Onanda Park & Barnes Creek Gully
GPS/Locations: Park entrance (uplands): (N 42.78317 / W 77.31507)
First major falls (approx): (N 42.78386 /W 77.32215)
Canandaigua Lake boat dock: (N 42.78226 / W 77.31310)
Directions: From Canandaigua, head south on West Lake Road (Co. Rd. 16) for 8 miles. The entrance to the upland park will be on your right. The lakeside camp will be shortly after on your left.
Or use Google Directions.
Parking: Preferred parking for visiting the falls and hiking the trails is located in the uplands section of the park off of West Lake Road. There is room for nearly 40 cars. Alternative parking can be found within the Lakeside section, but they will charge a vehicle fee to enter this part of the park.
Information / Accessibility / Accommodations
Number of falls: 1 within the park boundaries. 2 on Private Property and are POSTED (this has yet to be confirmed by NYF)
Size/Types: The first waterfall, roughly 35 ft high, cascades gently as it turns 45 degrees over the top segment and then widens, tumbling over smooth shale into a shallow pool below. The second waterfall, nearly 8 ft tall, is an irregular cascade over layers of dark limestone. The final waterfall, roughly 50 ft high, is a large cascade that fans out as it reaches the bottom, which is often littered with boulders and downed trees.
Best time to visit: Year-round, with the best flow in spring. The falls are usually a trickle for most of the year, so visit after long periods of rain or during the spring melt. In winter you can hike the uplands trail and see the two large waterfalls safely from above.
Waterway: Barnes Creek, which starts a mile west in the Bristol Hills and empties into Canandaigua Lake.
Time: Plan for at least an hour. More if you will be hiking upstream.
Seasons/Hours: Open year-round, from 9am to 9pm. Swimming (lake) hours vary throughout the summer, call (585) 393-1233 for specifics.
Admission: Free to park and explore the upland section of the park and Barnes Gully.
The Lakeside section has admission fees (as of 2018):
Walk-in fee per person: $1.00
Vehicle (weekdays): $5.00; Vehicle (weekends): $7.00
Season passes: $35.00 (resident); $65.00 (non-resident)
Handicap accessibility: To the beach, yes. To the falls, no.
Pets: Not allowed in the lakeside portion of the park. Allowed if on a leash. For your pet’s safety, and the safety of other hikers, keep your pet on the leash! It doesn’t matter if your dog is “friendly,” it’s the law. Please clean up after.
Swimming: Yes. You can swim in Canandaigua Lake from the beach on the east side of the park.
Camping: The park offers 11 cabins for rent. Call (585) 394-1120 for reservation information.
Boat Launch: Hand and car-top boat launch at the beach.
Accommodations: Restrooms; showers; playground; guarded swimming area; hiking trails; nature center; cabins; pavilions; fully-equipped meeting lodges; picnic tables; fishing access; car and hand boat launch; sledding; ball courts.
AKA: Barnes Gully Falls; Barnes Creek Gully; Onanda Falls.
Onanda Park is an 80 acre town park that encompasses the small Barnes Gully, upland forests, and 7 acres of lakefront campgrounds along a beautiful Canandaigua Lake beach. The park, divided in two sections by West Lake Road, is the site of a former YWCA camp, still containing the buildings from that era. The town of Canandaigua, in cooperation with the state of New York, purchased the land and remodeled the camp into a family campground and meeting place. The lakeside section, along with its lodges, picnic facilities, ball courts and playgrounds, provides lake access to boaters, fisherman and swimmers, making it a wonderful place for summer recreation.
The upland section of the park contains a hillside grass field with several cabins and a large lodge, each with gorgeous views of Canandaigua Lake. The uplands nature trail winds in-and-out of the wooded hillside along Barnes Gully, offering a few glimpses of the gorge and its waterfalls, along the 1.5 miles or so of gradual-sloping terrain.
A family-friendly creek-walk up the shaded Barnes Creek Gully, gets you close to the first cascade of three in the park, a 35 ft cascade in a small opening in the glen. The more adventurous can climb this falls and head upstream for two more, one reaching 50 ft tall.
Climb and hike at your own risk
The Town of Canandaigua does not endorse or suggest that anyone climb the falls and if they do so, it is at their own risk. Any ropes that exist were not placed there by the Town and the Town is not liable for any injuries.
Hiking / Walking Trails
Difficulty: Easy to moderate.
Distance: A 0.8 mile wooded hike to view the falls from above. We have been notified in 2018 that the creek walk is now off limits (trespassing).
Markings: The uplands trail is clearly marked with signs and wooden posts. The creek-walk is not.
Description: The Uplands Trail is a wooded nature trail that winds uphill, offering a chance to see Barnes Creek and its waterfalls from above. The trail is accessible from the uplands parking area, near King Hall, or the back of the uplands open field.
Although it has several twists, turns and loops, the trail is pretty straightforward: wherever you are, maintain a left, and follow the rim of the gorge. This will get you to the two falls overlooks. The problem with this trail is that the view of the falls is greatly obscured by trees. In summer you will only be able to see a fraction of each of the falls. When the leaves are down, the view improves, but it’s not perfect.
To get the full few of the falls, a creek-walk is necessary. We have been notified in 2018 that the creek walk is now off limits (trespassing). The best place to start out is to head, from the uplands parking area, south across the open field (containing cabins). Along the tree-line towards the road, you will find a path that leads to a set of wooden stairs that take you down to the road level and a wooden gazebo containing some park information. The creek runs by here. Follow it upstream.
Getting wet here is a possibility, but we have hiked it several times in moderate flow and were able to take advantage of small creek-side trails and careful stone-hopping to avoid wet feet. There should be a considerable amount of flow downstream, otherwise the falls will be dry or a trickle.
A third of a mile in you will approach a small opening in the gorge and the first waterfall, a 35 foot cascade in two parts. Most visitors turn around here, but this falls is climbable if you are careful. Above this falls, the glen flattens out a bit, but downed trees provide a few obstacles. The second falls, a small cascade over jagged limestone, is just over a tenth of a mile from the first. The final cascade, reaching nearly 50 ft tall, is just above that.
To get back, turn around and climb back down the waterfalls. If it’s not there already, laying rope on your way up will be very helpful for the descent; especially for that first waterfall.
Long before white settlers, this region was inhabited by the Seneca tribe of the Iroquois Nation and some of them used the land that now contains the park, as a seasonal hunting ground. Onanda is the Seneca word for tall pine, and this hilly terrain on the west side of Canandaigua Lake was covered in a vast pine forest up until the mid 1800s.
When the YWCA bought the land in 1919 (originally 27.5 acres along the lake), a farmhouse (owned by the Hill family) and cottage were the only structures present. Within two years the organization had built a grand recreation hall and dormitory (Babcock Hall) near the shore, and over the next decade or so made improvements, erecting more dorms and facilities, and improving infrastructure each year.
The camp’s use varied throughout the years, catering at first to adult and junior campers. During the Great Depression it shifted to house out-of-work young women; and then up until its close, it catered to high school-aged and younger girls as a summer camp.
In the 1950s, the camp went through major modifications that expanded the grounds and upgraded the facilities. In 1954 the organization purchased an additional 47 acres of upland property to house a large activities hall, rifle range, and cabins. The grand lakeside Babcock Hall, originally built like a lakeside resort typical of its era, was divided up into smaller, more specialized buildings. The modern camp began operations in 1959, and saw other major enhancements throughout the years, including Gorham lodge and dining facility as well as the main office and nature center in 1971.
With lakefront property taxes increasing, and YWCA support dwindling, the organization could no longer afford to operate the camp. In 1989, with help from the state of NY and funds from the Environmental Quality Bond Act, the town of Canandaigua purchased the former camp and began operating it as a town park. With help from the Conservation Department of the Finger Lakes Community College the upland trail system was constructed and is maintained to this day.
Barnes Creek Gully Media
Open year-round, this park is an excellent location for a winter outing. Not only do you get to see ice over Canandaigua Lake, and perhaps the more daring will creek walk to see some icy waterfalls, but the real winter draw is sledding down the lake view hill on the west side of the park. Snowshoe the uplands trail for a wonderful workout.
Rope and pack
- The falls are a challenge to climb. Pack your gear well and bring some rope to help you scale the falls. Never sacrifice your safety to save your equipment. For more safety tips for hiking to waterfalls, read this.
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.
Avoid the crowds
- On a hot summer day there are always going to be people enjoying glen. Get here early or during the week when the park is less crowded. The best time to photograph is early spring, before camping season starts.
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.
- 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.
- 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.