Zoo Falls, at least the top (visible part of it) with moderate flow. Above the falls is a small footbridge that takes hikers along the gorge trail.
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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)TopographicPark MapTrail MapInteractive 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.

A closeup of Zoo Falls in winter

Weather

ROCHESTER WEATHER

Information / Accessibility / Accommodations

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; a zoo (which has food, gift shop, and restrooms).

Zoo Cascade in view low water flow.
A view looking back at Zoo Falls from the River bank on a winter day.

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. Unlike a lot of Finger Lakes gorges, the Genesee River Gorge at this location is more dirt and mud than it is rock. This can make the area of falls a bit rough to climb down, and the small scale of the falls, and seldom trafficked pathways down, often ugly and difficult to pass. Although less-than-spectacular, the setting of the park and the Genesee more than make 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.

Beautiful Seneca Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, is a great place for a leisurely walk or picnic, combined with the zoo within, it is definitely worth a stop.

Zoo Falls in Seneca Park information
A closeup of Zoo Falls in Seneca Park. It doesn't have much water.

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.

Zoo Falls, most of its height, with low flow.
Looking down into the Genesee River gorge from the trail that leads to Zoo Falls
Willow Trees in Seneca Park, Rochester

Zoo Falls Interactive Map

History

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.

A vintage postcard depicting the Genesee River gorge from Seneca Park

Zoo Falls Media

Coming soon…

Interesting Stuff

The 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.

Looking down the gorge trail in Seneca Park, Rochester

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.  Check out the article for the all the details.

More tips

  • See the Articles for more photography tips.
A view of the Genesee river bank below Zoo Falls on a cold winter day.

Who to Contact

Monroe County Parks Department
171 Reservoir Avenue
Rochester, New York 14620
Phone: (585) 256-4950
monroecounty.gov

A bench on the Genesee River below Zoo Falls.
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