwalk crosses the crest of a large drop of Zoo Falls, which is a bit larger with more flow. View it from the top. Turn around to go back.

To get below the falls

Difficulty: Difficult (scrambling down muddy cliff).

Distance: About 900 ft from the parking area near Trout Pond.

Markings: None.

Description: From Trout Pond head north towards the gorge and the Wegmans Lodge and take the North Olmsted trail. Underneath the second boardwalk you will cross is Zoo Cascade. Shortly afterward, on the left, there used to be a full set of wooden steps that went down to the base of the falls, but in recent years it has been torn apart by flood waters and not repaired. So you will have to carefully climb down. The area below the falls is very muddy, and to get a good view you may have to dip your feet in the mud or water.

Climb the stairs back to that North Olmstead Trail and continue on. The next boardwalk crosses the crest of a large drop of Zoo Falls. Shortly after the falls, take a left and scramble down to the bottom and continue along the riverbank to the base of the falls. Access to the bottoms of these falls may be limited due to the water levels of the Genesee River.

Maps: Interactive.

Seneca Park 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.

View Zoo Falls – Seneca Park in a larger map

History

Band stand and lake, Seneca Park - 1916

Band stand and lake, Seneca Park  – 1916

Seneca Park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and the trail you walk was designed to be the “wilderness” portion of the park. By leaving most of the wooded area intact and minimizing landscaping, this section of the park retains the rugged, natural characteristics of the terrain. A trademark Olmsted feature for wilderness park sections are small sections along the trail that contain park benches or picnic tables for people to stop and enjoy the view.

Trout Pond (often referred to as Trout Lake), the centerpiece of the lower park, formed by damming a natural spring, was a very popular tourist destination. Tourists would rent swan boats and pedal around the lake in the early 1900’s. Today it is primarily a location where visitors feed the resident ducks and geese.

Interesting Stuff

Bald Eagle at the zooThe Seneca Park Zoo

Although very small, the Seneca Park Zoo is well designed and is worth a quick stop or a half-day trip if you have kids with you.

Rock Slides

The unique shape of the gorge wall was shaped by rock slides. A massive rock slide, thousands of years ago, must have reduced the slope and allowed for Native Americans to access the riverbank. Smaller collapses and rock slides happen today during periods of high rainfall.

Fishing

The many Genesee River access points along the North Olmsted Trail are great locations for fishing.

Photography Tips

Photographing Zoo Falls

  • A wide-angle lens is recommended.
  • Plan on shooting this falls during overcast skies, and after short periods of rain. After heavy rain it may be difficult to reach the riverbed.
  • The riverbed is muddy. If shooting from that location, dress appropriately.
  • Only the lower half of Zoo Falls is recommended for shooting.

Proper creek-walk footwear

  • Wear the proper footwear for creek walking and climbing. Not only can a quality pair of water shoes prevent blisters and infection, they will help you stick better to the ground and reduce your risk of falling, hurting your self, or your camera gear.

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

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