Upper Owens Falls - In the Owens Falls Sanctuary in East Aurora
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Location / Directions / Maps

Location:  South of the village of East Aurora; town of Aurora; Erie County; New York.

Maps: Google MapTopographic; Trail Map (PDF); Interactive map.

GPS: Entrance and Parking lot: N 42.74630 / W 78.62250
Lower Falls: N 42.74258 / W 78.61817
Upper Falls: N 42.74234 / W 78.61839

Directions: From East Aurora:

  1. Head south on Center Street for 1.5 miles.
  2. Keep an eye on the left. The entrance will be 3 houses after Hubbard Rd.
  3. Look for the small green wooden sign and turn into the driveway just before it.

Use Google Maps to get you there.

Parking: The entrance leads directly to a gravel parking lot with space for 8-10 cars.
There is no alternate parking, so if it’s full, come back in an hour.

YouTube video

Weather

EAST AURORA WEATHER

Information / Accessibility / Accommodations

Number of falls: 2

Size/Types: The lower falls is a gradually sloping cascade, slightly longer than it is tall. It’s estimated at about 20 ft in height.
The upper falls starts out gradual, dropping 3-4 ft across several yards. It then tumbles 12 ft over jagged limestone.

There are some smaller cascades up and down the gorge. Some may be on private land. At this time, none seem to be worth going off trail for.

Best time to visit: These falls are tough to see. You have to get there when conditions are right to have a decent view of a flowing waterfall from the trail. Winter, early spring, and late fall, when the leaves are off the trees will get you a better view. In fall, try to visit after a few days of rain to make sure the falls are flowing.

Flow: Low. Check the weather over the last few days to make sure there’s been enough rain or snowmelt that the falls will be flowing for your visit.

Waterway: The creek here is an unnamed tributary to East Branch Cazenovia Creek. Its origin is a few miles to the south. It empties into the East Branch just after the gorge. The east and west branches of Cazenovia Creek flow north, joining just west of East Aurora. Cazenovia Creek continues northwest to Buffalo, where it joins with Buffalo Creek just before it empties into Lake Erie at the Erie Basin.

Time: About an hour to hit the end of the trail and back. 40 minutes if you choose not to cross the creek.

Seasons/Hours: Daylight hours. 7 days a week.

Admission: Free.

Handicap Accessibility: No accommodations. Not recommended.

Pets: Dogs are prohibited.

Accommodations: A trail and a few benches. Restrooms and shops can be found to the north along Main St in East Aurora.

mushrooms growing in a tree at owens falls sanctuary

The puddle-ridden trail at Owens Falls Sanctuary

The trail leading into the Owens Falls Sanctuary in East Aurora

Description

AKA: Jacksons Falls.

Closeup of a bright orange and yellow mushroom emerging from the mossy forest floor.The Owens Falls Sanctuary is a beautiful 57-acre slice of forest just a quick trip south of the village of East Aurora. Cutting through the newly-protected land is a 100-ft deep gorge, featuring two peaceful and pristine cascades. Aside from a single dirt trail and a few benches, the sanctuary is undeveloped and little known. The primitive trail takes visitors through wildflower-lined juvenile forests across the creek and through mature hemlock forests, lined with carpets of bright green moss and spotted with dozens of colorful mushroom varieties. It’s a beautiful jewel of a preserve, where you are sure to encounter a species of fungus, plant, or animal you typically don’t see during and average walk in the park.

As an undeveloped preserve, it offers no further accommodations and doesn’t go out of the way to present the waterfalls to the casual visitor. The falls are behind trees and often obstructed by foliage. The larger of the two is in a pretty steep section of the gorge, and while you can catch a glimpse of it as you pass, getting a clear view would involve a risky (and prohibited) hike down below. The smaller falls is easier to spot, mostly unobstructed, but that view requires you to get your feet wet by crossing the creek above the falls (which IS the trail).

For waterfall chasers in need of crossing another off their list, this is a satisfactory stop if you are in western New York and conditions are right. A casual visitor visiting in nice weather may be put off by sections of muddy trails and the creek crossing. If the waterfall is dry, it’s easier to cross. If the water is flowing, you’ll likely need to get wet to see the falls from the best side. Aside from the waterfalls, it’s a pleasant lesser-known preserve with a short trail that does offer some small sense of adventure.

The Owens Falls Sanctuary trail

Hiking / Walking Trails

Difficulty: An easy hike along a dirt trail, with occasional muddy patches. If you want to hike the whole trail, you will need to cross the creek. If water levels are high then it adds a small step of difficulty.

Markings: Green metal tags on the trees along the well-defined trail.

Distance: 1.4 mile loop. Waterfalls are at the 0.5 mile mark.

Description: There is only one official trail and it is marked sparingly. There are some unofficial offshoots that aren’t as wide and definitely not marked. It’s easy to get lost if you take these offshoots. Keep an eye out for the metal/green blazes and remember what side of you the gorge should be on as you walk.

  1. From the parking area, find the “Welcome” sign at the trail head and follow it into the woods.
  2. At about 1/3 of a mile the trail will reach the gorge rim (on your left).
  3. Proceed on the trail parallel to the gorge for about 100 yards and you should begin to hear the lower falls (if it’s flowing). There’s a bench just to the side of the lower falls.
  4. About 60 yards upstream from the lower falls is the upper falls. It’s a bit more visible.
  5. Upstream from the upper falls, the trail dips down to the creek (at about 0.46 miles from the start). Cross here.
  6. Once across the creek, you want to go left and keep the gorge on your left.
  7. Pass the upper and lower falls again.
  8. At the 0.6 mile mark you will reach a junction. This is a small loop at the end of the trail. You can go either way and it’ll bring you back here.
  9. Go back the way you came to get to the parking lot.

Some people have made their way to the base of the lower falls. I have not. Once I’m able to find a safe and reliable pathway, I will update this page.

Map: Interactive; Trail Map (PDF);.

Mossy forest in the Owens Falls Sanctuary in East Aurora

Owens Falls Sanctuary Interactive Map

History

Elbert Green Hubbard (1856-1915) an American writer, publisher, artist, philosopher and founder of the nearby Roycroft art campus is said to have visited the natural forests south of East Aurora and was inspired by the landscape. While I could not find any direct references to this property in Hubbard’s work, he did frequent a cabin along Cazenovia Creek to the north of here. Jackson, and his wife, suffragist Alice Moore Hubbard, died on the RMS Lusitania on May 7, 1915.

In the 1920s, Cecil Jackson bought the tract of land that is now the sanctuary. Cecil ran the Roycroft Bank and was the son of a Roycroft woodworker and furniture craftsman, Merritt Jackson. The Roycroft institution succumbed to the Great Depression.

The land eventually passed on to Jackson’s grandchildren, three brothers, who felt the need to preserve it, but didn’t have the means. For a while the land was called Jackson’s Sanctuary, and was one those secret places the public tended to visit, despite it not being officially public. As development threatened this community treasure, a momentum spearheaded by the Friends of Jackson Sanctuary and the Western New York Land Conservancy raised funds to purchase and preserve the land. Neighbors Don and Barbara Owens stepped in to cover a considerable amount of the purchase, and thus the Sanctuary took on their family name. The Owens Falls Sanctuary opened to the public in 2021.

A mushroom-covered downed tree in the Owens Falls Sanctuary in East Aurora

Owens Falls Media

Videos

YouTube video

Interesting Stuff

Roycroft Campus

A national historic landmark, the Roycoft Campus was a reformist community of artists and craft workers who were a part of the Arts and Crafts Movement (roughly 1910 to 1925) in the United States. The campus was made up of a series of workshops, offices, and shops for printers, furniture makers, metalsmiths, leathersmiths, and bookbinders. It attracted visiting artisans and thus operated an inn. Today, what’s left of the campus operates in the same spirit as the movement, and is open to tours, educational workshops, has open shops selling locally-made works, and the Inn has rooms for rent and a highly-rated restaurant.

Who to Contact

The Western New York Land Conservancy
P.O. Box 471
East Aurora, NY 14052
716-687-1225
[email protected]

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