St. Lawrence County’s Tooley Pond Road offers slam-dunk of falls viewing
By Tom French
It seems that everyone in St. Lawrence County knows of Lampson Falls, which is just inside the Blue Line. At 100-feet wide with a 40-foot drop, it is the largest waterfall in the county and a popular destination. The trail is considered wheelchair accessible and has a viewing area made of crushed stone. According to the DEC, over 5,000 people visit the falls every year.
And yet, just five miles further south, over a half-dozen falls with flumes and chasms beckon along the Tooley Pond Road, some within sight of the road and all closer than Lampson Fall’s .5 miles. Barbara McMartin, in her book “Discover the Northeastern Adirondacks,” described them as “some of the most magnificent waterfalls in the Park.”
Alas, when she wrote that description over 30 years ago, she was simply describing a “drive with a view” as most of the falls were off limits – “so posted you cannot… go close enough to get a good look.”
That all changed in the last two decades beginning with the DEC acquisition of a corridor along the south branch of the Grasse River and Tooley Pond Road with adjacent conservation easements. Now most of the falls have marked trails and recreational opportunities in the area are growing.
The history of the road is rich with logging, mining, several water-powered mills, an epidemic that wiped out a small settlement, and an 1845 tornado that flattened thousands of acres from Ontario to east of Burlington, Vt., and led to the name Windfall on nearby trails, a restaurant, roads, three brooks, two ponds, the Windfall Club at Cook Corners (locally known as Windfall), and Windfall House at Sevey (still present today but in serious disrepair).
Built in the 1860s, it was one of the first roads to reach into the Cranberry Lake area from the north. Three waterfalls and several cascades are within view from the road, especially when the leaves are down, and another three are within a .3-mile hike.
From Lampson Falls, head 4 miles south on Route 27 to Degrasse. The turn for the Tooley Pond Road is before the bridge.
Basford Falls is first and is marked by a sign at 1.4 miles. The .3-mile red trail follows a high esker for 300 yards before dropping 100 feet to the falls. Remnants of a millrace are to the left. Several of the falls have vestiges of previous industry along the river.
The next stop provides views from the road. Sinclair Falls is at the corner of the Lake George Road. Pass the Kiosk and turn right to a parking area before the bridge. A trail along the falls is only .1 miles long. Picturesque views can also be found from the bridge.
Twin Falls, at 3 miles, is perhaps the most interesting site along the river with remains of a blast furnace and stonework for the millrace that powered the bellows. Known as Clarksboro, the community had a post office, a school, and employed upwards of 700 people when the iron works were in operation. According to the “History of St. Lawrence County, 1749 – 1878,” “There (were) no churches of any denomination in the town, and never were.”
Access to the falls is across the millrace, which can be tricky as there isn’t a bridge. A few small trees have been tossed across the channel. Look for mounds of coal. Slag is also present along the shore between the “twin” falls and around the furnace.
For the next quarter mile, the road parallels the river providing several opportunities for viewing or exploration. Stewart Rapids, also known as Adrenlin Falls by whitewater enthusiasts, comes into view along this stretch.
The road leaves the river briefly, but returns near what is locally known as Bulkhead Falls. Although it has no official name, several herd paths to the falls may be found, but expect to bushwhack.
At 5.8 miles, the trailhead for Rainbow Falls appears on the right. You may hear the water almost immediately. This flat, .3-mile red trail is easy to follow, crosses a short bridge over the old millrace (look for the turnbuckle below the bridge), and reaches the main chute in .3 miles.
Rainbow Falls is the highest along this stretch of river and dramatic due to its narrow channel and steep plunge into a gorge with high rocks on both sides. At mid-morning on sunny days, a rainbow forms in the mist above the falls.
Copper Rock Falls
The last fast water with easy access along the Tooley Pond Road is at Copper Rock Falls – 8.5 miles from Degrasse (8.3 from Route 3). After jumping the roadside ditch, the trail reaches the first rapids in a tenth of a mile, but the half-mile trail continues past the cataracts with at least one chasm. Named for the copper color on the rocks, the trail is marked as a canoe carry for those paddling the river above the falls.
My family has explored the falls in all seasons. The road is paved from Degrasse to Tooley Pond proper and becomes gravel until Cook Corners. Unlike in the past, it is now plowed during winter.
Southern access to the 17-mile Tooley Pond Road is a clearly marked turn from Route 3 on the west side of Cranberry Lake near the Oswegatchie River.